Just like I did this time two years ago, I eagerly jumped into the Beta preview for Star Wars Battlefront, the sequel of which is due out next month. It’s a great opportunity to get a taste for what the full game might deliver, and no doubt a chance for the build team to gauge their wares in a public arena too.
Back in 2015, the Star Wars Battlefront Beta showcased Hoth as a playable map – that epic scene that opens The Empire Strikes Back with gargantuan AT-AT walkers stomping in the background. But disappointingly, the Beta for Battlefront 2 features a relatively weak scenario as their preview of the Galactic Assault mode.
It takes place in the Naboo city of Theed, where the Trade Federation invades Queen Amidala’s Palace in Episode 1. Theed is a beautiful map, but the Battle of Hoth was a desperate and raw survival for the Rebel outcasts and the scenario that’s presented to us here sees mindless battle droids who bleat out irritating quips while being shot at. It doesn’t help that they’re up against clones who all look and sound like Temuera Morrison (which made me wonder, does Tem still get royalties?).
There’s just no emotional pull into the battle that’s taking place around you, and ultimately it means that I never really cared who won. The other thing that annoyed me was the disregard for the Star Wars canon. The droid federation army’s hero character is Darth Maul, with his iconic dual bladed lightsaber – which is logical considering we are introduced to him in Episode 1. However the other hero counterpart is Rey... from Episode 7, who wouldn’t even have been born yet, considering there is around 65 years difference between the two stories.
I might sound pedantic, but if it’s a big deal to me I’m sure it will bug other Star Wars fans. Considering everything we know about Rey so far, it seems ridiculous to put her in front of clone troopers. I’m going to assume that this is just for the Beta, and that maybe Rey is a placeholder hero who will be replaced by Qui Gon or a young Obi Wan. Or... maybe Jar Jar Binks?
The Beta offers just one map for Galactic Assault (which is the biggest multiplayer mode in the game) so I’m not going to judge Battlefront 2 on this Naboo experience alone. There are however some dramatic changes to the gameplay mechanics from the previous game which show that Battlefront 2 has evolved.
There is a new squad based respawn system, where if four of you are all waiting in the lobby, you can enter the fray immediately - otherwise there’s the standard countdown timer. There are classes to pick from, including assault, heavy, specialist, and an interesting officer class where you can give your team members advantages from a non-combat angle.
You no longer have to pick up tokens spawned somewhere on the map like in the previous Battlefront either. Now hero characters, like the aforementioned Rey and Darth Maul, can be selected as soon as you have collected enough points in a match, so that you next spawn as that character.
These hero characters are limited so that there can only ever be one on the map at a time (so there won’t be any awkward moments with five Darth Mauls advancing on you). It also means no more frantically running to be the first one to grab a token, and the disappointment of missing out. This same process applies to vehicles, so spawning into a star fighter is now achieved by earning enough points and then selecting it at the spawn screen.
In a lot of ways it feels more natural than 2015’s Battlefront, and forces players to work for extra advantages on the battlefield rather than just stumbling across them. It also means that the hero characters are usually controlled by more skilled players, and there’s not that awkward scenario of having to comedically crouch down in the middle of a fight to try and swap to a vehicle.
But Battlefront 2 suffers from some issues. Maybe I’ve been spoilt with Battlefield 1, where every gun and vehicle felt weighty and significant. Here firefights with blasters seem more like BB-guns than deadly weapons and often it’s hard to know if you’re doing any damage. I’m hoping that as players progress they will be able to equip more intimidating weapons.
But on the plus side the action feels a lot better in more confined spaces. While a lot of Theed feels too open and empty (which emphasises your weak weaponry), the later sections inside the Palace are a lot more enjoyable with tight hallways and narrow doorways.
The Beta gives players a few vehicles to try out in Galactic Assault too, and flying a Vulture Droid high above the streets of Theed is fun at first. However it doesn’t take long before it feels unproductive and isolating. Dog fights in the air are short lived and the map on offer doesn’t allow for many good opportunities to get low to the action to help out your ground troops. The controls and speed of these vehicles don’t lend themselves well for this map at all, and you’re better off saving your points for hero characters.
Thankfully, vehicles feel a lot better in the Starfighter Assault mode, of which there is a playable map in this beta. It offers a 12-on-12 dogfight in space, with classic X-Wings, Tie Fighters, Y-Wings and the like, where players will be either defending or attacking objectives. I had to change the default control setup to something called the Southpaw configuration, which flipped the mapping of the two sticks to suit me better. But after this easy change, I was soon zipping in-between Star Destroyers like Jek Porkins hunting down cake.
As stated, it would be premature and unfair to judge Battlefront 2 on this beta experience alone. But as pretty as Naboo’s Theed map is, it lacks the sense of excitement and epicness that the Star Wars universe should deliver. But the good news is there are plenty more maps promised in the full game which could change all of that – so we’ll know more when the game lands next month.
Did you play the Beta over the weekend? Let us know your thoughts below.