It's an intriguing set-up for a multiplayer battle. Despite both teams having clearly defined roles as attacker and defender, in practice the weight of the offensive constantly switches. Initially the Imperials must suppress the rebels, preventing them from leaving their base and activating the beacons. But if the rebels can hold off the Imperials for long enough to activate the beacons, suddenly they become the aggressors, while the Imperials must defend two massive, moving targets from a huge amount of firepower.
It's also astonishingly spectacular. Squads of soldiers dash between objectives, fire around and even underneath those hulking AT-AT vehicles. Explosions burst in the snow like spring flowers catapulting rebels and Stormtroopers several feet into the air. Rebel and imperial spacecraft circle one another in the skies above, dogfighting amongst themselves or swooping toward the ground for a strafing run. From the perspective of a foot-soldier, watching a TIE fighter scythe toward you, green laser blasts kicking up the snow ahead, is a terrifying experience. Occasionally you'll hear the hum of a Jedi's lightsaber, and whisper a quiet prayer that the unseen Force-wielder is on your side. Other players naturally flock toward Luke and Darth Vader as they carve through the enemy ranks, deflecting laser blasts with a casual grace.
The spectacle of Battlefront is pleasing, but given DICE's extensive experience on the Battlefield series, it's not especially surprising. More intriguing are the divergences Battlefront makes from Battlefield. To begin with Battlefront is a noticeably simpler game than Battlefield. There are no classes to speak of. Instead you pick a starting weapon and up to three "hand" perks - equipment you can use like thermal detonators and jetpacks. Other abilities take the form of powerups which can be picked up on the battlefield. These include deployable gun turrets, the ability to fly a spacecraft, or a devastating "Orbital Strike", which pummels a patch of ground with intense laser fire.
Battlefront also encourages close quarters combat wherever possible, breaking up lines of sight with obstacles and debris, and generally trying to negate the possibility of players sniping from great distances. In all, it's much more about accessibility and enjoying participating in these grand sci-fi spectacles than the more tactical, more skill-based Battlefield.
This works wonderfully on the large-scale Hoth map, but on the two smaller maps the game feels a little too basic. The "Drop Zone" mode, which takes place on rocky Sullust, sees players capturing and defending escape pods that fall randomly onto the map, an interesting idea that involves setting up ad-hoc defences, but it begins to feel repetitive fairly quickly. The final mode available is Survival. Set in a rugged Tatooine canyon, players attempting to fend off waves of AI Stormtroopers and AT-STs. Again, it's fun for a while, but feels quite hollow compared to the grandeur and bombast of that delightful Hoth map.
There are a couple more concrete issues too. On PC, the airborne vehicles are donwright nightmarish to control, especially the Snowspeeder, which has a turning circle equivalent to that of an excited dog on a linoleum floor. The vehicles also have that overly lightweight and floaty feeling you get in many FPS games that include vehicles, which is odd considering DICE's experience in this field. A few balancing problems were also apparent, like players exploiting the jetpack to hole up in difficult-to-reach parts of the map, while a lack of team autobalancing meant many matches were lopsided affairs. One Drop Zone match I played pitched a full squad of rebels against a single Stormtrooper.
These particular flaws are all fixable in time for release. As for the wider concern of oversimplification on DICE's part, well, the jury's still out. If the variety is there, and there are enough of those extravagant maps that enable more complex teamwork to evolve naturally, then it could be precisely what the game needs. But if that incredible Hoth mission is the exception rather than the rule, then Battlefront could prove a little short for a Stormtrooper.