‘Star Wars Battlefront II’ multiplayer: Our first take

With Star Wars: Battlefront II, developer DICE is taking its opportunity to fix the most disappointing issues in its 2015 predecessor.

The first Battlefront rebooted the franchise, which puts players in the stormtrooper armor of soldiers on the ground in iconic Star Wars battles. And though it’s liked well-enough by players, it had plenty of problems. It got the scope and look of Star Wars down, but it felt rushed to release and thin on content.

It was also sometimes hard to enjoy. Battlefront mostly puts players on huge maps with long sight lines, where half of any battle is actually finding people to shoot — without getting blasted from hundreds of yards away by an unseen member of the opposing team.

Battlefront II has reworked a lot of the systems in Battlefront that felt haphazard and not particularly satisfying.

Battlefront II is addressing those issues, much to the franchise’s benefit. At EA’s E3 showcase, EA Play, journalists and players had a chance to hop into a match in the new and improved Star Wars title. It’s already clear there’s a lot more depth in gameplay, coupled with at least one interesting, shifting map — Theed, the capital city of Naboo seen in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

Don’t worry, classes are back

While the first game often felt haphazardBattlefront II  seems to be placing more thought into its mechanics. Players can choose from one of four character classes each time they spawn into the game, and those classes have different traits. Where the last game was primarily about unlocking different blasters and “Star Cards” — special abilities like wielding a rocket launcher or throwing a thermal detonator — Battlefront II lets you specialize your gameplay from the jump.

Each of the classes lets you think about how you can help your team, rather than just handing you another generic body to chuck into the fray. Specialists lay down traps and snipe at enemies. Assault characters are front-line fighters who carry explosives and mid-range blaster rifles. Heavy fighters wield big guns and have personal, forward-facing shields to let them wade into battle. Officers lay down turrets and buffs that give other players a boost.

Battlefront II uses these elements to push team-based play in ways the last game struggled with. When you’re killed, you’re placed into a squad of other players (somewhat similar to the last game’s random-feeling “partner spawn”), and the game attempts to put you all together every time you drop back in. That means you’re always with a team, and you can see what classes your teammates are bringing to bear — giving you a chance adjust your own so you can help out.

Specializing the helps bring back the teamwork present the Battlefield series that was lost in Star Wars Battlefront. The first game offered too few options, and it took a long time to unlock and learn the various weapons that eventually became available. In Battlefront II, you’re able to mix up gameplay and specialize right away, and that’s to the game’s benefit.

Out with tokens, in with battle points

Also changed are the “tokens” that appeared in the prior Battlefront. These pickups let you do things like hop into a starfighter, drop a turret, or even become a powerful hero character like Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader. It’s not a bad idea, but in the first game they were just waiting around the map for anyone to grab, regardless of ability or usefulness. Needed a TIE fighter? Well, too bad — a blaster turret dropped, so that’s what you had to use.

Theed outshines everything in Battlefront for one simple reason: You get shot from 300 yards away much less often.

Battlefront II throws that system out for “battle points,” which you earn for doing well in battle. Protecting or attacking objectives earns you points, as well as killing players. You don’t have to be the most dangerous player on your team to access to cool Star Wars toys, so long as you complete the objectives. As you accrue points, you store them up until you decide to spend them. Earn enough, and you can spawn as characters like Rey from The Force Awakens, or Darth Maul from The Phantom Menace. Like character classes, there’s strategy in how you deploy your battle points.

A map to a better game

Lastly, Battlefront II improves its maps — or at least seemed to, given what was available in the match playable at EA Play. It centered on Theed, a city bristling with buildings, alleys and side paths, in which one side, the Separatist droid army, tries to escort a troop carrier to the queen’s palace, while Republic clone troopers work to stop them.

The map outshines everything in Battlefront for one simple reason — you get shot from 300 yards away much less often. Sight lines are constrained, with corners and structures in the way, and the overall layout of the streets allow for strategic approaches, like flanking.

Theed is an “Operations” map, which means it has multiple objectives for the attacking team to clear while the defending team tries to offer resistance. The map changes when the first objective is clear, forcing the defenders into its giant palace to guard critical locations from attackers. If those rooms fall, it moves again, to a last desperate stand in the throne room.

Even in only 20 or 30 minutes of trying Battlefront II, it feels substantially better than its predecessor.

What’s significant about the palace in Theed is that it continually constrains the battle further and further, which means the tension is always ramping up. Rather than spawning in and running to catch up with the fight, you’re always in the thick of it, and there’s a lot less opportunity to get taken out before you’re even ready to start shooting.

All these elements are improvements to Battlefront that were sorely needed. But not everything is better. Blasters weapons still feel insubstantial and rather unwieldy. The Star Card system returns, with its cool down timers for weapons like explosives. And piloting a starfighter remains extremely challenging, a fact that will continue to frustration players who don’t have time to master their finicky controls.

But even in only 20 or 30 minutes of trying Battlefront II, it already felt better than its predecessor in almost every way. If more maps are like Theed, Battlefront II’s changes to its classes and strategy will go a long way to making its battles feel less like random chaos, and more like Star Wars.