Poor DICE. One of the biggest criticisms thrown the way of its Star Wars-themed multiplayer shooter, and one of the biggest hurdles it's faced since its announcement, is that it didn't feel very much like Battlefront at all. Gone was the easy transition from on-foot combat to aerial dogfights, and every leaked piece of footage from Free Radical's Battlefront 3 only serves to illustrate how far DICE's take had fallen from the tree.
Classic Battlefront never feels far away from The Death Star DLC, the third big expansion and the penultimate before this December's Rogue One inspired pack. It's a step towards what perhaps people had originally envisioned of a modern day Battlefront, a three-part skirmish that takes place in the heavens before moving into the Death Star itself and climaxing in player's attempts to stage - and thwart - the iconic trench run from A New Hope. If this was in Battlefront from the start, the perception of DICE's game might have been very different indeed.
That's in theory, anyway. In practice, Battle Station tends to end during the first stage as Rebel pilots struggle to get to grip with Battlefront's aerial combat - always something of an acquired taste - while refusing to play the objective, the big Imperial Star Destroyers that must be brought down going frustratingly untouched. That'll change over time - a little rebalancing here, and a little more acquaintance on the player's behalf - but it's a frustratingly stilted start for one of Battlefront's most promising new additions.
The emphasis on aerial combat in the Death Star DLC - following Outer Rim's close quarters focus and the bigger skirmishes of the Bespin pack - might also frustrate. It's up in the skies that this Battlefront's own peculiar character is exaggerated. As a spectacle, it's breathtaking - the magic found in the searing vector lines of Atari's 1983 arcade game fleshed out with DICE's incredible photogrammetry that brings Star Wars icons to life - yet as a game it's edges have been dulled to the point of blandness. Introducing objectives into aerial combat helps, but it doesn't address how insipid the TIE Fighters and X-Wings can feel.
Make your way to the second phase and the interior of the Death Star - a map that is also slightly repurposed for Blast, Battlefront's take on Team Deathmatch - and the ludicrously tight confines 24 players are forced into help get your heart racing again. It's an enjoyably frenetic map, where players are funnelled into small rooms and sliding doors help add an air of unpredictability to it all. By the time you're soaring through the trenches of the Death Star in the final phase, where all of DICE's artistry and technical excellence comes together in one brilliant whole, you start to think maybe this is the Battlefront we've all been looking for after all.
The new DLC is relatively slim stuff, though - new heroes Bossk and the slightly overpowered Chewbacca make an appearance, but there are no hero-specific modes introduced with which they can really shine - but as ever it's the updates being rolled out across Battlefront for all players that make the most enlightening changes. There are new outfits, new customisation options and a suite of tweaks that help make the vanilla game that little more enticing.
The biggest change, though, is one of the simplest, and it helps illustrate the good work DICE is doing with Battlefront. In response to player outcry that's swirled around the game since its launch, stormtroopers can no longer go into battle without their helmets. It goes to show that DICE is really listening to what players want from Battlefront, and if it has that same attentive ear when it comes to building the sequel that's due out next year we could be in for something really special.
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