A certain Sith once said: “The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.” After spending some time with the Star Wars: Battlefront beta, I was feeling a bit like Admiral Motti. While I left with my trachea intact and able to breathe freely, the game was humbling. Battlefront makes you a very small and often insignificant part of a larger world.
The size of the maps alone suggests that you aren’t meant to be the center of attention. During the battle of Hoth, I remember sprinting out of the trenches and over the field for what seemed like hours, only to realize that there were only more fields and trenches in front of me. Elsewhere dozens of other players were fighting inside a base while several folks strafed the land with TIE fighters. The sky boxes, complete with huge imperial cruisers in orbit, reinforce just how tiny and insignificant you are. Your little victory on your little hill can feel epic, but it only matters in the aggregate.
Battlefront’s multiplayer focus reinforces this aesthetics of insecurity with its rules. Unlike a game like Destiny, there’s no personal lore attached to your participation in multiplayer combat. You’re a grunt sent to quash the Rebellion. You don’t have a name. In many instances, your helmet means you don’t have a face. There’s no real character development. Instead, you’re there to face an enemy that will likely kill you, and you’re there to do it for the sake of the greater mission.
Unless you actually know 20 people who all can play the game at the same time, you’ll likely fight alongside a bunch of unknown comrades. The game pairs you with a “buddy” with whom you can trade weapon load outs and spawn points, but there’s no apparent logic to the pairing. You’re an anonymous soldier paired up with a bunch of other anonymous soldiers that have been thrown together by happenstance. There’s no glorious hero’s journey behind your circumstances. You’re just there because that’s where you happened to land. This small collective of fellow players gives off the vibe of a draft army whose existence was birthed by math rather than a common cause.
Rest assured, you’ll be dying for that cause. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be dying a lot. The feeling of insignificance is magnified by just how quickly you get taken out. Han and Chewie never got sniped from a thousand yards away. Lando never took three lasers and then re-spawned directly into a thermal detonator. But, then again, you’re not any of these heroes. You’re just a trooper whose contribution will be unknown in the greater Star Wars universe. You’re fragile, and you’re up against things like AT-ATs, which don’t even flinch when you try to shoot them.
The nice thing is that once you get taken out, you can almost instantly jump back into the match. For as nice as this lack of cool down is, it also has the simultaneous effect of reinforcing your role as cannon fodder. Your character dies, and there’s no real time consequence, no moment of reflection, no meditating on what went right or wrong. There’s just an instant replacement for you to send headlong back into the battle should you so choose.
Deaths obviously matter on a tactical level, but they matter in the same way failing in Super Meat Boy does. They represent a split second of loss, and then with one press of a button, you’ve loaded back in. Screwing up once rarely costs you the entire match like it does in Rocket League, and it does nothing to your character overall. The match goes on because you can only have a limited impact as an individual.
You rarely feel weaker than when someone summons Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker to the battlefield. Their Jedi powers manifest as extremely strong attacks, heavy durability, and bafflingly fast movement. In terms of the game, they highlight your fragility as an individual. From a Star Wars universe perspective, I have a newfound sympathy for the people that aren’t Force-sensitive. They live in a world in which demi-gods walk the earth. Living legends are fighting a massive war that is massive in scale with unimaginable resource and ideological implications. You’re just a chump with an old blaster.
Of course In Star Wars: Battlefront the heroes and demi-gods are most likely 12 year olds and people with cheat engine, but the feeling remains. You’ll usually feel less like a Jedi Knight and more like a moisture farmer from the Outer Rim.