Star Wars Battlefront II’s open beta let us sample a selection of the forthcoming shooter’s multiplayer modes. Its main attraction is the largest game type, Galactic Assault, on Star Wars: Episode I’s Naboo. In it, you either defend the palace as a clone trooper or ‘roger, roger’ your way to the throne room as a separatist droid.
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‘Galactic Assault’ is a name that suggests a grand battle, evoking the biggest conflicts from the Star Wars movieverse, whether that be Jar Jar Binks fumbling magic marbles into tanks, or AT-ATs cresting over the snowy Hoth horizon. The first game’s beta let us run around the second of those clashes, asking us to take to the air and snake around advancing walkers, tripping them over when they are vulnerable while other players fight and die in the snow below. It successfully married iconic sequences from the movies with in-game actions. The beta for the sequel is not quite as successful.
It starts off well enough, with both sides of the conflict squaring off from opposite ends of a market street. NPCs crowd the pavement, only to disperse chaotically when the action kicks off. Take on the role of a Specialist sniper and you can easily pick off a few distant enemies once the crowd vanishes. It is a great opening to the fight, feeling like the proper sci-fi western that Star Wars is meant to be, and it really gets across the huge scale of the battle. I like to see who can hold their nerve the longest before people start ducking through the back alleys into smaller, more manageable skirmishes.
The separatists have to advance and kill, while the clone troopers must try to take down an advancing MTT before it blows open the palace gates. To do so, the clones have to pick up special weapons that bring down the MTT’s shields, then unleash everything they have on it during the brief period it is vulnerable. Attackers need to focus on the enemies with these weapons to prevent them from damaging their palace-buster. Once the separatists are into the palace, their next task is to unlock some doors, then it’s a king-of-the-hill battle for the throne room.
Naboo is an infantry-only map once you burst through the palace gates. Before that, though, while battling for the markets, you have a choice of a bunch of aerial vehicles, from gunships to starfighters, as well as ground vehicles such as tanks and bipedal mech suits. The issue is there is barely any reason to use them. The map feels restrictive when on the ground in a vehicle and soaring through Naboo’s beautiful blue skies feels completely pointless.
The map is not large enough for you to get a good run on the ground troops, and it is so busy below that you are firing blind anyway. You can fight other pilots for dominance of the skies, but beyond a couple of runs on the MTT - if you just happen to still be in the sky when it is vulnerable - there is no advantage to controlling the air at all. It doesn’t help that taking down the MTT in this phase is extremely rare. You are almost guaranteed to end up inside the palace in every match, so it makes sense to save your accumulated Battle Points and spend them on a hero once inside, rather than wasting them on a vehicle in the first phase.
Currently, you are most effective when twirling a lightsaber around inside the palace’s tight halls. You can do a tremendous amount of damage as a hero inside, accruing more Battle Points than you could hope to achieve in a starship. It feels like either the buy-in of vehicles in phase one needs to be reduced, the MTT’s health needs lowering to make the first phase more desperate, or DICE need to look at ways to make air vehicles more effective on Naboo - perhaps giving them a huge damage boost against MTTs or highlighting ground troops for pilots. Right now, it feels like the Naboo map only has vehicles to tick a box.
There is nothing wrong with having infantry-focused maps, of course - particularly when the gun-on-gun action feels as good as it does - but the inclusion of vehicles here suggests they are meant to be somewhat effective. The original Battlefront games solved this problem by adding another layer to battles, giving players an objective they could conquer in the skies as the battle raged below. Obviously, this does not work with DICE’s take on the series, as players spawn directly into vehicles and there is no animation for disembarking. That means space battles and aerial fights are relegated to sideshows. It still feels like a shame DICE didn’t fully embrace the series’ heritage here, though hopefully the full game has some surprises up its Jedi robe’s sleeve.