On October 31, 2005, Lucasarts released Star Wars: Battlefront II, a massive team-based first-person shooter that immediately cemented itself as a cult classic. Over the past decade, I have devoted countless hours to playing the game, immersing myself in one of the best video game representations of the galaxy far, far away ever made. Along with 3 other friends (more if you played on PC), I clambered into an AT-AT stalking across the frozen landscape of Hoth, blasting Rebel scum into a fine red mist. On Mustafar, I commanded a squadron of Republic infantrymen to help me hold a control point as Darth Maul rushed towards us with his fearsome double-bladed lightsaber. In the cold, unfeeling void of space, I piloted a X-Wing in a white-knuckle, life-or-death dogfight with Imperial TIE Fighters. The experience of playing it was like no other.
So, naturally, when it was announced that EA and DICE were releasing a sequel on November 17, 2015, I wasn’t just excited; I was ecstatic. Seeing Star Wars: Battlefront at Star Wars Celebration filled me with hope that it might be the sequel I had been longing for. However, naysayers soon began popping out the woodwork, claiming that because X, Y, and Z features were missing, it was the end of days for the unreleased game. (Admittedly, I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for something akin to Galactic Conquest mode.) Yet, not even mounting evidence of seeming missteps could hinder my excitement; the prospect of playing it at E3 was something that kept me going. It nourished me when the narcoleptic wi-fi signal at Monday’s press conferences threatened to send me into an apoplectic fit of abject rage.
We got our first taste of what to expect from the game’s multiplayer at EA’s E3 press conference on Monday.
Likewise, Sony showed off a look at Survival, a new addition to the co-op Missions mode, which showed off the Battle of Jakku (the aftermath of which we’ll see in The Force Awakens):
This morning, when the show floor opened, Nerdist gaming editor Malik Forte and I booked it to EA’s booth and immediately queued up to play Star Wars: Battlefront. After an interminable wait outside, we were welcomed inside to hallways modeled after Hoth’s Echo Base, the Rebel hideout featured in The Empire Strikes Back, where we continued to wait — except now we had ambiance.
Eventually, we made our way inside a briefing room with a large C-3PO statue under a spotlight and a bank of monitors on the wall, which played a broken, scrambled soundbite from Admiral Ackbar over and over and over again. Honestly, I love Admiral Ackbar, but this bordered on psychological torture. [Editor’s Note: Blasphemy.] Unfortunately, the Geneva Conventions don’t extend to the galaxy far, far away, so we had to grin and bear it.
Fortunately, our suffering — slight though it may have been — was worth it because when the doors finally opened and all 40 of us in the waiting room sat down and picked up controllers to play a 20 vs. 20 player match of Star Wars: Battlefront. After splitting up into teams, we sat down to play the “Walker Assault” mode on the Hoth map that was featured in Monday’s EA press conference. I couldn’t press X to start fast enough.
Let me reiterate: I have waited ten years for this. And it was well worth the wait.
Though a mouse and keyboard are probably the optimal way to play Star Wars: Battlefront, we were outfitted with a PlayStation 4 controller. Presumably, the game was running on a PS4 (which seems to be its hero platform in all of Battlefront‘s presentations) or a high-end PC masquerading as a PS4 (as so often seems to be the case at E3). Nonetheless, that meant adjusting to controls for a console shooter. Fortunately, there wasn’t much of a learning curve, and everything felt very responsive and crisp.
A decade of first-person shooters in between the two Battlefronts has meant a number of marked improvements in control scheme design. For example, in Battlefront II, I found myself lamenting the lack of a melee attack. Now, one can simply press in the right thumbstick to deliver a powerful blow to one’s enemies. Sneaking up behind an enemy sniper and punching him to death was supremely satisfying.
Switching between first-person view and third-person view is as simple as pressing down on the directional pad. In fact, you can choose whether your character peers over the left shoulder or right shoulder too. It’s a small touch that will go unnoticed by many, but it was a very nice detail. If and when you find yourself in the cockpit of an X-wing, I highly recommend trying out the first-person view if for no other reason than you get to be in the cockpit of a freakin’ X-wing.
At first, I was a little dissatisfied with the aiming, but then I realized it was more of a product of adjusting my controller sensitivity and compensating for recoil than the result of a design flaw. Whether you’re staring down the sight of your blaster or you’re targeting an enemy as you rocket past him with your jet pack, the camera control and aiming felt highly responsive and fluid.
Using your power-ups and auxiliary items is also a breeze. They are all clearly marked with a handy indicator in the bottom-right-hand corner of the screen. When you find a power-up scattered, which are scattered across the map, simply press R1+L1 and after a brief timer, it activates. It all made for an incredibly engaging experience, and gives the impression that the game will be incredibly easy to pick up and play regardless of FPS experience. However, mastering it is another matter entirely.
To say that the game looks stunning is an understatement. It’s gorgeous, and that is thanks in no small part to DICE, who went to great lengths to meticulously model and render every aspect of the Star Wars universe.
From the interiors of the Rebel Base on Hoth to the snow drifts piled high outside, Star Wars: Battlefront offers a visual feast for gamers, a beautiful canvas upon which destruction will rain down. I spent a moment marveling at the way the light diffused across the snow and the massive shadows cast by an approaching AT-AT. I say a moment because my life was brought to a sudden end by a barrage of blaster fire from that selfsame AT-AT.
While I can’t say for certain that it was running on a PS4, the game ran smoothly and there was no lag even with dozens of characters on screen firing blasters, hurling explosives, and piloting vehicles of war. Even the draw distance when staring through a sniper scope or screaming across the battlefield in an X-Wing was impressive. It made for a beautiful ballet of blaster fire and chaos, and it is one of the best-looking versions of Star Wars I have seen to date.
It’s also one of the best-sounding versions of Star Wars. As I learned at Star Wars Celebration, Battlefront will be the first game to support Dolby Atmos. While we didn’t quite have that level of audio fidelity, the Turtle Beach headsets that accompanied the stations really let you hear every little detail. Wilhelm screams, the satisfying pew pew pew of a blaster, the whoosh of a TIE Fighter hurtling past you at top speed, the explosion of accidentally crashing your X-Wing into a dish turret (shut up, I was getting used to the controls) — they all sounded crystal-clear and made for a truly immersive experience. It didn’t just feel like I was in the galaxy far, far away; it sounded like it.
As I mentioned earlier, we played a round of “Walker Assault”, which pits two teams of 20 players against each other on the ice planet of Hoth. The Imperial Forces have a simple objective: guide their armada of AT-ATs to the Rebel base and crush the scum into a mealy paste. The Rebel Alliance must prevent this from happening by activating and defending a number of satellite uplinks scattered across the map. Once activated, the uplinks allow the Rebels to call in a Y-Wing bombing run that will weaken the AT-ATs (which are normally impervious to blaster fire) and make them susceptible to attack. It’s a simple yet effective premise.
Initially, many derided “Walker Assault”, complaining that it took the fun of piloting the AT-AT from past games and turned it into a lifeless on-rails shooter. While the AT-AT is still on a set course in this scenario, it works very well within the context of the game mode. “Walker Assault” plays out like a round of Payload from Team Fortress 2. In that mode, one team has to escort a mine cart full of explosives across the map while the other team attempts to stop them. That same principle applies here, except in this case the mine cart is a heavily armored war machine equipped with blasters and the ability to call in an orbital strike that rains hot, fiery death down from the skies. And most importantly, yes, players can still pilot the AT-ATs. It all makes for an experience akin to an epic boss battle in a first-person shooter campaign.
The map itself is exceptionally well designed, with an array of dish turrets, trenches, mountain vistas, and destructible structures to provide cover in an otherwise open field. Power-ups and supply caches are scattered across the map, which provide players with enhanced shields, powerful anti-armor rockets, and even the chance to spawn vehicles like X-Wings and TIE Fighters. Making the transition to an X-Wing and seeing the battle from above was a blast and a half, but just make sure to take a look at the controls first or you may find yourself making an explosive emergency landing.
Character classes, it seems, are a thing of the past. Instead, they have been replaced by a variety of equipment loadouts and an arsenal of iconic weaponry that players can select upon each new spawn. In the demo that we played, 2 different loadouts were available to us. The first allowed you to use a short-burst jet pack, a grenade launcher, and the ability to temporarily enhance your weapon strength; the other offered a personal shield, a guided rocket launcher, and thermal detonators.
In addition to these loadouts, players could choose whichever primary weapon best suited their play style. If you’re a run-and-gun assault kind of player, the blaster may be your best bet. If you’re looking to be a tank-y shocktrooper, choose a heavy weapon. Or if you want to be a sneaky snake of a sniper, choose the blaster rifle with a handy-dandy scope. All of the weaponry felt taut, responsive, and deadly enough to get the job done.
Of course, the true joy of the “Walker Assault” experience was when all of these elements gelled together to create some incredible in-game moments. For example, as I crouched in the trenches making my way towards an ally at a satellite uplink, a detachment of stormtroopers crested the hill and took him out. I sniped one of them from a distance, but his friends spotted me. After dodging a few potshots, I began sprinting towards them to take them out. A stormtrooper immediately activated his jetpack, flying high above and trying to shoot me from above. Crap. I hadn’t expected this.
Fortunately, I reacted in time, sending blaster bolts up to the heavens, which killed him mid-flight. Looking back towards the uplink, I found myself closing in on his ally, who was firing wildly. This time, though, it was my turn to take flight, and I used my jetpack to leap over his head and kill him from behind. Just as I hit the emote button to celebrate him like the overconfident jerk I was being, a roving AT-ST riddled me with so much blaster fire that I looked like Sonny Corleone at a toll booth.
The greatest moment in the match, however, came at the end when the Empire was on the verge of destroying our base, having pushed us back to our final checkpoint. Malik and I were both posted up in dish turrets, providing suppressive fire for our teammates as they tried to activate the satellite uplinks for one final bombing run. They succeeded. With a limited window of time, the entire team focused its fire on the lumbering giants marching towards us. One fell, but the other looked as though it would be too strong for us to defeat. With the entire might of the meager Rebel Alliance attacking the second AT-AT, we whittled down its health to a sliver. Suddenly, we heard a cry of “Fuck you!” that was immediately followed by an X-Wing crashing into the AT-AT’s cockpit. The sacrifice and subsequent explosion not only killed the pilot, but destroyed the AT-AT, ending the match in the most unexpected but jaw-dropping way possible.
That is Battlefront in a nutshell — using the game’s raw materials and expertly rendered enviroments to create fist-pumping moments of unadulterated fun.
We only got a taste of Star Wars: Battlefront, but it lingered long after we left EA’s booth. Instantly, it assuaged all of my fears about the game. It may not be precisely the Battlefront we once knew, but the spirit of it is still there, and that is the most important part. For a game that is still in its early stages, it handled remarkably well, and I can easily see “Walker Assault” becoming one of the most popular modes due to the beautiful simplicity of its premise.
At the end of the day, the best part of Battlefront is the experience of inserting yourself into Star Wars and playing a part in some of its most iconic battles. Battlefront does exactly that and offers a sense of uncanny, unbridled fun. And I cannot wait to experience it in its entirety come November 17th.
Dan Casey is the senior editor of Nerdist and the author of 100 Things Avengers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. You can follow him on Twitter (@Osteoferocious).