Star Wars has been back with us for a few years now, with the popularity and anticipation for the new films quite evident, even if simply from the way that it helped to spur on the revived Star Wars Battlefront to astronomical success back in 2015.
However, it wasn’t a perfect game, criticised for a lack of depth in particular, and EA quickly realised that a different tack was needed in order to push the series forward, adding more studios to the project to push it even further. There’s now a single player campaign, the battles span all eras of Star Wars movies, there’s more class-based combat on the ground, and most importantly for this preview, they’ve completely rethought how to bring the string of iconic starfighters into the action.
Yes, you’ll still be able to hop into a Tie Fighter and support your boys in white plastic on the ground, but much more enticing will be Starfighter Assault. What’s fascinating here is how they have effectively transposed the attack and defence gameplay of Walker Assault or Battlefield’s Rush mode into space. It works surprisingly well, even if it feels more difficult to get your bearing in battle with just a couple of goes at this particular battle.
In this fight, the Rebel Alliance were launching a huge assault on the Fondor Shipyards, sending wave after wave of starfighters to try and destroy the Imperial defences, shut down the shield generators with some applied lasers and torpedoes while running through a tight corridor, and then destroying power couplings to a Star Destroyer, exposing its core and making it vulnerable to attack. Both sides have AI controlled cruisers at various stages, lending heavy fire support that can really turn the tide of battle.
You’ll be hopping into all manner of different fighters to battle for supremacy, and there’s some elements of the class-based play that is now part of the ground-based combat. The A-Wing is fast and nimble, but has light weaponry and shielding, making it little use when trying to destroy an objective. For that you’ll want a Y-Wing with its dual proton torpedos or the newly included Tie Bomber on the Imperial side.
Each had a specific loadout of three abilities in this demo build, with different types of missiles and tools to help keep you in the fight, like the X-Wing’s Astromech Repair and weapon overcharge ability. It emphasised the different roles that each fighter had in the battle further, and I can definitely see people switching things up more often here when they respawn, to lend a little more firepower when assaulting an objective. Player progression seems to come in the form of cards that can be swapped out, tweaking the stats of your ship and its abilities.
Encouraging team play is a little trickier when all of the players are constantly on the move and when there’s less scope to group together at a particular landmark. Instead, you’re spawned in together with a selection other players in an ad hoc squad and nudged toward simply trying to play near to others and near to the action with a proximity boost to experience earned and charging up your hero points.
One of the main improvements in Star Wars Battlefront II is how heroes are brought into the fight. Instead of finding floating icons to grab and use before someone else, you earn points and then spend these to respawn as an available hero. When it’s up in space, it’s the iconic ships of the Star Wars universe, from the Millenium Falcon and Po Dameron’s black X-Wing through to Boba Fett’s Slave One. Just as with the regular starfighters, they all have unique strengths and weaknesses to learn, but the nature of space combat makes being good at these feel more rewarding of skill than abusing the sheer power of the heroes in the first game.
The only problem with all of this was that I didn’t feel like I was particularly great at it. Dogfighting can be a lot of fun, as you get onto the tail of someone and try to knock them out of existence, but it gets tricky as soon as you have to start avoiding complex objects and scenery, and the later objectives had you weaving in and out of corridors, trying to dodge support structures and so on.
I crashed quite a lot, and it’s from trying to squeeze past the edges of ships, fuelling rigs, massive satellite dishes, and even heading into the interior off the space station to try and shoot up the reactors powering the shields. Battlefront II might look and sound absolutely awesome, but it’s much less awesome when you spawn in as the Millenium Falcon, and then get wiped out by crashing into a teammate or piece of the scenery. In this regard, the game could do with being a little more forgiving.
Some may also be disappointed that the dream of seamlessly dogfighting up in space before swooping down into the atmosphere to help out the forces on the ground has still gone unrealised. It’s a simple matter that this generation of consoles likely can’t handle that huge scope, but here we have something close to the next best thing.
Starfighter Assault is a great indication of where Star Wars Battlefront II is taking the series, taking a half step away from the easy pick up and play accessibility of DICE’s first attempt toward something with more depth that rewards skill. Yes, I kind of sucked at it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to keep trying. It is Star Wars and it is starfighter dogfighting after all!