Opinion Piece

Replaying Star Wars: Battlefront II, And Pondering The Reboot

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Nostalgia is a very dangerous thing. As pretentious as it sounds I’ve always prided myself on being able to combat nostalgia, to know that it clouds vision and that my wonderful memories are just that; memories, carefully selected by my own mind which blanks everything else. I pride myself on knowing this, and seeing it as something to be happy of. I love those memories, but they were from a different time, and only select games remain fun to play today, like Sonic the Hedgehog, for example.

So that brings me to Battlefront II. I’ve been meaning to sit down and play it again for so very long now, but I was conflicted. The part of my mind that I just flattered so much has been telling me that Battlefront II was ahead of its time in many respects, and would still hold up quite well today. The other part of my mind was idly wondering if this time nostalgia was getting the better of me.

It wasn’t. Let’s be entirely honest, though, plenty of aspects haven’t stood the test of time brilliantly, starting with the graphics. The game looks pretty crappy, let’s face it, but that’s not surprising given its age, and it wasn’t the best looker at the time, either. Then there’s the iffy AI who tend to focus too much on the player and will often run through several enemies just to attack a single target at the end of a room, although in fairness there have been a lot of instances suggesting AI hasn’t improved very much in 2015. Combat feedback is also severely lacking as enemies don’t react very well to being shot and the guns don’t feel great to fire. Upon starting up the game I leapt into a match in a sniper role, and actually thought my sniper rifle was not firing correctly for the first minute or two because of the lackluster feedback.

The singleplayer campaign was a bit naff, too. There was a vague attempt at a story told from the perspective of a clone legion, but really the gameplay style of Battlefront never lent itself to a proper campaign and plot. Even back when I originally played Battlefront II I viewed the campaign as a pretty lackluster experience, which didn’t even serve as a particularly good introduction to the gameplay mechanics.

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It’s hard to care about these problems, though, because there is something brilliant about waging war in Battlefront. The game is defined by striding across a field of carnage as Darth Vader, striking down those who oppose me. It is defined by flying a rebel fighter around the legs of an AT-AT on Hoth, tying up the machine’s giant legs so that it falls to the ground. It’s defined by hurtling through Endor on a speeder, or throwing a lightsaber as Luke Skywalker. It’s flying through space, landing on an enemy ship and proceeding to decimate the opposition. It’s about pure fun.

On PC, which is how I’m playing, the game is supported by a wealth of mods that really add a lot of superb content. Top among them is arguably the Conversion mod, which adds in a stunning 22-maps, new clone legions, over 50 heroes and villains and even an entire new era based on Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, which means getting to play as Darth Revan. And then there are things like the Dark Times II mod, which among a load of new maps and mods also introduces light, heavy and force combo attacks. There’s even a Mass Effect conversion pack, if you like. Considering you can grab the game on Steam for £6, that’s a pretty good deal.

The PC version also boasts an XL mode which massively ramps up the amount of troops on some of the bigger maps, creating an even more epic experience. It’s a shame that there’s no magical mod to bring the graphics up to 2015’s standards because I would love to see XL mode with modern particle effects, explosions and rich detail.

One thing that Battlefront got very right was its heroes and villains, who were a joy to control. It’s a shame that only the best players in multiplayer matches tended to be able to get them, but once they were in your control they were just wonderful. Force sprint felt great, as did slicing down the enemy in huge quantities. I utterly love striding around the map, force choking the enemy as Vader. It just feels so badass. I also can’t help but imagine the Star Wars: Force Unleashed power set transplanted into the Battlefront games so that force powers are unleashed with explosive force. But as it stands running around the maps as a nigh on unstoppable Sith or Jedi sits nicely with my inner child. Certainly it’s not as polished nor as well presented as we see today, but the characters just feel and control right.

The heroes and villains take a central role in the game because their arrival on the battlefield was often a huge moment, especially in the hands of a talented player. They even get their own mode where both teams are made up entirely of Sith, Jedi, Boba Fetts, Chewbaccas and Han Solos. The main mode, though, is Conquest, a straightforward game in which each team has to capture points to help deplete the enemy’s reinforcement pool which dictates how many player respawns they have. Obviously just killing the enemy works, too. It’s a simple formula really; a wide variety of classes to choose from, a large map that often boasted vehicles for some extra havoc and enemies everywhere, be they AI controlled or actual people.

Then there was Galactic Conquest, a simple yet enjoyable singleplayer mode where you conquered the galaxy planet by planet, buying new troop types and bonuses for battles, like the ability to play as your faction’s big hero/villain or automated turrets that can guard your captured points on the map. Galactic Conquest also served to thematically marry the awesome land battles with waging war in space, another prime feature of Battlefront II. Space battles have always been a bit tricky to pull off, it seems, but Battlefront II did it very, very well. The various ships handled nicely, and there was just something so wonderful about hurtling through space, dogfighting with fighters and bombing the enemy capital ship.Yup, that’s right, to win you need to not only gun down the enemy but also pull of bombing runs on vital components on the enemy ship, like radar and life support, and then you can board the vessel, too, even using a troop transport to get your allies across so that you can wreck some of the internals.

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Let’s just imagine for a moment that Battlefront II didn’t exist, and some developer took this exact game and released it today, but with updated graphics so that it looked roughly in line with a budget title of today. I honestly believe that with almost no tweaking it would be regarded as a lot of fun. Not a brilliant game that could rival the Battlefield series, Call of Duty or any of those, but launched as a £15 digital title it would probably be very well received, and that’s impressive for a game that’s around ten years old.

This all inevitably brings us to the new Star Wars: Battlefront from DICE and EA, a game which my crushing cynicism is already having a field day with, which is annoying because it should be one of the most exciting games of the year. It’s a new Battlefront, for crying out loud, and if this article has proven anything it’s that I’m still madly in love with the Battlefront games. I want to like the new game, I really do, But EA and DICE do seem to be making it hard to.

The developers have stated that the features don’t make the game, and I agree. They are completely right, features a game do not make. At its core, it needs to feel right. But it’s hard not have a sense of disappointment when so many things that did help make the Battlefront II so great won’t make the transition. There’s fewer players for starters, which is odd when you consider that large-scale battles have always been at the forefront of the Battlefront games. Hell, as we discussed in this very article the PC version of Battlefront II included an XL mode which bumped up the size of the battles by a massive amount, because that’s really what Pandemic wanted, I believe, and the consoles simply couldn’t do it. Then there’s the lack of space battles, another defining feature of Battlefront II. Indeed, the original developers Pandemic were intending on making maps that would let you transition from ground to space seamlessly in Battlefront III, as seen in the leaked footage, which would have been amazing. There’a also an entire era missing in the form of the prequels which Battlefront II included for a variety of reasons, not least because regardless of opinion on the prequels they did provide extra locations for maps and some cool characters, like Darth Maul. We’ve also got to mention the fact that AT-ATs won’t be drivable, instead they’re just on-rail pieces of scenery, and you won’t be able to set up instant action battles with AI opponents because AI opponents don’t actually exist. Given the multiplayer age we live in the loss of the AI is understandable, but still a shame. At least we’re getting split-screen, plus co-op missions that do support an AI partner.

A big deal has been made of the fact that there’s only going to be 12 maps included in the new game. This, though, I think, is much less of a problem: I’d rather have a smaller number of detailed, beautifully designed maps than a raft of drab, empty arenas. Due to development costs and the sheer amount of work that can now go into a map I can accept a smaller total number, provided they are well made. That’s the key point, mind you, they need to be well made. They need to have expansive spaces with tighter areas to accommodate both large-scale warfare with troops and vehicles and more personal battle scenarios. With the lower player count I’m worried we’re going to see smaller maps, too, but I hope to be wrong. I’d much rather see 64-player battles across large maps, like we see in the Battlefield series.

Speaking of which, DICE is at the helm of this new game, and that makes me conflicted. Part of me just wants to see the Battlefront aesthetic draped over the Battlefield mechanics. But it can’t be like that, not really. This is being heralded by DICE and EA as a reboot, which is why so many things apparently are not making the cut, and I’m worried that in their desire to make sure it isn’t just Battlefield they are going to far away from what Battlefront is, namely in terms of scale. Truthfully, Battlefront II was kind of Star Wars: Battlefield, but with added spacebattles and lightsabers. In their desire to keep the series separate we seem to be getting a smaller player count. Yet at the same, it can’t just be another Battlefield game hiding under a different skin, either. Tough situation.

The loss of a singleplayer campaign is….troublesome. Generally speaking I have no problem with multiplayer games having no singleplayer mode when they don’t truly need it. Titanfall is a prime example, but the community at large still seems to be stuck in the idea that it’s okay for a game to be singleplayer only, but multiplayer only isn’t. Still, as we already discussed Battlefront II’s campaign was kind of crap, and I don’t see this reboot’s being a whole lot better. However, the loss of Galactic Conquest is a slap in the face. It was beloved, and it’s a real shame that it won’t be included in the game, presumably due to the lack of aforementioned AI troopers. I’d have absolutely loved to have seen this mode expanded on with a deeper strategic layer. In fact wouldn’t it have been amazing to have a 2-player online version where you could compete against a friend, with the option to save and come back later? I’d adore being able to fight for a galaxy with one of my mates, maybe meeting on the field as Vader and Luke.

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At least everybody will get the first DLC pack, titled the Battle of Jakku, free. Map packs and content that splits an online community is, in my eyes, one of the worst things about modern multiplayer games, but since this is EA my current assumption is that after the first pack we can expect to have to pay for everything else. Hopefully I’m wrong, though, and Hades’ help them if they announce space battles as DLC later on because the community will go nuts. And of course this being EA the announcement of Battlefront just couldn’t happen without the obligatory crap that is things like the Digital Deluxe version containing a weapon, two grenades and emotes that should be available to everyone. But nah, they want you to pre-order and just forget how many game’s suffer horrendous launch day issues. Your reward for pre-ordering? You get the Battle of Jakku a week earlier than everyone else. Considering you’ll get it for free anyway, that hardly seems worth risking the game being a mess or just plain terrible. Why can’t everybody get the Battle of Jakku on launch? But then EA wouldn’t have lots of lovely pre-order numbers to make management happy. and to get those numbers they need to offer pointless tat that every player should have had.

I have to be honest with you, dear readers, I’m struggling these days to keep my passion alive, at least in the same way that it was years ago. As a reviewer I  try to keep from becoming overly hyped for a game so that I can go into it with no preset expectations because if we’ve all learned anything it is that the artificial hype train created by companies are a recipe for disaster, but I still want every game to be good. But with shitty DLC policies, over-priced season passes, pre-order bonuses that harm the customers and a generally anti-consumer attitude I’m finding it hard these days. I genuinely want to love the new Battlefront. It should be a dream come true for me, but EA and DICE making it hard. Yes, features don’t make the game, but right now the 13-year old me that played Battlefront 2 is feeling a little pissed off that he had much more content 10-years ago, even with the limitations of the technology at the time.

Gameplay footage is what I need now, I think, because on paper the marriage of DICE and the Battlefront license is…wonderful. Thus far all we’ve seen is pre-rendered footage and glimpses, and now the cynical side of me needs to see actual gameplay in order to get some genuine excitement going.

But far more importantly, Battlefront II has held up pretty well. If you don’t mind some fiddling around you can still player with other people despite the official multiplayer service being shut down, and there’s a lot of mods out there worth checking out, even if none of them improve the graphics all that much. By today’s standards it isn’t great, but even a modern gamer could still have some good fun with it.

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