Tuesday, April 21, 2015

EA's Battlefront Is Starting To Look Like A Large Step Backward From Its Predecessor


The new Battlefront from EA and DICE is a game that I desperately want to be amazing. Video games were always at the core of the Star Wars experience for me. LucasArts for most of its history, was unwilling to simply rest on the selling power of a popular name, and published innovative games of remarkable technical and narrative complexity. KOTOR I and II are considered among, if not the best, RPG's ever made; the X-Wing and Jedi Knight franchises similarly sit at the apex of the flight sim and shooter genres.

Battlefront 2 was the quintessential Star Wars game of its day when it launched in 2005, and a breath of fresh air in a Star Wars gaming franchise that had begun declining in quality and churning out lazy prequel trilogy tie-ins. It gave us the ability to recreate the massive and chaotic battles seen in the movies, both on land and in space. It pushed the boundaries of contemporary hardware with graphics that are still impressive today, and allowed for 32 player matches on consoles and 64 on PC's, with AI controlled characters on both sides adding to the sense of scale. Battlefront 2 also launched with a huge amount of content; an entertaining single player campaign that filled in an important part of Star Wars lore, dozens of units and locations from both trilogies, an engaging "galactic conquest" mode that mixed in elements of turn based strategy and of course excellent multiplayer. It was a dense genre spanning experience that I poured countless hours into. When you took your assault transport and flew into the hangar of a massive enemy capital ship, fought your way on foot to the bridge with your friends and then sabotaged its major systems allowing your team to destroy it; you couldn't help but feel some of that old LucasArts magic.

Unfortunately Battlefront 2 proved to be the last of the truly great and innovative Star Wars games, as LucasArts succumbed to horrible mismanagement, the meddling of Lucas himself and finally the sale of the franchise to Disney. EA has now taken over Star Wars gaming on behalf of Disney, a move that was met with something ranging between very cautious optimism to unconstrained vitriol among fans. EA has a well earned reputation of acquiring popular franchises and then running them into the ground by reducing their sequels to little more than empty cash grabs. Command and Conquer, Dead Space, The Sims, SimCity and Dungeon Keeper all were stripped of content and the elements that made them unique. Many, including myself, had hoped instead that Disney would revitalize LucasArts.

However, EA isn't incapable of publishing good games, the Mass Effect series was all around excellent (aside from the controversial original ending), Battlefield 3 was a very solid evolution of the series and Dragon Age: Inquisition was a sprawling, beautiful and engrossing RPG, even if it didn't have quite the same narrative punch of Origins. Even the troubled and nearly broken at launch Battlefield 4 has been fixed to the point that it is now one of the best online shooters on the market. So when it was announced that the new Battlefront was in development by the team at DICE, I was in the "very cautiously optimistic" camp. The prospect of a new Battlefront leveraging the Frostbite 3 engine and modern hardware to render massive and dynamic battles, was extremely exciting.

The recent big reveal at Star Wars Celebration was rather short on details and was mainly just a beautiful but obviously heavily edited trailer showing what was supposedly "game engine footage" of Rebels and Imperials fighting in the forests of Endor. But a growing list of worrying details have begun to emerge in various gaming publications from interviews with the developers.

1. There is no single player campaign, just a few missions depicting moments from the original trilogy that can be played solo or cooperatively.

2. There is no galactic conquest mode.

3. The max player count is capped at 40 across all platforms. When asked whether bots would be featured DICE responded with "no comment".

4. There are no space battles or fighting in orbit, and air units will be confined to the area above ground maps like in the Battlefield franchise.

5. The game will launch with only 4 playable planets, though how many maps will be set on each is unclear.

6. Only units and characters from the Original Trilogy will be featured.

7. The AT-AT walkers shown in the trailer and promotional stills will not be player controlled, and will instead follow a scripted path across the battlefield.

All of the items on this list are features or content that were included in Battlefront 2, making EA's Battlefront look like a rather large step backward from a predecessor that was launched a decade ago. Particularly concerning is the low player count. Some will say that Battlefield works just fine or is even better with 32 or 48 players instead of the full 64, but this is not Battlefield. Battlefront is not about creating a tight, tactical and realistic military shooter, it is about recreating the sprawling sci-fi chaos of Star Wars battles. I don't see how that can be accomplished with 20 vs. 20. You'll wind up in a "Battle of Hoth" with 6 or so players on each team in vehicles and a dozen on foot, with a few scripted AI walkers; which is rather absurd considering that Rogue Squadron II recreated the battle with a much larger scale on the Gamecube. Some users on Reddit have humorously taken to calling it "Star Wars: Skirmishfront". If anything the minimal expectation was a max of 64 players, with many rightfully expecting Planetside 2 scale battles with possibly hundreds of players.

The lack of space battles is similarly baffling to me, since they were widely considered to be a highlight of Battlefront 2 and an essential part of the Star Wars universe. There was a Battlefront 3 rather far along in development for 7th gen consoles and PC during the mid to late 2000's, before it was foolishly cancelled by LucasArts. The developers at Free Radical had created the technology for battles which seamlessly transitioned from space to planetary surfaces as they progressed. So expecting some form of space battles from DICE doesn't seem to be particularly unreasonable.

Overall this is pointing to a sequel that has been stripped of content and features compared to Battlefront 2, and is capable only of simulating a pale imitation of Star Wars warfare.  It is looking more and more like the original Battlefront, just with prettier graphics. EA and DICE have been typically dismissive of the growing fan concerns.

Handwaving past the lack of controllable AT-AT's... 

"That's 100% a game design decision. Nothing else. I won't go into details - I didn't make the decision, but just remember that full freedom etc. doesn't always equal fun."

And the low player count...

"40 players was actually the optimum number. Instead of putting 64 in there and just saying that for a number, and having it be too crowded and being a lesser experience, we’ve made it the most optimum number it can be.”

While we don't know enough yet for me to say unequivocally that Battlefront will be a bad game, and the final verdict will somewhat depend on whether or not bots will fill out the scope of the multiplayer battles; the portents aren't particularly good. There is a foul stench in the air of EA simply depending on the Star Wars name to generate hype and pre-orders, while selling content cut from the game back to us in pieces via paid DLC. I'm not one to mindlessly jump on the EA hate train, or break out the torches and pitchforks over minor quibbles like FOV sliders; but this list of missing content represents major features which were integral parts of the previous game. They are also reasonable expectations from a major AAA release these days. We should by now expect more out of a game like Battlefront. At the very least we should not get caught up in the hype until we see the full release, and for the love of Gaben take the advice of Forbes magazine and do not pre-order.

Update: Wow, I never expected this post to generate so much response, 300,000 views so far and the front page of r/gaming. This is just a small forum for me to write occasionally for my own enjoyment. I want to reiterate that I don't blindly hate EA (I've enjoyed many of their games including the entire Battlefield franchise) nor do I think that Battlefront will definitely be a terrible disappointment at launch, it is my honest wish that it is not. I was simply hoping for a true evolution for the series going forward that built on the previous games in the scope and depth of its gameplay, not just in shinny new graphics. I think we need to demand more from EA as gamers and Star Wars fans, and hold them accountable for these missing features. 


        



 

50 comments:

  1. It is EA we're talking about;

    "Buy Yavin 4 for $30 and get a gold blaster pistol as a reward!"

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    Replies
    1. Whats sad is that if you pre-order you get an extra map and Han Solo's blaster. Your comment is close to the truth, it will probably cost more though. Around $70 or $80 sounds reasonable right?

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  2. Renegade Squadron and Elite Squadron is probably the last best battlefronts we will ever have. I bought a Vader PSP-2000 back in 09 for Star Wars Battlefront and good star wars games on the go. I will buy dices battlefront in hopes that they can bring back the nostalgia with good gameplay for the franchise.

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  3. Won't pre-order thanks to this, good alert

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  4. Battlefront is looking very concerning to me now, thanks for the write-up. Didn't know that Dice/EA had cut so much.

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  5. Don't forget their reasoning for why there's no space battles (http://www.ign.com/articles/2015/04/17/star-wars-celebration-battlefront-does-not-have-space-battles-prequel-era):

    "...[Patrick] Bach continued, 'Space is hard, right? Not from a [development] perspective, but from a logistical perspective. Is that fun? For us it doesn’t make sense to create a battle above you if you’re fighting other players who are not there to fight. Our focus is to do planetary battles.'"

    While I do understand if their reason is to ensure everyone can play what they like - and save a bunch of money not having to host 3 server instances for land-only, air-only, and combined operations (land maps and space maps) gameplay - if the point of the game is to cash in on the upcoming Star Wars movie, what's the point of not including space maps when the Star Wars franchise is KNOWN for its space battles?!...

    ...unless, of course, this new Star Wars movie has more battles on the ground than space dogfights, which would make the latter's exclusion from DICE's game negligible, or the fact that DICE still doesn't know how to handle air-only maps - seriously, a Google search for issues regarding Battlefield 2142's Titan mode (the closest DICE has come to an air/space-only map) and its titular Titans; those things were remarkably prone to game-breaking glitches, bugs, and exploits.

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  6. I would like to add that Mass Effect 1 and 2 wasnt under EA management, only the 3rd in the series.

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    1. Good catch, but you're only half right, Bioware was bought by EA in 2007 a month before the first game launched. The first Mass Effect was published by Microsoft game studios, the next two were published by EA.

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    2. Mass Effect 2 was under EA management. In fact, much of the original writing staff for Mass Effect quit or were replaced around Mass Effect 2 and I can see why. Mac Walters came to the fore as lead writer and Casey Hudson started getting involved in the writing process-- then the whole thing went downhill from there. While a lot of people liked ME2, it was every bit as narratively stupid as the third game, as it had NOTHING to do with the main plot, broke the original ME plot (and lore), and took us down a completely different and not-well thought out tangent.

      The only reason ME3 got the bad rap it did is because that's when it became apparent to everyone else that the series was stupid, and Bioware could no longer pretend things would "get better in the next game" because it was the last game in the series. Not that that fact didn't stop desperate idiots from trying to prop up the Indoctrination Theory and try to handwave ME3's entire plot as a hallucination...

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  7. I would like to add that Mass Effect 1 and 2 wasnt under EA management, only the 3rd in the series.

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  8. "Full freedom doesn't always equal fun..."
    Firm evidence of how disillusioned and disconnected EA/DICE has become.
    Battlefield/Battlefront was BUILT on full freedom, and that's what made the games and their iterations so great.
    They have become an entirely different beast with an entirely different philosophy and it is a goddamn disgrace.

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    Replies
    1. The continued optimism that people have toward EA never ceases to amaze me. It's like gamers have the shortest memory span known to man. EA keepS having continued failures and people keep throwing them money.

      I played BF: Hardline beta for about 10 minutes and my jaw dropped. I couldn't believe they would call a simple reskin and a few different weapons an entirely new game. It should have been BF4 DLC and sold for $15, but no, they have to squeeze everyone for what they're worth to pad their bottom line. I made a concerted to take all the Hardline preorder slips at retail stores and hide them under isles or wherever. This isn't even to mention the launch failures of Sim City, BF3, and BF4.

      So to me, when they announced SW: Battlefront, I laughed when I saw the hype for it. There is absolutely NO WAY they won't screw it up. My expectations for this game are at NOTHING. I seriously don't expect anything from this game and I make sure all my friends are the same. So when this game finally does release, I'll give it a few weeks before I even look at it.

      Anyway, I hope I'm wrong. I really do. I hope EA makes me feel like a complete idiot for not believing in it. At the end of the day though, I'll just sit back and watch them destroy yet another franchise that I love.

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    2. "We didn't include all that stuff everyone loved in the previous games because we didn't think it'd be fun." Wouldn't be fun to have over 40 characters, wouldn't be fun to have air and space battles, wouldn't be fun to have sprawling battles with tons of bots.

      Obviously bullshit, they didn't include those because they realized they could just re-skin battlefield as starwars and people would buy it.

      I wonder how many other games they could sell as by just re-skinning battlefield.

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    3. I was going to make this same comment too. This actually was their mantra for years. That full freedom always equaled fun. They have truly lost their way.

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  9. I would highly recommend that no one pre-order this and wait at least an entire week after it's released in order to see what it's like. We have gotten NO in-game footage, NO word of Alpha testing whatsoever, and it has most of the features that made Battlefront what it was cut out.

    Heck, the funny thing is that this seems like what the entire Entertainment Franchise has been doing for the past decade, both gaming and film industry. They cut out all of what made a particular series good and then give it a new coat of paint, expecting for people to flock to buy into it because of Nostalgia. This is the very uncanny valley that has been crossed so many times that it has become obvious when a company is doing it.

    Still, this is just one issue that has arisen recently concerning Star Wars. On April 24th, 2014, Lucasfilms announced the decanonization of the Expanded Universe. Prior to that, they cancelled all of the projects pertaining to the Expanded Universe, including "Star Wars: 1313" (A new Lucasarts video game)and "Sword of the Jedi" (A novel series). They also cancelled "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" before they even finished the series off. All of this has led to the production of the new Star Wars film and is leading to a "new" canon, which is why you only have three planets in EA's Battlefront (not including the free DLC, which only exists to generate hype for the new film). This has also led to possibly one of the worst Star Wars TV series to have ever been conceived, Star Wars: Rebels."

    So, to sum this up, Disney and EA have taken the entire franchise back by about thirty years while relying heavily on Nostalgia in order to keep their entire reboot a success.

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  10. If anyone wants to know what the article meant by Rogue Squadron 2, take a look:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmLR0a6WXBE

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  11. well, it aint starwars, but.... http://www.affuniverse.com - this lacks dissapointment ^.^

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  12. Wait, hang on, if there is "no single player campaign" what happens when I load up the game? I have one controller and not linked to the internet. Is there just... nothing?

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    1. "There is no single player campaign, just a few missions depicting moments from the original trilogy that can be played solo or cooperatively." You can play these missions without an internet connection but they are not part of a full story driven campaign like in Battlefront 2.

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  13. No space battles, no instant action, can't control AT-AT, and no galactic conquest also no story of any kind (which the 501st was fun). This better be 30$ cause it looks like they didnt look at Battlefront 1 or 2 and the only thing they did from the last ones was add the heroes/villans. I'll just play Battlefront 1 and 2 with my friends. Im pretty sure it's also just Rebels and Empire and there won't be any Republic vs CIS.

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  14. No space battles, no instant action, can't control AT-AT, and no galactic conquest also no story of any kind (which the 501st was fun). This better be 30$ cause it looks like they didnt look at Battlefront 1 or 2 and the only thing they did from the last ones was add the heroes/villans. I'll just play Battlefront 1 and 2 with my friends. Im pretty sure it's also just Rebels and Empire and there won't be any Republic vs CIS.

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  15. This game is also 80$ on release...bloody rip off so far

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  16. I'm sorry, I feel like games shouldn't be built solely for multiplayer experience without :Online added to the game. No galactic conquest/something like it for a an immersible single player experience? Shan't be buying.

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  17. forget the buy you can easily watch online the full star wars series easily without any ad spam or registration required here.

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  18. are ships and other vehicles limited to pickups? what happend to the hangars/vehicle spawns?

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    Replies
    1. Yeah they're pickups... Yeah, no one likes that mechanic. So much for spawn locations.

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  23. Ugh... How can you say Mass Effect was overall GOOD despite the third game's ending and prop it up as a successful accomplishment on EA's side? It was crap from as far back as Mass Effect 2 (when EA first acquired Bioware), because ME2 completely changed what the entire series was about, made pointless the previous narrative, replaced said narrative with an absolutely garbage plot (with albeit decent individual character arcs but nothing else), and turned the gameplay from RPG-centric to something shooter-centric. It was also largely viewed as a major set back.

    And don't even get me started on that craptastic Dragon Age: Inquisition. If Mass Effect's plot fell into the tank and continued to sink from ME2 onward, then Inquistion stepped into straight Jabberwocky territory. What concerns me is that you say you're an aspiring writer who loves sci-fi. I don't know your familiarity with sci-fi literature, but if you've read anything comparable to Asmov, how the hell did these titles not insult your intelligence...?

    Your argument about Battlefront is mostly sound, but your off-handed views about EA's Bioware games and their quality I find cringe-worthy. The MOST you can say is that their games were financially successful. But GOOD? Well-- I suppose opinions on that can be subjective if we're just talking about individual likes or preferences (though in that case, so too then is your opinion about the newest Battlefront title, if all we're talking about is likability...) but if we're talking about real actual quality-- then you're just plain wrong (and that's verifiable) and you're giving EA far, far, FAR too much credit.

    Regardless... This is EA and DICE we're talking about here. It should have become abundantly clear that Star Wars: Battlefront was just not going to come out unscathed; though honestly, I have to admire the balls on them for thinking they can release a Battlefront game after Battlefront 2 without space battles. I mean... wow.

    And that's not to say anything for the lack of single-player campaign, Conquest Mode, or the changes to vehicle and hero warfare with those stupid pick-ups...

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  26. This new battlefront game is not Battlefront. It is Battlefield with a Star Wars skin. Without Galactic Conquest it is not a Battlefront game and I will NOT be purchasing it.

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  30. The Battlefront EA stock game is mediocre at best, however if you have money to shell out and are online the game is vastly improved with the latest updates and DLC. Unfortunately the stock game is very bland. But now you have Hero battles and Squadron assault amongst many other modes. It's a shame the game doesn't have conquest mode though, space battles are really good on Death Star DLC, but you don't need DLC to battle starships.

    ReplyDelete

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