Electronic Arts kicked off its gamescom 2017 conference this week with an in-depth look at the highly anticipated space battles in Star Wars: Battlefront 2.
Set above the planet of Fondor in an Imperial Shipyard, the Starfighter Assault demo saw various YouTubers fight for control of the skies in a range of new ships, including Hero Ships from all three Star Wars eras.
As the match played out between Rebels and the Empire, Tim Havlock, aka Darkness429, and producer Rob Wyle from Criterion, the developer making this section of the game, talked us through how the class-based combat and objectives work in this mode, introducing us to a bunch of different ships in the process.
This particular 24-player mission is split into three phases as the Rebels try to take out a Star Destroyer docked at an Imperial facility. In the first phase, the Rebels try to destroy imperial light cruisers. In the second, they have to take down shield projectors to gain access to the heart of the shipyard. In the third, they must move inside the base, disable power couplings and then use a brief window of opportunity to destroy the core.
Initially it was pandemonium as the camera valiantly tried to keep up with all the skirmishing in the skies.
On the Rebel side we saw three classes: A-Wings represented the Interceptor class, which is fast and agile, a glass cannon in the sky; X-Wings were the Balanced class, quite good at dogfighting and flexible enough to handle objectives; and Y-Wings were the Bomber class, doing the heavy lifting – or rather heavy dropping.
Action on the Empire side mostly focused on the TIE Bomber – a Bomber class vehicle, would you believe – which can fire multiple rockets, having up to five in the sky at once.
Most exciting were the Hero Ships, drawn from all three Star Wars eras. We saw Darth Maul’s Scimitar, a Sith Lord ship that has a stealth cloaking device, and Poe Dameron’s Black One X-Wing, which has a special area-of-effect ability to provide support to team-mates.
Arguably more exciting was the Millennium Falcon, which EA said was quick and heavily armed, despite its size. But for our childhood-wish-fulfilment money, we’re most excited about checking out Boba Fett’s Slave I, which has concussion missiles, cannons and of course seismic charges for wrecking fools who tread idly in our wake.
There was a lot to take in, and anyone with more than a passing interest in Star Wars will have found plenty to heighten their anticipation for Battlefront 2.
Visually the space battles live up to the glorious spectacle the movies have come to provide – Fondor is reminiscent of Coruscant, its dark surface scored with ringed city lights, and the light of a nearby star is a blinding landmark for anyone wheeling in its direction, while the ships and space stations are beautifully lit, every bit as faithful to the source material as Battlefront’s fantastically realised land locations.
Audio design was harder to pin down amid the din of a live trade show demo, but Star Wars games have delivered authentic audio – from midi renditions of John Williams’ iconic score to blaster sounds and the groan of a TIE Fighter – since the 80s, so we can’t wait to get a headset on and take one of these ships for a spin.
Of course, the demo came hot on the heels of the first space battles gameplay trailer, released at the weekend, which showed several locations and ships.
The trailer, which you can see below, introduced us to The Unknown Regions, where players contest a resurgent Star Destroyer; Endor, where we will fight among Death Star debris; Fondor, which we saw today; Ryloth, where players fight over a Lucrehulk Battleship; and Kamino, home of the clones, where we move among the choppy waves around the Research Outpost where they were created.
We also caught glimpses of other Hero Ships besides the ones in the gamescom demo, with Darth Vader and Yoda both putting in appearances. The cast will inevitably grow.
Fortunately none of us will need to wait long to find out what’s in store, because the game is due out for PC, PS4 and Xbox One on November 17, with an open beta for all platforms running October 6-9.
Besides space battles, Battlefront 2 will feature traditional on-foot and land vehicle multiplayer, as well as a story-driven single-player campaign, which should give it more legs than its glossy but rather slim predecessor.