Was the Star Wars Battlefront beta a mistake?

By Brenna Hillier, Monday, 12 October 2015 10:56 GMT

The Star Wars Battlefront beta has given players a tiny peek at what the full game has to offer. Should EA have kept a lid on it?

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So how about that Star Wars Battlefront beta, eh? Does anyone have any opinions to share? A few hot takes?

This is a joke, because everyone has an opinion on the Star Wars Battlefront beta. All weekend my social media has been dominated by people’s thoughts, reactions and experiences. You can’t move for opinions on the Star Wars Battlefront beta.

The Battlefront beta has managed to alienate both new, casual players and expert shooter veterans at the same time, just by locking away all the best goodies.

Have you noticed how polarised these reactions are, though? On the one hand you have people absolutely blown away by it, cooing over the rush of piloting a vehicle or playing as Darth Vader. On the other you have less enchanted testers complaining about imbalance, shallow combat and grind. (Both sides are pretty unanimous and the graphics and sound being absolutely top-notch and very faithful to the Star Wars universe, though.)

I have been surprised and alarmed by how many of my friends are in the latter category. What people are saying on Twitter is not a good barometer for wider reception any more than comments sections are, simply because humans are far more likely to speak up with something negative than when we’re reasonably pleased, so it’s way too early to worry about Battlefront’s future – but the reaction has really highlighted and underlined what I don’t like about the beta: the content gating.

I’ve already talked about this, urging you to stick with the beta through its extended opening, but I’m back for another go because I think, in my eagerness to make sure people get to see how good Star Wars Battlefront can be, I failed to stick the boot in as hard as I should have.

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The content gating is just awful. It renders the first few hours of play an absolute nightmare, unless you magically got in well ahead of everyone else. You can’t customise your character, locking you down to run and gun play. You’re constantly being smashed by players who have access to better stuff than you. It’s very difficult to learn the maps and how to play when you’re just dying constantly – and can’t even understand what happened to you, because you’ve not seen the weapons and tools your enemies are using. (Often you don’t even see your enemy; how about an optional kill cam or replay, DICE, so we have some idea why we’ve fallen down?)

And yes, I know: character progression is just what modern shooters do. It may be especially egregious in Battlefront, but even so I do understand why DICE has implemented it; for brand new players, being thrown in with a huge array of tools, having no idea what they all do or how to use them effectively, would be pretty confusing and unpleasant especially if Battlefront is their first multiplayer shooter. A gradual unlocking of tools will help ease them in – but only if they make it that far, rather than giving up in disgust and frustration.

Casual players aside, the gating gives a pretty bad impression to veterans; I’ve heard endless complaints that the combat is too shallow, offering little strategic depth, especially before you get a few unlocks. I suspect, from my experiences playing the event demo, that Battlefront offers deeper gameplay than the feature-limited beta offers at all, allowing you to build your character out for playstyles like medic, tank, or sniper by equipping appropriate star cards not shown in the test. It’s a great shame some veterans might choose not give the full game a try based on their experiences with the beta.

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What really gets me about all this is that the Battlefront beta has managed to alienate both new, casual players (“I keep dying and I don’t know why!”) and expert shooter veterans (“What is this shallow casual nonsense?”) at the same time, just by locking away all the best goodies.

I’d really like to see Battlefront remove, rebalance or rearrange the content gating altogether, to be honest, but I don’t think it’ll happen; it’s just too ingrained in game design at this stage as How We Keep Discs In Trays. but it’s not like that’s the only solution to the problem; if the beta had just included a clearly labelled mayhem mode, with absolutely everything unlocked for everyone, both sides could have had a chance to see how exciting things get at higher levels before going back to plod through standard progression, knowing it’s all worth it.

I started this article with a question headline, and as with most question headlines the answer is “no”. The Battlefront beta was a technical test, not a demo designed to sell the game. The small number of gamers who might have changed their mind about buying it based on their experience are far outweighed by those who didn’t check it out, haven’t heard anything bad about it, or just had a really excellent time despite the gating. Nothing will stop the Star Wars hype train, either.

Star Wars Battlefront could well be a great game, in the end, and it’s obviously been put together with loving care by masters of their craft. But we can love games and still question some of their more exasperating trends, and I’m nominating “hours of service before you’re allowed to have fun” as this generation’s must-go feature.

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