Speculation Corner: Star Wars Battlefront DLC

Recently, EA announced some of the first specific information about what’s planned for the Star Wars Battlefront DLC campaign.  After a few free updates (including two new maps), the first paid expansion will roll out in March, with maps in Tatooine and Sullust, followed by three more expansions over the course of the year that will take the action to Cloud City, the Death Star, and other, as-yet-unknown locations.  There’s not much information, but it’s enough to get excited for.  And, more importantly, it’s enough to speculate about, which is where the real fun is.  So let’s head over to Speculation Corner and see what ideas we can stir up.

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We’ve known since the game’s launch that the season pass would give us sixteen maps, four heroes, four new game modes, and “over twenty” weapons, vehicles, and star cards spread over its four expansions.  The easiest bit of speculation is to assume that this content stuff will be distributed evenly among the expansions: four maps, one hero, and one mode in each pack, plus, say, one vehicle, two guns, and two or three star cards.  Because there’s so much variation in how many maps support each game mode, I could see a scenario where one expansion has three maps and another has five, but for simplicity’s sake let’s assume this isn’t the case.  With these safe assumptions and the few clues we have, we can imagine some plausible scenarios for what exactly this DLC is going to look like.

Outer Rim

This is the aforementioned first expansion, promising combat “among the factories of Sullust” and “within Jabba the Hutt’s palace on Tatooine.”  The disappointing thing about this expansion is that it (apparently) doesn’t add any new planets.  For that we’ll have to wait until the summer.  Ever since the game launched with just four planets (and added the Tatooine-ish Jakku a few weeks later), I’ve been looking forward to the DLC to really expand the universe, but it looks like we’re going to be limited to these same five planets for a few months longer.

Battlefront’s maps come in two varieties, big and small, with the former reserved for the game’s big, 20-vs.-20 modes, and the latter for most everything else.  I’ve assumed for a while that each expansion would give us one big and three small maps; this would be more or less in keeping with the game’s initial ratio.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if this first expansion gave us two big maps, especially considering that some of the later expansions might not have any.  (More on that later.)  Along with upcoming free maps on Endor and Hoth, this would give us two big maps in each of the game’s original four planets.

Sullust being the one planet in the game that isn’t in the movies, it will be nice to have a deeper look into that planet and, specifically, its Imperial starship factories.  This might be the closest the game comes to making some sort of narrative contribution to the Star Wars universe.  On the Tatooine side, my hope for the map in Jabba’s palace is that the rancor plays a significant role.  There are some dangerous mud pits and lava streams on Sullust, and Ewoks drop rocks on your head, but that’s about it for interactivity in the existing maps.  But if the new map puts you in Jabba’s palace and doesn’t let you get eaten by the rancor, I’ll be seriously disappointed.  (My dream is to be able to hop on its back and ride it, like graugs in Shadow of Mordor, and stumble through the map gobbling enemies, but I don’t really expect that.)

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Could there be another surprise in this expansion?  It’s called “Outer Rim,” and there are a lot of planets in the Outer Rim.  I’d certainly prefer a new locale over yet another Tatooine map.  However, because of the tremendous amount of work that must go into creating these near-photo-realistic landscapes, I’d imagine DICE wants to get as much mileage out of the assets it develops as possible; creating a new planet for a single map probably isn’t worth it.  If they do throw a third planet into the mix, my guess would be Yavin IV (which is actually a moon, as is Endor, but I’m calling everything a “planet” for simplicity’s sake.)  I’ll get into why this is my guess in a minute.

My prediction for this map pack: two big maps, one each on Tatooine and Sullust, and two small maps, one on Sullust and one inside Jabba’s palace.  (Fingers crossed that I’m wrong and we get a Yavin IV map.)

Bespin

This second map pack will be available sometime in the summer.  It will, obviously, take place in and around Cloud City.  It’s easy to imagine one or two small maps set within the city, with the action spread between indoor corridors and outdoor landing platforms.  If one of the maps shows us the inner workings of the Tibanna gas mine, that would be a nice touch.  Without a campaign to tell us a proper story, it would be nice for Battlefront to at least show us some of the heretofore hidden corners of the galaxy’s most familiar locales.

There are two big questions about this map pack, though.  First, where might any big map(s) be located?  Cloud City is a series of buildings and platforms floating in the clouds – not exactly the sort of place where you’d march a couple of AT-ATs into battle.  There’s plenty of opportunity for close-quarters combat in the city, but no apparent setting for Battlefront’s large-scale, 20-vs.-20 battles.  There are two likely scenarios I can imagine: the big map(s) might be set on some other planet (or moon, etc.), or there might simply not be a big map in this expansion.

It’s not unreasonable to think there would be a second planet besides Bespin in this expansion; the first expansion has (at least) two planets, and there’s only so much you can do with Cloud City.  The planet of Bespin is a gas giant, so you couldn’t have any maps there, but there are several moons where one might land some walkers.  In addition to the gas mines, there’s also another city floating in the Bespin clouds: Ugnorgrad, the home of the Ugnaughts.  Since Disney bought Lucasfilm and threw out all the old canon, there have only been a handful of books, TV shows, and games to repopulate the expanded universe with “official” history.  This means there’s not a lot of canon to draw on, but also means there’s a mostly blank canvas for DICE to work with.  All we know about Ugnorgrad comes from a 2015 mobile game, but that material is ripe for the picking: apparently, the Empire attacked this city shortly after the Battle of Endor.  A Google image search for “Ugnorgrad” isn’t very helpful, but perhaps this city’s geography would be more accommodating to a Walker Assault map than Cloud City’s is.

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The second question involves game modes.  The season pass promises four new game modes, but what will they be, and, more to the point, will any of them involve flying?  Fighter Squadron, the core game’s lone dogfighting mode, is enjoyable, but pretty thin; outside of the occasional moment where you have to swoop close to the ground to grab a power-up, the maps don’t really affect gameplay, and are more decorative than consequential.  But with the promise of more vehicles in the upcoming expansions, and new, aerial combat-friendly locales such as Bespin and the Death Star, it seems like a safe bet that we’ll get at least one new spaceship-oriented game mode.  I’d love to weave in and out of Cloud City’s urban landscape in an X-Wing, or use a thick cloud as cover to sneak up on an unsuspecting TIE Fighter.

And what’s near Bespin?  An asteroid belt – and at least one hungry space-worm with mynocks in its throat.  If there’s no big map in this expansion, there might still be a surprise location in the asteroid belt.  This is one of the few Original Trilogy locales that doesn’t lend itself to infantry combat, but it would be a perfect place to showcase a new dogfighting mode, and asset-wise it doesn’t seem like it would require as much as, say Kashyyyk; it’s just gray-brown rocks floating in space.

My (too optimistic) prediction for this expansion: two small maps in Cloud City, a new vehicle-oriented mode with a Cloud City map, and one map in an unannounced locale, with the asteroid belt as the favorite.

Death Star

This third expansion is due out in the fall.  The blurb on EA’s website doesn’t offer any details, but there are two nuggets we can chew on.  For one thing, the blurb quotes A New Hope – “That’s no moon!” – which seems to answer the question of which Death Star will be in the expansion.  And it’s worth noting that the blurb says this is where the Death Star “makes its debut” in the game, which leaves the door open for future Death Star maps beyond this expansion.  Or, more accurately, it leaves the door open for speculation-prone Battlefront fans (guilty!) to get unjustifiably excited over nothing.

Like Cloud City, the Death Star is a great place for tight-quarters, indoor combat; in other words, small maps.  And it’s also a great place for vehicular combat.  (Adding the Death Star to a game that lets you fly X-Wings without letting you do a trench run would seem almost criminal.)  But the Death Star lends itself to the game’s 20-vs.-20 modes even less than Cloud City does.  Are we going to have AT-ATs walking down the moon’s space station’s hallways?  Again, we’re left with the same two possibilities: there will be no big maps in this expansion, or there will be a second, as-yet-unannounced location.

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If the game starts to pivot hard in the direction of vehicular combat, I could imagine a scenario where this expansion has two small maps set inside the Death Star for FPS modes, and two maps set outside the Death Star for dogfighting.  Or, rather, one map set outside each Death Star.  Why not?  They’d use mostly the same assets, so it seems doable.

However, it seems unlikely to me that Battlefront would pivot away from the 20-vs.-20 modes that seem so central to the game.  I could see EA skipping them for a single expansion, but now two.  One of the middle two expansions has to have a big map, and this one seems like a safer bet.  Where would such a map be set?  Yavin IV, the moon that was in the Death Star’s crosshairs just before (spoilers!) it exploded.  Imagine playing a round of Walker Assault while, in the background, the Death Star appears in the sky and, as the clock ticks down, starts charging its planet-destroying lasers.  (Although, logically, it wouldn’t make sense for the Empire to launch a ground invasion of a planet it’s about to blow up, but whatever.)  This is why I think there’s an outside chance Yavin IV might be included in the first expansion: it’s an Outer Rim planet that is also connected to the Death Star, so DICE can get extra mileage out of it by including a map or two in each of these two expansions.  Plus, it’s covered in jungles, which would add some variety.

As for maps within the Death Star, I’d imagine there will be two: one set in and around the hangar bay where the Millennium Falcon was parked, and one set in or near the detention level, with some deep chasms to fall down and perhaps a garbage masher or two.  Really, though, as long as there are some mouse droids running around, I’ll be happy.

My prediction for this expansion: two small maps inside the Death Star, one vehicle-oriented map set above the Death Star trench, and one big map set on a planet beneath the Death Star, with Yavin IV the likely candidate.

Expansion Pack Four

Details about the fourth expansion are all TBA, with one exception: the release date will be after the New Year.  In other words, after the next Star Wars movie, Rogue One, will have been out for over a month, and been seen by all of the people.  The smart money seems to be that this expansion will center on that movie and its locales.  The timing is perfect, the lack of announced details suggests that some secret is being kept, and there won’t be any real Original Trilogy options left by then.  At this point, there are existing and/or confirmed maps for all of the films’ major locations save two: the asteroid belt and Dagobah.  The asteroid belt is hardly the type of location to carry an expansion – at most there could be one or two maps there – and, while Battlefront isn’t necessary obligated to be canonical, setting a major battle on Dagobah seems like a bridge too far.  Of all the wild, baseless speculation I’m doing about the Battlefront DLC, this seems like the safest bet.

My prediction for this expansion: Rogue One stuff.  Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess, as we don’t yet know much about the movie.

New Heroes

In addition to 16 new maps, the Season Pass will bring us new game modes, heroes, weapons, star cards, and vehicles.  The game modes aren’t really worth speculating about, as they could be anything.  The same goes for the star cards and weapons.  As for the vehicles, it’s hard to speculate on those without knowing more about the game modes.  They could be starfighters, hero ships (like the Falcon and Slave I), or terrestrial vehicles.  (Though I do have my fingers crossed for a B-Wing.)

It is fun to wonder what new heroes might be added to the game, though.  The safe bet would be that the four promised heroes will be split evenly between Rebels and Imperials.  The problem is that there aren’t many named Imperials (or otherwise villainous characters) in the movies.  As fun as it would be to slither around as Jabba the Hut, I don’t think he’d be very good in a fight.  The same goes for Imperial figures such as Grand Moff Tarkin and Admieral Piett.  That leaves the bounty hunters and not much else.  The safest bets there are probably IG-88 and Bossk.  Sure, they don’t really do anything in the movies besides stand in the background, but they look cool and obviously know how to fight.  And really, what other choice is there?  Ponda Baba?  Salacious Crumb?  The one other potential source of  Imperial characters is Rogue One, which is sure to have a cool villain of some sort.

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On the Rebel side of things, there are two obvious choices.  First, Chewbacca.  He’s the biggest character from the movies to not yet be in the game, and he could have some pretty awesome unique abilities, like arm-off-ripping and holo-chess, so he seems like a no-brainer.  And then there’s Lando.  With the second expansion centering on Bespin, it seems like a safe bet that we’ll get a chance to play as the good-guy-turned-bad-guy-turned-good-guy who used to own the Millenium Falcon, fair and square.  His unique abilities could include calling in Lobot for backup and charming the ladies.  That said, I’m really hoping we’ll get a playable Ewok.

My prediction for new heroes: Chewbacca, Lando, a bounty hunter (probably IG-88), and someone (bad) from Rogue One.

Beyond the Season Pass

Sometime in early 2017, probably January or February, Battlefront’s DLC campaign will come to an end, at which point EA will shift its focus to its other big first-person shooters: Battlefield, whose fifth numbered entry will have released during the holiday season, and Titanfall, whose sequel will likely come out in early 2017.  We can throw a penny in the fountain and hope that EA sends a little more free DLC our way in 2017 to keep the player base engaged, but realistically this fourth expansion will be the end of Star Wars Battlefront, at least until the sequel.

EA has essentially confirmed that there will be a sequel (or an interminable string of sequels) to Battlefront, but that’s basically all we know.  Right now, there are a few big questions looming over the series.  First, when will it come out?  I think the smart money is on a holiday 2017 release, with Battlefield and Battlefront alternating holiday seasons from now until the sun burns out.  This is EA, after all, the house that annualized franchises built, and while they’ve said that they don’t necessarily intend to annualize the Battlefield franchise, it’s hard to imagine that they don’t want a big shooter release every holiday season.  If Titanfall 2 somehow gets punted to holiday 2017, or if EA decides to make a sequel to Battlefield: Hardline (or some other non-numbered entry in the franchise) and try to maintain two distinct Battlefield series (a la Call of Duty), I could see the next Star Wars shooter slipping to 2018.  But barring either of these (unlikely, I think) scenarios, I fully expect to see the next Battlefront game in 2017.  And then in 2019.  And then in 2021.

Second, when will Battlefront 2 take place?  EA has stated that the first game will be limited more or less to the Original Trilogy era, and the announced DLC plans reaffirm this.  And by the time this DLC campaign is finished, pretty much every major locale in those movies will have been picked clean, leaving the sequel no choice but to look elsewhere for a potential setting.  So what are our choices?  For one, there’s the Prequel Trilogy era.  Between three films and several seasons of the Clone Wars TV show, there’s a lot of material here to mine.  Say what you will about the prequels’ quality as films, but there are a lot of great planets and vehicle designs that could work well in a game.  However, from a marketing perspective, the much maligned trilogy is probably not the foot EA wants to put forward, especially at a time when Disney is making billions with somewhat retro-feeling, return-to-form Star Wars movies.  As much fun as a Clone Wars-centered game could be, I don’t think it’s all that likely.

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The obvious choice would seem to be to set Battlefront 2 in the Episode VII-IX era, but the big problem with this is a lack of source material.  If the next game comes out in holiday 2017, it will likely precede Episode VIII by a few weeks, making it unlikely that much if any of the game’s at-launch content will draw on that movie.  Locations from Rogue One will also be off-limits, with that film being set in the OT era and likely already making an appearance in the upcoming DLC.  This leaves only The Force Awakens, which takes place mainly on three planets: Starkiller Base, Takodana, and Jakku, which has already appeared as free Battlefront DLC.  Starkiller Base and Takodana would both make great backdrops for FPS maps, but two planets are not a lot to hang your hat on when you’re trying to sell a $60 AAA game in a crowded genre.

No, what I expect is that we won’t see a game set in the New Trilogy era until Battlefront 3, in 2019, after Episode IX has been released.  In the meantime, EA might try to set a game between these two trilogies.  Over the next few years, Disney and their publishing partners will be filling out this inter-trilogy timeline with lots of new canon.  There will be a lot of material for EA to draw on, but also a lot of freedom to invent, which is an ideal mix.  Such a game would be a true sequel to the first Battlefront, would help tell an important story in the canon, and would make a nice bridge to a New Trilogy era Battlefront 3.

And finally, will Battlefront 2 have a campaign?  The first game is part of a growing trend of online shooters with no campaign.  There seems to be a bit of fan pushback against these games, though, and sales largely reflect that.  Another multiplayer-only shooter, Titanfall, is getting a campaign in its sequel – and it’s worth noting that this is another EA-published game.  Without the Original Trilogy to lean on – one of the most recognizable and marketable properties in history – a campaign would help provide context for Battlefront 2’s locations and characters.  And if the game is in fact set between Episode VI and VII, the prospect of telling a new story in this era will likely be far more enticing to DICE than was the prospect of retelling the battles of Hoth and Endor yet again.  That said, the industry is very clearly trying to make the multiplayer-only FPS a thing, and Battlefront appears to be the best-selling of these games by a pretty big margin.  There’s clearly a lot of fan desire for a Battlefront campaign, but a quick trip to any comments section tells you that there’s fan desire for just about anything that hypothetically could be but isn’t in any given game, so while I expect the next Battlefront to have a campaign, I wouldn’t be that surprised if it doesn’t.

There’s a lot we don’t know about Star Wars – about the future of Battlefront, about whatever other games EA has planned under its ten-year deal with Disney, about the upcoming films, about theme park attractions and action figures, about viral lightsaber videos, and on and on.  But one thing we do know is that there’s a lot more coming.  There is and will always be plenty of room for speculation, which means there will be plenty of room to build expectations and then be disappointed.  But there will undoubtedly be plenty to enjoy.  For Star Wars fans, things haven’t been this exciting in quite a while.

Read all about What I Play When I Play.

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