Finally, after months of fan outcry for DICE and EA to let them be alone, Star Wars Battlefront players are getting their wish. The Skirmish mode, to be added to the game’s client in a patch later today, will also allow PC players to face off against maps full of AI opponents together in online co-op just as they can with missions now.
While not a fully fledged campaign mode, Skirmish offers players who either cannot, or would prefer not to, engage in online battles a semblance of the desperate, chaotic warfare in two of Battlefront’s biggest arenas.
Walker Assault and Fighter Squadron maps from the game’s original release (not any of the expansions, yet) are filled with bots all the way up to the 64-player cap while you pick a side to take up a slot in.
There are three difficulty settings for your cold silicone opponents - normal, hard and master - but they also affect your allies. As a result, each offers a vastly different Star Wars experience. Walker Assault is a distinctly objective-based map compared to its aerial dogfight compatriot. However, in both, it's clear that your new robotic mates are less interested in winning than they are in making a convincing looking battle.
Kill-death ratio isn’t everything in a game, but by way of a litmus test, in the generously named Normal difficulty I went 77 for 3. With a gamepad. This is the True Star Wars Movie experience. Stormtroopers will stand less than 10 metres from you aiming blaster shots in a perfect halo around your now untouchable movie protagonist frame. AT-AT volleys will whizz into the ground at your feet as you scurry across a river bed, regardless of how fast you’re running or if you’re even attempting to dodge.
Sadly, this also means that if you want to win you’re going to need to do some heavy lifting. Your Pentium 4 pals aren’t big on pressing buttons to activate Y-wing uplinks, so you’ll need to sprint between one and another until it’s time to shoot at the big metal elephant, and you’ll find yourself alone in that task too, for the most part.
The higher difficulties offer another true experience; that of online play. While you’ll no longer be able to run up behind enemies and punch them to death without taking a lethal number of blasters to the face, the objective is still very much something only you care about. Just like online!
Occasionally you’ll run towards another uplink just in time for it to be activated or shot to bits by your allies, but big destroyable targets are still backseat priorities when there’s frags to be had. A discussion with designer Dennis Bramble suggested that the difference in AI difficulty is how hard the opponents pursue the player, and that is definitely felt in the leap from Normal to Hard. But what isn’t felt is an improvement in allies’ behaviour.
In Fighter Squadron too, the short time you have to destroy the enemy’s fleeing transporters could see you positioned directly behind, emptying every shot you can into their rear boosters, and not deal enough damage before they’re out of range because your wingmen are off chasing Slave 1.
Of course, Star Wars is a hugely diverse audience to target, and not everyone is in it to win it when they’re playing with bots. Running around stomping troopers who are at least attempting to point lasers in my general direction felt shamefully fun. Like toying with a much, much smaller person by placing your outstretched against their forehead while they swing wildly at your body. Daring to do outlandish MLG-style no-scopes in the middle of a kill streak just to see if you can get away with it, whereas online some joyless burk would crush you with an AT-ST.
You also have the full repertoire of weapons to mess around with in Walker Assault, though only two Star Card packs unless you unlock a third by defeating Endor on Hard – a decent challenge – allowing you to use multiplayer cards. The AI have their own Star Cards but very rarely use them, and the same is true of the pick-ups dotted around the map, so you’ll have a free choice of power-ups you want at pretty much any time in the battle. There’s also the ability to become one of the Heroes for each map, which the AI is apparently unable to do, offering yet another power fantasy against untold hundreds of bots.
As a means of offering players a chance to experience the Star Wars universe regardless of their internet circumstances, or just a playground for friends to chill out together in, Skirmish mode is a fun addition to a Battlefront that is at times lacking in options. But if you’re looking for a challenge, human opponents would be fairer than either impossibly accurate murderbots or mannequins with blasters sellotaped to their arms.