Everyone’s talking about loot crates and gambling mechanics sneaking into games. Even $60 full-price games. It’s a bit too obvious to make that the topic of this month’s blog, so let me just say this: Loot boxes are terrible in all their forms. Even cosmetic. Even free. Even in Free To Play.
That’s my personal opinion on the flashy flashy “dangling your keys over the dog’s head” (as I think of it) ‘mechanic’. At their best, loot crates break immersion and treat the player like they’re an idiot. At their worst, they teach children how to gamble and can lead families into some serious debt very quickly.
So, as someone trying to be an ethical human being, as a player, and as a game designer, I think loot crates should just die. They should have no place in games.
But that’s not what I want to talk about.
I’ve just finished reading a fantastic book that resonated with me on so many levels.
It’s called “Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business” and it’s written by John Mackey (the CEO of Wholefoods) and Raj Sisodia.
It speaks to how taking a more holistic view of your business’ activities, and its long term sustainability can demonstrably be a better way of doing business.
The book is filled with case studies on how profit-driven CEOs ran once-successful companies into the ground by striving solely to create shareholder value, and not caring about the other stakeholders (meaning anyone who has any interest in the business, including customers, employees, the government, and even the environment) of the business.
Reading it, I couldn’t help but draw parallels with how EA, Activision, and Warner Bros. have been milking their once loyal and enthusiastic customers to the point of maximum frustration and past ethical boundaries. They’re burning bridges with former fans in the hopes of maximising returns this fiscal year, and to the smug satisfaction of many, we’ve just seen EA’s share price take a $3 billion (yes, with a ‘b’) drop in value as a direct result.
I have a Commerce degree. I’ve studied economics. I understand capitalism (you know, basically), and I believe in the free market and (for the most part) lack of government intervention, at least in normal trade. But I’ve also been hugely affected personally by the Global Recession since the day I graduated college and continuing even until the present day. This has given me very socialist sympathies. It’s also soured me (and so many others) on ‘capitalism’, yet this book argues, quite correctly, that what we think of as capitalism is more often perverse ‘crony capitalism’ that is ultimately unsustainable as it exploits parties to the business (including the environment) and poisons the environment that it operates in. It’s not what capitalism means at its core, and it’s not how it has to be.
In the 1970’s, economist Milton Friedman argued that a firm’s sole responsibility was basically to maximise profits for shareholders. This doctrine has since been taken as gospel by the corporate world at large and has been hugely damaging to the environment and the stability of poorer nations from which we get so many of our resources (see last month’s blog on Venezuela, though I don’t get very political in it).
Another book that I haven’t yet read, but intend to, is Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins. I heard him speak on a podcast and (as well as some other startling confirmations) he mentioned how, before Friedman, corporations were presumed to have a responsibility to their local communities. That responsibility was (apparently, though I haven’t looked it up) even mentioned in the original Declaration of Independence.
Wait, isn’t this a games blog? Get to the point!
Okay! So clearly EA and other AAA publishers, judging by their actions of the last few months and years, still subscribe to the Friedman school of business ethics, and they’re losing their supporters in droves. Even those that stick around and pay are hardly becoming ardent fans of the companies.
Then take a company like CD Projekt Red, creators of The Witcher series, who, to date, have seemed perfectly happy to offer outstanding value to their customers and who truly invest in the intangible ‘Goodwill’ line of the Balance Sheet (yes, it’s a thing on the balance sheet, but how do you really calculate it? (rhetorical question)).
Their core $60 experience in The Witcher 3 was over 70 hours of gameplay with no microtransactions. Then along came two expansion packs (pay once, play forever model) of 10-20 hours each! Not a microtransaction or loot crate in sight!
They clearly care about customer satisfaction to a degree that the other major games publishers can’t claim. This gives them so many intangible benefits, including customer loyalty, more predictable sales numbers, and free marketing via positive word of mouth.
Note: CD Projekt aren’t a perfect example because they’re known to have some internal problems with crunch time, and employee welfare is a core part of the Conscious Capitalism approach. Still, they’re still probably the best example.
“Games Cost More To Make”
AAA likes to argue that games cost more to create now, so they have to charge more somehow, but I don’t buy this at all – not as the only option. Undeniably, the games become less enjoyable when compromised by loot crates and microtransactions. The experience is soured, at least according to a huge subset of gamers. When disenfranchised gamers stop buying the games at all, they cease to be customers, and that’s a huge additional cost to doing business.
The best approach is to grow the market, not to exploit the current one to the maximum possible level.
Many would say that loot crates are the business model of the future so get used to them! I say ‘why’? As a gamer, I hate them, and know that many others do too. As an entrepreneur I know that there are countless alternatives and ways to innovate. The “games cost more” excuse only keeps getting used because some gamers have started to believe it.
Games have budgets. Conscious Capitalism argues that you budget for all stakeholders, including, very importantly, the final customers. If they don’t want loot crates, you can plan not to give them to them. Rule them out completely! After that, your budget adjusts. Now just don’t make a game that exceeds that budget and projected profit levels. It’s actually quite simple business. You can sell to more final consumers if more of them would be happy to buy your product.
Many, such as myself, just won’t touch a game with loot crates. But I bought Wolfenstein 2 and the XCOM 2 expansion happily. Firaxis have fostered so much intangible goodwill from me over the years that they’re the only company I’ll pre-order from. At this point I won’t even buy Battlefront 2 if it went 90% off.
Hey, I think this is my shortest blog ever! I’ve been trying to cut them down. I’d better get back on point, quick!…
My conclusion? Don’t support business practices you don’t like, and don’t presume that the example set by EA, Activision, Warner Brothers, and others, is the only way forward. Vote with your wallet as a consumer.
As a game developer, use your conscience and innovative spirit to think outside the box. Trust in goodwill as a long term pillar of your business strategy.
And yeah, consider buying the book ‘Conscious Capitalism’. I’ve no affiliation with it whatsoever, I just really enjoyed it. My apologies to the writers (yeah, like they’re reading this blog..) if I misrepresented any of its ideologies in my paraphrasing.
Allow me to present my opening argument in the form of a screenplay.
[Setting the scene. Entertainment media news room. Young anchor seated at a desk covered in Nintendo Ameebo and (new) Star Wars stormtrooper toys, smiling and speaking animatedly into the camera]
Anchor: “..in other news, this week saw the release of Battlefield 1, the first game in the new Battlefield franchise. While it’s unusual to actually give the number ‘1’ to a new intellectual property, it shows a bold confidence on Dice and EA’s part in their new…”
[Anchor pauses, puts one finger to their ear]
Anchor: “..wait.. my producer is saying something.. sorry about this folks..”
[Mumbling ensues ]
Anchor: “.. THE FIFTEENTH Battlefield game?!?! NOT including expansions?!”
[Anchor glances nervously at the camera, then turns aside, pressing one hand to their ear and speaking more quietly to producer off-camera].
Anchor: “Is this a joke? Seriously, tell me now. Is this just a prank on the new recruit or…. you’ve got to be joking…. so Battlefield Hardline was the same ser… and Battlefield 4 was actually Battlefield 13?? Holy mother of… I suppose next you’ll be telling me that Assassin’s Creed 4 was…. it was the 6th?…”
“So, wait, what do I say about Battlefield 1?…..”
Anchor (now shout-whispering):“..JUST BECAUSE IT’S SET IN WORLD WAR 1?! THAT’S THE STUPIDEST THING I’VE EVER HEARD!!”
“Okay, okay. Yes, okay. I got it”.
[Anchor lowers their hand, turns slowly back to the camera and recomposes their “tv-smile”]
Anchor: “Ahem.. excuse me. Battlefield 1 released to great critical claim this week, with reviewers calling it ‘the best Battlefield game since..”
[Anchor looks confused for a split second, but ploughs ahead]
Anchor: “..Bad Company 2.“
“And lastly, new DLC has just released for Doom, the new shooter IP from id Software and Bethesda that took the world by storm earlier this year…
[Anchor pauses and their smile half drops as they appear to listen again to their producer. Turns aside again]
Anchor: “..not new?…. 1993?.. But surely nobody would remember one solitary game with crappy graphics from over 20… FOURTH DOOM?!… So why didn’t they just call it…? ..who the hell are the ‘two Johns’??… ‘Quake’? No, Quake is coming out next year, I’m sure of that!… no.. no.. look, forget it…
[Anchor stands up, head now out of the shot, and begins to remove their clip-on microphone. Banging noises can be heard as fabric rubs against the microphone]
Anchor (now less audible):“.. No, I quit! Forget it! This is ridiculous! Until you can grow up as an industry, how is anyone going to take you seriously?”
[Now free of the microphone, the anchor walks out of the shot, becoming increasingly less audible as they leave the room]
Anchor: I’m going to try get that internship back with Fox. At least Fant4stic had the right number somewhere in the name.
[Someone can be heard replying]
Anchor: “Only the third?!”
[Shouted curses can be heard receding, ending with a door slamming]
Ain’t satire fun?
So there’s a humour to how ridiculous game names are becoming, as we live through it, but there’s also a real threat to game preservation, or historical research for those who come after us, or even just twenty years from now. Most people don’t care about the problems of tomorrow (that’s what made us the world we are today, after all) so I’ll focus on the humour, but please also open your mind to what this will all look like to someone in the future. Will they see this time as a golden era of game creation, or will it be marked as a time when ravenous consumers didn’t seem to know or even care what they were playing, but were in fact every bit as gormless and fickle as the big marketers presently seem to think that we are?
To be clear, I’m not saying anything against any of the games mentioned here. Most of them are brilliant! My only issue is with how games are getting named, and it’s the more successful series that create the problems, because they have so many entries.
Hopefully from my “screenplay” above you can see the problem I’m highlighting. I could say “naming conventions are out of control”, but in truth, there appears to be no naming convention in place at all in the games industry other than “marketing think that the target demographic likes this number this week”.
What are movies doing?
The movie and games industries get compared all the time, and I don’t relish doing it, but I will be doing so today because there are great parallels and lessons to be learned.
The movie industry most definitely seems to have a more mature approach to naming conventions where long-running franchises or reboots of old ones are concerned. Despite the fact that the problem (if you agree that it is one) of seemingly constant reboots in both of these entertainment industries originated (at least as a recognisable pattern) in the movie industry, to their credit, they did seem to handle the issue far more tidily. With the exception of RoboCop (2014), most reboots pick an altered title or subtitle to clarify (Batman Begins, The Amazing Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk – and yes, it is mostly superhero/action movies that seem to get the reboots).
Where numbering sequels are concerned movies now seem to dodge that bullet by rarely adding a number any more and instead favouring a subtitle. Marvel is a good example as their interwoven movie narratives can be quite complex and it can sometimes even be hard to figure out who the lead character is. Take Captain America: Civil War. Was that The Avengers 3 or Captain America 3? Or Civil War 1? Well, ignore the numbers and give it a name. That works.
To be clear, I’m not trying to claim that naming conventions used to make more sense or be more consistent either (Jaws used numbers, then number/names, then subtitles: Jaws, Jaws 2, Jaws 3-D, Jaws: The Revenge) but what I am staying is, that with the notable exception of RoboCop (and probably a few others that aren’t coming to mind), franchises are rarely so muddy that I couldn’t tell which exact movie you were talking about if you use the correct name. And I can’t think of any examples where “Movie-name 3” is not actually the 3rd movie, or at least the 3rd in the current reboot.
There is no common convention, but there does seem to be a deliberate attempt to clarify when rebooting a series or making sequels. This is far from the case with games.
Clarification Note: ReMAKES in film often carry the exact same name as the original, but they’re usually a once-off remake of a classic 40-50 years old (3:10 to Yuma, 101 Dalmations, Alice in Wonderland). ReBOOTS usually follow several related sequels, by starting a new string of sequels related to each other but not the older works. Take ‘Star Trek’ (2009). The original 1979 movie was called ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’. They haven’t used an identical name. Although admittedly they could have used a subtitle in 2009 if they wanted to make my point better for me.
What are games doing?
Well, as I see it, there’s two approaches that both muddy the waters to varying degrees (and a third in movies where series-related movies don’t share a name, eg. Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal). These create problems when using search engines, or even just talking to someone and trying to communicate which game you actually mean.
Throwing Numbers Around, ‘Whenever’
I’ve never seen a movie do this, but games series seem so ashamed of their age that they’ll constantly fiddle the numbers. While the reasons for doing this could be both to hide the quantity of games (to counter the perception of over-saturation), or to differentiate between split story lines (Command & Conquer: ‘Tiberium’ series and Command & Conquer: Red Alert 1-3), or even between releases on different devices, it’s still a messy practice.
Movies, once they abandon the numbers, tend to stay away from them. After 6 numbered Police Academy movies, the 7th was just subtitled Mission to Moscow. Superman hasn’t had a numbered movie since IV despite having a later sequel and an even later reboot.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was the 4th GTA, and before GTA IV (TWO games later) I used to refer to Vice City as “GTA 4” for short. 5 is really the 7th, and so on.
Assassin’s Creed III was the 5th game in that series.
The recent Gears of War 4 is the 5th GOW, also.
If you’ve read my last few articles, you’ll have seen me snipe at the name Battlefield 1. I’m getting it out of my system today, okay?
My satirical ‘screenplay’ already picked on Battlefield – probably the worst offender. 3 games deep is the earliest that you can really get inconsistent and they did so by going: Battlefield 1942, then Battlefield Vietnam, and then screwed the pooch with their 3rd game, Battlefield 2. The numbered games have been meaningless since then, only highlighted (for me anyway) by the fact the I’ve seen nobody else bat an eyelid that the new game is called Battlefield 1. It’s so ludicrous, and it’s actually a world first, as far as I’m aware, to name a newer title ‘1’. It’s all the worse considering that, given that with this game they were very much returning to their roots by moving away from modern or sci-fi settings, they had an opportunity to return to their original naming convention (Battlefield 1942) and call this one “Battlefield 1916″ (or anywhere from 1914-1918, I just say 1916 because a recent trailer made a point of being set then, and the year of release, 2016, is a nice, round century after that). I don’t care what anyone says, the marketers definitely missed a trick with that one. And I’ve a degree in marketing so I feel I get to say this with at least a little authority:
If they were so dead-set against a year in the title for whatever reason, Battlefield: The Great War would still have been less of a joke than Battlefield 1, as a name. Okay, I’ve had my say. Great game, horrific name, moving on..
The thing about this trend with all those aforementioned games is that the only way to fix it is to own up and call the next game the correct number. Like “Battlefield 16“, which they’ll never do, especially coming straight after 1, in their case.
Preferable to that would be to continue using subtitles forever once you’ve started, but the problem there is that sales will be lost because less die-hard fans might lose a named game through the year-sized cracks without realising it.
As ridiculous as that all is, it doesn’t exactly cause a major problem for searchability, and a Wikipedia search can quickly inform you if you forgot that Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood existed, if you really wanted to know. I mentioned the benefits of being dishonest-thus at the top of this section anyway.
On to the bigger problem.
Naming Reboots The Same As Originals
Doom, Star Wars: Battlefront, Battlezone, and the game that actually prompted this article, Prey are all guilty as hell here.
At E3 this year, we saw a teaser trailer for a new game called Prey. I thought to myself “people seem a bit overly excited at this. What do they know that I don’t? Hang on, the name sounds familiar. Wasn’t there a game named something like that just a few years ago?”
Ten years. It was only ten years ago, no sequels since, and they’re putting out a game with the exact same name. What are fans supposed to say after the second comes out? “Oh I hate Prey, I much prefer Prey.” Ridiculous! Even if there’s were a discerning in-fiction reason (parallel universes or something) that gave an actual good reason to call the games by the same name (let’s give a lot of benefit of the doubt here, for the sake of argument) then you still have to worry about marketing to the general public and internet searchability, and the uninitiated aren’t going to be as sympathetic to your confusing of the issue by ‘staying in character’ or whatever.
Maybe someone more in the know can tell me a good reason to confuse traffic in this way (like there’s already an established number of searches for that topic, thereby making it cheaper to piggy back on the old game’s presence), but if there is such a reason, it seems ludicrously short-sighted and cynical.
Which brings me to Star Wars: Battlefront, which is actually Battlefront3. The fact that it’s made by a different studio doesn’t change the fact that I bought, played and enjoyed two prior Battlefront games, one of which was called Star Wars: Battlefront. However, Disney does seem intent on overwriting absolutely everything bar the movies from pre-2012 Star Wars. When the reboot was announced I tried to Google the name of the original game to see what year it was released, as it seemed too recent to be smothering up the name in the same manner as you might get away with in a 50 year old movie.
2004. *weeping* “It was only twelve years old! It had its whole life ahead of it”. Comical as that sounds, there’s a point to note there. Any distinctly named game will presumably be searchable for decades to come. At a time where the preservation of digital art is becoming an increasingly hot topic, knowingly smothering the presence of any game that came before is irresponsible, and seems almost even callous.
By the way, to find the answer ‘2004’, I had to search for Battlefront 2 and work my way back from there. If I hadn’t known of the sequel, let’s say I’m a 10 year old, not 29, those two older games may as well never have existed, unless someone tells me about them.
Now try this on for size: The Playstation VR title Battlezone is a reboot of the original Atari Battlezone from 1980, and not of the 1998 Battlezone or its 2016 re-release “Battlezone 1998 Redux”, nor of 1999’s Battlezone II: Combat Commander. Do you see how complicated this starts to get? And historically, these are very interesting games! Often underappreciated, yet doing all sorts of new things each time the name appeared. This is a prime example of games we should want to preserve and research in the future. Why the newest version couldn’t just have been called Battlezone VR is beyond me.
You’ve gotten my point by now. Doom (2016) should be called Doom 4 or even “Doom 2016″, but it wasn’t. Sorry, Doom is a game that already existed and that still has thousands of concurrent players daily. In five years time, I’ll be you anything that more people will be playing classic Doom than current Doom, as great as the new one is. You don’t get to steamroll the older title and pretend it didn’t exist. Which is ironic to say because 2016’s version is clearly such a love letter to the original. It seems a shame to me that it copy/pasted the name. Imitation is the best form of flattery, but not when it extends to cutting off and then wearing your idol’s skin.
In Conclusion – What have I missed?
It’s clearly a growing trend to name newer games the same as the originals, even after as little as 10 years, and I can only think of negative consequences for doing so. Is it just more ‘hip’ to drop the number?
It actually disgusts me. The notion that we’re so fickle that we’ll forget about the originals, or somehow appreciate the newer versions more because they didn’t have the number 4 or 5 in the name. You might argue that new players are more likely to pick up a game if they don’t feel like they’ve already missed 5 instalments, but to hide your game’s ancestry for that reason alone is so sardonic! That theory also sounds like something that overpaid marketers may have merely convinced themselves is true rather than something sales data has actually backed up. After all, I bought Assassin’s Creed IV, Civilization V, Skyrim, The Witcher 3, and Fallout 4 all without having played prior games. And I know many who have done the same.
Fudging the numbers in this way is being done by the biggest companies with the biggest marketing departments. There must be some logic to it. It doesn’t seem like something that someone convinced themselves was now trendy while sipping on a 50% hops IPA that is actually brewed in old French wheelbarrows (I’m trying to say “the latest thing that someone suddenly decides is hip”). I’m convinced that there must be real concerted logic at work, here, but I can’t figure it out.
Whatever the logic, or lack thereof, it’s damaging to the preservation and searchability of games. I can hear the response “don’t care, old games don’t sell well. I’ve a monthly bonus to stretch for. I’m not concerned with history”, but can I counter with this example?
A new player comes to Gears of War 4. Loves it. Decides they want to play all the other Gears games. You know; 1, 2, and 3. You’ve made 3 extra (albeit lower-priced) sales on the back of 1. Well done. What about Judgment? You lost that sale didn’t you? Why, because it wasn’t very clear that it existed, and that’s the most recent and thus highest-priced of the previous games that you failed to sell.
So, what of it all? I’m afraid my advice is simply “just be honest with the damned numbers or don’t use them! And never use a name that’s already been used”. Hell, if you use a name even similar to somebody else’s you get sued. Bethesda initiated legal proceedings against Mojang when they announced Scrolls a few years ago because it sounded too similar to their series The Elder Scrolls. But you’re allowed do it to yourself because it’s your property? Legally, okay, sure, but what about the consumers?
I’ll leave you with a section from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)’s website about trademarks.
What is trademark infringement? Trademark infringement is the unauthorized use of a trademark or service mark on or in connection with goods and/or services in a manner that is likely to cause confusion, deception, or mistake about the source of the goods and/or services.
“Unauthorized” doesn’t apply, but the rest is worth thinking about.
It’s been some week for games news and I’d no shortage of choices for what to write about today. Far Cry Primal was annoucned, Star Citzen revealed a lot of news at Citizen Con last night, (including the fact that Gary Oldman, Mark Hamill, Gillian Anderson, Andy Serkis and many others are acting for the single player story) and the Star Wars Battlefront Beta is in full swing. I decided to write on Battlefront in case it convinces anyone to give it a go tonight. It ends sometime tomorrow but it’s worth a look.
The game launches on November 17th in North America, and a few days after that in different regions. That’s just over a month away and means that this “Beta” is not really a beta in the usual sense of the word. The game is 99.9% complete. This is more of a demo of a few modes while they stress test servers for a smoother launch. They’re not (particularly, even though they have a survey) asking for gameplay suggestions. Any major features are now set in stone. This means that anything people see and don’t like in the Beta is probably still going to be there in the €60 release. Warts and all.
First, a brief history of Battlefront (3) and what led to this newest iteration.
In 2002, Dice and EA (the same pair responsible for this game) released Battlefield 1942, and have continued that very popular series ever since, with Battlefield Hardline being the most recent release.
In 2004, Lucasarts, as they have always been wont to do, hopped on the latest game craze with a Star Wars version of Battlefield called Star Wars Battlefront (1). This was well received and Battlefront 2 came out in 2005, but there’s been no new entries since.
Now, in 2015, Dice and EA, the makers of BattleFIELD are releasing the newest BattleFRONT game, with the same name as the original. Just to be confusing.
I’ve played all games in question, and the new Battlefront stands apart from all those others. Sure it’s a large multiplayer shooter set in large levels with vehicular combat, but it very much has its own take on things, so anyone fearing that it was just going to be a Star Wars skin on Battlefield can set those particular fears to rest.
How Is It Different?
The biggest departure from any of those games is that vehicles are now not lying empty on the map waiting for a driver. You find power-ups on the map for all sorts of things, including vehicles. The spawn points are semi-random. When you get one you can activate it to spawn a vehicle at the edge of the map and you hop right into it. You can’t exit the vehicle and are basically in it until you die (which won’t likely be too long).
This is a bold new take on a core mechanic of the Battle-x games. It has pros and cons. On the plus side, the vehicles can’t be damaged or stolen by the enemy team before they’re in use. This is a huge benefit to gameplay. It would annoy me to see Stormtroopers owning the sky by flying all the TIE fighters AND Rebel X-Wings on the map. This keeps the balance better, which is a huge plus.
On the downside, if you actually want to play primarily as a pilot or tank driver, the new Battlefront does not have you covered. There’s no practice mode (at least in the Beta) and you can never deliberately get a vehicle if you want one. In my first ten games I probably only flew two ships and drove one AT-ST, and my familiarity and skill with them were nil, so I couldn’t even enjoy them before being destroyed. You have to play hours of the game (mostly as infantry) if you want to start getting good in vehicles.
Battlefront 2 (and I think #1) did have the hero feature, but we haven’t seen it in the Battlefield series. In it, you would gain control of an overpowered hero or villain like a Jedi or Sith if you reached a certain kill streak or points goal. You then had a limited amount of time to control a hero character. The heroes given depended on the map and would fit the theme for that time setting in Star Wars history, so Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker were never on the same map, but Luke and Vader were, or Anakin and Jango Fett were.
I’m not sure how careful Dice are being with that attention to detail. It’s a minor issue but fans have complained that on the Hoth level in the Beta, we see Luke from Return of the Jedi (so, a full Jedi with green lightsabre) fighting Vader, instead of a younger Luke in pilot or snow gear.
You also now get heroes the same way as vehicles, and they’re even more rare. I’ve played 7 hours and been a hero character twice, for about twenty seconds each time, and I still have no idea how to use their powers to good effect. Also, when they’re defeated, they just kneel down looking sad for a few seconds, then completely disappear in an instant. This is a very poor animation, as are many others on the heroes, and it seems that the game would be stronger without them at this point.
It was reported earlier that there was no aim-down-sights feature to the game. There is now. Possibly it was added due to the unpopularity of that announcement. All guns seem to have the same sight (a low-zoom scope, with the sniper rifle’s zoom also being very low). Crouching also gives no aim or stability bonus, as it does in Battlefield. Jumping or running while shooting doesn’t seem to hurt the aim that much either, so this game is quite dumbed down (/made more accessible) in that regard.
No Single Player
The Battlefield games have mostly had story campaigns, or at least single player campaign modes. The two Battlefront games also had some single player options. The new game just seems to have a Survival mode which is a wave fighting mode that you can play solo or in co-op against AI bots. This is big negative for me. You can keep playing multiplayer matches forever if you like, but I like a game, particularly a €60 one, to also give me something to enjoy on my own with some narrative or strategy. I would have loved to see the Galactic Conquest mode from Battlefront 2 in here. Instead I’m basically looking at paying €60 to kill and die in equal measure for as much time as I like. It’s not always what I’m after, and I have plenty of other multiplayer shooters to go to if that’s what I want.
There is one other single-co-op mode but it’s not in the Beta.
Spectacle & Polish
The Walker Assault level of the Beta, set during the Battle of Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back, is one of the best levels/experiences I’ve ever come across in a game. Dice have absolutely nailed the sounds and visuals! The clunking walkers, the punchy lasers, the snow crunching, the graphical fidelity, and then the level design itself all serve to craft one of the most immersive Star Wars experiences anyone has ever had. If you’re still reading and the Beta is still on, please just load up the game and run around the battle for a few minutes. This has to be experienced! I don’t know if I’d pay €60 for it, but for free, go for it!
The other two levels also look beautiful and all have interesting starship battles happening overhead as part of the scenery. The lengths they’ve gone to with immersion here are spectacular.
There’s none of Dice’s trademark ‘levolution’ going on here, at least not in the Beta. The levels are pretty rigidly set up. And AT-ST in the Survival mode blew through a few boulders near me and I was actually surprised. It looked great, but the fact that I was surprised by environmental destruction happening in a Dice game shows that there’s not much of it going on here. Don’t expect falling skyscrapers or crumbling buildings. There may be more environmental destruction in other levels, but I thought they’d have shown it off a bit more in the beta if it was much of a feature.
No Server Browser
The game doesn’t let you choose where to play. You can form a party with friends, but you can’t choose your server, and this will probably annoy PC players in particular. However, I have to mention that from my desktop, I can launch the Beta, find a full Walker Assault server, and be on the ground shooting in literally under 1 minute. If the full game can accomplish close to those times, I don’t care about not having a server browser, and players would be far more likely to hop in for a few quick rounds. Loading times were some of the biggest obstacles to me returning to the Battlefield games after a few weeks.
More ‘Rule of Fun’
They’ve tried to make more of a game for everyone here. Opinions will vary on whether this is good or bad but I actually found myself enjoying the game more for the presence of certain unrealistic features, and I’d normally be a fan of realism. For instance, there’s no friendly fire. Unrealistic? Sure. But it removes the ability for the inevitable assholes on your team to grief you too much. They also can’t steal your vehicles. I found myself less frustrated playing this than I have playing Battlefield games, which is a huge plus for me, even if the tactical considerations are lessened. A shooter with 40 people is not where I’ll go to get my tactical fix anyway, so for fun, this was a good move in my books.
They also put all your abilities on ‘star cards’ that you equip. You don’t automatically get grenades, but you can chose them as 1 of 3 possible power-ups. In here are also jetpacks, a one-round sniper rifle, other grenades, or a personal shield. You don’t carry grenade ammo, but instead they are on a simple cool-down before you can use another one. Your health also recharges fully moments after a firefight. This basically means that if you don’t die in a fight, you’ll have full health and ammo very shortly afterwards. This allows the game to keep flowing at a decent pace, I think. I’m in favour of it.
All the other games had a character class that you choose from with your primary abilities. In the new Battlefront you’re basically all the assault character, but you can choose a variation on your primary weapon, and then choose 3 star cards to give yourself some level of customisation. This also serves to keep more people in the battle though and not hiding on the edges fulfilling repair or sniper roles. This does make for a better battle experience, even if it alienates some players who have a favourite class. There’s no medics or engineers here, and while they are mines, they are only available as random pick-ups on the map. You can’t plan for them.
No Revives, Quick Respawn
If you die, you die. There’s no bleed-out time, defibrillators or medic classes. You do respawn very quickly though, without a 30 second timer. Again, this keeps the game flowing, removes frustration and also stops the game getting stuck in situations where medics keep reviving somebody from around a corner. You can also spawn on your partner (you get only one, no squads) to get into the action sooner. The levels are also well laid out and it never takes too long to find the action again.
No Map or Spotting
While you have a local radar to show objectives, team mates, and enemies who have fired recently, there is no larger level map. The Hoth map, and presumably others, are good at filtering you towards your goal, but early on I was confused as to where in the world I was at a given time. The ‘spot’ feature of recent Battlefield games is also not present. This is a simpler action game, and less of a strategic one.
Anyone familiar with Battle-x games will probably have realised that, while the core mechanic of shoot-the-enemy is still there, this game is quite different from its compatriots. For me, it’s pleasantly different, but not all will agree.
The Beta Itself
There are 3 modes you can play in the Beta.
This is the 40-person Hoth level, and very addictive. The rounds are quick enough, the spectacle is amazing, and I kept going back for more, despite saying several times that “this” would be the last round. If this is representative of the game at large, I think this game might really have some legs. However, it’s very same-y. Apart from maybe missing out on playing a hero or vehicle, you’ve seen 95% of the gameplay after playing a couple of rounds on each side. There won’t be much variety and there’s not a lot of room for improvisation. It did keep me coming back, though, so what does that say?.. It’s addictive, anyway.
The only thing was that the Imperials nearly always win. It’s extremely difficult for the Rebels to destroy the 2 walkers in time. They have to hold an uplink station a fair while to start a Y-Wing strike. If they can do that, the Y-Wings only make the AT-AT “vulnerable”, and only for about 10-15 seconds. This window is your only chance to chip away at their (considerable) health. Snowspeeders (often the only way in a Star Wars game to take down an AT-AT, by tying up the legs) can for some reason only attempt the tow-cable manoeuvre during this vulnerable time. This is both non-canon, and extremely unbalanced in its current form. In my 7 hours of play, I only once saw the Rebels win, and I never saw a Snowspeeder successfully kill a Walker, though this may change as players become more used to the game and if the walkers’ health is adjusted by the developers. The walkers I saw die all died to blaster fire and grenades.
I didn’t like this mode at all. Sixteen players fight with no vehicles in a volcanic, rocky map, over control of drop pods. It’s basically King of the Hill but each hill gets captured very quickly and then a new pod gets dropped. If you died at the pod, even with the instant respawn, I still never had time to run back and attempt to take it a second time before the timer was up. Also, on this map, the Empire team is at a clear disadvantage as their white armour makes them stick out like a sore thumb, while the rebels are harder to spot. The map is also very small with not much going on compared to Walker assault. I kept getting placed on teams that were outnumbered (like 8 vs 5 or 6) and there was no auto-balance. This inevitably meant that we lost every match 5-0 and it was no fun. Even if I was on the winning team, though, I wouldn’t think much of it.
The troubling thing is that if this is their 2nd-best multiplayer mode, then I don’t hold out much hope for the overall quality of the full game’s levels. Surely they’d only have put their better modes in the Beta?
Survival (Single or Co-op)
In the Beta, my friends weren’t online and you can only play co-op with friends, it appeared, so I had to play solo in ‘normal’ difficulty (only difficulty in the Beta). The Beta was limited to 6 waves, each increasing in difficulty. The final game will have ten I think. Even so, I didn’t die once, and to have another player making those waves even easier would be no fun at all, I think. The AI bots animate well but they die very quickly, don’t often stick together, and provide very little challenge unless you’re swarmed. Even the AT-STs aren’t that hard to beat as you can easily escape them with your jet pack, recharge your health and powerful attacks, and then come back around the canyon behind them to take off another chunk of their health.
The Full Game’s Other Modes
There would appear to be seven multiplayer modes available in the full game. I said that I don’t think much of Drop Zone, but that Walker Assault is great! I believe Hoth isn’t the only level for this mode, because there’s also an Endor one in the trailer. I’m not sure if there are any more beyond that. Presumably with EA’s (almost) entire marketing push being focussed on Walker Assault, the other modes aren’t up to the same standards.
Supremacy: I believe this is like Conquest from many games. Your mileage may vary.
Blast: Don’t know.
Cargo: Don’t know.
Droid Run: I don’t know what this is but presumably is some sort of glorified escort mission. Hooray… no, wait.
Fighter Squadron. We’ve had a trailer for this. This seems to be the only mode that will satisfy those who were looking for some good Star Wars spaceship warfare, and even then it’s not in space (admittedly, planet surfaces are more interesting to look at than endless stars), and it’s not like the Space Levels of Battlefront 2, which featured ship-to-ship boarding, flagships, and smaller escort ships to be destroyed. Without playing this mode, I can’t guess how much fun it will or won’t be, but it is at least different. See the trailer below.
Single player (slash, co-op) only has 3 offerings; the aforementioned Survival, a Training Mode, and Battles. Training obviously won’t have much longevity in it, but I don’t know what Battles are.
The Battlefront Beta is definitely worth playing. The Walker Assault mode is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a game, despite countless Star Wars games of the past having taken a shot at it.
The beta has some graphical glitches that may or may not be cleaned up by launch, but which aren’t deal breakers either.
The game is definitely its own monster. Managing to find a gameplay spot that stands apart from both Battlefield and the original Battlefront games gives this new release some validity. The graphical and audio quality push this even further. But the gameplay is now 90% focussed around close-range infantry combat, with vehicles and heroes only presented as rare bonuses to shake up your experience, rather than being legitimate roles.
The game is obviously timed to maximise sales by releasing only a few weeks before Christmas and the release of Episode 7 in cinemas. I do think that it will do well for all of these reasons, but does it deserve to?
From what I’ve seen of the Beta, the game only has one noteworthy mode, which I think has only two levels (Hoth and Endor). I’ve had my fill of Hoth in less than 7 hours of play, and Endor will probably not even keep me interested that long, having already experienced the mode broadly.
While there are six other multiplayer modes, and two single/co-op modes, none of them have been well advertised so I’m presuming that they’re not particularly worth mentioning. I feel like I’ve seen the best that the game has to offer already for free. And that much wasn’t worth €60 to me, personally.
I’ll definitely be waiting for reviews, and then probably sales, if I’m ever going to pick up this game. Still, though, it has its merits and I definitely think it’s worth a look. If you can get on the Beta tonight or if EA offer “Free Time” to play like they do with some other games, take advantage!