E3 2017: Star Wars Battlefront 2 hands-on preview

Credit: EA
Credit: EA /

We went hands-on with Star Wars Battlefront 2 at EA Play in a 40-person multiplayer Galactic Assault match. Here are our impressions.

A lot of announcements at E3 year after year can come across as too good to be true, and Star Wars Battlefront 2 might be on the front lines in that regard this year. When EA claimed, during EA Play yesterday, that they had listened to our feedback on Battlefront, their listing of the game’s features truly seemed to deliver. Of course, we won’t know for sure until November 15th when the game launches, but I can at least confirm that, from the one multiplayer match I tried at EA Play, our hopes are well-placed.

I joined 19 other players on the side of the droids to escort a transport through a wide avenue on Theed while the clones rained down fire upon us. Theed was just as gorgeous to visit in person as it was in the trailers earlier that day, with detailed architecture and just enough set dressing to feel lived in without cluttering up the place as we fought. I appreciated the generous mix of large, open spaces and narrow corridors in the city proper, allowing stealthier players to hide and shoot from safety in the early going.

Of course, in Phase 2, all bets were off as we entered the palace and lost ourselves in its maze of corridors, sliding doors, and pillars. Close quarters gameplay definitely suits some characters more than others, which was why I was grateful that Battlefront 2 has mercifully reminded us that Overwatch wasn’t the first game to allow character-swapping midmatch, going back to its roots and allowing us to choose a new unit upon death.

There are four basic unit types to choose from: Assault, Heavy, Officer, and Specialist. Assaults are fast and powerful, great for dealing out heavy damage and flanking the enemy. Heavy troopers are tougher and boast stronger firepower, but lack agility–they’re best for holding the line. Officers focus on buffing teammates, and Specialists excel in laying traps. We did not get a chance to try out vehicles (such as the fast-paced air support units shown in the gameplay reveal) during the demo.

Although all of us playing were green enough to the map and the new playstyle that things got a little disorganized and hectic, I could tell that with good communication and some practice, the four units would collaborate well together. Each unit type felt distinct as I swapped between them, right down to the feel of the weapons and movement (thank goodness, right?). These differences in playstyle became even more potent as I swapped out weapons and Star Cards to grant them new abilities. We were only given access to two different weapon types and a handful of Star Cards per troop in the preview, but were promised piles more customization options in the actual game–all swappable with each death in battle.

The three-phase map structure and variety in the environment calls for such swaps. For example, Assault troopers were fabulous in Phase 1 as they tore up the battlefield toward the goal, but had more trouble in the confined spaces of Phase 2’s palace, where their speed did not give them as great an advantage. Specialists, however, shone in the palace, laying traps around corners and in narrow corridors to sabotage the enemy into disorganization. Knowledge of maps will be key to understanding your situation and adapting accordingly, but Battlefront 2 has ensured that death, while punishing to your team as a whole, serves as a new chance to turn the tide of the match.

battlefront 2
Credit: EA Dice official image /

But you’re not limited to just the four troop styles, oh no. Heroes are back, too, available to those who earn enough Battle Points by completing objectives and damaging or destroying enemies. These heroes pack some serious power, such as Darth Maul’s furious melee assault or Rey’s devastating mind control. We learned almost immediately to focus fire on these powerhouses the minute we saw them, because left unchecked they could easily sweep our team away.

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Though I was worried at first about the system of rewarding powerful players with even more power, earning and spending battle points constantly helped keep Darth Maul from being a permanent problem so much as he was a specific, situational choice to push an objective. Plus, the massive points earned from helping finish objectives ensures that even weaker players (such as myself!) got a few chances to try the heavy hitters. Those Jump Troopers are fun as hell.

Speaking of finishing objectives, bless EA Dice for telling us very clearly what to do at any given moment without being too obtrusive about it via a clean, direct UI design. I loved the myriad of different things to do at any one point, all focused around a single goal. As a droid, I could stay near the open areas at the center of the city and defend the transport by blasting anyone who tried to shoot at it. Alternatively, I could seek out certain points around the map’s narrower alleys with weapons that the clones were trying to get at to use against the transport, and defend those instead. Once inside the palace, our role swapped from defense to all-out assault as we tried to capture a specific point at its heart.

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Credit: EA Dice gameplay reveal /

I’m still not 100% confident in the progression system, in spite of how good I felt about battle points. For example, Star Cards are unlocked as you play over time, rather than throughout a single match, and come in four tiers of rarity, with Epic cards as the rarest and most powerful. Having access to only a small handful, I do have concerns about Battlefront 2 repeating the mistakes of its predecessor, where those who poured in hours and hours could blow away players with less playtime quickly, ignoring skill. Given what I tried during this demo, I feel optimistic, but it will be up to EA Dice to balance the game appropriately to keep this from happening.

The same goes for weapon and hero unlocks. Within the demo I played, the variety proved the spice of the match, but if all that variety is gated behind frustrating objectives or randomized BS, that feeling will disappear quickly.

Next: E3 2017: 5 best announcements at EA Play

From my brief stint with Star Wars Battlefront 2, it seems very much like EA looked back at the original two Battlefront games and said, “Oh, people liked those? Let’s do that, but shinier.” So many of the mechanics and choices from the original pair return for what feels like an actual Battlefront game, rather than whatever the 2015 release was supposed to be. The overall progression system and story mode will surely make or break this title, but from what I’ve seen so far, we can all be a bit more optimistic about the future of Battlefront.