Sitting down to watch a gameplay presentation of Star Wars Battlefront, we weren’t sure quite what to expect. A countdown ticked toward zero on screen, next to a ridiculously detailed Darth Vader helmet.
When it finally hit zero, we found ourselves seeing things through the eyes of a Rebel fighter in a lush, wooded area, surrounded by towering trees. Leaves fell from their branches, and butterflies flitted about smaller bushes, which swayed in unison as the wind picked up. This all looked too familiar… this was the forest moon of Endor. After a moment, a team of rebels appeared on screen and speeder bikes started whizzing by.
The desert planet Jakku was referenced briefly on stage during JJ Abrams’ panel at Star Wars Celebration, with the promise that we’d learn more about it at the convention. As it turns out, this is the setting of a pivotal battle set after the events of Return of the Jedi, which resulted in the war-torn desert landscape we saw in the first scene of The Force Awakens’ new teaser trailer.
The only way fans will be able to experience the Battle of Jakku, in any medium, is by owning Star Wars Battlefront. It will be a free piece of additional content, and there will be more details to come.
Things got hectic fast. An AT-ST appeared and a Rebel fighter jetpacked past its front, firing a rocket into its cockpit to take it out. Overshields blinked on as the Rebels fought to fend off a Stormtrooper attack from within the trees above.
Things went from bad to worse: A massive AT-AT lumbered into the action. “The armour’s too thick!” a teammate shouted as we fired a recently obtained missile launcher power-up toward the beast. Sure enough, the shell exploded uselessly against the machine’s hull. The Rebels ran underneath it, taking care not to find themselves underfoot, and made their way to an uplink station. A moment after activation, a squadron of fighters attacked from overhead, thankfully drawing fire away from the ground troops.
The action shifted into a bunker alongside another Rebel, away from the increasing crossfire on the battlefield. The bunker felt lived in, but abandoned. Dust hung in the air, illuminated by shafts of light. The Rebels tiptoed through the hallways until — uh oh — one squadmember was lifted a couple feet off the ground, grasping at his throat. That signaled the entrance of Darth Vader himself, who swatted away incoming blaster fire with his iconic red lightsaber, casting a sinister light on his suit and reflective helmet with each flick of his wrist. Suddenly he was upon us, and the scene ended with a red flash.
Niklas Fegraues, Design Director on Star Wars Battlefront, told us that making a new Star Wars game is a dream for the team at DICE. “With the new film releasing later this year, it’s super exciting,” he gushed.
He went on to describe DICE’s vision for this new project as he showed us a photo of a child playing with an AT-ST toy: “Playing with our toys and creating our own battle fantasies… that became our vision for Star Wars Battlefront.
“Being fans, authenticity is a pillar for us,” he continued before diving into impressive technical details.
DICE had nigh unrestricted access to the Star Wars vault thanks to their close partnership with Lucasfilm. Fegraeus explained a process in which photos from all angles are taken of actual Star Wars film props, then imported and built inside the game. This technology is what allows us to see every last nick and notch in a Stormtroopers helmet, or the ridges and scratches on the grip of a blaster. These are actual pieces of physical gear that have effectively been imported into the in-game universe.
Fegraeus noted, somewhat giddily: “When you pick up a lightsaber in-game or hop into an X-wing, you’re using the lightsaber or flying in the X-wing.”
Technical details mean nothing if a game isn’t fun, though. “Star Wars is about epic battles, good versus evil, imagination… all those things that make us want to step into that universe and be a part of it,” Fegraeus emphasized.
Players can find power-ups during battle, ranging from missile launchers and overshields to more serious upgrades like a personal X-wing or walker, or even the ability to become a hero or villain like Darth Vader himself. These can be turning points in a battle; a skilled player controlling a Sith Lord is not a force to be trifled with.
Star Wars Battlefront is primarily an online multiplayer game, but there are solo and co-op modes (both online and local split-screen) as well. “Missions” are designed to be highly replayable, and appealing to both casual and core players with different selectable difficulty levels. Co-op includes a new partner system that lets more experienced players help rookies get up to speed by sharing their unlocks and power-ups.
DICE also confirmed that players can switch between a first-person or third-person viewpoint at will. This decision in particular, combined with so many of the different ways players can approach the battlefield, illustrates that player choice is high on DICE’s list of priorities. They’re working hard to create the most detailed and accurately represented Star Wars universe we’ve seen yet — what happens there is up to you.
Star Wars Battlefront launches 17th November on PlayStation 4.