On release, Star Wars: Battlefront was big on spectacle but short on substance. With only a handful of maps, blasters that felt identical, and a distinctly lightweight feel to the combat, there was a sense that DICE’s Star Wars shooter had jetted off to meet its destiny before its training was complete.
Since then, DICE have launched both free and paid-for DLC that takes players from the wreckage strewn surface of The Force Awakens’ Jakku, to the gunmetal corridors of the Death Star itself. But do the free updates make any fundamental improvements to Battlefront, and is it worth essentially paying for Battlefront all over again to access the Season Pass?
So far, DICE has released three paid-for DLC packs, themed around Star Wars’ Outer Rim, Bespin, and the Death Star respectively (a fourth is planned with maps and content framed around the upcoming Rogue One film). Of these, the Death Star expansion is by far the most ambitious. Headlining this expansion is Battle Station, a new mode that focuses on the Rebel Alliance’s attempt to destroy the Death Star in the original film. Rebel players must fight through a blockade of Star Destroyers before infiltrating the space station itself in an attempt to rescue R2D2 (I don’t know why R2D2 is alone on the Death Star. Maybe there’s a deleted scene where Luke & co leave him behind). Finally, the rebels embark upon the “trench-run” sequence of the original film.
The Imperials simply must stop these things from happening, the spoilsports.
In theory, Death Star is precisely what everyone wanted from Battlefront originally. In practice, things are a little more complicated. The initial Star Destroyer engagement is a far better fit for Battlefront’s aerial combat than the terrestrial maps, as you aren’t constantly worrying about piling into the ground like a big space dart, (although asteroids and the Star Destroyer itself mean there are plenty of other obstacles to keep you on your toes). It helps that the flight controls actually work on PC now. And while it hardly rivals the classic Star Wars flight sims, with a full group of players it is surprisingly challenging. I was getting shot out of the sky like an obese duck until I learned to weave and roll and use what little cover is available to shake off pursuers and evade their target-locking systems.
The on-foot section is straightforward team-deathmatch fun, although the Death Star’s flat, crisscrossing corridors don’t make for the greatest multiplayer arena. As for the trench run itself, it brought a great big smile to my face, but I did find it quite confusing while playing as the rebels. You’re supposed to protect small groups of players as they’re randomly selected to run the trench, but it’s very difficult to keep track of their location, even though they’re highlighted on screen.
Battle Station’s main drawback is that it’s not cohesive. It’s three multiplayer maps stitched roughly together into one longer match. For the idea to be truly effective, it needs to be a single, seamless experience, with rebels landing on the Death-Star manually before climbing out of their ship in order to fight on foot. It’s silly how much difference the act of getting into and out of vehicles makes in a game like this. But as Battlefront’s more down-to-earth sibling Battlefield shows, it absolutely does.
While the Death Star DLC is not quite fully armed and operational, Bespin provides a much better refuge for players looking for a little extra. It includes several excellent maps, ranging from the conical spires and terrifyingly open squares of Cloud City, to the cramped, moody corridors of the Carbonite-Freezing Chamber. These are coupled with another new mode, Sabotage. Here the rebels must destroy three tractor beams before scarpering in a transport ship. The Imperials need to defend said tractor beams, and if they fail, push forward and seize control of the rebels’ escape point.
I think Sabotage is one of the best modes in Battlefront, with a pleasing ebb and flow, enough room to outflank and outthink the opposing team, and offering a chance for both teams to go on the offensive at various stages in the match. Bespin is also the only DLC that has a playable map in Battlefront’s standout Walker Assault mode. Sadly, there was never enough people playing it for me to actually test it out, so I would be wary about purchasing it on that particular basis.
Bringing up the rear of Battlefront’s season pass is Outer Rim, which offers new maps set on Tatooine and boring old Sullust. Its main feature is that it lets you blast Stormtroopers in Jabba’s Palace. It has the least interesting new heroes of the three (Greedo and Nien Nubm, compared to Lando and Dengar in Bespin, or Bossk and Chewbacca in Death Star) and the weakest new mode, Extraction. Here the rebels must escort a shipment of “resources” through the map while under constant fire from Imperial forces. I found the mode weighed massively in favour of the Empire. It was all too easy to choke the life out of any forward momentum the rebels managed to build.
That’s the Season Pass. Death Star decent, Bespin great, Outer Rim lacking. But the best new content added to Battlefront can be accessed entirely for free. The Jakku updated late last year added Graveyard of Giants, which is by far and away the strongest map of any DICE have added. It sees players fighting amongst the scattered wreckage of Star Destroyers, and taking cover behind the smoking hulks of AT-ATs, all while a titanic space battle rages in the skies above you.
Jakku’s gigantic junkyard means there’s plenty of cover to hide behind and use to your advantage, and it’s simply a spectacular map to play on. It also comes coupled with the best new mode added to the game. Turning Point is a tweaked version of Battlefield’s Rush, in which the rebels throw themselves again a fortified Imperial line, trying to capture control points and slowly push the Empire back. But the rebels only need to capture one of the two available control points to force an Imperial retreat, which allows for some natural tactical play to evolve, and means the Imperials are constantly stretched between defending two areas of the map. Furthermore, to encourage the Imperials to fall back, each captured control point triggers a thunderous orbital barrage that wipes out any Stormtroopers caught beneath it. Alongside Sabotage and Walker Assault, turning point is one of Battlefront’s highlights.
There are a couple of other free maps which are twists on existing environments. Twilight on Hoth is a delightfully moody night map set on everyone’s favourite ball of ice, while Survivors of Endor is a slightly lacklustre map set after the destruction of the second Death Star. It’s basically standard Endor with fiery bits, and the weakest of the free maps.
There’s a whole bunch of other free stuff too, including new smaller maps, playable heroes, weapons, singleplayer missions, and the ability to play the larger-scale modes in a single-player “Skirmish”, a nice way to experience Battlefront’s spectacle without having your head-tentacles shot off every thirty seconds.
Even without investing in any of the expansions, Battlefront a year on feels like a far richer, more varied game. But is it any deeper than before? Has it eradicated that shallow feeling to the gunplay and its simplistic approach to team-based multiplayer. A little, perhaps, but not entirely. The weapon roster certainly feels more diverse, with shotgun-like blasters and the fearsome Imperial Repeater sitting alongside staples like the E-11 blaster rifle. But compared to Battlefield, it still doesn’t feel as satisfying beneath the fingers. Similarly, modes like Turning Point and Sabotage offer a modicum of tactical play, but again, when held up against DICE’s flagship series, it’s pretty basic. Plus, vehicles still feel severely undercooked.
In addition, some balancing issues remain. Thermal-detonator spam is appalling. There are times when you can barely see because of the smoke generated by the incessant grenade explosions. Meanwhile, that Imperial Repeater is just too darned powerful. A player equipped with one can halt an entire team in their tracks if they position themselves appropriately.
Nevertheless, if you picked up Battlefront last year and found it wanting, it’s worth a second look now. There’s easily a couple of evening’s worth of extra fun available for free. If you want more beyond that, I’d thoroughly recommend the Bespin expansion, and then possibly Death Star if you outstay your welcome on Cloud City. Outer Rim, meanwhile, is best avoided like a snog from Jabba. Unless you’re into that sort of thing.