Star Wars Battlefront II preview: An explosive return to form, but questions remain
Last week, the Star Wars Battlefront II beta went live for customers who preordered the title. Here are our impressions of the beta after ten full hours of blasting droids and hunting rebel scum.
Ever since the alpha gameplay that was shown off at E3 this year, the hype surrounding Star Wars Battlefront II has been growing with each passing day. The presentation on-stage showcased a return to the original Battlefront II's class-based mechanics, a brand new Battlepoints system, and breathtaking visuals and audio design. But now that we've finally been hands-on, how does it all feel?
Frankly, it feels excellent.
Modes: Four ways to play
In the Battlefront II beta, there were several modes to play — Strike, Arcade, Starfighter Assault, and Galactic Assault. Here's a brief rundown of each:
Strike: This mode pits two infantry teams of eight against each other on the lush planet of Takodana. First Order Stormtroopers have to secure and extract an artifact of strategic value, while the Resistance has to stop them. If the First Order team runs out of reinforcements (respawns) than they lose. This mode is significantly more tactical and competitively oriented than the others, offering an experience that hardcore shooter fans are sure to enjoy.
Arcade: In Arcade, up to two players can take on hordes of AI forces. Arcade allows you to either fight with computer allies against enemies, or take on entire armies yourself. This mode is similar to the first Battlefront's offline wave defense mode, but this time around, DICE has made dramatic improvements to the competency of the AI. Arcade is, overall, a great way to hone your skills or play Battlefront II casually.
Starfighter Assault: This mode pits two teams of twelve up against each other in the vacuum of space. The Rebellion is attempting to raid and destroy a damaged Star Destroyer that's being repaired at a maintenance station, while the Empire has to defend the station and cruiser from the attacking Rebels.
Players can opt to fly several iconic Star Wars aircraft such as X-Wings or TIE Fighters, but you can also spawn in with hero ships like the Millennium Falcon if you earn enough Battlepoints to do so. Players who love to fly are sure to get a kick out of this mode.
Galactic Assault: As Star Wars Battlefront II's main mode, this 20v20 experience combines all aspects of the Battlefront II experience — vehicles, aircraft, heroes, and infantry — together into one chaotic objective-based battle. In the beta version of Galactic Assault, Separatist droid armies are attempting to break into the Naboo palace and capture the Queen's throne room; the clone forces of the Republic must halt their advance.
This mode is where the real meat of the Battlefront II experience lies. Despite the fact that the map can occasionally feel a little empty (I wish that we could have the 32v32 match size from the original Battlefront II) this mode overall is an absolute blast. Whether you win or lose, it simply feels amazing to be part of a large scale Star Wars battlefield.
Gameplay: Choose a class, kick some ass
Battlefront II sees the return of the classic class-based system the original possessed. In Battlefront II, you can play as the Assault, Heavy, Officer or Specialist class.
The Assault class is the dedicated attacking soldier, armed with a blaster rifle and a shotgun. The Heavy, equipped with an energy shield and both a heavy and repeating blaster, is the perfect defensive unit, ideal for sieges or holding a chokepoint. Officers can heal troops around them and deploy automated turrets, and Specialists are equipped with sniper rifles for picking off troops from afar.
Each class brings useful abilities and skills to the table, and having a healthy mix of all four of them is the best way to ensure success. But infantry soldiers can't do it alone, and that's where vehicles, aircraft, and heroes come in.
Though they can fall to focus fire, ground vehicles like the AT-RT or AAT can prove to be invaluable in keeping friendly ground troops covered with their heavy firepower. Aerial fighter craft, provided that they aren't destroyed by enemy ships, also can rain down blaster fire from above, giving you air support.
However, nothing is more valuable in combat than heroes. Heroes are ultimate units that can be called into battle, and if played well, will completely turn the tide of a fight. Darth Maul, Boba Fett, Han Solo and Rey were all playable in the beta, and each one offers a unique set of abilities and skills that will not only decimate foes, but also provide useful bonuses to regular infantry.
Because of their massive impact potential, though, hero units can't regenerate damage they take once they lose a full bar of their health. This ensures that one player can't dominate as a hero the entire match. While heroes are incredibly tough, a team of normal troops focus firing them will bring them down pretty fast. Knowing when to retreat from the fight will maximize your effectiveness with heroes.
Overall, the beta felt balanced, fluid, and intense, much like the original Battlefront II. In this regard, EA and DICE have succeeded in making their game feel like a faithful sequel to the classic.
Battlepoints: How do they work?
By completing objectives or scoring kills on the field, players can earn Battlepoints. These will allow you to call in powerful assets during the battle, such as vehicles, fighters, special infantry units or even heroes. The more powerful the asset, the more expensive the Battlepoint cost.
This system feels like a significant improvement over the token system from the first Battlefront, because players earn their powerful tools of destruction now, instead of merely being the first one to collect a power-up token.
Star Cards and upgrades
By either paying real money or playing the game normally, you can earn credits in-game to buy crates. These crates contain Star Cards, which give you special abilities in the field, as well as crafting parts that you can use to upgrade your weapons and abilities and even create weapon attachments that modify the performance of the weapon you attach it to.
While microtransaction systems aren't the preferred system for many, it's hard to gauge the extent to which it could be "pay to win" until the card packs are fully implemented. DICE hasn't clarified exactly how some of these mechanics launch, so we'll only be able to tell when the game fully launches. But our senior editor Jez Corden has already penned an article about how they could work out to be quite bad for the game as a whole. Hopefully, DICE will give us more information sooner rather than later.
Performance, visuals, and sound: An authentic Star Wars experience
Like the first Battlefront, EA and DICE have crafted a gorgeous Star Wars atmosphere to immerse yourself in with Battlefront II. Everything from the hum of a lightsaber to the retorts of blaster rifles that sound like something taken straight out of one of the films, and the events of battle all occur while famous Star Wars tracks play in the background.
Visually, the game is stunning, and it's clear that a great deal of time and effort went into the visual design of the game's assets and environments to make sure they were accurate to what we see in the movies and TV shows. To top it all off, the game is optimized excellently and runs very smoothly. There's only the very rare framerate drop to deal with; other than that, it's practically flawless.
The beta for Star Wars Battlefront II was a small, yet satisfying taste of what looks to be a plethora of upcoming Star Wars action. DICE has found a way to blend the strengths of both their own take on the Battlefront series and the classic Battlefront II in order to create a faithful and intense sequel that fans will love. We just hope DICE will resolve the loot crate situation as soon as possible.
You can preorder Star Wars Battlefront II for $59.99. It will be available for the Xbox One, PS4, and PC on EA's Origin service on November 17th, 2017.
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Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.