Disclaimer: All views presented here are of my own.
In all fairness, Star Wars Hunters is still in its early testing phase. Many of what I might nitpick here will most likely be fixed. However bugs and balancing fixes aside, I assume the game can still be reviewed for its core gameplay, systems and initial thoughts on how it will fare when it launches globally.
So, when I saw Star Wars Hunters conveniently soft launched in my app store. I got my hands on the game with lot of questions on my mind. How similar is it to the existing MOBA Shooters?How much of Battlefront’s multiplayer experience is brought to this new platform? Will it have a fighting chance against all the other bigger titles already released or on the verge of release? (Valorant, Apex Legends ).
And that is what we are going to be looking at today.
Star Wars Hunters is a 3rd Person shoot MOBA (Like TF2) where players get to play various Hunters, who are characters from the Star Wars Universe.The characters belong to the standard MMO archetypes and each of them different skills that are unique to their play style.
Additionally, there are several familiar game modes (3 as of now) where players can play with their hunters for some MOBA fun. How many items does Star Wars Hunters check off the standard MOBA checklist? Let’s find out!
Like mentioned before. Every hunter belongs to one of the 3 possible archetypes. Damage, Tank and Support which affects individual attributes like health, DPS, movement, CC skills etc.
Each Hunter has a primary weapon, which is used for auto attack, a passive skill, an aim/opponent lock, 3 active skills and 1 ultimate.
All active skills (including ultimate) can be used with a cool down in the game. Usually out of the 3 active skills, 1 of them is a damage skill, 1 is a mobility skill and finally the third skill is a class based skill (Healing or Damage). Ultimate skills charge with time and not damage since damage can vary greatly among different classes.
Additionally, all hunters have 1 additional button that double up for both climbing and ziplining at various interaction points in the game.
In terms of similarities with Battlefront 2 skill wise. The format is pretty similar. In Battlefront, each character has 3 active abilities and 1 passive ability (Trait). Though there is a lot more depth in the movement and weapon based mechanics, which might be too complicated for mobile.
For Hunters with guns, auto-fire is the default shooting mode where the Hunter starts firing when an enemy is in the crosshair. While melee hunters automatically start swinging their light sabres/weapons when they are near an enemy. In a game where there are so many active skills to keep an eye out for. The reasoning behind the auto attack mechanic is sound.
Personally, I think the 2 Hunters with lightsabers(DPS) class are the most fun and unique hunters in terms of gameplay. And I’m pretty sure almost everyone would want to play them. The game starts with 1 such Hunter unlocked (Rieve).
Interestingly, none of the characters yet have any force powers (Seen in Battlefront 2). Again, something unique to the Star Wars universe and not to mention incredibly cool!
Each of the 3 active skills of a hunter can be modified with different ‘Cores’, which add a positive and negative effect to a skill. Cores are a very interesting mechanic in my opinion that gives players some level of customisation within the play styles of a specific Hunter.
Each Hunter can be levelled up individually (Hunter Fame), and levelling up hunters provides Crystals, Coins and Cores. Cores can also be additionally purchased with soft currency. As of now, each core can only be purchased once with no option to upgrade to increase the effect.
Hunters can also be customised visually to equip new costumes, weapon wraps and intro animations and victory poses.
New Hunters are unlocked with Hunter Tokens (Single currency, not Hunter specific) which can be earned from the Daily and Weekly Challenges in the game, purchased with Crystals alternatively or unlocked from reaching player level milestones.
The game currently has 3 game modes, some of which have multiple maps. All of these modes are quite familiar and proven modes seen across other games. The 3 modes available currently are
- Control – This is a typical zone control game mode where players fight to take control of a zone. Whoever controls the zone to fill the bar wins the game.
- Escort – This is similar to the Payload game mode in TF2. Each team either escorts or defends a payload from reaching a specific destination. There are checkpoints in the map which once crossed, cannot be revisited. The movement of the payload depends on the number of Hunters around it.
- Huttball – Similar to capture the flag game modes seen in other games. However, the objective here is for one team to score 5 goals with the single ball that spawns in the centre of the map.
Interestingly, Star Wars Hunters allows a player to store separate Core configurations based on game modes. [Or used to. I can’t seem to find that option anymore!]
The 3 modes are cycled through randomly during matchmaking. The rules behind matchmaking seem unclear as of now. Most of the matches are partially filled by bots, while occasionally you might get an all player match. (Understandable, given that it’s in early access currently)
At the start of a match. Players select their roles and hunters in a random order. Based on the number of hunters a player might have. The composition can be mixed with pure DPS, Support or Tank teams.
However, since the game starts with 2 DPS, 1 Support and 1 Tank Hunter unlocked by default. Many of the earlier matches will probably have this composition. And since the same Hunter can’t be picked twice. Many times a player will be forced to pick a Hunter or role they may not like.
Every map has some additional interaction points/mechanics available to make them unique and interesting. These are,
- Climbing and Zip-line Points – Players can climb up or zip-line at specific points in the map to give themselves a tactical advantage.
- Health and Ultimate Boost Pickups – Separate pickups on the map that provide health or progress towards activating Ultimate skills.
- Jump Pads – Jump pads that can be activated at specific locations in the map.
- Traps – Fire and shock traps that stun, do damage over time or straight up one shot a hunter if they’re not careful.
These additional mechanics makes the game modes more exciting and dynamic.
Metagame and Social
Star Wars Hunters has some basic game and social features in place currently. Namely,
- XP Progression – XP based progression road. Besides Hunter tokens, soft and hard currency. 2 Legendary hunters are also available for unlock here.
- Daily and Weekly Challenges – Challenges to earn soft and hard currency.
- Hunter Fame – As mentioned before, it is an indicator of proficiency in using a hunter. It is unclear as of now if Hunter Fame affects matchmaking. Hunter fame can be levelled up with play.
- Events – Task based events to unlock rewards. Each tasks provide points and rewards are available at specific milestone. (Also commonly seen in COD Mobile) Events can be expected to be one of the live-op frameworks in the game and one can expect frequent cycling of events in the future.
- Badges – Badges are earned from performing specific feats.However, it is curious that currently I cannot see my earned badges anywhere yet.
- Social – Currently, there is only the option to add and play with 3 other friends. But, it is safe to assume more features like Leaderboards, Clubs will soon join the roster.
What I Like
Visuals – The game looks stunning. Which is no surprise considering the fact that it was made in Unreal. And Natural Motion is no stranger to making beautiful 3D games. Everything is clean, sharp and futuristic. Ties up the Star Wars theme very nicely both with gameplay and UI.
Fun! – Bugs and obvious balance changes aside. The game is actually fun to play with the different Hunters. The levels and game modes are engaging, even though there’s nothing groundbreaking or innovative in the game. Star Wars fans should definitely enjoy the game (Not as fun as Battlefront 2 for obvious reasons).
(Relatively) Not Pay To Win – The fact that there are no loot boxes in this game, most of the IAP’s being cosmetic and that Hunters being farmable with a single currency makes the game seem fair without being an obvious cash grab. I am sure the Hunters themselves will be balanced fairly well so that the only advantage in unlocking them via IAP’s would be earlier access.
But, additionally the lack of loot boxes can act as a double edged sword because any player can just purchase the Hunter they want while non-payers will know for a fact that there will be a long and arduous grind waiting for them. (The variance brought by loot box at least gives a potential chance of an early unlock)
Multi Platform Potential and Content Support – The game has already made its way to the Switch. And the fact that the game will likely make its way to consoles means the mobile version should have a good solid source of content that keeps it interesting with new characters, game modes and events.
What I Like Less
Doesn’t improve or innovate on the genre – The game unfortunately doesn’t stand out from the myriad of other similar games in the market except from the Star Wars skin slapped on top of it. This could be any other MOBA game in the market if not for the IP. But that doesn’t necessarily stop it from being successful.
No Reason To Diversify – Currently, a player has no motivation in wanting to diversify and learn/excel the different roles available. And that is clear from the fact that in matchmaking queues. The damage roles always fill first. Because More Pew Pew = More QQ.
Games like Brawl Stars have addressed this issue by tying core progression to character progress (Total trophies is a sum of individual brawler trophies, matchmaking (Brawlers are matched based on trophies) and introducing various game modes and events where there are clear advantages in picking specific roles. Star Wars Hunters currently doesn’t give me the same motivation to diversify.
No Team Play Tools – Though the game has all the traditional MMO team roles and the game modes do imply the need of some coordination. The game doesn’t make it easy to coordinate with other players. Voice commands and even audio chat can go a long way in improving that and are a staple in other games. But, these features might be lined up for global launch.
Content Dependency – Considering the fact that Hunters can be acquired instantly and there is a lack of depth when it comes to customising them with Cores (One time unlock to equip with no subsequent upgrades), the game can remain interesting only with more Hunters, game modes and events. Currently there are 10 Hunters (2 added recently) with 3 game modes available. But if we compare it with other games, it is far from the genre standard.
Buggy/Clunky Animations and Hit Boxes – This might be a little unfair to the game since it is still in early access. But I had to mention this because it is clearly visible during gameplay. The range on melee weapons seem much larger than they are supposed to be and that hurts, especially when you see your opponent sliced you in half with a sabre standing 10 feet away. I hope this gets fixed ASAP.
2022 is going to be the year of big launches. Valorant Mobile, Apex Legends seem to be aimed at hitting the market to take a piece of Star Wars’ potential pie and I fear Star Wars will struggle to attract and keep players who are not familiar with its IP. The real question though, is how big will the pie be?