Checking in on Star Wars: Battlefront

Yesterday EA released a patch for Star Wars: Battlefront that included a new map (another Hoth map that takes place at night during a snow storm), among other things. I still like this game, although I don’t play it as much as I did at launch. I still pop back in for special events (double exp mostly) or when a patch drops. I keep hearing the game is dying and maybe it is, but by playing when I play I never have any trouble getting into a match.

I still pretty much ignore everything except the larger MP modes. The 20 v 20 ones like Walker Assault and Supremacy are big enough that I don’t get my usual case of the guilts when my team loses.

I also like that hardcore gamers seem to have written off SW:Battlefront as being a game for filthy casuals, because guess what? We casuals need games too! I can’t really argue with them though. I played for about 3 hours last night and came in anywhere from 3rd to 17th place and was on the winning side roughly half the time. That’s because so much depends on what power-ups or vehicles you grab. If I was a really skilled shooter player that would probably bug me.

It’s kind of sad, though that most gamers think every game needs to be aimed squarely at them and if a game isn’t, they can’t just accept that but have to rant and rage about it.

Anyway, I digress.

The only problem I have with the game now is that there are enough maps that it takes a long time to cycle through them. I guess I just missed the new map when I logged in. I played through the Outpost Beta map (the old Hoth map) and then Tattooine, Sullest, Endor, 1 match on Jakuur and by then it was midnight and I had to quit, so I never saw the new map. It had to have been next on the list but…being a responsible adult sucks. Midnight is my limit (you play 2 matches on each map, one as Rebels and one as Empire).

[Update: I finally got a chance to play the new map. Here’s a quick video of random gameplay. Turns out its an entirely new map, not just the hold Hoth map played with different lighting. Huzzah! My only complaint is that the blue lighting hides the blue health bar of friendlies and I keep shooting them thinking they’re the enemy… there’s no team damage but shooting makes you light up on radar.]

I’m not sure what the solution is though. If EA lets us cherry pick the maps that we want to play on it would fracture the player base (maybe?) unless you just happen to love the same maps everyone else loves.

Folks really tore into SW:Battlefront for not having enough content and being ‘shallow’ but I’ve definitely got my money’s worth of fun out of it, and expect to continue to play it now and then for the foreseeable future. I find it to be a rare (for me) beast: a competitive multiplayer game that offers casual fun. Usually I find competitive MP, and even some co-op MP, games to be very stressful, but not this one.

Here’s a quick video of me playing badly but still having fun:

Star Wars Battlefront: Battle of Jakku

Yesterday early access for the free Star Wars Battlefront DLC, Battle of Jakku unlocked. I’ve really been enjoying my time with it so far.

This scenario (there is only 1 map for it) takes place between The Return of the Jedi and the upcoming The Force Awakens. The Empire is in full retreat and the Rebels are closing in on their base on the desert planet Jakku. This is an asymmetrical scenario: the Empire is always on defense, the Rebels always attacking.

The battlefield is a desert strewn with crashed spaceships and other debris. They gives the snipers out there some long sight-lines, but there’s also enough cover to keep you safe from them if you play smart.

At the start of a battle the Rebels are tasked with taking over one of 3 control points (it doesn’t matter which one and they only need one). When Rebels occupy the area of these control points unopposed a clock-gauge starts filling up. If it fills completely the Rebels have won that segment of the battle. At that point the 3 control points wink out of existence and two more appear deeper in Empire territory. Once again the Rebels have to take one of the control points. If they succeed, those control points vanish and two more appear even deeper. If they take one of those control points, one single final point appears and if they can take that, they win.

The Empire just defends. The Rebels have a timer (and get some bonus time everytime they take a control point) and if they don’t win before time runs out, the Empire wins.

So far I’m loving the dynamics of this mode. At the start of the match with the three initial control points the battle is quite spread out but as the Rebels push deeper into Empire territory everyone is funneled together. The battle for the last control point can get really intense.

The Empire has AT-STs while the Rebels have Landspeeders. Both of these can be tough to bring down with no big turrets. I haven’t yet seen any Tie Fighters or X-Wings, nor have I seen any hero units. It’s possible I’ve just missed them but I played about 8 matches.

If the Empire pushes the Rebels off a control point, the gauge doesn’t “unfill” as far as I can tell (or if it does, it happens very slowly). This means the Rebels can take a control point through successive assaults even if they get wiped out at the end of each assault. With no voice chat to help organized the teams the battles have a very organic feel to them as players move from control point to control point trying to capture (or defend) a point that is wavering. Having a JumpPack can be pretty handy since it’ll let you move from point to point quickly.

Battle of Jakku is arriving just in time. Walker Assault needs some balancing now that there are plenty of players who have the knack of using tow cables to bring down the Walkers. During the beta many gaming blogs commented on how unbalanced Walker Assault was in favor of the Empire. It wasn’t, it just took a few days for players to figure out how to win as the Rebels. But EA capitulated to the gaming blogs and made it easier for the Rebels anyway, and now it’s pretty tough for the Empire to win, at least until we figure out a good defense against tow cables.

It’s still fun, mind you, but when you see 1 lone player take down 2 Walkers with tow cables it kind of makes everyone else feel less relevant.

Anyway, Battle of Jakku is a nice change of pace and I look forward to playing more of it.

PS: Sorry for the lack of video. I wish the PS4 would let me capture a clip without exiting to the share menu (the Xbox One lets you do this if you have a Kinect). Every time I try to share something I get killed; as with most shooters standing still isn’t healthy in Star Wars Battlefront. So I never get around to capturing video.

Playing Lately: Star Wars Battlefront & The Elder Scrolls Online

Holy smokes, time flies. I can’t believe it’s been over 2 weeks since I posted. I haven’t really been doing too much worth talking about I guess, but just so Google doesn’t decide the site is dead again, here’s a recap of recent gaming.

My last post was about being conflicted over Star Wars: Battlefront. Well OF COURSE I bought it, because when in doubt I always take the road of retail therapy I guess. The good news is that I’m glad I did. It is exactly the gaming experience (for me) that I expected it to be. I play a few matches a few times a week. It’s kind of my “side game” and it is perfect for me as a side game. I stick almost exclusively to Walker Assault, one of the 20 v 20 modes, and I tend to wind up somewhere in the middle of the rankings. At a guess I’d say that 11th is my sweet spot, though I have been as high as 5th and as low ~blush~ as 19th. I’ve dabbled with a few of the other modes and they’re more fun than I expected them to be, but Walker Assault always calls to me and after 3 or 4 matches of that I’m ready to play something else.

The game is getting a lot of hate but that’s EA’s problem, not mine. I’m enjoying my time playing and I’m glad I made the purchase. It IS too expensive for what you get but for me it was worth paying full price in order to be able to play while the servers are still nice and full. It takes seconds to get into a match right now and that is worth something to me, being as impatient as I am. There’s a lot of complaints about things relating to playing with your friends but since I don’t play with anyone else that stuff isn’t relevant to my enjoyment of the game. I guess what I’m saying is that while I’m enjoying myself, don’t take that as a recommendation; I’m kind of a weirdo in what I like and don’t like.

I was really enjoying Fallout 4 and I need to make sure it doesn’t drift off the homescreen of my PS4 but for the past couple of weeks it has been pushed to the side. My plan is to play Fallout 4 on and off for about a year ­čÖé so I’m not in any great hurry.

I strongly believe in voting with my wallet when a company does something I’m enthusiastic about. When Zenimax released the Imperial City expansion for The Elder Scrolls Online it seemed to me like it was dedicated to the PvPers and instanced dungeoneers so I ignored it. But then they brought Orsinium to the consoles, and that expansion had a lot of stuff for solo/open world PvE players so I wanted to support it. I bought the big bundle of crowns and spent most of them on the Deluxe Edition of Orsinium (because, duh, it came with a mount and pet and how could I resist them). I wound up buying Imperial City too just for the sake of completeness. Then during the Black Friday insanity the big pack of crowns was almost 50% off so I bought ANOTHER one, and those will sit in my wallet until another expansion comes along (I know they’re working on at least one more, the Thieves Guild expansion).

So suddenly I’ve been playing Elder Scrolls Online again. This time out I am completely ignoring the instanced content; no grouping for me. I started to research builds and that wasn’t fun so I said “screw it” and came up with my own builds. The whole beauty of TESO is that you’re supposed to play however you want, and that’s what I’m doing, and it’s working during the leveling part of the game. If I get serious about it I can always re-spec after doing research. I’m not even playing to level, really. I’m just playing to explore. I’m jumping between 3 (sometimes 4) characters leveling them as a dysfunctional ‘family’ since they’re spread all around the world. I probably spend more time crafting than I do fighting, and that includes shuffling materials between characters with is time consuming but kind of soothing.

Basically Bhagpuss is my spirit animal for this Elder Scrolls Online outing. I’m focused on solo exploring and just kind of enjoying the world. I spend a lot of time reading books I find, or trying to get to places that I think I maybe shouldn’t be (yet). With 3 starting zones, a couple of which I’ve barely touched, there’s a lot to do that is more interesting to me than following instructions on a website to build a character that is uber-powerful and completely boring to play.

On Friday I’ll have a new game to play. Xenoblade Chronicles X comes out for the Wii U. I got a Wii U shortly after launch (through kind of a fluke, my boss ended up with two so he sold me his extra) and I bought two games for it: Zombie U for me and Scribblenauts for Angela. And those are the last two games I bought for it until this month, when I’m grabbing Xenoblade for me and there’s an Animal Crossing game that Angela wanted, though I suspect she was more interested in the Amiibos that came with it than the game itself. Zombie U was pretty meh but Xenoblade is getting lots of praise so I’m hoping that I’ll FINALLY get some use out of the Wii U.

I’m SO conflicted about Star Wars Battlefront

Star Wars Battlefront launches tomorrow. I haven’t pre-ordered it yet, but I’ve come close a few times. I’m still not sure what I’m going to do.

You see in the beta, and during EA Access’s “Early Access” period that started late last week, I’ve found the Walker Assault and Supremacy modes to be really fun, but the rest of the game feels like throw-away content. And I like the meta aspects of SW:Battlefront. Here, at last, is a competitive multiplayer game for the rest of us. The e-jocks hate it because anyone can jump in and have fun. The blasters have no recoil and long ranges which I’m told (by commenters on various posts, so it must be true) makes Battlefront a “no skill” game. To which I say “Good, you e-jocks take your attitudes and go back to COD or where ever is in vogue among your kind.” I almost feel a responsibility to pick the game up just to support this decision.

The modes I love most really capture the feel of Star Wars well, too. I frequently find myself just kind of taking it all in. The first time a Tie-Fighter comes screaming out of the sky, clips an obstacle and spins out of control before crashing in a fiery explosion right in front of your face…well if that doesn’t evoke some kind of a smile you’re just no Star Wars fan.

There’s no voice chat in Battlefront which is another reason the e-jocks hate it, and another reason I love it. I can jump into a game and play and not have to listen to crappy music or racial slurs, or be told how much I suck. I can just have fun and do that thing I do where in my imagination the folks I’m playing with are decent people rather than the awful, awful individuals I usually meet in MP games. (And of course if you WANT to chat with your friends you can just start a Party out of game and chat that way.) With 20 people per team (again, in the 2 modes I like) it’s easy to blend in and just be OK and not wind up at the bottom of the charts and feel like you’re dragging your team down. Usually the people on the bottom just spawned into the game shortly before it ended, anyway. You can pretend to be one of those guys! In any case, the point, for me, is not to win (though I do try). It’s to spend a few minutes experiencing a Star Wars battle from the inside.

But it IS generally “a few minutes.” It’s not a game I find myself playing for hours at a time. I jump in, do a few matches, get my fix and move on to something else. Is that worth $60?

If this was a single player experience it’d be an easy choice: Wait for a sale or something. But if I’m going to play I kind of want to play it while the servers are nice and full and games spawn quickly. Plus with new Star Wars movie out next month, there’s the whole Star Wars fever aspect.

But the other big downside is the crazy-expensive season pass. The base game is $60, the season pass is $50. I wouldn’t care about this except for the fact that Season Pass holders get access to new content 2 weeks ahead of everyone else. That means if you don’t have the season pass and opt to buy DLC, you’re going to be experiencing it for the first time playing against people who’ve spent 2 weeks mastering the nuances of the maps. Since this really ISN’T an e-jock kind of game, that might not be as big of a problem as it sounds. but in general I don’t like how hard they’re trying to motivate us to spend $50 on a season pass of mostly unknown content.

Of course if I just opt to buy the initial game and say no to all DLC, that doesn’t impact me at all.

So pros, cons, confusion. It’d also be easier if I hadn’t purchased so many great games lately. I’m still pretty heavily invested in Fallout 4. If Battlefront had launched last summer I would’ve been all over it. I could wait, but again I kind of want the full server experience (and to not be the one level 1 guy playing with a bunch of level 50 characters).

Maybe I should flip a coin…

Thoughts on the Star Wars Battlefront beta

Over the course of the past few days I’ve played the Star Wars Battlefront beta on PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One. During that time I went from super-excited to huge disappointment and finally to completely conflicted. Here’s why.

The beta offered 3 modes of play: Survival, Drop Zone and Walker Assault. Let’s go through each briefly.

Survival is the only solo/co-op mode in the beta. It’s a pretty simple game where six waves of enemies spawn and attack and you have to kill them. I played it solo and it was pretty easy and not something that would hold my attention for very long. That said, it’s worth noting that the beta had only 6 waves and the full game will have 12, and the beta had only “Normal” difficulty and the full game will have higher difficulty levels. Maybe if the challenge level was higher it’ll be more fun, but I’m not sure. Survival might also be more fun played with someone else; it’s basically “horde mode” which seems popular in other games.

There are two other single player/co-op modes in the final game, Training and Battles. I assume Training is all about Tutorials, but I’m not sure what Battles will offer that Survival didn’t. Hopefully a more in-depth experience.

With the single player content quickly exhausted I headed to the multiplayer mode. The full game will have 7 multiplayer modes but for the demo we had Drop Zone and Walker Assault.

STAR WARS´┐Ż Battlefront´┐Ż Beta_20151011172303
Multiplayer Mode Select Screen

Drop Zone is 8v8 PVP that plays very much like any other FPS’s competitive mode. It’s fast-paced, short sight distances, cramped and definitely favors quick players that can snap-off headshots regularly. I hated it. I mean, I REALLY hated it. (I also hate this kind of mode in every other FPS in the world.) If you want Stars Wars flavored Call of Duty MP, I guess Drop Zone is for you.

And to be clear, I’m not saying it was bad; my distaste for this kind of gameplay means I can’t even judge a good game from bad in this genre. I’m just saying for me it was terrible and it dashed all my hopes for Star Wars Battlefront. In fact I deleted the beta after playing a few rounds and coming away frustrated and angry.

A friend convinced me to try Walker Assualt. EA does itself a disservice here. If you try to jump right into Walker Assault you’re told you should earn a few levels in Drop Zone first, and that’s what I’d done. For my second attempt at Battlefront I jumped right in Walker Assault at level 1.

And wow, what a difference. I found Walker Assault to be super fun. It is based on the classic “Empire assault on the rebel base on Hoth” scenario. It’s a 20v20 mode with lots of terrain to cover, lots of power-ups, and many many epic moments. Each player spawns as a generic Storm Trooper or Rebel (you can customize your weapon loadout as you gain levels and credits) but via the power-ups strewn across the battlefield you can take control of an AT-ST, the guns in an AT-AT, a Tie Fighter, X-Wing, A-Wing and more. You can also become a hero (Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader depending on your side) and there are more subtle power-ups like Smart Rockets, mini Shield Generators and so on.

The Rebels need to activate a couple of uplinks so that Y-Wings will spawn and bomb a couple of AT-AT’s that are lumbering across the battlefield. Once the Y-Wings hit the AT-ATs they’ll become vulnerable for a few moments, at which time the Rebels have to unload on them. If you’re really good you can pilot a snow speeder and do the harpoon/tow cable “trip-the-walker” move from the movies. The Empire basically just has to prevent the Rebels from destroying the AT-ATs. Eventually they’ll get in range of the shield generator, destroy it and win. The Rebels win if both AT-ATs are destroyed.

There’s a lot to do in this mission even for old guys like me who don’t have the reflexes to compete in games like Drop Zone. I spent a lot of time Activating or De-Activating Uplinks (depending on which side I was on, teams switch sides after every round) or sneaking behind enemy lines to snipe soldiers from unexpected directions.

The scenario has taken some flack for being unbalanced and it is, but it seemed less so on Sunday than it did on Friday, as by Sunday Rebel players had learned what to do. If everyone spawns in and walks away from their gaming consoles the Empire will win, so the burden is really on the Rebels to put up a good fight.

The thing is I never cared if I won or lost. I was IN the Battle For Hoth! That was amazing. Watching X-Wings and Tie Fighters duke it out, seeing walkers stumble and fall, the sky full of blaster fire. It was awesome. You die constantly but there’s no real penalty for doing so, again replicating the ‘cannon fodder’ style of combat we see in the movies. There are hundreds of troops involved in the battle and the game reflects that by giving us immediate respawns with no penalties.

Anyway, so Walker Assault almost sold me on the game except…. it’s not something I played for hours. I’d generally play 2-3 matches and have my fill and go do something else. A few hours later I’d get the itch and come back to play more.

It worries me a little that “Walker Assault” is the name of a “Mode” since it makes me think this might be the only large scale 20v20 battle in the game.

The multiplayer modes not in the beta are still a mystery. “Fighter Squadron” is space combat, I’m fairly sure. But “Supremacy,” “Blast,” “Cargo,” and “Droid Run” all sound pretty vague. If each of them is a single map in the same way “Walker Assault” is then there’s not a ton of content in the game.

And if they are all 8v8 games played on small maps then I have no interest in them. They could have 100 8v8 frenetic headshot-fests and it’d mean nothing to me.

If Star Wars Battlefront had half a dozen missions with the scope and scale of Walker Assault I’d be all over it. But having 3 modes to sample and finding 2 of them are throw-aways makes me nervous. I don’t want to pay $60 to just play Walker Assault over and over and over.

Also, anyone could play the beta for free and there were only 2 MP modes to choose from. Every time I played Walker Assault I got into a game almost instantly. But when the game is $60 (so presumably, there are fewer people playing) and there’re 7 MP modes to choose from, I wonder how long it’ll take to get a 40-person match together. We won’t know that until after launch. Also the beta was limited to level 5. I don’t know what the cap in the final game will be but hopefully level 1 people won’t get tossed in with 39 level 20s.

Basically the beta weekend left me with a bunch of new questions. I want to know if there’s anything more interesting than fighting waves of enemies to do solo. And I want to know if there are more large scale MP maps to play on. So for me, the game is in the “wait and see” category. Once it’s out and we get reports on the other modes and how well MP is working, I might buy.

Here’re a couple of short clips I captured over the weekend. The first 2 are from the PS4 version, the others from Xbox One