Is it really all about the big battles in Star Wars Battlefront? They feel like a great big pile-up to me. Spawn, bungle enthusiastically forwards, die. Who shot me? Oh it was someone in a turret; oh it was someone behind me; oh it was an AT-AT or an AT-ST or an X-Wing or a TIE Fighter or an Orbital Strike. Spawn again, die. Is that really that much fun?
You might counter: "Are you sh*t?" I'm not that sh*t. I finish middle-table in the big fights, and I have my moments. I once tied two AT-ATs right at the death of a game us Rebels were badly losing, winning us the game, and that felt amazing. But generally Walker Assault and the like feel frustrating, as I suppose real battles would, but let's ignore that, because when I'm killed for the umpteenth time before I even have a chance to respond, I'm not having fun. And when I do get lucky it feels like exactly that: getting lucky. Obviously there are people playing who can't simply be consistently lucky but actually skilful, but they're doing it at my expense so they can shut up about that.
Yet I am having a lot of fun with Battlefront - I'm just doing it elsewhere. I'm doing it in the places others call 'filler' or 'distraction', in the smaller-scale modes, particularly Heroes vs. Villains. Six people versus six, with time to breathe and time to think. There's even time to stop and smell the proverbial roses. I've played it happily, over and over again, for hours.
Heroes vs Villains had me at, "You will play as Emperor Palpatine next round." I nearly crapped myself. The Emperor? That's the shtick you see: three Heroes against three Villains, and whichever team dies first, loses. Each round the roster spins so everyone gets a go; no waiting for an obscure power-up in a corner of a map. Such is the access that before long you will have played as Luke, Leia and Han, and as Vader, Palpatine and Fett, and will have begun to appreciate their nuances and think about how they're best used.
Leia, for instance, is actually pretty handy in a fight. Her blaster packs a wallop both against normal soldiers and Villains, and she has a special charged shot that staggers Villains, which is really useful. She can also pop a squad shield and drop her own health pick-ups, and like the Emperor can spawn her own beefed-up personal bodyguard. These Honor Guards/Shocktroopers have rocket launchers and homing missiles, and they're harder to kill than normal soldiers. Leia plus two Honor Guards can seriously mess a Villain up.
There are counters, of course. Vader and Luke can dispatch these powered-up guard with a swipe of their sabers, and are deadly up close. They'll die quickly if surrounded by blaster fire, though, and aren't much use at range. Vader is great paired with the Emperor because he can protect him, which means more health pick-ups, more Force Lightning and more Shocktroopers. The Emperor alone, who runs like Wee Willy Winky and lets out a lovely eerie noise when he spins through the air, is weak.
Han Solo pairs well with Leia because they're both formidable at range, but again, if they stand together in one area - under her group shield - they're vulnerable to something like an Orbital Strike, which is something I hit them both with and killed them outright. For me, Boba Fett is the outlier because he doesn't naturally pair with Vader or Palpatine. But that's OK; his get-out-of-jail-free jetpack means that if he's in the open he's a nightmare to kill and a great distraction technique.
What makes Heroes vs Villains more compelling is how it handles normal soldiers, because there are three on each team. Initially this seems like a bum deal, being a grunt, but actually it's incredibly lucrative. I already mentioned the beefed-up Leia/Emperor troops you can become when you die, but there are also the many power-ups soldiers can collect, like Orbital Strikes, and put to devastating use. Yes, you are paper-thin fodder for the Heroes or Villains, but you're rewarded that much more generously because of it. Bag yourself a big-name while playing as an expendable and you'll leap up the score table, which means I often view my soldier rounds as the point-scoring rounds, because when you're a Hero or Villain you face a conundrum: you're powerful but your life is also at risk, and if you die, your team could lose the round. Do you flank alone as Luke? Or do you bunker up?
Some rounds are quick, others tense manhunts, and some are even draws. But it's that endless theorising, thinking up new things try, that keeps me playing long past one team has one reached the five-round victory condition. Heroes vs Villains has let me appreciate and take in the sights and sounds of a more nuanced Battlefront than I initially believed existed. And if I'm shot or eliminated while playing it I shrug it off with an appreciative laugh, because the difference is, I'm having fun.
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