No Lack of Faith Here – Star Wars Battlefront Beta Impressions

Star Wars Battlefront

Yesterday marked the console launch of the Open Beta for Star Wars: Battlefront. After a relatively long download – busy servers I’m guessing – I was able to play a few matches and get a pretty good feel for how I think it’s going to unfold.

The big thing that was on my mind going in was just how close this new Battlefront would feel compared with the old classics from 10 years ago. So far, it feels very similar – but I think that’s more due to the strength of the Star Wars licence. DICE did a good job of not making it just a reskin of Battlefield with lasers. I really like the infantry system in place for the secondary items. Instead of worrying about ammo and item count, you have two item “hand” cards to pick, along with a “top-card” item that requires charges. The hand cards recharge after using them – you don’t need to worry about grenade count or secondary ammo. Just keep your cooldowns in mind, and you’ll be at full power frequently. Ammo in general is a thing of the past here – your blaster has a meter to watch before it overheats, but there’s no reloading (which takes a little to get used to) and you don’t have much in the way of recoil to watch either.

I would offer up this one caution if you’re unsure about Star Wars: Battlefront. It isn’t a true hardcore shooter. If you go in expecting a set of game mechanics like Call of Duty or Battlefield, you will be disappointed. It’s still got a competitive feel to it, but it just seems a bit more about the overall experience to me. I don’t feel like I’m going to be worried about my K/D or overall win/loss with this game. I think I’m going to be more interested in the moments that happen in the games – especially in Walker Assault, or playing as the hero characters. That was how I always used to play the classic games too. There are plenty of other, more intense shooters in the market this fall if I want a more competitive game; Star Wars is all about the fact that Star Wars is just plain awesome.

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My Concerns About a Stacked Fall Release Window

Halo 5 GuardiansThere’s a reason that most gamers really look forward to the fall – that’s when the biggest games of the year launch. This year though – not only is it no exception to that rule, it could end up being one of the biggest fall seasons we’ve seen in a long while. Normally that’s a good thing, but I have a few lingering thoughts as we get closer to the launches this year.

MICROSOFT AND HALO UNDER PLENTY OF PRESSURE
One of, if not the biggest, things to keep an eye on in the fall season is the shooter market. It’s been largely defined in the last number of years by the competition between Halo and Call of Duty. That same competition will be present again this year, but also has a pretty interesting wrinkle thrown in – Star Wars: Battlefront, a game that’s been a desire for a long time. That, combined with the utter failure that Master Chief Collection ended up being, is why I am very much concerned for Halo 5. Microsoft and 343 won’t say it, but I think they both need Halo 5 to do well – maybe not light the world on fire, but it has to sell well. Xbox lost the Call of Duty exclusivity for DLC this year, Destiny has been a PlayStation focused game since launch, and all the pre-launch footage for Battlefront has been on PS4s. That’s a serious concern – the shooter market is generally the largest in gaming these days. Halo being an exclusive franchise is a plus – Microsoft knows that their fans more or less are almost always Halo fans too. I think 343 might be on a short leash here though – another debacle like Master Chief Collection could be a nightmare.

Fallout 4 Box Art

BIG RETURNS COULD BE THE STORYLINE OF THE SEASON
The other thing that I’m really keeping my eye on is the amount of games that are making returns. This year will see the return of Rock Band, Guitar Hero, Rainbow Six and Fallout, not to mention the previously talked about Battlefront. That’s a lot of franchises with long running fanbases. That tends to mean two things – strong sales, and super high expectations. I expect them all to do well – the music games probably being the lowest sellers, but still doing well. The real winners look to be Fallout, Rainbow Six and Battlefront – each is highly anticipated (which means strong sales) and all have looked strong prior to launch. Watch for one of these to carry the day in terms of sales.

Destiny Taken King Collectors Edition

DESTINY HAS HUGE TEST, COULD SPELL OUT FUTURE
The final thing that I’ve been thinking about is Destiny. It’s been a favorite topic of mine to write about here – and for good reason. It’s a fun game, with well noted flaws, and has been probably my most played game over the last year. But with all that, this fall could be the biggest test that Destiny has had since launch. More so than either previous DLC. The Taken King is easily the most ambitious addition to Destiny so far, and depending on how it’s received by the community, could go a long way toward spelling out Destiny‘s future. The pressure is crazy on Bungie here – the community is notably frustrated with the current state of the Crucible meta. Normally that wouldn’t be a huge deal – after all there’s supposed to be this massive persistent shared world to play. The problem is that the PvE content has more or less run its course – Prison of Elders is fun, but limited; the Raids have basically hit their peak as well. And so players dive into the PvP – an area that in theory has limitless for playing. The problem is that the Crucible hasn’t seen any attention in a long time – spawns are alright, but the weapons need some serious tweaking. The run-up to The Taken King is a big deal – Bungie has to at least show to the community that they’re listening and approaching this with some of the concerns we’ve had in mind.

All of these issues could end up being completely moot points in just a few months. Halo 5 could prove to be the best game in the series in years. Those returning franchises could all sell like hotcakes. Destiny could prove that it’s actually going to be able to support that ten year lifespan they said. All I know for sure right now is that the fall is always my favorite time of the gaming year, and September can’t get here quick enough.

The Best Star Wars Games

Since today is May 4th, which is the one day when it’s cool to be a Star Wars fan (it’s cool to be a Star Wars fan all the time by the way) I thought we could look at the best Star Wars games out there.

Knights of the Old Republic

We’ll start with one of the obvious choices – Knights of the Old Republic. I’ve talked about this game in the past when I held RPG week last year. It, along with Pokemon, are the two RPGs that really started down the path of Role Playing. KOTOR still holds a very special spot in my gameplay history – it introduced me to BioWare after all – and I try to play through it again every few years. What really makes KOTOR so special is the writing – the story behind all the action is so engaging, that you forget that you don’t even start as a Jedi or with a lightsaber. It’s got one of the best twists of all time, showing maturity in crafting the story that was rare at that point in time. The sequel may have been a little bit of a step back, but it’s still a solid game too.

Star Wars Battlefront

Sticking with topical choices, we really can’t not mention Battlefront. The first was solid, showing that applying a formula that was very similar to Battlefield would work with the Star Wars licence; but the sequel was really where it came to life. Playing as the hero characters was a blast, without being unbalancing. The scope of the battles was incredible – with vehicles engaging in the action at the same time as a large amount of infantry. At a time when shooters were really starting to come in to their own on consoles, Battlefront managed to stand out. The new entry, due out this fall, has big shoes to fill, but with DICE at the helm, I think we have a good chance to see the return of a great. E3 could be huge for Battlefront.

XWing Vs TIE Fighter

Let’s step way, way back now to the first Star Wars game that I ever played – and is still my very favorite – X-Wing Vs. TIE Fighter. In the 90’s, flight sims were way more prevalent on the PC. My father, who got me into gaming, had a handful of classic flight sims – Red Baron, Jane’s F-18, Jane’s AH-64D Longbow – and X-Wing Vs. TIE Fighter. What always drew me to the Star Wars title was not only the franchise, but the accessibility. You didn’t have to worry about a ton of gadgets and gizmos, but still got to fly a bunch of different classic Star Wars ships.

One last one that I want to point out is one that I think people may have been more willing to overlook: LEGO Star Wars. When the LEGO games started to come out, I was in high school, so it wasn’t “cool” to like LEGOs. I initially thought it was a kids’ game. I only played it when my friend told me it was fun – who had only played it because of his younger brother. Looking back now, it’s crazy to think that – the LEGO games are fantastic examples of simplifying the design, to make it accessible to the kids while still retaining depth for the older gamers. The Star Wars games in particular show off the movies and universe in a way that just makes it super easy for new fans to become lifelong fans.

When we talk about licensed games, there’s always a worry that the games are cash-ins. That they just use the licence to drum up some sales, without really worrying about creating a great game. Somehow, for whatever reason, the Star Wars licence has managed to avoid that for the most part. It’s not perfect – there have been some misses of course – but it does seem to have a higher than average hit rate. As Star Wars reenters the public eye thanks to the new movies and games, I hope that we’ll see that trend continue for a long time to come.

Weekly News Recap – Week of November 3, 2014

Well, it’s officially November, which is usually the busiest month for releases in the year, and we started that off right away this past week. It might not have been the smoothest of launches, especially for me personally, but I think it’ll even out over the next couple weeks. There were a couple other stories worth mentioning this week too, so let’s get going.

Advanced Warfare Cover

CALL OF DUTY: ADVANCED WARFARE LAUNCHES
The big release for this week was the new entry in the venerable franchise, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. It’s become a bit of a standard these days for shooters to have a little bumpy launch – and while this wasn’t Battlefield 4 bad, there were a couple issues that cropped up with the launch of Advanced Warfare. The biggest issue I’ve seen deals with people who bought the physical edition of the game – especially on the Xbox One. When installing the game, you’re also prompted to install a Day One patch – but players have found that installing that when prompted will instead hang the entire installation. The disc will spin up, then stop, then spin up again, repeating ad nausea. The work around for the Xbox One seems to be to tell the update you’ll install it later, and then it works fine. While I didn’t encounter that, since I got it digitally, I have had an issue where my digital content for the collectors edition isn’t unlocking on the One. It might have to do with my not playing the 360 edition I originally got yet, but I have seen that I’m not alone. It’s growing pains, and I expect Sledgehammer Games and Activision to deal with them over the next couple weeks.

Star Wars The Force Awakens

STAR WARS EPISODE VII GETS TITLED
While it’s not exactly a gaming news, I do still think it’s a relevant story to gamers. Yesterday, Disney and Star Wars, while announcing that principle photography wrapped on Episode VII, stealthily announced the subtitle for the movie as well. Episode VII will be titled – The Force Awakens. It’s a title that can provoke some thoughts as to what exactly the movie will contain within the story. We’ll just have to see what exactly is on the way.

Ubisoft Logo

UBISOFT PULLS GAMES FROM STEAM, GAMERS SCRATCH HEADS
One of the stranger stories this week came thanks to the folks at Ubisoft. In a decision that had many scratching their heads, Ubisoft pulled the upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Far Cry 4 off of Steam, instead requiring PC players to get the games from their own UPlay system. They’ve been trying to make UPlay work for years now, and it really hasn’t caught on, perhaps primarily because it’s just not too user friendly. This is also coming on the heels of the announced system requirements for Assassin’s Creed: Unity, which were beyond high end. It almost is as if Ubisoft is alienating the PC market, and banking on Consoles for this season. I can guarantee that’s not the case, but it really does feel like it.

The Problem With Story DLC

As I get ready for the Borderlands launch next week, I thought I would put down some thoughts about downloadable content as it’s been on my mind lately as I continue to plug through the late-game content in Destiny – I’ve been trying to figure out where they will be heading next. On that front, BioWare announced new content for Star Wars: The Old Republic, featuring the return of Darth Revan, from Knights of the Old Republic. My issue with the new content is that Revan is going to be the villain, coming back to try to destroy the Republic and Empire. I’ll get into why I’m rather upset with it as we go here, but it got me thinking about the dangers of releasing story based DLC that takes place after the main story ends. With that in mind, let’s get started.

Knights of the Old Republic

People who have played Knights of the Old Republic might have a good idea as to why I think bringing Revan back as a villain is a bad idea. The best part of KOTOR was the strength of the story – learning that you were in fact the amnesiac Darth Revan midway through was one of those defining moments in gaming in the first part of the 2000’s. It totally changed the context of the story – Light side characters went from merely being the nameless hero trying to stop Darth Malak, to being the former dark lord on a path of redemption. It added an extra element of humanity to the already strong story. BioWare went on after to say that the Light side ending was indeed the “canon” ending, meaning Revan did end up redeeming himself. Now they bring him back as a villain, totally undermining one of the best gameplay moments in the last 11 years. I’ll admit that it’s not impossible to write it so his return to villainy is plausible and compelling, but to me it just reeks of marketing – bring back a major character that is still held in high regard to breathe life into a stagnant MMO during a huge fall season.

Mass Effect

But it also gets me thinking about the potential problems with releasing DLC after the conclusion of the main story. In this case it’s bringing back a major character years later – sometimes it’s totally changing the outcome of a story. Bethesda was guilty of it with the DLC for Fallout 3 – the game’s original ending has your player character sacrificing himself to activate the purifier, giving the Capitol Wasteland potable water again. This of course frustrated fans since it meant you couldn’t continue wandering around the world. So with the DLC the ending is changed, with the Lone Wanderer waking up weeks later with the Brotherhood of Steel. This is one case where I’m okay with the changes. It undermines the impact of the sacrifice a little bit, but opens up more potential story options, without really taking away from everything that’s already happened. I think it’s a big part of why a lot of DLC is either side-content or story content that takes place within the main story – doing that doesn’t risk destroying a potentially 30 hour storyline. Mass Effect has done that well, putting the story content within the context of the main storyline. Shooters get around it by just adding in content for the multiplayer.

Destiny

Which gets me to the game that is fresh on everyones’ mind – Destiny. Much has been made of the story – or lack thereof – online over the last month. What I think that people are missing is that this is a game that is set up perfectly for broadening that story with post-game content. Since the story “ends” without a really concrete ending, instead it’s more like the end of Star Wars: Episode IV – it’s a major victory, but there’s still a lot to deal with; that means that Bungie has a bit of a blank slate for DLC. Unlike KOTOR there’s no real character development to undo, no major story events that can be undone. That means that Bungie really can’t do any worse – instead they have the opportunity to finally flesh out a rich universe and give it some life. Based around some of the leaked content, it looks like they might be adding some depth to other characters and enemies – more stuff on the Moon might help detail the Hive a bit more; the mission being added in the Reef should hopefully flesh out the Queen and her Brother a bit more. What they actually add in remains to be seen, but I think there’s a feeling that the bar is low, but the expectations are high. I think Bungie knows that delivering a really strong first DLC might make or break the long term success of Destiny for a good number of players.

E3 2014 – EA Press Conference Impressions

E3 LogoElectronic Arts held their E3 2014 press conference on Monday this week, before the actual event opened, just like Sony, Microsoft and Ubisoft all did. EA had the job of following the Xbox show, which as I’ve mentioned, I think was a really strong showing this year, so the bar was pretty high. As I’ve done with the Big Three’s shows, I’ll break down the EA conference.

Star Wars
EA certainly knew how to start the show off on a high note – kicking off with a phenomenal teaser trailer for DICE’s upcoming Star Wars Battlefront. Curiously, they didn’t put a Three after the title, which has me thinking it might be a “reboot” or that they are kicking around ideas for a sub-title. While what they showed was clearly in the very earliest stages of development, what we did see looked absolutely insane. The detail and love that DICE is putting into this game is really evident – but we have a while to wait to see it, as they are going with Spring 2015 as a release.

Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age: Inquisition
EA followed up Star Wars with a really nice segment featuring one of my favorite developers around – BioWare. BioWare started off by showing a pretty in-depth look at the upcoming Dragon Age: Inquisition – the third in their fantasy RPG series. The fact that this game will have a more open world, with more control on the tactics of party members (similar to the first game) as well having a “Tactical Camera” option which pauses the time flow for commands, really has me more interested in this game than before. Beyond that, the game itself just looks really good. The other major section of this game was dedicated to showing off four characters – Black Wall (a Grey Warden), Sera (An Elven Archer), Iron Bull (A Qunari Warrior) and Vivenne (A Mage with some curious history and motives). As we get closer to the October 7 release, more and more will be coming out, but it looks like a strong contender for RPG of the year I think.

Mass Effect and New IP
The other great bit of info we got from BioWare was some new information about the next Mass Effect game in development. As a huge fan of the series, it was really refreshing to know that they are creating a brand new story, with new characters and worlds to explore. As much as I love Sheppard – I think it’s clear his story is over. It’s time to move on and find new characters to love. The last little bit of BioWare’s segment was devoted to briefly talking about a brand-new IP that they are developing. This particular game is still super early in development, so we really didn’t get much. I think ultimately, we will probably know more at next year’s show on both Mass Effect and whatever this new IP is.

The Sims 4
EA’s hugely popular world building series got a nice little segment, showing off the personality customization options that they have added into The Sims 4. I’m admittedly not a huge fan of the series, but I know that on September 2, a lot of people will be rushing to grab this one.

EA Sports UFC
EA Sports had a new trailer ready to go showing off Bruce Lee in the new UFC game, showing off exactly how he plays in game. Honestly, it’s a little weird to see him bouncing around and kicking modern UFC fighters, but maybe it works. We’ll know for sure how it plays since the game is out next week.

NHL ’15
This year’s entry into the NHL series got a trailer demonstrating the new physics that are being applied to all 12 players, as well as the puck in real time. The nice thing is that this year’s games will be the first ones truly developed for the New-Gen consoles.

New Criterion Game
Another personal favorite developer of mine is returning to their roots with a new IP featuring the high octane action that they were known for with the Burnout series of games. While it won’t be a pure car racer like those games were, this first-person action racing game will have all kinds of crazy vehicles play around with. I doubt we’ll see anything much more from this one until next year though.

EA Sports PGA Tour ’15
The first game to not feature Tiger Woods on the cover nor title, as well as being the first true New-gen console golf sim got a new trailer as well, showing off the new usage of the Frostbite 3 engine. Because Frostbite is a DICE/Battlefield engine, they of course used it to demonstrate the fantasy courses, showing one that was set on Battlefield 4′s Paracel Storm map. One thing that I thought was very cool is that there won’t be any loading between holes. We do have a bit to wait, as it won’t be out until Spring 2015.

Madden ’15
What will surely be another big seller, as it is every year, this year’s Madden NFL game got a trailer detailing the defensive overhaul that EA Sports did. Personally, I really only use the Madden games to determine when the summer low season is done, as it releases August 26.

Dawngate
One game that I think might end up being buried under the DOTA 2 hype is the upcoming MOBA Dawngate, which got a developer trailer.

Mirror’s Edge 2
Another cult favorite getting some sequel love, we got the first trailer and look at Mirror’s Edge 2. It’s still early in the development, but we got a good look at Faith’s design and the changes to the combat system. Overall, at this stage, the game looks really strong.

FIFA ’15
As we get to the World Cup, FIFA ’15 got a new trailer – this one detailing the little tweaks to the system. The primary change that they wanted to promote is that the A.I. will have a sort of memory, which will impact performance and the “emotion” during the matches. I’ve learned very well that I am just terrible at the FIFA games, but the good players will find out if the memory will worth the change this fall.

Battlefield Hardline

Battlefield Hardline
EA closed with the official unveiling of the new Battlefield game coming October 21, even though it had leaked a few weeks ago. The nice thing about Hardline is that it’s co-developed by DICE and Visceral games (the studio behind Dead Space), which I think will result in both a strong multiplayer experience, while allowing Visceral to develop a great single player game, which has always been lacking in the Battlefield series. One neat thing that I picked up on while they showed some screens was a nice little Easter Egg – there is a poster promoting the “Ishimura” – which of course was the space ship from the first Dead Space. All things considered, the reveal I think looked pretty standard for Battlefield, although the tone seemed a little different than Battlefield 4. The other really cool thing EA did was announce a PS4/PC exclusive beta that started during the conference. While that’s really cool, it had me wondering if maybe the reason it’s not on the Xbox One has something to do with the the leak, and this is EA’s way of punishing them. Total speculation there, but still – the game looks solid, I just wonder how it will separate from what is shaping up to be a really busy October this year.

In the end, I think EA had a pretty strong show – they’re high points were really high (Battlefront, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Mirror’s Edge and Battlefield) and the pace of the show was just right. Good showing this year.

Pre-E3 Hype

E3 LogoE3 is only a couple weeks away, and we’re already seeing a few glimpses of the games we might be seeing this year. I expect Evolve to have a really great showing – they’ve been playable at a few conventions already this year, using the feedback to keep tweaking the game, which is a really good sign. Destiny will have a playable booth at E3, I’ve already talked about how excited I am for that game, so I’m really looking forward to hearing how people react to it. Arkham Knight got a new gameplay trailer last week, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that have a real big showcase booth this year.

Of course, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare will be there, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the last Ghosts DLC news announced there either. I would also expect this year’s Halo game to be officially announced and trailered, now that Halo 5: Guardians has been confirmed for next year. No surprises there. I think we will also see some new Titanfall news, perhaps the next DLC announced. Battlefieldwise it gets a little interesting. Just today they announced Battlefield: Hardline, which looks to be cops V. robbers, and is developed by Visceral Studios, the developers of Dead Space. All the info so far points to a fall release – the choice of developer has me intrigued, Visceral is better known for single player games, so this could be a Battlefield game more in the vein of Bad Company. We’ll know more I’m sure as E3 hits. Also today a 15 minute clip of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel footage hit, which I also see having a big showing this year.

Borderlands PreSequel

In terms of “surprises” at this year’s show, I think they’re all fairly predictable. They have said that Star Wars: Battlefront 3 is in development, I fully expect a big trailer and maybe even a playable build, along with the Visceral developed single player Star Wars game. Don’t be surprised to see Mass Effect show up this year, although whether or not it’s called Mass Effect 4 remains to be seen. I also expect to see Fallout 4 finally get confirmed and trailered, along with the next Mortal Kombat, and hopefully Dishonored gets a sequel too.

All in all, I have a hunch that this year’s E3 is going to be a crazy show. Last year was the year of the console announcements, this year, we get a ton of killer games to check out and start prepping for. I could see a few games slated for 2015 making early appearances too, a la Final Fantasy XV or Kingdom Hearts 3. We just have a couple more weeks to wait – then it becomes a longer waiting game as we wait for the release dates.