What To Expect From DICE’s Battlefront: Speculation And Detailed Analysis.
If you like Star Wars, there’s a chance that you like the battles in Star Wars, and if you like the battles in Star Wars, you probably want to experience those battles for yourself. This was the premise used for LucasArts’s Star Wars Battlefront series, setting players into the shoes of soldiers that waged war on famous planets in the Star Wars universe like Tatooine, Endor, Geonosis, and Kashyyyk. The games in the series were top sellers for LucasArts, and now Electronic Arts and their subsidiary DICE (creators of the Battlefield franchise, which the Battlefront series is derived from) are taking a crack at rebooting the series after LucasArts repeatedly had trouble with getting another game in the franchise off of the ground. Using DICE’s recent marketing strategy with Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4, along with the Downloadable Content (DLC) campaigns for said games, getting an estimate on what will be in the game may be easier than you think.
Before I get into what will most likely be in the game, I believe that it’s worth noting that Battlefront represents EA’s first foray into working with a new license, and as such it’s likely that they want to leave a good first impression. The company has had a reputation of cutting corners, even earning themselves the dishonorable ‘Worst Company In America’ award twice, but this is not necessarily a cause for alarm (and indeed, EA has vowed to do better). When they first worked with The Lord Of The Rings franchise, they made an impressive debut with The Two Towers, an adaptation of the first two movies, and stayed strong with Return Of The King, The Third Age, – all of which had good scores ranging from the mid-seventies to high-eighties and nineties on review aggregator Game Rankings. They also produced the Tactics and Conquest titles later on (the latter of which was incidentally derived from Battlefront – looks like they’ve come full circle), which were met with average-to-negative reviews.
While the drop in quality is a bit concerning, the latter two games were made at a time when interest in The Lord Of The Rings as a franchise was dwindling – the movies and their special editions had been released. However, the point still stands that, even though EA’s run of games in that franchise ended on a whimper, they started strong – and, given that Disney plans to milk the Star Wars cash cow for as long as possible, EA should be under the right pressure and motivation to consistently release quality Star Wars titles.
Now, let’s look at EA’s subsidiary, DICE. DICE has plenty of experience with the Battlefield games, as I have already mentioned, and their titles have consistently been met with critical praise and financial success – particularly Battlefield 3, which surpassed competitor Activision’s Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 in terms of player satisfaction. The only problem that DICE seems to have had in recent years would relate to server troubles for Battlefield 4 – but on the bright side, they were able to handle the situation at a quicker and more effective rate than their parent company, which became infamous for having fickle servers for their needlessly always-online SimCity.
Some fans are worried that EA will force DICE to do what their other subsidiary, BioWare, was forced to do with Mass Effect 3 – rush the title in time for a certain release date, reap the initial cash flow from all the hype, and then add DLC to fill in the plot holes of each of the game’s controversial endings. While a release date is undoubtedly on DICE’s mind, the fact that they’ve been hard at work for the game for over a year – and that the Battlefield games feel largely complete even without the DLC swarm – has me feeling optimistic that EA isn’t going to make that same mistake again (especially given how vocal the dissatisfaction with Mass Effect 3’s rushed endings were).
A bit of good news is that, since Episode VII was delayed from a May 2015 release to a December 2015 release, and that the game was slated to come out in tandem with the movie, the developers will have up to seven whole months of extra time to polish their game. Plus, with the impressive sales of both the Battlefront and Battlefield series, there is a very real possibility that DICE’s shot at Battlefront could be the highest-grossing Star Wars title to date.
With all that out of the way, I find myself back at discussing Battlefront itself. We already know that the game will utilize DICE’s Frostbite 3 engine in order to allow for more detailed combat on land, in the air, and inside vehicles (no word on space battles as of yet, but more on that later), and that both Hoth and Endor are definitely in the game, and that the development team is actually visiting locations where the Original Trilogy was filmed. Provided that they’re doing that with the Prequel Trilogy as well (plot twist – they probably are), that would ensure that each planet with actual location shooting attached to it – Tatooine, Yavin IV, and Naboo – has a shot at showing up, with the additional possibilities of Kashyyyk, Mustafar, and Alderaan if you count areas that were composited in the process of digital editing. DICE evidently has access to LucasFilm’s entire archive, which would mean that anything in the movies could show up in the game (so much for narrowing it down).
That being said, it’s practically a given that they’ll stick with the movies at first; the Expanded Universe has always been an afterthought for the Battlefront games, as only one EU planet (Rhen Var) has appeared in the two main games. They also have access to knowledge relating to Episode VII, so you can expect at least one map from the movie to make it into the game. Fun fact – LucasArts put Kashyyyk in Battlefront I to promote Episode III ahead of time, and included every planet from Episode III (sans Cato Neimoidia, Saleucami, and Alderaan) in Battlefront II, which came out with the release of that movie. Promoting other products sells more merchandise, and games are no exception – DICE would be smart to use the game as a way of giving players a sneak-peek at the most anticipated movie of 2015.
LucasArt’s original Battlefront (which I will refer to as Battlefront I for sake of clarity) had a total of 16 maps, along with an additional DLC map. Battlefront II featured 18 land maps (6 of which were from Battlefront I), contained several space maps (which were largely similar, but had different frigate placements to create some variety), and had 4 DLC maps from the original game for Xbox users. In general, the LucasArts range of new maps per game was 13-16. Now, back to DICE – their Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4 had 9 and 10 new maps respectively on the disc. When you count DLC, you get a staggering 16 new maps, along with 4 fan-favorites from previous titles in the series, doubling the size of the multiplayer campaign (Battlefield 4 seems to be following this formula as well, having released 8 new levels and 4 old ones with a pair of 4-level expansions on the way). Of course, given that these two installments were made on more powerful hardware than either Battlefront I or II, these maps are substantially larger in size, making the sheer quantity of them that much more impressive.
Now that I’ve listed what we know about the game, now it’s time for the fun part – pulling stuff out of left field and start speculating. To start with my speculation, instead of coming up with a wishlist, I would like to use previous games as a frame of reference for how big this one will be. One factor to consider is that, traditionally, single-player campaigns Battlefront games have entirely been based upon the multiplayer experience – Battlefront I’s campaign was essentially a series of Instant Action battles loosely strung together with the plot of the movies, and Battlefront II’s campaign was also like that, only with a greater number of setpieces and event flags to make for more interesting gameplay and integration with the story. To my knowledge, the Battlefield games are different – instead of simply repurposing multiplayer maps, additional maps are created to put players on a path to go from Point ‘A’ to Point ‘B’.
Since the Battlefront single-player games already have a story defined for them by six films, the games work well enough without having standalone linear maps for single-player purposes, and that DICE’s game is apparently going to be playable in First-Person and Third-Person formats (the presentation only tends to work in one format or the other), I believe that DICE will not stray from the precedent established by LucasArts. This would allow them to work on a greater number of multiplayer maps for the disc, which is just as well considering that multiplayer is what brings people into games like Battlefront.
Based on the amount of multiplayer levels that LucasArts and DICE have produced for their Battlefront and Battlefield games, and operating on the assumption that single-player will be a narrative/multiplayer tutorial instead of a linear shooting game, I estimate that DICE will release at least 9-15 maps on the disk alone. I suspect that all of the initial maps will be based on planets featured in the movies and not anything like Star Wars The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels – recreating movie battles has been the focus of these games from day one. Because of that, I believe that every planet with a major battle will be featured – which would mean that Naboo, Geonosis, Coruscant, Utapau, Tatooine, and Yavin IV will be shoo-ins for the game. I would also imagine that some planets might get more than one map based on how often they were featured in the movies and how varied their environments are – for instance, Tatooine could have new Mos Eisley and Dune Sea levels, while Coruscant could have new Jedi Temple and Imperial City levels.
There’s no official word on if they’re actually using Prequel Trilogy content, but given how financially successful the movies were, and that a lot of younger players that grew up on both Trilogies are going to pick up this game up, there’s no logical reason for them not to (and say what you will about those movies, but you can’t deny that the newer, more varied planets would make for interesting combat experiences). Plus, the Prequels have a greater variety of environments than the Originals alone – the Original Trilogy introduces 2 Death Stars, and 7 planets (one of which is blown to smithereens and we don’t see), while the Prequel Trilogy introduces 11 planets and an asteroid – and having levels that stand out from the crowd of other shooting games would definitely help attract more players.
But enough about the maps, let’s talk about the gameplay. From the bits and pieces that were shown in the E3 2014 trailer, it doesn’t look like a lot has changed as far as the formula goes – you spawn in from certain points and take down your enemies with the arsenal of the Star Wars universe. From this standpoint, the wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented; that being said, new modes and classes are bound to be in the game, and it should be interesting to see how these will change the gameplay experience. Heroes from Battlefront II are in the realm of possibility – a few watchful eyes noticed that Han Solo’s blaster was one of the props that the development team was scrutinizing during the E3 2014 trailer. I’d imagine that, should they be included, character balance would need to be applied – the system was tailored for lightsaber users, and you were more or less doomed if you were stuck with a gun user (since they can’t defend as well and they aren’t as powerful). Space battles have yet to be confirmed, but given that the T-47 Snowspeeder is, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that X-Wings and TIE Fighters are going to make an appearance above the planets themselves. I’d imagine that these would be expanded upon, too – being able to enter your enemy’s smaller frigates and taking flight with unique ships like the Slave I or Millennium Falcon would be welcome additions.
Something I’m sure will not be in the game, however, is land-to-space transitions – that is to say, to alternate between fighting on land and fighting in space in the same battle. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really neat idea in concept, but in practice, it could potentially break the game. Why bother having a space battle if you can bring down entire frigates with ground-based anti-air turrets, and why bother having a land battle if your whole planet is going to get zogged to smithereens by the Death Star anyway? Not to mention that the movies have never really integrated the two – Episode III’s Battle Of Coruscant apparently took place entirely over the planet (save the part where the Invisible Hand crash-landed on the planet itself), and Episode VI’s Battle Of Endor was distinctly split between a land battle and a space battle (and sure, the results of the space battle were dependent upon blowing up the generator on the moon, but they were fundamentally two separate conflicts occurring at once). This mechanic was also one of the problems that caused Battlefront III to go under – and if this game is going to get off the ground after a decade, maybe it’s for the best to not revisit the concept. Perhaps it’s best used for another game in the series, once DICE has got a good enough handle on land battles and space battles separately. I also think that, although an Episode VII planet will be in the game for sure, I don’t think that DICE will have time to code in the factions that will be introduced in the movie – they’ll probably stick with the Clone Wars and Galactic Civil War eras and leave whatever’s to come for the next installment.
As for the DLC, why not use DICE’s model for both Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4 to get an estimate? This would mean that DICE would release a solid standalone title (containing at least 9-15 land maps, plus a few space maps) by the end of 2015 and five expansion packs that would collectively double the size of the game with 20 or more maps, new units, and new artillery. I’d imagine that if they followed this model (DLC is a given with EA), DICE would start out with reintroducing some fan favorite levels from the previous games (Rhen Var, I’m looking at you) for the first expansion before moving on to making new expansions based on non-movie properties (The Clone Wars and Rebels), reworking some old planets from Star Wars Legends into worlds that could snugly fit into the new canon, and featuring some movie worlds that might have been left out of the game – possibly adding one or two to promote the forthcoming spin-off movies, Episode VII, and even the inevitable sequel to this game. EA will probably want to set up a “Premium” system that grants players extra features in exchange for a membership fee as a way to collect extra money on what will already be an extremely profitable title (and I can’t say that I’d blame them).
Lastly, there was another title that Disney Interactive released a beta for that may pique your interest – Star Wars Attack Squadrons, a dogfighting simulator. The game was officially cancelled for Disney to work on bigger and better projects (like more smartphone games, clearly), but the timing of the cancellation (shortly before the E3 2014 Battlefront preview) begs the question – was Attack Squadrons simply a game that they didn’t think would sell, or were they planning on using assets for the game for Battlefront? It might seem unrelated, but remember that Disney technically already had access to a dogfighting game in BioWare’s expansions to Star Wars The Old Republic. Granted, the dogfighting system from that game would have to be greatly retooled, which would necessitate a modified version set up to give players a test drive, which could then be used for the real deal. If this sounds a little familiar to hardcore Battlefront fans, that’s because that’s exactly what LucasArts was planning with Star Wars First Assault in respect to Star Wars Battlefront III, both of which were sadly cancelled. I don’t think that this project will have all of its assets terminated, as DICE would directly benefit from having some of the groundwork already done for them (not to mention that the space combat from Attack Squadrons looks remarkably like Battlefront II’s).
In any case, Battlefront is bound for greatness, and one can only hope that EA lets DICE do their thing and refuses to succumb to the Dark Side (Day-One DLC and Microtransactions make Wookiees angry enough to pull arms out of people’s sockets, you see). So long as DICE can work their magic on the franchise, we’re sure to receive a game that we can greet with thunderous applause.
Grant has been a fan of Star Wars for as long as he can remember, having seen every movie on the big screen. When he’s not hard at work with his college studies, he keeps himself busy by reporting on all kinds of Star Wars news for SWNN and general movie news on the sister site, Movie News Net. He served as a frequent commentator on SWNN’s The Resistance Broadcast.