Hands-on impressions with the latest demo build of Star Wars Battlefront, coming soon to Xbox One & PC

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens will (hopefully) mark the triumphant return of one of the world's most beloved movie franchises, and licensees are lining up. Toys, memorabilia, clothes - merchandise of all forms sizes will blanket the world like a Hoth snowdrift following December.

Video games form a significant pillar in Star Wars' licensing empire. Enter Star Wars Battlefront, coming soon to Xbox One and PC.

EA won exclusive rights to develop Star Wars games back in 2013, following Disney's acquisition of Lucas Arts. EA already have a decent amount of experience with the franchise internally. Bioware (Mass Effect, Dragon Age) created Knights of the Old Republic - which is arguably the greatest Star Wars video game ever made. EA also run Star Wars: The Old Republic, a solid Star Wars MMO also developed by Bioware.

Star Wars Battlefront existed in a previous incarnation for the original Xbox, developed by Pandemic Studios back in 2004. EA have revived the multiplayer shooter property, handing it off to DICE - famed for Mirror's Edge, the Frostbite Engine and Battlefield.

The ultimate Star Wars experience?

Battlefront is being marketed as the 'ultimate Star Wars experience'. On the one hand, that could be interpreted as typical marketing speak. On the other, there's no reason the combination of DICE's shooter expertise and EA's money can't make these claims a reality. I haven't played the classic Battlefront, as such, I allowed most of my expectations to align with what I knew of DICE's Battlefield series.

I queued for almost 3 hours at EGX to play Battlefront, the frenzy for this game was easily on par with Halo 5 and The Division. EA decorated the test area with a gigantic TIE Fighter, complete with cosplaying Stormtrooper and an introductory tutorial video narrated by Admiral Ackbar.

I played through the game's Walker Assault mode, taking place on Hoth during the iconic battle at the start of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. In this game mode, two teams made up of 20 Rebels and 20 Imperials compete in an attack/defend scenario. Imperial players are tasked to defend the hulking AT-AT Walkers as they slowly move to destroy the Rebel Base. Rebel players are required to activate satellite uplinks that provide targeting data for Y-Wing bombers to destroy the Imperial AT-ATs. Bombing runs disable the Walker's shields, allowing players to damage and ultimately destroy them - winning the match.

The incredible trailer sequences are relatively accurate in practice. The sound-scaping is unmistakably Star Wars, from the pulse of a blaster to the screeching TIE Fighters overhead. The vehicles, character and equipment models are lovingly rendered, and the attention to detail stands proudly in an otherwise barren Hoth landscape. Battlefront bleeds authenticity, at least on the surface.

The underwhelming part, for me, is that a lot of these epic experiences are completely on-rails. You don't get to pilot the Y-Wings on their bombing runs, you don't get to drive an AT-AT Walker. After a while, I began to feel like a stunt double in a movie scene rather than a Stormtrooper fighting for the Emperor - but I suspect part of this feeling might lie within my personal preconceptions.

Battlefront was always going to be compared to Battlefield. They almost share a namesake, and the large-scale epic, dynamic battles DICE are known for should translate perfectly well into a Star Wars setting. The trailers certainly speak to that. As such, I've read concerns that Battlefront would just be Battlefield with a Star Wars skin. For better or worse, that's certainly not the case.

Battlefront shares more common ground with Call of Duty than it does with Battlefield

Battlefront tries very hard to not be Battlefield. The AT-AT Walker Assault mode could be compared to Conquest in Battlefield, where each team vies for control points - similar to Battlefront's uplinks. The chief difference can be found in the way the game feels - Battlefront is more comparable to Call of Duty than it is to Battlefield.

Battlefield, like Battlefront, has vehicles. You can jump into the driver's seat with all of Battlefield's tanks, jets, helicopters, and boats, each of which persists until destroyed. Battlefront's vehicles are simply temporary power-ups, activated by hitting both bumpers after you collect a floating token on the map. These power-ups give Battlefront an arcade feel, combined with instant respawns, the lack of class-based roles and various other design choices.

When it comes to Battlefront's gunplay, it continues the classic game's tradition of allowing you to flip between first and third-person viewpoints. I expected third-person to give you an advantage, offering a wider peripheral vision. However, at least in my demo, it didn't convey when the line of sight had gotten broken - which got me killed more than once. I spent most of the game playing in first-person to avoid this.

The weapons I tried didn't feel as diverse as Battlefield's, as each handled similarly with minimal recoil. The laser blasts travel far slower than bullets in a typical shooter, making target leading an issue even at shorter ranges. Blasters have infinite ammo, and instead use a heat-expelling cartridges similar to Mass Effect 2 and 3. Keep your weapons cool and you'll be able to carve through swathes of Rebels for hours unabated. And given the instant respawn mechanics, you'll never be short of people to kill.

Equipment loadouts in Battlefront come in the form of cards that you can assign to different buttons. For my set up, I had grenades for one shoulder button and a jetpack boost for another. I used the jetpack to powerful effect, deftly flanking entire groups of unwitting Rebel scum. Some of the other equipment items include personal shield generators, borrowed from the prequel movies, and a burst grenade launcher. You can switch equipment at the respawn screen, allowing you to change tactics and jump back into the action rapidly.

When it comes to power weapons and vehicles, as previously mentioned, they come in the form of floating tokens on the game's map. The floating tokens are immersion-busting, smacking of something I'd sooner expect in Mario Kart than a serious shooter, but they incentivise players to explore the map and stray from expected paths.

One token allowed me to pilot an AT-AT Walker's turrets, targeting large areas to devastating effect. Another allowed me to spawn as a TIE Fighter. The ships follow your cursor more similarly to Halo's banshees than Battlefield's more complex yawing and pitching jets. Each vehicle power up was frustratingly brief, but devastating - thoroughly reminiscent of Call of Duty kill-streaks.

All of these mechanics speak to the game's lenient accessibility, minimizing punishment for dying and throwing devastating weapons at you like a buffet of destruction.

The battle for a broader audience

Ultimately, I think DICE knows that Battlefront's audience is potentially broader than Battlefield's audience. As a result, the depth and complexities of Battlefield don't fit. That's not a bad thing by any means, but people who were expecting Battlefront to be as dynamic as Battlefield should shed that expectation as soon as possible.

When I quit trying to play it like it was Battlefield, I began to find it more enjoyable. Our match was over in just over 15 minutes, a far cry from Battlefield's 30-45 minute all-out kill-fests. Despite the relative briefness of the match, those at the top of the scoreboard had netted over 50 kills apiece.

Battlefront seems more like something you can just pick up and play, rather than having to commit yourself to long sessions locked in a Battlefield stalemate. There's little punishment for dying, as such, it's easier to jump right into the action. Additionally, Battlefront provides an infinite amount of canon fodder for each of the game's most powerful weapons, the AT-AT piloting, aerial bombardments and indeed, playing as hero characters like Darth Vader.

Simply by carrying the Star Wars license, DICE needed to gun for a wider audience, and I think they'll hit it well. My biggest concern for Battlefront was that it'd feel like a cash-in, sharing a convenient launch window with what is likely to be the biggest movie launch of 2015. After going hands-on, I can confidently report that this isn't the case. Battlefront has a strong gameplay identity even without the power of the license it's attached to.

Is it strong enough to beat Halo 5 for the Xbox community's multiplayer affections? I'm not sure. Thankfully, DICE is launching Battlefront into open beta on October 8th to help us answer that question.

Star Wars Battlefront launches on Xbox One, PS4 and PC on November 19th.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • Great article. This is a game I'm really looking forward to, just as much as Halo 5.
  • Thanks dude
  • It was a great article. Told me a lot I didn't know about the game. Kind of disappointed now since it's more related to COD (which I officially hate now) than BF (which I officially love now). Cater to the short attention span kiddies - they had to do it, but it ruins it for others.
  • Pretty good read. I'll defeinitely jump in for the beta, especially after being significantly underwhelmed by Siege this past week. I still worry that it'll be too Battlefield-like, thanks to the scale. I don't like massive multiplayer experiences because it's often too hard to be a difference-making player. You can sort-of carry 3-4 people in Halo modes like Team Slayer. You can't carry 15-30 in something like Battlefield, and even doing it with only 7 teammates in Big Team Battle (which I never play) is hard. But like I said, I'm totally willing to give it a try. I'm not sure how likely it is I'll get the game, what with Halo on the 27th, then Fallout 4 2 weeks later, which is only a week before Battlefront. Throw in CoD and Siege, and this holiday season's gotta be the most shooter-packed mess in a while, haha. 4 major multipalyer FPS titles and Fallout?
  • Forgot all about siege amongst all the big hits this winter. How is it?
  • It's OK, but pretty "meh." They're selling you a tactical shooter in an environment (LIVE) where no one uses a mic, let alone communicates worth anything. However, if you have an Xbox One and are interested, Ubi just e-mailed me an extra beta code, and I could let you try it out (I'd play with you, so you'd have some assistance). If you're interested, PM me on the forum.
  • I remember playing Rainbow Six on the original Xbox on Xbox Live and tons of people used to chat. Not sure if it was because there were less people online with their Xbox back then, and so those of us that were really made more of an effort with it perhaps. I do miss those days as you don't get anybody useful (if anybody at all) actually using their Microphones anymore
  • R6 on XB back in the day was great. That is the only reason why I looked at Siege, but the beta has been pretty disappointing. Still have not been able to play in a regular match successfully. Only Terrorist Hunt.
  • I feel like it's a game where you have to know at least 3 other people to really have fun with it. I'm only getting it if friends get it.
  • I'm addicted to Siege. When they take the beta away on the 4th I won't know what to do until it comes out. It's the only game where I can effectively live out my dreams of being a camper by barricading myself in a room right next to the objective and punching out peepholes in the wall to guard the objective.
  • I'll have no trouble going back to Halo and Forza--in fact, I already have. It's just boring to play a tactical, team-based shooter with no communication.
  • If the trailer speaks by itself, and it does according to the article, then this is the SW game I've been looking for!
  • I'm torn. I want it on PC, but then I'd be forced to use Origin.  I'd like it on Xbox, but then I'd miss out on all of the top of the line functionality...
  • Of course, you need an Origin account on Xbox One, it's just not as invasive as needing a DRM program on PC.
  • Only problem ive had over the years was NVIDIA reference drivers couldn't load nfs undercover but origin began making latest drivers a requirement. To bad they didn't research that a few manufacturers were selling b stock cards
  • I actually haven't been having diffculty with Origin lately, if that helps. I'd say this though, where it was built by the same people that did Battlefield, it's likely going to be a more complete experience on the PC, as well as better graphics. But, if you have a bunch of friends that are going to play it on Xbox, that could easily trump better graphics, and draw distance and such. For me at least. Or, get it on PC and then wait for it to be cheaper on Xbox, either via a used disc or Bing rewards or something.
  • Great write-up Jez, I'm stoked!
  • Thanks bud
  • Want. So. Bad....
  • I'm torn on this one. Overall, the SW fan inside me wants to yell "wooo, SW FPS". I can live with the on rails walkers and limited vehicle options. What I cant live with is the decision not to include aiming down iron sights :/
  • Yeah, I am torn too. I want to try the game but I am not sure I will like the combat. Excellent write up though. I liked the comparisons to things I know so I can better judge the game itself.
  • Dude, they had to make it a true SW game. We all know storm troopers never aimed down sights hahahaha.
  • If you are a stormtroop you can't aim down sight. the helmet has an aim-assist system built-in. For balance, allowing the rebels to ADS would be a huge advanage and break the game. I am going to guess the feel is going to be a little arcady and feel like Quake or UT versus a modern FPS. I just how it feels good.
  • I understand re Stormtroopers, but iron sights should not break the game in any way if they balance it right. If a Stormtrooper has aim assistance in his helmet, then that's even more of an argument for having iron sights on the Rebel side. Shot scatter in 'from the hip' VS 'iron sights' mode already exists in the engine, so tuning it shouldn't be an issue. Not having any iron sights just puts it one step further into the 'casual' side of gaming, and for a title like this I don't think that's right. Of course I'm sure the reason they did it is purely to make the game seem less hardcore and invite more sales from those who normally wouldn't play dedicated FPS's.
  • I had no idea that was the case. I already pre-ordered like a month or two ago. I was expecting essentailly star wars, but with all the features that makes battlefield great. Lack of vehicles and vehicle combat, no iron sights (wtf?) and no campaign makes me glad I only paid like 40-45 for it. If there is no aiming down sights, why do the guns have scopes? To hear this now is just disappointing. What is this Counterstrike? Game looks great, but with some of that missing i dont think it will feel complete for me. Guess we will have to see next week when we try the beta.
  • That's why I never pre-order games :) Any 'bonuses' are usually not worth it in the long run, and while I'm a big gamer, if I don't have the game on the first day it doesn't phase me too much, as I have to plan my gaming time around work. I agree that visually it looks excellent, and from the gameplay videos it does actually look like a lot of fun, but I don't know just how much it'll keep my interest. I generally don't do much MP gaming, and unless a title is something extraordinary, would never buy a game without an SP campaign.
  • All the weapons I had were scoped and used LT as a zoom, which felt pretty similar to ADS. It felt okay to me.
  • Looks good and sounds like a fun game to play, even more so, at a casual level. Might check it out. Aw, it's for Origin...Oh, well.
  • Yeah Origin kinda turned me off instabuy but we'll see.
  • I have had fewer problems with origin than Steam recently for what it's worth.
  • Want...clone wars...
  • Me too.
  • looks good I might try it eventualy.
  • http://www.automationtraining.info/
  • Tried it at EGX me and a mate waited in line for 2 hours and it was definitely worth it the graphics look great and the action is intense.
  • The instant respawns work really well to keep the action going, sometimes in Battlefield you can without someone to kill for quite a while.
  • Yeah that's a good point it's great being able to jump straight back in.
  • Thanks for the impressions Jez. I am one of those people expecting star wars battlefield, so I'm glad I read this article! Looking forward to playing at the end of next week. That will decide if I preorder or not, but at least I can go in knowing it isn't battlefield.
  • Aye, it's far more accessible than Battlefield, awesome to just jump on for a quick match etc, but there's enough there to dig in for long sessions too. :)
  • While the article was well written and I generally like what work Jez produces, I dislike the overabundance of time spent comparing Battlefront to Battlefield. This gives me no field of reference as the last Battlefield game I played was Bad Company (1). Certainly some would find this approach comfortable and familiar, but I have no appreciation for the Battlefield or CoD series which makes the middle third of this article disconnected and uninspiring. Obviously this was chosen as a technical reference because of DICE running development. As the reference material DICE is pulling from is far more vast than their Battlefield experience, I would have preferred that, if one is to be reporting on a game with the prominence and legacy of a game like Battlefront, one would play a previous game in the series as reference, not necessarily as an exclusive reference point, but certainly to provide broader reference than Battlefield. The reference to the demo match outcome - 15 minutes that accommodated top players 50 kills - is very much in line with the expectation one would have with experience in playing previous Battlefront games, as well as a majority of late '90s early/mid '00s deathmatch modes for 1st / 3rd perspective shooters. I do appreciate the information in the first few and last few paragraphs, but the overarching comparison that Battlefront is not a cookie cutter copy of a game that I haven't played isn't helpful. I would have preferred a focus and comparison showing that Battlefront, seemingly, stays consistent with its predecessors in scope and style - it harkens back to a simpler 'run and gun' time before endless loadout and perk decisions became prominent and presents an approachable, modern spin on the classic series. Overall, well written, really just didn't speak to my connection with the series.
  • I did note that I haven't played Battlefront at the start of the article, so I simply didn't have that frame of reference and didn't want to lie about that fact. I used other popular games that I have played to try and contrast and compare, paying specific attention to the prevailing concerns I've read on social media about DICE developing it. It really does harken back to simpler times, not on a UT99 level but still. I did try to provide context, for example listing the fact that it has no respawn timer and the vehicles are temporary power-ups rather than weapons you can deploy at will. If you like more specific information or have questions I'd be happy to answer them, I just haven't played the original sadly (couldn't afford many games as a kid).
  • Thanks for the response. :) Hopefully I didn't come across as derogatory, as I was just trying to give my perspective as an interested reader and gamer with a specific experience. I do appreciate the context, and I'm not necessarily knocking you for not having played the predecessors to this Battlefront, it just would have been a familiar comparison that I could connect with. It would appear that this new incarnation of Battlefront is very reminiscent of its predecessors with an approachable, almost arcade feel to its accessibility and mechanics. It is actually somewhat refreshing to see an approach like this, where the developer isn't trying to over-modernize a proven entertaining design model. I like a game that provides a short learning curve when it comes to online multiplayer, it makes it that much easier to get into as it is so approachable. Of recent times, the only titles that spring to mind for me that embrace a similar design approach would be Titanfall and (ironically, as I forgot about this one when I was writing my previous comment) Battlefield 1943.
  • Yeah, Titanfall is a good comparison. I was able to pick it up and play straight away, and the way abilities load-out is similar to Titanfall.
  • As an aside. I know you guys can't really control ads, but in this article I saw an ad with a fake "Scan for errors" dialog. Not cool.