Star Wars Battlefront II Preview - E3 2017
We learn more about the upcoming sequel and play a round of multiplayer
The Star Wars Battlefront reboot of 2015 was an exciting proposition for many fans of the classic shooter and the Star Wars franchise, however the end result was rather underwhelming. At its E3 2017 conference, publisher EA admitted just as much, and have vowed that based on player feedback, this year’s sequel will be much better. Star Wars Battlefront II has a lot of expectations riding on it, releasing not far from a feature film and hoping to satisfy those that were left out in the cold of Hoth by the first entry. We had a chance to learn more about the game at EA Play 2017, and go hands-on with a full round of multiplayer.
We were first shown a quick briefing, outlining the major features of the game as well as the details about the multiplayer round we were about to embark on. DICE has redesigned the Star Wars Battlefront II approach to multiplayer, as there will now be character classes for infantry, with four to choose from. The assault is a good all-around class, carrying the standard rifle/grenades loadout; the Heavy uses a more robust rifle that packs more punch, and has access to shield abilities. The officer class has merely a pistol, and is used for utility such as deploying turrets. Lastly, the specialist class is geared towards sniping and deploying traps. There will be a Star Card customization system, with different rarity values, that define the card’s effectiveness in battle. The final game will also have a variety of different weapons and attachments, but this was not part of the hands-on demo content.
Finally with controller in hand and joining the Clone army, the match began. The action was taking place on Theed, and my team’s goal was to stop the approaching Droid army from rolling a heavy tank into the palace. The large tank was slowly moving down the main road to the gates, and the only way to damage it was using the Ion Disruptors. These one-shot weapons would regularly spawn on the map in the side alleys, and our team needed to ensure we used them at every opportunity, as getting killed before firing the shot, or missing, would be a big setback. The Drones, in turn, focused on pressuring the Clones with suppressive fire and not letting us line up an Ion shot. This phase was similar to Walker Assault mode from the first game, as the heavy tank had a huge health bar that was visible to all players during the round.
We navigated the side streets where smaller skirmishes took place, and it was quite familiar Battlefront action. The way that the weapons felt, and looked/sounded, was largely just small refinement on the game from 2015. Of course, with the new classes, many players were trying out the new functionalities, such as the heavy’s shields, specialist’s tripmines, and so on. Another new feature that immediately stood out are the automatic squads. Anytime you’re getting ready to respawn, the game will automatically put you in a squad with others also waiting to return to the fray. The game groups players together in a role-focused approach, so heavies will get teamed up with some officers and a specialist. It basically balances these temporary squads for maximum effectiveness; but the squads only last for the round. For the players, these temporary squads promote teamwork as you gain extra experience if you stick close to the squad and achieve goals together.
Another new aspect is the way that hero characters work. In the first game, there was a rather unsatisfying design that simply put a random person in charge of The Force by giving them a hero character. In the sequel, anyone can become Ray or Darth Maul, all you need is to save up Battle Points. These points are accumulate as you actively participate in the round, and let you call in special abilities on your next respawn. The cheaper abilities, like getting your very own Vulture Droid or the more expensive B2 Super Battle Droid, can be used with decent frequency. At least in the E3 build, the points were earned relatively quickly and you could deploy with a special character every 5 or 6 respawns. If you save your points, you can deploy as one of the hero characters and use The Force to turn the tide of battle.
As we fought on the streets, the tank nonetheless continued its advance, and eventually made it to the gates, blasting them open. Now, the action switched into the area inside the partially-collapsed building, and the objective updated. The mode became about taking control of certain points on the map - we had to prevent the other team from capturing them, king of the hill style. The action became a bit more frenzied as the smaller combat spaces promoted a lot of firefights. There were a few spawning issues here, for both friendly and enemy team, as players appeared right in front of each other. This phase didn't last long and our team failed to stop the advance. Finally, we moved into the final stage, where we had to protect the throne room from being overrun. The attackers had a limited number of lives, but their effective use of heroes eventually broke through our defenses and secured the area, ending the round in defeat for our Clone army.
It's worth pointing out that the demo looked quite impressive visually. From the outside scenery filled with architectural detail and bright colors, to the darker and tighter halls of the throne room where light reflected off the floor, it was a feast for the senses. The audio design was suitable, though not too different from the first game.
Star Wars Battlefront II promises to be a big improvement on the original game, and based on our hands-on time with multiplayer, there are certainly big positive changes being made. The redesign of the classes allows for more flexibility, and letting you save up battle points and deploy as a hero removes the frustrations of the first game. And it's a better system then killstreaks because you earn points for many actions, including team support, and they accumulate even if you die. There's a single player campaign spanning multiple eras promised as well, though we didn't get to see or learn much details about it. From the multiplayer aspect alone, this is a sequel that's trying to progress the franchise, and hopefully the finished product lives up to those aspirations. Star Wars Battlefront II is set to release this November on PC, Xbox One, and PS4.