A lot rides on the success of Star Wars Battlefront. Not as much as what rides on JJ Abrams' film, The Force Awakens, but enough to shape opinion of the licensing agreement between EA and LucasFilm over the years to come.
As with everything Star Wars related, expectations are high and fans are approaching the game with a level of scepticism only three successive dire prequel films can inspire. With the release of the Star Wars Battlefront beta running this weekend (9-11 October) on PS4, Xbox One and PC, fans are ready and waiting to give their verdict.
We've already levelled a few criticisms at the beta, so now we'll talk a bit about what we loved.
Incredible audio and visual design
Like JJ Abrams' trailers for The Force Awakens, Star Wars Battlefront evokes the classic look and feel of the Star Wars saga brilliantly. Classic locations, vehicles and characters are set to a soundscape comprised of John Williams' immortal soundtrack and the brilliant sound effects of Ben Burtt, but it never feels like cheap imitation.
Clearly a lot of work from a lot of passionate people has gone into stitching all of it together so when you're playing you feel like you're there, on Hoth. There are neat quirks too – the classic Star Wars wipe cut when taking charge of a vehicle and soundtrack bursts when someone on the map becomes Vader or Luke Skywalker.
The animation adds so much to the game. There's a stop-motion quality to the AT-ST walkers which is frankly genius and enemies don't always just fall to the ground when they die, they leap and fly like excitable extras. In terms of look, Star Wars fans couldn't have wished for more.
The casual feel
The guns don't require reloading, there's no levelling system, load outs are simplistic, power-ups are random (not based on kill-streaks) and there's no real need to use a blaster's sights. In the realm of modern online shooters this is unheard of, and makes Battlefront a much more 'casual' game.
Some might read 'casual' as an insult, but the simplicity of Battlefront is absolutely one of its greatest assets, and in-keeping with previous games in the series. The barrier to entry is low, giving everyone the opportunity to enjoy the game without having to worry too much about a cavernous gulf between newcomers and the most skilled. The Star Wars license is meant to be enjoyed by everyone, and it's good to see that in Battlefront as well.
The use of Heroes
It was inevitable that Battlefront would include Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Boba Fett and the rest of the gang (we can expect Han Solo, Princess Leia and the Emperor) as playable characters. The announcement was met with a few groans, because Battlefront is primarily about anonymous infantry and ground assaults. However, despite the concerns, the implementation of these heroes is pitch-perfect.
Hero pick-ups are random, meaning anyone can play as the characters once the appropriate token appears on the map. The worry was that this would be something unlocked through kill-streaks, but this approach again feeds into the level playing field mentioned before. There may well have still been a problem with the characters being over-powered, but this too is handled well.
If they don't take any damage, heroes will be active for 90 seconds, but every shot they take reduces that time until the hero kneels down (in the case of Jedi and Sith at least) and exits the game. This inspires a frantic rush as players try to make the most of their time with such powerful characters. The balance is brilliant.
Star Wars Battlefront is scheduled to launch on 20 November for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.