In defense of Star Wars Battlefront
The release of Star Wars Battlefront a few weeks back, has been met with a fair amount of controversy in the core gaming circles. The game launched to tepid critical acclaim, with many complaints about the game shared between critics and fans alike. DISCLAIMER: I like Battlefront. I actually like it quite a lot. I find many of the accusations leveled against it unfounded. Not many have stepped forward to champion DICE's latest creation, so I'll pick up the mantle and attempt to address the varied criticisms against the game.
Lack of Content
By far the most common complaint leveled against the new Battlefront is its supposed lack of content. Much of this dearth comes from way of sticking to the original trilogy Launching with 8 game modes and 12 maps doesn't sound so terrible on paper to me, however. Admittedly, those 12 maps take place across only 4 planets, so they can feel fairly similar. I think people are mentally parsing out much of the content in the game due to the game's popular modes. At this point, the vast majority of users seem to play Walker Assault, for which there are only four maps. Personally, I would rather see fewer higher quality maps rather than a larger number of mediocre maps. Maybe the previous Battlefront games set an expected precedent with their high map counts, but at the end of the day, how many of those maps did you actually play more than once? Counter-Strike players aren't complaining about more map variety - they're busy playing Dust2 after all these years. Similarly, Valve released Left 4 Dead with only four maps and Team Fortress 2 with six maps. Neither of these games withstood accusations for lack of content. The latter game had plenty of maps via post-launch content, which brings me to my next point...
When Disney announced that EA had gained the rights to develop Star Wars games, millions of gamers cried out in anguish. When it became known that Star Wars Battlefront's Season Pass would be $50, it seemed that everyone's greatest fears were confirmed. The DLC pricing model for Battlefront has received universal condemnation from both critics and consumers alike. I'm here to defend it and explain why I don't think it'll be that bad. Right off the bat, all fears about the DLC model are unfounded. Why? Because EA hasn't even announced what's going to be in the damn DLC. We don't know if there's going to be new maps, new modes, new heroes, or anything. Going back to the issue with lack of content, I think many have assumed that maps will be included within the DLC. The people who dislike paying for post-launch maps are justified, given that this practice tends to splinter the user-base. So far though, we have limited information about the DLC. The only DLC announced was the Battle of Jakku map, which was free.
Furthermore, EA has announced that future DLC will include free maps. We don't know if all future maps will be free, but at the very least there will be future free content. As for the other stuff - I think that EA has actually done a pretty good job of providing value in their DLC additions. Battlefield 4 has had 5 major DLC expansions, each costing $15. At first glance, it may seem absurd that all of the DLC would cost $75. However, if someone told you that the DLC contained 20 maps, in addition to numerous game modes, vehicles, weapons, and other content, it starts to sound like a pretty good deal, considering that the original game was $60 and came with 10 maps. DLC is fair as long as it provides the appropriate value for the transaction - something which I think EA has been actually able to provide.
Lack of Depth
Another complaint directed at Battlefront is the shallow nature of its gameplay and progression system. I have two issues with this complaint. The first is the notion that if the game had more depth in it's progression systems or gameplay options, then the game would be better. I don't subscribe to the notion that depth and complexity = better quality. There are numerous examples as to why this is not the case, such as the ArmA series. Very deep, tactical gameplay, but certainly not everyone's cup of tea. In the same vein however, one might actually prefer the lighter, more arcade-oriented style of gameplay in Star Wars Battlefront over something more difficult to master, such as the Battlefield series. The same is true of progression systems. The number of branches in the unlock tree or total unlocks doesn't matter, as long as the game presents interesting and meaningful choices to the player. At the moment, some of the unlocks are clearly better than others, leaving little choice for players. This is a valid complaint, but the distinction is not the perceived lack of depth, it's the balance of the game. More on that later.
My second issue with fussing over the shallow nature of the game is more directed at the inconsistency with which this game has been criticized. Obviously, the nostalgia and reverence for the popular previous entries in the series is causing this game to be judged against them, whether intentionally or not. This is unavoidable, and I mostly don't have an issue with the comparisons. However, people seem to be picking and choosing which parts they compare. For example, the previous two Battlefronts launched with many more maps and a couple popular game modes (Galactic Assault and Space Battles), which the new Battlefront does not have at launch. This has caused much pouting within the gaming community, because people expected these things to be present in the new game. What people seem to have conveniently forgotten is that the previous two Battlefronts were both lighter, arcade-style games, arguably even more so than the current Battlefront. Thus, my frustration when this stylistic choice is a point of contention amongst fans.
I don't want to give the impression that Battlefront is a perfect game. It's far from it. I do however, think criticism of the game is being focused onto the wrong areas. In order to put my money where my mouth is, I'll briefly elaborate on what should be improved. Team-play is the major game mechanic missing from Star Wars Battlefront. Even with so many players, the game feels selfishly oriented, without game systems set up to encourage player collaboration. Multi-person vehicles, squads, support cards, or team-speak are absent from the game, making it a very lonely galaxy far far away indeed. Starship spawns are a highly questionable design decision. As I mentioned earlier, balance issues within the game have curbed much of the fun and variety that could be present in the gameplay. While these issues are certainly irritating, I don't think they stain the game quite as much as the previously mentioned criticisms. Battlefront is a light, enjoyable shooter that does it's best not to offend anybody. If that's not your cup of tea, perhaps you'd enjoy Tribes: Ascend, one of the most difficult-to-master shooters out there. It just got updated to remove all of the lame microtransactions and it's $0. Free.99.