So, the Battlefront 2 Beta has ended now that the (delayed) deadline of October 11th has come and gone. As someone who was lucky enough to secure one of the randomly dispersed email codes for the closed alpha, I thought the game was solid. Of course, this is probably jaded by the fact I love the saga (duh). Hell, I played the original game despite its lackluster combat depth for over 100 hours. However, it’s one of the key new features of the game that’s really persuaded me to buy the sequel at launch instead of wait for a sale like I did the previous installment and that’s one of the plethora of new game-modes, Starfighter Assault.
Now don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the boots on the ground combat in the closed alpha and the vast improvements it’s made compared to the first game in terms of strategy, gameplay, classes and unlocks, but the slew of game releases over the last few years has left me a bit petered out on the whole FPS concept. It’s ridiculous fun, but I’m not yet ready to sink another hundred hours into another shooter. So, when I opened the game I was expecting to be entertained, but maybe be a little bit bored of the concept. As someone who hated the starfighter gameplay in the previous game, I was met with a pleasant surprise.
Starfighter Assault, despite not being the game’s “flagship” mode, and probably having the least content in the beta, easily made up most of the 8 hours of gameplay I got from the demo. Probably because I don’t play many flying games, the concept was unique enough to interest me much more than the ground combat. For those unaware, the beta version of Starfighter Assault sees a team play as the rebels attacking a Star Destroyer that’s under construction, first taking out two Imperial Cruisers, then flying into the cavernous scaffolding of the shipyard to blow up the shield generators in typical Star Wars fashion. The plucky group of 12 rebel players must then damage the clamps connecting the Star Destroyer to the shipyard to expose the reactor and deal damage to it, all the while being attacked by the enemy team of 12 playing as the Empire.
Sound design is on point, as is the visuals – just like in the last game. Unlike the previous installment though, the smattering of turrets placed all over the map and on the advancing rebel and Imperial cruisers adds even more realism to the experience, allowing you to shoot these larger ships out of the air with enough teamwork and proton torpedoes. Thanks to this, the maps feel so much more alive than the barren starfighter maps of the previous game, especially at launch where ships flew around, essentially, an empty sky only shooting at each other. The fact that I enjoy that there’s more things shooting might seem fickle, but it really does make everything feel more action packed, frenetic and complex.
The main reason I disliked starfighter combat in the previous game, especially when more detailed maps like that beautiful assault on a Star Destroyer in an asteroid field were added, though was the controls. It all felt very clunky. Trying to make precise movements with your ship was impossible since a brief move of the mouse or control stick caused your little fighter to continue to slide slightly afterwards. Furthermore, to stand any chance of hitting the fighter you were chasing, you had to keep the target in the middle of your screen for a few seconds to get a “lock on” and then shoot or bomb them. This is all meant you had to wait to take out enemies, making combat less fast paced and feel much slower and more boring. It also meant that it was fairly easy to take out enemies, making dogfights feel less rewarding and more trivial. Thankfully, the new game completely overhauls this control scheme. Now you just aim your reticle inside the circle near to your target and fire. The lock on system remains but now it’s only used for firing missiles. Controlling your starfighter, especially the snappy interceptors, feels great, removing the awkward sliding from the first game and replacing it with a tighter scheme that allows you to pull off precise movements. You’ll be needing these tight movements to be able to pull off dodges which are no longer assigned to the push of a button, further making you feel accomplished when you dodge that pursuing TIE’s torpedoes successfully.
Continuing this trend of overhauling the foundations laid by the previous game, the starfighter classes have also been expanded. Unlike boots on the ground combat there are only three, but each one has just enough different attributes to make it feel unique. The interceptors allow for fast, sharp maneuvers and feature powerful blasters at the cost of health and the bombers are able to dispense volleys of powerful proton torpedoes, ion blasts etc at the cost of being slow and a bit more unwieldy to pilot (though this never felt as uncontrollable as the original for me). Fighters offer a middle ground, having fairly powerful weapons and a respectable amount of health and maneuverability. Each class has their own strengths, but unlike the ground combat classes, I found myself happily switching between them. None of them, to my casual eye at least, felt particularly over or underpowered and they were all huge fun to control and experience. Each team has slightly different variants of these classes, replacing one or two abilities, like switching out the X-Wing’s health restoring astromech for the TIE’s speed boost. More variation would have been nice but the changes are enough to make each ship feel at least somewhat unique.
The map showcased in the beta is also fantastic, perfectly blending large open space for fast paced dogfighting with tight corridors and spaces to navigate and cover to duck behind. It begins with a nice open space to allow players to get to grips with controls without having to dodge around tight corridors and the space means players aren’t concentrated in one small area so there’s less incoming fire to avoid. Of course, you still have the Imperial cruisers to fly behind for cover should you so need it. The fight then transitions into a narrow corridor of scaffolding with obstacles littering the ceiling, floor and walls to avoid. This focuses the action down a small path, forcing you to engage in quick dogfights and bombing runs but you lack the space to make complex dodges (unless you want your little A-Wing to become a little ball of flames against the walls). Finally the fight moves to around the Star Destroyer. Thanks to the clamps overhead, you still have tight spaces to maneuver through and obstacles to avoid. Fighting is still focused around a small area so your skills are put to the test but now you have the added space to make larger dodges and evasions again, allowing you to flex your piloting muscles in the mode’s climax.
Overall, the brief snippet of the game-mode I’ve played so far has me converted. I used to think I would hate the starfighter combat of this game but now it’s shaping up to be the part I’m probably most excited to experience fully when it releases on November 17th 2017.
Inside the Stormtroopers: Part 3
In the final installment of inside the Stormtroopers we cover the seemingly benign, but in reality quite important topics of task organization, procurement, and force structure.
So we’ve discussed what the battle of Endor tells us about Stormtroopers, but what does the Battle of Hoth have to tell us? Endor was a situation in which the Stormtroopers were put in a fight they
were not really equipped to fight. Hoth, on the other hand, was one of the few large scale, force on force engagements, in which the Stormtroopers excel. The empire needed to assault a heavily fortified objective in a large scale combined arms offensive, something rarely seen since the end of the Clone Wars, and they performed admirably. This is the exact type of engagement the Stormtrooper corps is designed to fight. Unfortunately, as I’ve stated, this was the exception rather than the rule during the Galactic Civil War (GCW). For the most part, it appears the Empire engaged in pacification and counter insurgency missions. On Tattooine we see Stormtroopers tracking down fugitives, on Bespin they are left as a garrison, and on Endor they are tasked with a static defense against what turned out to be a rather asymmetric threat. We must conclude that the Stormtroopers were actually rather ill equipped to fight the GCW.
A perfect example of this lack of strategic shift to fighting a low intensity conflict is Stormtrooper armor: it is white. This kind of doesn’t really make sense considering that it doesn’t work at all on Endor or the desert. But it does make sense if you consider who it was made to perform against; a droid army that doesn’t “see” in the visual spectrum. It is meant to act as camouflage against the spectrum that droids see, in which is likely infrared. I suspect that Stormtrooper armor renders its wearers nearly invisible to droid sensors.
If you recall the Stormtrooper corps originated as the clone army, an army purposely built to fight the droid army of the separatists. After fighting the Clone Wars the Clone Army was transformed into the Stormtrooper corps and rolled into the larger Imperial Army. They do not appear to have forgotten the lessons they learned during the Clone Wars though and remained a force purpose built to fight a large, well supplied droid army despite the fact that this threat seemed to have disappeared entirely. This is fairly understandable considering the flag officers of the Empire, and thus the acquisition planners, spent their formative years fighting the separatists. They are trained to think in terms of fighting that type of war.
This did have some positive effects though. For one, it landed them with access to a large arsenal of armored personnel carriers and armored recon assets. These must have been the product of clone warrior acquisition teams. They are large, heavily armored and perfect for taking on hordes of droids. Nimble recon platforms like the AT-ST likely served the Empire well in patrolling tight areas and allowing them to bring force to bear in a hurry. The AT-ST seemed to perform reasonably well on Endor by providing the Empire with a significant firepower advantage.
The one real bright spot in the Stormtrooper composition though was the incorporation of military police. Its clear from Star Wars: A New Hope that MPs are organic to Stormtrooper units considering its Stormtroopers that we see manning the cell block. Darth Vader also leaves a garrison on Bespin, which may well have had a military police unit attached to it. Military police are far better suited to executing a counter insurgency than straight trigger pullers and this may have given the empire a somewhat more deft hand in dealing with rebels. Though this force structure wasn’t enough to save the empire it may have been enough to delay its fall.
So there we have it, a somewhat deeper look into the Stormtrooper corps. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has helped provide us with more first hand accounts of Stormtrooper actions and even given us a glimpse at yet another variant; the coastal troopers. Truly a formidable force its unfortunate that they were employed so poorly by the empire.
Battle of Yavin; Pyrrhic Victory?
Of course we are all familiar with the Battle of Yavin, the heroic triumph of the fledgling rebel alliance over the Galactic Empire during which the first Death Star was destroyed. This engagement allowed the rebels to demonstrate that they were more than a simple band of malcontents but rather a true force to be reckoned with that could deal real and significant damage to the empire. Surely, this victory served as a tremendous propaganda boon to the rebellion as well as a source of legitimacy and credibility in the minds of the Empire’s many dissidents. This along with the destruction of the Death Star placed the first crack in the Empire’s facade of indestructibility. But was the victory worth it? Sure, the rebellion dealt a high profile blow to the empires image and avenged Alderan but what damage did they do to its actual ability to govern or conduct counter-insurgency operations? And at what cost?
To determine whether the Battle of Yavin was folly or genius we must consider the aims and structure of the rebellion at the time of the battle . Clearly the newly formed rebel alliance was not an organization capable of waging protracted war or even fighting pitched battles with the highly professional Imperial Navy and Army. Judging by the composition of their standing force they were geared toward raids and quick interdiction missions. A Squadron of fighters and a squadron of fighter-bombers were all they could muster at Yavin, hardly a force capable of taking on an imperial fleet. As such I think it is reasonable to assume that the Rebellion at this stage was organized along the lines of a classic, three phase Maoist guerrilla force. They had certainly surpassed phase one in which the guerrillas earn popular support by distributing propaganda and attacking the organs of government. They appear to have achieved phase two; escalated attacks launched against the government’s military forces and vital institutions (ie. the Death Star), yet were struggling to achieve phase three, conventional warfare and fighting used to seize cities, overthrow the government, and assume control of the country.
As well as operating along the guidelines very similar to Mao’s they seem to have subscribed to a school of thought similar to Che Guevara’s Foco theory. According to Foco theory a vanguard of cadres moves from location to location fermenting rebellion and garnering support. This describes the role Princess Leia plays perfectly in A New Hope. When we first meet her she is shuttling information vital to the Alliance along with another rebel leader Bail Organa. It doesn’t seem like a big stretch to imagine that her and Bail traveled widely influencing senators and portential financiers to support their cause. It’s clear from the film that she is a known member of the Rebel Alliance in A New Hope. She must have continued in this role after the Battle of Yavin as well into the future.
Having established the modus operandi of the rebellion we can properly evaluate the success of the Battle of Yavin. Without a doubt the battle appears to be a tremendous victory on the surface but did it help the rebellion advance itself to the next phase of guerrilla warfare? I believe the answer is categorically no. Consider what the rebellion lost and how long it took them to regain their position. They threw everything they had at the Death Star and lost not only 90% of their fighter forces but also the entirety of their ground operation. The secret base on Yavin had to be abandoned along with whatever logistical, and command and control equipment had been established there. This essentially pushed the rebellion back to phase one. They had to regain everything and it would be four years before they achieved their former strength at the Battle of Hoth where again the rebellion almost lost everything. Indeed the doctrine of operating from secret bases must have been flawed from the very outset. Thankfully the Alliance abandoned this method after the defeat at Hoth and moved to a strategy of operating from a moving headquarters in space. A moving target is much harder to hit than a stationary one.
By the Battle of Endor, a good five years after the Battle of Yavin, the Alliance had obviously just reached phase three. They had accumulated a fleet capable of taking on the imperial Navy in a direct engagement as well as the logistical and financial support necessary to keep such a fleet in supply suggesting they had the backing of several worlds and very wealthy financiers. But could this have been achieved sooner? Did the Battle of Yavin delay the inevitable fall of the empire? Had the Rebellion not lost everything it had that day might have they been able to organize themselves and achieve critical mass earlier? Perhaps, perhaps not. Yes the rebellion was set back materially for years but it is entirely possible that the destruction of the death star was what spurred the Alliance’s future backers to support their movement. Additionally, having achieved such a powerful propaganda coup against the empire must have drawn recruits to their banner from across the galaxy. In the battle of men and materials Yavin was surely a pyrrhic victory for the rebellion but in the battle of hearts and minds it may have done more for their cause than even the largest battle cruiser ever could.