Kicking off tomorrow for those that have pre-ordered and on Friday for everyone else, the Star Wars Battlefront II multiplayer beta gives a great overview of the multiplayer offerings that the final game will bring, as EA, DICE, Motive, Criterion and probably one or two developers I’m forgetting work hard to really build upon the original and improve what it didn’t quite get right. We recently had the opportunity to try out the Star Wars Battlefront II beta at DICE in Sweden and definitely came away impressed by how far they’ve gone.
Galactic Assault is the perfect example of this improvement, as it’s a much better fleshed out mode with a more narrative spin compared to Walker Assault from the first game. You don’t just have plain objectives to try and capture or AT-AT walkers to try and destroy, as the beta’s level sees the Trade Federation’s droid army trying to storm the palace on Naboo. It’s very evocative of the prequel films, even if it’s a bit jumbled up by having clone troopers defending with Rey and Han Solo as heroes and not palace guards with Obi-Wan and Young Anakin – admit it, this would be hilarious to have young Anakin as a hero – and the battle will gradually evolve, first as the droids escort an MTT robot transport through the streets, trying to keep its health high, as this will determine the number of respawn tokens you get when trying to breach the chokepoint entrance to the palace.
One of the biggest additions is with character classes, funnelling players into Assault, Heavy, Officer and Specialist, each of which has specific weapons, items and abilities. It adds something that the original was really missing so that your play can really compliment that of your teammates. The Officer is a really interesting one, with no healer in the group, as it kind of tries to keep players grouped together with one ability, and can place a turret with another. Meanwhile, the Specialist is a great mix of distance with its sniper rifle and having a burst fire rifle as an ability, where you need to keep downing enemies in order to keep it active, giving risk and reward to the kind of close range play that some people love to turn this type of class into.
There’s also been a shift to wave-based spawning, so that once you pick your character you’re grouped together with other players readying up around the same time and sent into battle together. Compared to the buddy respawns of the first game, it’s yet another step forward and again shows a willingness to do things differently to Battlefield to tailor the overall experience to the more casual players. You will be able to squad up if you have friends online, it’s been confirmed to us, but with a points boost for sticking with those you spawn alongside, it’s a nice hands off approach to encouraging squad play that’s easy to abide by and equally easy to ignore.
Of course, go the lone wolf and you won’t be earning as many points toward playing as hero characters anywhere near as quickly. Gone are the character and vehicle tokens found in game, as you instead earn points while playing and then get the opportunity to spend those to respawn as a hero, as a souped up soldier or in a variety of vehicles. It’s a system that feels more rewarding and simply makes more sense than the mad rush or wait to get to a token first.
Sadly, the preview we had of Galactic Assault was anti-climactic thanks to server difficulties in getting a full 20 vs 20 match going at the time, though it shows the difficulties of developing and balancing games. I’m really hoping it’s a lot more fun in the full beta, because the map could feel a bit empty without a full compliment of players, and yet paradoxically too cramped for vehicular combat – the one exception being a pair of AT-RT armoured battle legs that were seriously overpowered and will be toned down. The opening section to this fight was a bit too long and too close to Walker Assault’s simple grind forward. It’s these important things that DICE need to see and try to react to, and hopefully it’s already been tweaked for the beta’s launch since we played it.
By contrast, the other modes were a lot of fun. Strike brings together the various smaller modes from the first game and remixes them so that you’re always attacking or defending a single objective. In this instance, it was Maz’s Castle/bar on Takodana from The Force Awakens, with the First Order trying to steal an artefact and push forward to a ship near to the Resistance spawn point in order to win.
It’s a straightforward fight, but it showed Battlefront at it’s best with plenty of action to be found not long after spawning, despite only having 16 players, and with the freedom to push an attack down a few different routes. Do you try to run down the beach? That’s ill advised, but pushing along the tree line or deeper into the jungle offer up a few possibilities, especially if you stick together and make good use of the special units available in this battle.
There’s also still the kinds of single player that the first game had, though there is of course the full story campaign with Iden Versio and her Imperial Special Forces group. In Arcade you can play solo or in split screen, taking on a team deathmatch mode with and against AI, or challenging yourself to kill a certain number of AI before time runs out in Onslaught mode – it must be said that Darth Maul is much, much more effective here than the B2 Battle Droid.
At the second time of asking, and with a much better idea of what was going on, Fighter Assault sat much better with me than the Gamescom pre-alpha build. I don’t know whether Criterion have tweaked anything or if it was simply down to having a small amount of experience with it, but playing the same level, the assault on Fondor Shipyards, I felt like I could contribute much more when playing the objective. You really need to focus on the objective in order to succeed, but the Rebellion even managed to pull off a victory on one occasion.
Much like the fighter battles of the original, there’s a mixture of players and AI, so while it’s just 12 players on each side, it still feels action packed with lasers bolts flying all over the place in spectacular fashion. All of the iconic ships of the Star Wars series have been pushed into logical feeling class-like roles in battle, so Tie Interceptors and A-Wings are the lighter dogfighters, while Y-Wings and Tie Bombers are the muscle for dealing serious damage to objectives. The handling feels great, even if the default controls make it a little easy to barrel roll. You have leading target reticules but none of the lock on of before, so if you know what you’re about you can do a surprising amount of damage from quite far away. Making the best use of the hero ships here relies on resilience and skill, much more than they do on the ground, as you’re much easier to kill and feel as though you have a huge target on your back. Stay alive though, and you can also be a decisive factor by dealing a lot of damage to an objective.
Star Wars Battlefront II looks like a game that is getting to grips with its potential. Where the original was roundly criticised for not having enough depth or variety, Battlefront II answers those complaints quite convincingly. Sure, there’s bound to be plenty of balancing and tweaking to be done in the run up to launch and it will be great to see Galactic Assault with a full server in the coming days, but after being a little disappointed with the first game, I’m now eager to see and play more of the sequel.
The Star Wars Battlefront II Multiplayer Beta starts tomorrow, 4th October, for those who’ve pre-ordered the game, opens for all on Friday 6th October, and runs until Monday 9th October.
Travel and accommodation were provided by EA for this trip.