Beta Tested – ‘Star Wars Battlefront II’

The beta for DICE’s second foray into the Battlefront franchise is an improvement, but there’s more to be done.

The Star Wars Battlefront II beta is a testament to developer DICE’s dedication to addressing fan feedback. Space battles are back, there are multiple eras and character classes have returned. While tackling many gripes, the developer has also opened the floodgate to new concerns surrounding player progression.

The actual gunplay in Battlefront II is chaotic fun thanks to great weapon variability, diverse class abilities and more vehicles. My favorite gameplay improvement comes from Battlefront II’s reloads. At any time, the player can hit the reload button and a short cool down indicator will appear on screen. If you keep firing your gun and it overheats, a Gear of War-esque active reload bar will appear with two short windows for the player to react. The first reload short cut allows you to reload faster and the second short cut makes it so your weapon won’t overheat for a short period. Like Gears of War, the system is based on pulling the trigger at the right time during a reload animation. Pulling the trigger at the wrong time during a reload will slow down the animation, so there’s a great risk/reward payoff going for Battlefront II’s reloads.

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The beta featured three multiplayer modes: Galactic Assault, Starfighter Assault and Strike. All three should feel relatively familiar to those who have played previous iterations of Battlefront or popular multiplayer shooters in general, but I was surprised how fresh they all felt with a simple coat of Star Wars paint.

Starfighter Assault is a modern take on Pandemic Studios’ space battles from the original Battlefront II. In DICE’s rendition, teams are either in attack or defend rolls and objectives evolve over time based on team progress. It’s a big improvement over the space battles that came in Battlefront 2015’s Death Star DLC, but the mode still seems repetitive in the beta. Of course, more Starfighter Assault maps will be available at launch, so things may feel more diverse when the game launches.

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Galactic Assault is a returning mode from the 2015 installment, and things are largely the same. The defending team must use teamwork to knock out the attacking team’s vehicle while also fending off the attacking team’s small arms fire. The only level offered in Galactic Assault, Naboo, was incredibly linear with small side streets that allowed for flanking. In the full release, the mode will suffer without greater map layout variability.  The mode feels a little more fleshed out in the sequel thanks to three phases to each match. The first phase is simply moving the attacking team’s weapon down the map. If the attacking team is successful, the defenders are pushed back and begin fortifying their base. If the attackers push them back once again, the defenders are forced to make a final stand. Phases add a new dynamic to Galactic Assault, and it’ll be interesting to if they vary from map to map in the final game.

Lastly there’s Strike – a smaller objective-based game-mode where attackers try to get a package to a dropship. In the most basic sense, Strike is single-flag capture the flag with one defending and one attacking team. The mode works well, and the open nature of the map allowed for different routes and flanking opportunities. This mode requires a great deal of teamwork, so when there’s a synergy amongst your team, Strike is a blast to play.

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One of the biggest changes in Battlefront II is the removal of permanent squads or partners and simply having players spawn with up to three other teammates. This method reduces the likelihood of spawn-killing as you spawn with a group of teammates, but it also damages Battlefront II as a game that supports playing with a group of friends. One of the best things in Battlefront or even Battlefield is planning weapon and class synergy with your friends. Now that players spawn with randoms, meeting up with friends on the level is more difficult than ever. Squads are less important, and cohesive pushes with your friends will be more challenging.

The return of player classes is a welcomed addition in Battlefront II. Players can now choose from Assault, Heavy, Officer and Specialist classes that offer their own weapon classes and their respective Star Card abilities. Assault has your run-and-gun blaster rifles, Heavy is Battlefront II’s LMG class that specializes in suppressing fire, Officers have pistols but can buff players around them and Specialists offer ranged support for other players. The weapon variation between the four classes feels substantial, which makes picking a class meaningful.

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My biggest gripe in the Battlefront II beta stems from its complete lack of player-driven progress. Instead of offering new weapons or abilities based on how much you play a specific class, all class progression in the Battlefront II beta is based on the Star Cards that have to be collected from loot crates.

In the beta, loot crates are bought via in-game currency, but just like DICE’s Battlefield series, players will inevitably be able to buy crates with real world money too. Star Cards now offer new buffs to player classes like a more powerful grenade or a trip mine. Each Star Card has four different tiers of effectiveness: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. What ability you unlock, and the card’s tier, is entirely RNG based. Crates typically offer up a small quantity of scrap, which players can use to buy some in-game items outright. To save up for the item you really want, you have to grind through dozens of loot crates to gather enough scrap to afford it. If the Battlefront II economy seems confusing to you, that’s because it is. Even if you get lucky and unlock a Star Card you want, there’s still the chance that it’ll be the less effective bronze version of that card and you’ll have to keep grinding (or paying) for more loot crates that might unlock a more powerful tier. Star Cards, in their current form, are a convoluted mess that rob the player of any controlled class progression.

There are also cosmetics within the loot crates like new taunts and final screen poses for your characters, which are standard and inoffensive loot crate fare. The real issue comes from the stat-boosting weapons that can come from Star Cards within crates. Players who are willing to drop real world cash on loot crates come launch have more chances to win high-powered Star Cards from loot crates. In essence, DICE has opened the door to a pay-to-win multiplayer economy.

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Star Wars Battlefront II is often visually impressive. While the overall presentation might seem a little more fuzzy on PS4 and Xbox One than 2015’s Battlefront, the effects and physics DICE has on display are nothing short of stunning. Galactic Assault on Naboo is an especially satisfying visual feast with leaves that blow in the wind when players run by. In the course of a match, I once saw a grenade explode just beside a leaf pile, and to my surprise, when it exploded, leaves blasted away in the opposite direction, swirling from the shockwave. In some games, you might expect the leaves to blow in any direction after a nearby explosion, but here they realistically blow away from it. These physics are a rare thing to see in non-scripted multiplayer games.

Still, there are some visuals DICE should patch in the next month: (on console) the field of view seems a little tight in first-person mode, there’s a degree of blur across all three platforms and draw distance is shockingly low on console, particularly Xbox One. While I expect high-end PCs, PS4 Pro and Xbox One to look very sharp, I’m a little concerned about the overall visual fidelity on Microsoft and Sony’s 2013 hardware.

The Star Wars Battlefront II beta is a delight to play with excellent land and space battles of surprising scale. Gameplay is more varied than DICE’s first attempt, but the developer needs to offer up greater objective variation in the final game to keep things fresh. Loot crates for cosmetics make sense for the final release, but the developer and EA are just asking for controversy with the possible introduction of pay-to-win multiplayer progression. Games today are more expensive to make and market than ever before, but monetizing new abilities and powers behind RNG crates is a distasteful way to make extra cash. Of course, this is a beta, so feedback over the next few weeks could lead to improvements to Battlefront II’s economy in time for launch.

Star Wars Battlefront II’s beta ends on October 11, 2017, and DICE still has over a month to add polish to the game ahead of its November 17 launch on PS4, Xbox One and PC.

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