Battlefront Beta Impressions
There is always a bad taste in my mouth when a new beta is announced for an upcoming game. Not because I don’t get excited for pre-release content; quite the opposite infact. That flavor comes from knowing that I, yet again, will have to explain to people what a beta actually is. A beta is intended to expose the current version of a game to a larger audience in order to find, and hopefully squash, bugs in the code. I never considered game developers themselves would completely miss the mark when releasing the Star Wars Battlefront beta last week, because not only is it the absolute worst example of a beta in recent memory but it is also a bad game.
When a Beta isn’t a Beta
Star Wars Battlefront in its current state is very much an unfinished product. There are bugs and inconsistencies that occur in the game which clearly demonstrate the pre-release state of the game. Unfortunately this is where the qualification of being a beta ends.
There are core functions of the game that are entirely omitted from the beta which one would think would be included for testing and feedback. Character customization appears to be a big part of the progression of your player, however is completely unavailable in the beta. The importance of fan reaction to this feature, and how the customizations affect gameplay and visual cues in-game will have to wait until after release.
More roadblocks exist in the lone single player game mode offered which is locked to a fraction of its normal content. The survival-type mission that normally lasts fifteen waves and can be playable on multiple environments is only presented on a single map for a handful of rounds. The AI difficulty within this game mode is also unavailable. How does “Hard” differ from “Normal” and how might it be improved? I wish that information was available to discuss, but it simply isn’t.
Potentially the worst part of the beta experience is that after every round we are kicked back to the main menu after a gigantic banner telling us to buy the game to get the full experience. If I wasn’t already irritated by the lack of content, I most certainly would be after the abrasiveness of this marketing. There is a product that is typically content-locked, limited in scope, and has obnoxious marketing baked in; A demo.
Normally having pre-release demos is amazing, however the problem with the Battlefront “Beta-that-is-actually-a-demo” lies in its incomplete and unfinished state. I fully admit that it is entirely possible the current released beta is actually representative of the final product, however that might be more embarrassing than the alternative. There are so many things the game gets wrong, however in that same breath there are a few things the game absolutely nails. The difficulty for gamers is in balancing both and determining which is more important.
Before getting to any actual gameplay, there are problems when first attempting to join a match as PC players specifically will notice something missing; there is no multiplayer server browser. Instead the game relies entirely on matchmaking. To be candid, matchmaking by itself is never a better option than a server browser. This time last year I was playing two multiplayer games, one had an outstanding multiplayer experience and the other less so. Battlefield 4 has an extensive and magnificent server browser, where in contrast Titanfall uses only matchmaking. Without getting lost on a tangent, I am still playing Battlefield despite the more enjoyable minute-to-minute gameplay of Titanfall. It’s simply better and easier to find a game to play in Battlefield.
This lack of a server browser is made more painful with the additional lack of a good party system. It does technically work in that I was able to play a couple games with a friend of mine, however the lack of a proper party interface, and the inability to simply “join the same server” makes the entire experience of playing with some friends excruciating. As someone who only plays online when I am running with a friend or two, this is an immediate and massive turn-off.
While we are discussing playing with friends, team play in most games requires certain things to happen at certain times. You must be able to support your teammates while also advancing on your own objectives which ultimately wins the match for the collective. Gameplay development decisions made in Battlefront make all of this incredibly difficult. For example, spawning in a match is entirely random. Positioning yourself in a good place to defend or attack an objective is the cornerstone of team-based game modes. If I don’t know where I’m spawning, then my entire strategy is moot before I get boots on the ground.
However in a weird “two wrongs make a right” twist, the lack of balanced progression systems or weapon sets almost seems to even out the random spawning. Starting weapons and equipment are noticeably underpowered against higher level unlocks, so much so that when encountering a person in a 1-on-1 firefight it will go to the higher level player. Not because of better skill, but because of better equipment. It is increasingly frustrating to die over and over with no way to affect the outcome except to continue until I die enough times to get a better blaster.
The game itself even recommends not playing the larger game mode (Walker Assault) until you unlock better weapons and equipment. When a game actively and consciously recommends I do not play something I want to, then I know we are going to have a bad time. Hero, weapon, and item power-ups in the game are also implemented quite questionably. Obtaining power-ups requires players to stray away from the main combat lanes and doesn’t feel naturally implemented. It sounds like a good balance to temporarily leave your team at a disadvantage while you obtain a power-up to give an even stronger edge, but that would require the power-ups to actually be powerful enough to make a difference.
I would be doing Battlefront a severe disservice if I didn’t speak to what it does well. The game absolutely nails the feeling of being a soldier in the Star Wars universe. No game or interactive experience to date has done a better job of offering what it would be like to rush the Rebel base on Hoth as a Trooper with a couple AT-ATs at your back. The visuals and sound design is second to none and ultimately presenting an authentic Star Wars experience is the top line item for releasing Battlefront in the first place. The development team worked closely with original film assets to ensure gear such as the A280C or E-11 blasters look, feel, and sound exactly as they do in the film. In all the hours put into Battlefront thus far there was never a time where I was taken out of the Star Wars universe, and perhaps that is the most important takeaway.
Maybe the ability to finally live out that fantasy of blasting rebel scum as a Stormtrooper is more important than all of the questionable decisions in gameplay design. Perhaps the newly announced fifty dollar season pass really is going to have enough content to justify a total price tag of over $100. Battlefront releases on the 17th of November, so at least we have some time to decide.