While Electronic Arts and DICE took Star Wars Battlefront II to Gamescom last week, this past week offered the first opportunity for domestic players to give the game's new Starfighter Assault game mode a whirl. GameStop Expo was the location for the demo, in which attendees got to blast off for some space combat.
Teams of 12 Rebels and Imperials took flight to Fondor, hovering above an Imperial space station. The ultimate Rebel objective is to take out a massive Star Destroyer, while the Empire side is tasked with protecting it at all costs.
Prior to battle, players were given a choice of one of three ships. The Rebels were given their selection of the classic X-Wing fighter, the much-quicker A-Wing, and the powerful Y-Wing bomber. The Empire had their choice of the classic TIE Fighter, the speedy TIE Interceptor, or the heavy-hitting TIE Bomber. It feels like a rock-paper-scissors style of matchup, with one ship built for quick dogfighting, another built for slower objective runs, and the classic ships adept at both. Each ship has unique weaponry and abilities that are activated by the bumpers, either hit individually or simultaneously. Certain skills are better for going on the offensive, like the bombers' multiple heat-seeking missiles, or for defensive purposes, like the TIE Bomber's electric field that disrupts all surrounding tracking systems. Abilities can also be tweaked and upgraded through the same star card system used during infantry battles, offering a nice sense of variety.
The actual combat is classic dogfighting, with ships on both sides flying quickly across the screen, looking to take each other out, while also avoiding any debris that might be floating about. Players are given points for landing successful hits, blowing up enemy ships, and striking at objectives, with the points able to be redeemed later for legendary craft. In fact, it wasn't long before Han Solo's Millennium Falcon and Boba Fett's Slave I were flying around and getting in on the action. The trouble here is, they're powerful fighters and only one of them can be out at a time. So while I had enough points to grab a legendary craft, the option for each of them was grayed-out since they were all currently in battle. It feels far easier to get legendary ships than it does to get legendary Hero characters in infantry battles and the ships feel far more durable, so it feels like there's only a small window to actually get to pilot these ships.
The sessions flow smoothly, as different objective wrinkles are introduced over the course of the game. Larger Y-Wing bombers started arriving on the scene, with the Imperial side tasked with taking them out. Meanwhile, Rebels were tasked with taking out the Imperial shield stations as they started to pierce through the other side's defenses. While there wasn't much of a radar to work with, objectives were clearly marked and easy to find, making it much easier to focus on the task at hand.
Starfighter Assault is an exercise in both joy and frustration, as I walked away from the demo marveling at the sheer visual beauty of a battlefield filled with beautifully-rendered environments, bright explosions, and intense starfighter battles. I got fully immersed in the battle, thanks to the Star Wars soundtrack and the sound of radio chatter filling my headphones. It was the authentic Star Wars space battles that I had wanted from the Battlefront series, yet it was also one that I could feel the series was capable of since day one, filling me with a sense that EA has been holding back. There were arguments during the first game's release that EA was pulling back on space battles for the sake of loading up a sequel and nothing here seemed to dispel that notion. However, that's a different argument for another day.
Star Wars Battlefront II has me aching to strap on my helmet again and take to the skies. Starfighter Assault promises to explore all three trilogies, so it should be interesting to see how these battles unfold when going back to the worlds of Naboo and Coruscant and moving forward to the skies of Takodona. The game is set to hit PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 on November 17. For more on the infantry side of play, be sure to revisit our hands-on from E3 2017.