It's taken its time, but step by step and piece by piece DICE has moved towards the Battlefront that fans wanted. Not that it was too far off at its first attempt, mind; upon release last November Star Wars Battlefront was an arrestingly gorgeous multiplayer shooter that only just stopped short of greatness. The updates outside of the expansion packs have often done a better job of keeping the game fresh than the paid DLC, but the final add-on for Battlefront feels like the most substantial yet. It certainly feels like the one that's been shaped most by fan feedback as well.
"The reception was mixed," DICE producer Paul Keslin says of the launch in an honest appraisal. "We've been listening to a lot of the feedback since launch and even post-launch as we've been adding new things. We've announced the next game that's coming out - those are things we're look to tackle in the future. We can't always get everything in the current game, but in the future we want to hit those things and give the fans what they're after."
Battlefront's Rogue One DLC comes mighty close to delivering one particular request from fans. When DICE's take on Battlefront was revealed, people were upset that it lacked one of the key features of the original games - namely the ability for players to go from on-foot to aerial combat in one seamless action. The Rogue One DLC doesn't quite go that far, but what it does is present a game mode that moves from aerial combat to ground warfare - and unlike the Death Star DLC before it that had a similar mode, the loading screens here are kept to a minimum, the transition now happening via a swift cutscene.
"When we were building the Death Star DLC, this was a new thing for us," says Keslin. "We were trying to crank out what we could with Frostbite and have a seamless game mode that feels like multiple game modes within it without kicking you into a load screen. We've been able to refine the process. We're learning things as we go, not only from players but from ourselves. So that's exactly why they're a little bit quicker now."
Could that mean for next year's Battlefront 2 DICE can take the next step and offer seamless transitions for players as they go from ground to air?
"That's something I don't know currently," Keslin responds. "We're getting there with some things - it really depends on how giant the world is what some of our goals are. Some of the limitations are that there's a lot of stuff to throw on screen. We're trying to lock everything into 60fps, with all this water and vegetation - since our game is so visually authentic, it's very taxing. I can't speak right now for what the team might be working on, what that might look like in a seamless world. I can say we haven't focussed on that as of yet. But maybe!"
The other big request, of course, was for a campaign - something that's already been locked in for Battlefront 2, and something that DICE has been making motions towards in its DLC for the first game. "Myself as a Star Wars fan, I want story, I want narrative, I want something I can play that immerses me in that world but gives me something to follow and chase," says Keslin. "That's actually what inspired us with the Death Star DLC and this - how we do add a bit of narrative to the multiplayer game? We know that players want that, we're not able to give them a full-fledged campaign post-launch for Battlefront, but how can we scratch that itch a bit? It's been received okay - I think some people appreciate it. We're trying to address as many things as we can."
The idea of a DICE campaign didn't used to be a thing to savour, but after the moderate success of Battlefield 1's own single-player there's every hope that Battlefront 2 could deliver. The success of Battlefield 1's campaign came down in part to how it acknowledged where the strengths of its multiplayer lie, folding in the same kind of open-ended and chaotic objective-based levels that people would expect of an online match.
"That's a lot of what we've talked about in terms of DICE's identity and how we approach games," says Keslin. "We're partnering up with some folks from Motive - they have their own take on how things are - but we have a very close relationship with them, and we want everything to feel like a coherent experience. We don't want it where single player isn't that great but multiplayer has this great thing and isn't connected."
There's another problem players have with Battlefront, and it remains to be seen whether it's one that EA and DICE can address. The Season Pass has been spotty at best, despite the highs of the most recent Death Star and Rogue One packs, and it's partitioned the player-base needlessly. Should you want to play one of the older map packs you might struggle to find a decent match - and the whole deal has at times struggled to justify its price-tag. Surely a better model right now would be handing out maps for free and supplementing them with paid-for cosmetic items, an ever more popular option that's been taken up by the likes of Titanfall 2.
"We explore a lot of business models, and there's a lot of thinking around that. For us - more as EA as a company - we throw out the term player first a lot. And what does it mean for games as living experiences over time. To your point - season pass is just content drops. But you've seen we're starting to do things like having events more often, trying to do things that actively engage you on a daily or weekly basis. We're giving a lot more thought in that area, and how can that evolve what we've done in the past. I can't guarantee one way or another now, but it's something we're thinking about."Switch clicks in the hands But on paper it's in trouble.
Hopefully Battlefront's sequel will do the right thing and avoid a season pass, though EA might not be inclined to pass up the quick and easy cashflow. One final problem that Battlefront 2 might face comes entirely from DICE's good work with its predecessor - with so many iconic moments covered off, from Hoth to Endor and now even to Rogue One's Scarif, there's little left to plunder in the Star Wars cinematic universe, even taking into account the fact the new sequels will be folded in. Where next for the series, especially given that the prequels have fallen so far out of fashion?
"I could see from a commercial standpoint that it makes sense - there are new movies coming out, hitch yourself to that star," says Keslin. "There are always opportunities to look backwards - there are TV shows, comic books. A lot of us at the studio watch Rebels, a lot of us read the comics. Who know where we'll go? Well, some people know, obviously."
I'm just holding out hope that they look back far enough to take in Caravan of Courage, because that's the foundation for a Star Wars game I'd dearly love to play.
"Well..." chimes in Keslin with a mischievous smile, "the big thing a lot of people have been asking for is Jar Jar Binks..."