I considered catching up on the life-consuming first-person shooter Destiny over the weekend, but tried the beta for Star Wars Battlefront and suddenly it was Monday morning. Like a relic from the previous decade, the game strips away many of the supposed improvements — advanced loadouts, weapon customization, in-world hubs — of online shooters. It may be the dad rock of video games I've been waiting for.
In the only mode that I could get to work — this is a beta after all, the full release comes in mid-November — two teams of eight players try to capture pods that drop from the sky. The map is a craggy, muddy maze, with plenty of places to hide or take cover, perfect for taking potshots at newcomers running blindly towards each new pod. The mode is fast, allowing players to return to battle instantly after death, and doesn't require the split-second, look-down-the-sight-of-the-gun aiming popularized by its contemporaries. You point a weapon, press fire, and hope for the best. Learning the fundamentals takes a couple rounds at most, and there's nothing separating more experienced friends from newcomers — other than a learned knowledge of the best points from which to attack.
When the servers work, hopping into a match takes a minute or two: Launch the game, select a mode from the opening menu screen, select a weapon and two accessories, then join the fight. Objectives are clearly marked by an icon that floats on the screen, a compass showing you which way to run and how far you have to go. Battlefront has one of the most friendly user-interfaces I've experienced in years, communicating the basics to newcomers without overwhelming the screen as to annoy players on their 10th or 15th hour of play.
The multiplayer game I've been waiting for
On the flip side, I had to learn to love the most popular video game of the moment. It took 30 hours to get why people love Destiny, and even now I get the eerie feeling the game wants more of my time — preferably all of it. Destiny demands loyal membership. Having recently missed a couple weeks, I feel both behind and lost. New ways to exploit the game have come and gone, and my already highly ranked friends have risen even further above me. They have new weapons and armor that provide them necessary advantages to take on challenges with even better weapons and armor; I, however, cannot participate because my rank is, yet again, too low.
Even popular shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield, dubbed brainless by their snootiest critics, have become comically layered and complex. Advanced loadouts — the multiple weapons, grenades buffs, special abilities — synonymous with modern shooters have become meta-game puzzles unto themselves. Players scour forums for tips on how to maximize killing power with the game's tactical minutiae.
My colleague Arthur Gies wrote a report on Polygon explaining the 13-point loadout system in last year's Call of Duty, but I think this loadout, recommended by one of the game's producers, says it all:
Primary Weapon: ASM1 Submachine Gun
Attachments: Red Dot Sight, Quickdraw Grip, Laser Sight
Secondary Weapon: None
Perks: Lightweight, Fast Hands, Blast Suppressor
Exo Ability: Exo Overclock
Exo Launcher: Variable Grenade x2
Wildcards: Primary Gunfighter
Scorestreaks: Orbital Care Package (Modules: Better Odds), XS1 Goliath
Star Wars Batttlefront replaces advanced loadouts with a single weapon slot and two card slots, which can be anything from a grenade to a jetpack to an upgrade of your ammo. In a genre that asks more and more of its players, Battlefront is just gracious to have your attention, gingerly staying out of the way of you and the fun.
Complexity isn't the enemy. Where Destiny players relish time spent understanding the intricacies of its leveling-up systems, making a game of exploiting the game, Battlefront is most concerned with the fighting. The depth comes from practicing your aim, testing the jetpack, or learning how best to control a vehicle. If Destiny is joining an intramural basketball league, around which your evenings are scheduled, then Battlefront is the occasional pickup game after work. I get why the former is more fulfilling, but right now, in my life, I don't have that time.
I learned to love Destiny
RockPaperShotgun's Graham Smith wrote that the game looks like it was "solely made for Star Wars dads. It has a fetishistic approach to the sound and texture of the original trilogy which seems designed to massage the nostalgia glands." All of that's true, but I think what makes it especially dad-friendly is zero reliance on complex menus, open-world hubs, and gargantuan gaps in rank that separate advanced players from showing newcomers the best the game has to offer. Star Wars Battlefront both manages to be as accessible as early online shooters, while allowing enough freedom in battle for the wacky and unexpected moments of modern games. This is bigger than a game for Star Wars Dads. This is video game dad rock: a looser, more welcoming version of the intense experience you used to have time and tolerance for.
Now this is a beta, and I'm mindful that the final version of Battlefront may have some hardcore design choices that make it an unwelcoming mess. Though I sincerely doubt as much. And I'm obliged to mention Destiny also has old-fashioned multiplayer modes, though after hours of being destroyed by players with advanced weapons, I've accepted it's not for me.
As I've written before, Destiny is a first-person shooter, but really it's more akin to a massively-multiplayer game like World of Warcraft, the crowning achievement of its parent company, Activision-Blizzard. It's a social setting, a shared experience, a never-ending adventure — shooting stuff just happens to be the fun glue keeping that together. You come for the gun battles, you stay because the game doesn't want you to leave. It's arguably more meticulously designed than any other shooter in history. I get why, on a technical level, it may be the superior game.
Star Wars Battlefront, for better and worse, has a different type of ambition: providing a beautiful and accessible fantasy of shooting bad guys in an iconic galaxy far, far away, and still having time for all those obligations on planet Earth.
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