The battle is over, the war has just begun - SW:Battlefront Beta issues

A week ago today I started my latest Star Wars adventure battling for the Empire and the Rebellion on Hoth and Sullust. Now that I have had time to collect my thoughts, I want to take a cold hard look at some of the issues I personally encountered in the Star Wars: Battlefront Beta. Don't get me wrong, I still love the game and its authentic Star Wars feel, but there are certain areas that I feel DICE and EA need to improve on if Battlefront is to deliver on its early promise.

Let's start off with something easy, and that I know DICE are looking into, first of all. The weapons. There was a lot of early talk about the cycler rifle being very overpowered for the Beta and the developers took note and made sure to post on the official forums that this would be dealt with come the official release. An additional issue with the Beta weaponry was that a lot of the guns felt like they were the same weapon in a different wrapper. Most of this, in my experience, came down to the fact that there was very little recoil on the guns. This meant that a weapon with a higher rate of fire was hitting with roughly the same accuracy as a pistol, but the damage output could prove to be exponentially different.

It has been confirmed that we will see a number of new weapons that didn't make the cut for Beta when the game is officially released in November. I also expect that they will be very different to our experiences over last weekend. EA and DICE collected an awful lot of data during the Beta phase and I expect that they saw, as many players did, that the lack of recoil enabled a number of players to sit on the far side of the Hoth map and snipe "ants". The weapons available to players were designed for more close quarters play but could easily be used in this different format; I even gave it a go myself. As a rebel I used my jump pack to get up to the ledge by the Ion Cannon and proceeded to fire on those below with the Rebel rifle available to everyone.

Now I am admittedly not a great FPS player, I spent most of my formative gaming years playing RTS games like Age of Empires and so I am a late arrival on this scene. But with the rifle's decent rate of fire and damage output I was able to sit at the front of the ledge, fire away until my gun overheated and then duck back into cover before my opponents could figure out where the shots came from and retaliate. I could then move to a different part of the ledge, rinse and repeat. This simple tactic quickly boosted my K/D ratio but was tiresome. Where is the fun in shooting someone who can't hit back? So I jumped back down into the thick of it and continued to die alongside the rest of the Rebel Alliance. Some small adjustments to the weaponry could easily fix this.

As we are on the topic of Hoth it seems fitting to cover a few other issues that came up in the Walker Assault mode. Firstly, we have the DICE-acknowledged problem of the mode being unbalanced in the Empire's favour. I did not have a massive issue with this as it felt like an intentional inclusion, anyone who has seen The Empire Strikes Back (the few of you who haven't just go sit in the corner with your shame) knows that the Battle of Hoth was a lost cause for the Rebels. They were covering the evacuation of their base and had no intention of defeating the Empire there and then. But there was a massive disturbance in the force as a million voices cried out... well you get the picture.

As it is a game, and not a story/movie, I can understand DICE wanting to balance the level out. I hope that this won't see a complete revamp of the level and or mode, maybe just giving the Rebels an additional set of objectives could be good. Activate the uplinks to get "X" number of transports away which can be shot down by the TIE Fighters and Interceptors adding a new dynamic to the aerial combat, all while the battle on the ground focuses on destroying the shield generator allowing Lord Vader to make his descent.

On the topic of Lord Vader, the heroes may need a little bit of tweaking as well. Jumping around force choking or pushing, depending on if you were Dark or Light side inclined, is a lot of fun and the time limit that each player has as a hero makes complete sense. If there isn't a time limit then you will end up with the same players hogging the hero characters throughout the whole playing experience. But I think that the heroes should start much closer to the action so that you can make the most of your time as Vader or Luke.

Additionally, it really shouldn't be that easy to kill one of the big heroes of the franchise, or send them into some sort of meditation. Honestly, there were a number of times where a short burst of concentrated blaster fire brought down both heroes. Sure, in a 1 v 1 fight Luke will take down a snowtrooper every time, but this game mode is 20 v 20, some well worked team play could bring down the big hitters too easily.

Next we have what could be a major issue for this title, in my opinion. If you are involved in a big 20 player team then it makes sense that you should be able to communicate with your team, it is a fundamental requirement of achieving some of your objectives. Even in the 8 v 8 mode of Drop Zone communication would not go amiss, but unfortunately DICE and EA do not want to include a full chat function.

Some players from earlier DICE titles have ruined that for us. DICE want this to be more family friendly, they don't want some teenager swearing at someone halfway across the world because they just got them killed, and they don't want to see a player have their experience ruined by someone who is just trying to annoy everyone by blasting the music they just made in their bedroom across the team airwaves.

There is a party chat function, but if you are like me then fitting in playing at the same time as 7 of your friends will prove nigh on impossible when you are all working 9-5 and have other obligations outside of work. So you are left to fight what is basically an individual battle against your opponents, and if they are all from the same party then you are at a distinct disadvantage. This will put players off. If you are playing as part of a team, you must be able to communicate with them, I really hope that DICE change their stance on this but it doesn't seem likely at the time of writing.

A smaller issue that has occurred as part of the team functionality is the random spawning after you die. You can quickly get caught in a cycle of dying before you even adjust to your surroundings as you are dropped right into the sights of your opponent. This happened a number of times to me, once even spawning in as a thermal detonator went off, and proved increasingly frustrating. I was going to die anyway but at least let me get some sort of input into how.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the spawn points for all of the fighters. These are locked, and if one side can gain superiority they can quickly set up camp around these points and prevent their opponent from competing in the air. Anyone who managed to jump into the cockpit of the Beta fighters will know that your entry to the map is locked on rails for around the first 5 seconds, but you are not shielded from enemy fire, and a crafty opponent will just glide up behind you and blow you out of the sky before you can take evasive manoeuvres. This will have to be fixed one way or another, otherwise players will become tired of the fact that they cannot use the iconic vehicles of the Star Wars universe.

One small glitch that the developers were working on while Beta was active but they were unable to fix before close of play. I think most people became aware of how popular personal shields were, but purchasing additional charges proved an issue as you could not do it on the server side, e.g while you were in game waiting for your match to boot up. You could only purchase them from the main menu. DICE were looking at fixing this and I expect it will be fully operational in the full release. Unfortunately, a related issue I found was that the charge purchases I made would also disappear after I exited a match, so if I bought 20 charges but only used 7 the remaining 13 would disappear from my inventory before my next match. Considering each ten charges cost 500 credits there were a lot of credits thrown down the drain, especially in Drop Zone where the personal shield was a key tool when activating pods.

Finally, I want to discuss something that appears to be a divisive topic online. Matchmaking. There seems to be two trains of thought on this, first up is that you only learn to play the game better by playing the best players that are available, the second idea is that you start off against players of a similar skill level and work your way up to playing the best. Now I am in the latter camp, and feel that you need to include some sort of matchmaking system to make the game enjoyable for all. This will probably upset a number of core gamers but my view on it is that you can't expect Bob from down the street to learn to play football by putting him up against Lionel Messi every day. Sure he may learn a trick or two, but he will be beaten so many times that he is more likely to just give up.

On the other side of this example, what would Messi gain from beating Bob every day? He isn't really learning any new skills for taking on better players because Bob will not be playing in the same way that the better players are playing. It would appear to be just an ego trip.

But I digress. All DICE need to do is include a basic matchmaking algorithm to try and ensure that players are facing people of a similar skill level thereby increasing everyone's enjoyment and skills at a maintainable level. Sure you will get the odd player that has decided to beat the system and drop down some levels for the ego trip but the majority of players would get the experience that they are after whether it is casual, core or competitive.

I want to get into Battlefront and enjoy a Star Wars experience like the Battle of Hoth, but I can't do that if someone is killing me every five seconds before I have had a chance to get involved in the battle. I need to start off against lower level players so that I can learn the mechanics of the game, I would love to have the time to perfect my Battlefront skills, but with a full-time job and other responsibilities I don't have the time to dedicate hours every night to learn what the optimum range for an E-11 Blaster is, or if I use my jetpack at this exact moment I will be able to reach that ledge where no one else can kill me. And I know that there are other players out there like me who would like this opportunity as well.

As I said at the start, I still love this game despite its faults. You have to remember that this was a Beta test and not the full release. DICE and EA were good enough to let us get an early glimpse at what could prove to be one of the most sought after titles of the holiday period. The finished product will be similar to the game we played in October but it will also be new and improved in November. Let's just hope that we don't have to buy the £40 Season Pass to get the most out of it!


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