[This is (what I hope will be) the first of many guest posts from Rich Keech – a veteran of gaming, a former colleague at TwinStick Gaming, and somebody I’ve known since video games came on cassette tapes. Teacher by day, Gamer by night, and Father 24/7, I’m thrilled to have him find some time to contribute to QTX, and as you’ll see in the following, he’s definitely got some mad skills when it comes to writing about games. I’m a huge fan of his work, and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do. You can find Rich on twitter as @spooklebeans, and @TLOUFactionsMP, and his YouTube videos are here.]
Now it has to be said, that this COULD be something of a controversial article. However, this isn’t click bait, it isn’t an attempt to insight a riot and it isn’t the insane ravings of a passing maniac.
It is…. an opinion. A considered opinion. More importantly, a circumstantial opinion. By this I mean – the full title of this piece could just as easily be “Why Star Wars Battlefront is better than Fallout 4 – to me.”
Further to this preparatory statement, I should also say that I’ve read many reviews for both games and spent considerable time playing them both too, so it’s not that I’ve chosen to buy one over the other and am now just trying to justify my choice.
Right, with all those accusations pre-emptively dealt with, I’ll press on and tell you why I hold an opinion that no-one will agree with.
First of all, the high praise for Fallout 4.
Reviewers far and wide have said that this is one of the best games available on PS4, XBox One and PC. A refined and much better looking version of previous Fallout games. Tweaked systems that add tension to combat, a complete overhaul of first-person shooter mechanics and a crafting system that is not only subtle, complex and deep – but also renders every item in the game’s enormous and densely item filled world amazingly useful.
Would I agree with this assessment? Well, it’s hard not to! It is a truly impressive feat!
Next, the crucifixion of Battlefront. There has been much said of this game’s lack of content. No single player mode whatsoever. Only a handful of maps. Online modes that are nothing new and repeat themselves. Simplified combat. The list goes on and is, frankly, hard to deny.
So, with all that established and agreed with, how could I possibly feel Battlefront is a superior experience? Well, here’s the all important caveat: I’m a grown up busy person.
It’s that simple. I’m not saying my life is hard, or horrible, or busier than yours – just that as a 33 year old father of two who works full time (all fairly normal things for a man of my age), my gaming time is limited. As such, I feel I have to “limit” my gaming to enjoyable experiences.
I am something of a veteran gamer, and could argue the finer points of rival platforms from way back in the Atari vs. Amiga days, right up until today’s console Cold War, where everyone knows the PS4 and Xbox One have become virtually indistinguishable from one another, everyone knows that PS4 is dominating by nearly 2:1, and everyone politely pretends this isn’t significant or important because no-one really understands why it happened. So this isn’t just the ‘casual’ versus ‘veteran’ gamer argument. Not quite.
Allow me to elaborate. Fallout 4, especially as a newcomer to the series, is not an enjoyable experience in the early stages. Though the reasons may eventually become reasons to enjoy the game, my experience is best illustrated through the translation of the game’s finer points from veteran to layman.
1) “It’s great how this game doesn’t hold your hand!” – translation – this game doesn’t explain what you’re supposed to do.
2) “The crafting system is amazingly deep, everything is useful!” – translation – you can pick everything in this game up, but you don’t know what to do with any of it, but keep it because it’s probably useful.
3) “It’s cool how you can get your allies to carry things! Even your dog!” – translation – Shit, I picked up too much random stuff and now my character can’t move. What do I keep? What do I dump? Where do I dump it? Will I ever come back for it? How many is too many mini guns?
4) “I love how this game lets you find your own story as you progress.” – translation – I have no idea what I’m doing or why I’m doing it? Didn’t someone just steal my kid? I might wanna get on that! No… no… I have to visit some homeless people in another shack and forage for water purifiers to make strangers happy while they tend to the carrots.
5) “The game makes a lot more sense after the initial 45 hour introduction” – translation – I’m done (OK, a slight exaggeration).
For a man in my position, the game is prohibitively convoluted and gives you no sense of purpose as it quickly disregards the one reason I had to get out into the wasteland and fight! Yes, I’m sure that plot line is picked up at some point if you choose the right path – or upgrade your character’s “plot” stat on the upgrade tree – but seriously – how is a newcomer to the series supposed to get their head around it!? I don’t have any “watching porn time” to dip into like millions of others reportedly do. I have to make this game fit around my life – and this game just doesn’t stand a chance.
Furthermore, call me shallow, but the game does not look great. Now, I’m sure that’s fine if you become so emotionally invested in the characters and world that you can totally overlook the drab textures and limited pallet. For me, I simply felt I was aimlessly wandering around a sea of brown and trees, being attacked by shapeless dogs as the minutes of my life drifted by into meaningless emptiness and I began to question my sanity.
Not only were the graphics dodgy, the combat – refined as I’m sure it is – just felt like Band Aids on a fracture. Not intuitive, not free flowing – yet not tactical or exciting. It was easy to become totally overwhelmed by 4 baddies, simply because movement is so choppy, you can’t aim straight and that VATS system took too long to re-charge. More than once I found myself trekking endlessly through the brown to my objective, only to get jumped by 4 or 5 bargain basement baddies, and then have to run backwards over half the distance I just trekked whilst shooting peas at the baddies, hoping for the best. Lather, rinse, repeat 4 or 5 times, then realise this is just not fun anymore.
Many people I really respect have told me how good the game and series is – and whilst I still believe them – this just isn’t a game I can reach.
Well – in a word – yes. It’s true, it has no single player, but this is a game fuelled primarily by nostalgia. This presents its own problem; they either create another Star Wars story that isn’t canonical – and thus gets a load of grief from Star Wars fans, or they rehash a canonical story – that we already know and thus means all events are predictable. So, what they did instead is actually kind of awesome. They have given you a huge set of Star Wars toys and scenarios and said “mix and match as much as you like!” So yes, we do have a Luke Skywalker from the Return of the Jedi era, running around on Hoth, or we do see AT-ATs smashing through the trees of the forest moon on Endor – neither of which ever happened in the movies. But – here’s the really cool thing – it could sure as hell have happened with your toys! And what was always the focus with your Star Wars toys? The battle!
By putting the focus entirely on the Battles and removing the story focus, they’ve actually freed themselves up to create the ultimate Star Wars playground! And sure, you COULD populate this entirely with bots and have it offline – but that would be a hugely missed opportunity to gather up to 40 like minded “friends” to come over and play with your toys.
Now, about those 4 maps. Well, there certainly are 4 “settings” that are nicely varied and beautifully recreated from the movies, but there are also different “areas” of each setting, giving around 12 maps across the various settings. What’s good is that these 4 “play set” settings are really different to each other. Tatooine and Hoth are straight from the movies and have many recognisable areas, both indoor and out. Likewise, Endor feels just like it should, complete with treehouses you can snipe from and Ewoks throwing rocks at you!
Combat is certainly frantic, largely mid-range laser shooting at Rebels or Storm Troopers. However, in a beautifully Perfect Dark/Goldeneye-esque way, with the right loadout and pick ups, you can snipe, blast people to smithereens at short distance, plant proximity mines, or call in orbital strikes or plant droids to do the shooting for you! It’s more varied than people give it credit for – it’s just that the bread and butter shooting is all in the middle of the pack – like Goldeneye (remember that game that made every kid vanish off the streets for two years?).
Throw in the fact that you can also pick up power-ups on the map that give you control of an X-Wing or Tie-Fighter; Han Solo or Boba Fett (to name but a few); or put you in the driving seat of an AT-AT or AT-ST for a time – and you’ve got yourself a game!
As for the rehashed modes thing, this is fair to a point. There are the riffs on capture the flag, team death match, etc that you might expect, but there are also modes that focus on using the Star Wars heroes or shift the focus to the ships (including the Millennium Falcon!) – but the jewel in the Battlefront Crown is “Walker Assault”. The mode that tasks you with either protecting or destroying the AT ATs as they progress through the map to destroy the transports! It’s basically the Hoth battle – but on any map – and it’s amazing!
Essentially, this isn’t a game for those that just loved the movies, this is the game for those who used to get their Star Wars toys out of their boxes, set up giant battles between their Rebel figures and their Empire counterparts whilst their living room became Hoth or Endor. This is a game for any of us who ever pretended their sleeping dog was the Sarlac pit monster, or that the cat trying to claw at Luke Skywalker was the Rancor!
It’s not big, it’s not clever, it’s just a whole world of fun! And precisely because it’s a world of fun that you can dive into immediately – for me – that just makes it a better, more accessible, more enjoyable game than Fallout 4.