Thursday, November 19, 2015

Yeah, wow, Star Wars Battlefront is totally not my thing

I'm pretty relieved right now that I didn't agree to review Star Wars Battlefront for anyone. I did it purely because I never played the original Battlefront games, but I'm not sure if that would have colored my opinion in any questionable manner. Frankly, the longtime fans seem to dislike this thing even more than I do.

I dedicated a solid chunk of my day to playing Battlefront - not enough to form a thorough critical take on it, but enough to determine that this is pretty exemplary of what I don't like about modern online shooters: unbalanced progression systems. You know how Call of Duty isn't actually a bad series in and of itself, but kind of ruined games forever regardless? This is one of the ways. It popularized this competitive multiplayer model wherein success is determined less by skill and more on total play time.

To put it in simple terms, the more time you spend with Battlefront, the better your weapons are. You start with absolute garbage, and as you rank up and earn credits, more powerful equipment is made available. There must be appeal to this system, because it's worked wonders for Call of Duty on an annual basis, but I can't for the life of me see why. It creates an unnecessary blockade for newcomers, and there's no reward in overcoming that. If I'm doing well in a multiplayer game, it want it to be the result carefully honed skills, not free time blindly dumped into a progress bar.

While I wasn't fond of Halo 5: Guardians, something I've consistently liked about the Halo series is its level playing field. The progression system in those games (with the exception of the slightest chaste hint of unlockable loadouts in Halo 4, thankfully not something that threw the balance of that title off) is purely cosmetic. Unlocking new armor doesn't give you an unfair advantage; it's just a trophy.

If nothing else, it's not a bad idea to follow Titanfall's model, wherein most of the equipment unlocks don't make you more powerful so much as they change your strategy. Would you rather be able to deflect bullets for a limited amount of time or deploy smoke that kills mounting enemy pilots? Neither is provably better; they're just different. Blowing more time with the game expands your options, but it doesn't make you a better player by default. You've got to work on that yourself.

Speaking of which, I just booted up Titanfall, and it turns out that there are currently fewer than 400 people playing it worldwide. Worldwide. What the hell, people? I'm not exaggerating when I say that this is the most acutely balanced multiplayer shooter since Team Fortress 2. It's brilliant. Why didn't it stick? Why does no one care about it anymore while nonsense like Destiny is still making Game Informer cover stories? I know that another EA shooter just released, but Jesus.

Anyway, Battlefront takes this progression system to its logical extreme, where the starting weapons have zero range (in a game that's generally unfolding on a massive scale, where being able to take out enemies from a distance is kind of important) and even less power. I've been in situations where I've stood only a few meters away from an opponent, pumped nearly a dozen rounds into him, not killed him and then watched him down me in two shots. I can even the odds by putting more time into the game, I guess, but I'm not enjoying myself enough now to continue playing. I'd rather go and play something like Titanfall, but I can't, because y'all are playing this instead.

The presentation's solid, I guess. Very Star Wars-y. I'm not hugely into Battlefield, so I'm not the authoritative voice on whether or not Battlefront is simply the reskin that people are labeling it as. What I can say is that, despite EA's pleas, I will not be playing any more of it, not when there are so many games that provide more immediate thrills.

P.S. Yeah, whoever voices Vader in this game is really, really bad at it.