Star Wars: Battlefront Strikes Back

Our recent demo of Star Wars Battlefront – publisher Electronic Arts’ and developer DICE’s reboot of the beloved Star Wars multiplayer-focused shooter, coming to Xbox One and PC this November – opened on the moon of Endor. The lush forest setting was immediately familiar; well, save for the fact there wasn’t a single Ewok in sight. Of course, the cute creatures were probably just taking cover from the epic, eye-popping battle that unfolded before us.

Dubbed “Walker Assault,” the 40-player mode we saw was an all-out, action-fueled Rebels-versus-Empire melee. Complemented by detail-drenched character, vehicle, and weapon models – as well as the sort of immersive audio that will have you considering a sound system upgrade – the demo saw Stormtroopers and Rebel forces trading blaster rounds in adrenaline-pumping firefights that wouldn’t look out of place in the films.

Among the intense exchanges of laser blasts, speeder bikes whizzed by – often before colliding with trees in glorious displays of new-gen special effects – AT-ST Walkers stomped about, and an unsettling thud occasionally rattled the room we were sitting in. That latter element turned out to be the unmistakable sound of an AT-AT’s metallic hoof hitting the ground. That’s right: The iconic four-legged foes, generally associated with the Hoth battle from “The Empire Strikes Back,” were turning the Endor forest to toothpicks.

Before dealing with that daunting threat, though, the Rebel player made swift work of Stormtroopers that appeared to be attacking from all directions. Surrounded by teammates, many protected by a spherical dome-like shield, he pushed forward to grab a rocket launcher-like upgrade. With this new toy shouldered, he was then able to turn one of the AT-STs into a smoking heap of twisted metal.

While that same strategy didn’t work on the bipedal bots’ much bigger brothers, the player found an uplink station that allowed him to call in an air strike. It’s difficult to pick a single favorite moment from our demo, but seeing the player pass right beneath the screen-swallowing Walker before hell rained down from the sky to destroy it ranks right up there.

Looking to avoid the fallout of his ground-scorching attack, the player headed into a nearby base. This change of scenery also brought a new combat dynamic, as the interior corridor-shooter battles contrasted nicely with the more wide-open outdoor encounters. Upon frying a few foes with more blaster fire, the player paused to witness one of his teammates go limp under an apparent Force-fueled chokehold. Turning the corner to help, he was faced by the Dark Lord of the Sith himself; from behind his signature red lightsaber, Darth Vader approached the player – effortlessly deflecting bullets as he moved forward – before the demo came to a close.

As we attempted to catch our breath and collect our jaws from the floor, Battlefront’s design director Niklas Fegraeus shared some additional intel on what we’d just seen and what’s to come. The combat, which will also take to the skies for seat-of-the-pants X-Wing-versus-TIE-Fighter dogfights, can be engaged from a first- or third-person perspective, swappable on-the-fly. On top of other unannounced multiplayer modes and maps, the game will also include missions – “crafted challenges inspired by the films” that can be played solo or cooperatively, locally or online. Bringing back a popular franchise feature, Battlefront will also let players assume the role of iconic heroes and villains. Fegraeus protected further details as if they were the Death Star’s blueprints, but indicated players would be able to lead their team as one of these characters upon discovering a power-up of some kind.

The game will unfold on Hoth, Endor, Tatooine, and Sullust – among other yet-to-be-revealed Star Wars locales – and players will be able to create battles that mix and match environments, characters, and vehicles in ways you’ve never seen in the films; just as our demo unleashed AT-ATs on Endor, a player-created match could see Boba Fett collecting bounties on Hoth, or Obi-Wan disabling tractor beams on Cloud City.

If all that wasn’t enough to get our blood pumping, Fegraeus also revealed that free downloadable content based on the Battle of Jakku – a planet featured in the upcoming “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” – will hit on December 8 (or December 1 for those who pre-order the game). That’s just a scant few weeks after Battlefront‘s November 17 release date (though, thanks to EA Access, Xbox One is the only place to play upcoming EA games for a limited time before they launch). Like Boba Fett’s scant appearances in the films, our demo was all too brief. But based on what we saw, we’re counting the days until we can bring an AT-AT to its knees for ourselves.