While the Battlefield 3 Beta does go public today, I’ve been playing it since the 27 thanks to my pre-order early access (and the fact that I bought the Limited Edition of Medal of Honor). I haven’t been hiding my anticipation for Battlefield 3 at all and I’ve been eagerly awaiting a chance to try the game out before release. Since I’ve already pre-ordered it, I’m kind of locked into the full retail version, but I wanted to give those of you still on the fence a little taste to help you decide whether or not to jump on this train.
The only map currently available in the Beta is Operation Metro in its Rush variant. Operation Metro is a very linear map that progresses from a park to a subway tunnel and then out onto a wide promenade. The other map, Caspian Border, is currently locked behind a password, but that’s the more traditional BF map with wide open areas and combined arms warfare. Metro is strictly an infantry combat map in this form, and it doesn’t exactly carry that Battlefield feel that people might be expecting.
The game doesn’t really play like Bad Company or Battlefield 2 in any strict sense. Rather, it feels like its own game, but if you asked me to pick a game that it resembled more than any others I would say Medal of Honor. This isn’t a bad thing, though, because DICE tuned up Battlefield’s user interface quite a bit. Guns actually have believable recoil and player movement has become much more fluid: instead of leaping over objects, you character actually mounts them and you can see your legs swing out in front of you as you vault obstacles. It gives your avatar a nice weight, but I really wish you could slide into crouch.
One thing that Battlefield 3 does bring back is the ability to go prone, and damn if this doesn’t change the entire pace of the game. The most recent Battlefield game, Bad Company 2, took prone out so it took me a while to get used to the concept of “yes, you can go lower than a crouch to take cover”. Add that to the incredible sound design and the firefights in BF3 become a very tense experience. Bullets whiz over your head and ping off solid objects while you advance slowly under fire, keeping an eye out for enemies who might be waiting in ambush.
There are a couple more tweaks that DICE have made to Battlefield 3 in terms of combat and I’m a big fan of one and not so enthusiastic about the others. The one I do like is the suppression mechanic where machine guns and assault rifles can force enemies to keep their heads down by basically spraying bullets in their general direction. This makes their vision blur to the point where the only clear spot on their screen in a tiny circle around the reticule. It’s very useful for keeping your foes pinned as you advance, or for holding back a push as you wait for reinforcements. Suppression has a changed a bit since E3, as you no longer get points for just the action of keeping people pinned, you now only get a bonus when you assist in a kill in this manner. This might make people less inclined to try it out, because without an active notification, you don’t really have any idea if you’re suppressing someone or not.
The other changes I’m not too keen on are the way flashlights, laser pointers and sniper rifle scopes work. If you have a light equipped on your gun, you can point it at targets to impede their vision rather dramatically. It’s a little too powerful right now, and it’s kind of a double edged sword as you can blind your teammates too. Sniper scopes have been changed to reflect sunlight so you have an idea of when a sniper is targeting you. This is a little too bright as well so it’s hard to tell if you’re about to get shot or if you just have a flashlight pointed at you. It’s an interesting concept and helps balance the fact that snipers can go prone in foliage, but right now it needs a little tweaking.
Other than these minor nitpicks, though, I’m really enjoying the gameplay of Battlefield 3. My only problem with a Rush map being the only map currently available in the Beta is that people still play it like a Team Deathmatch game and it ends up turning into a straight up kill fest. People don’t advance or plant/defuse bombs, they tend to stay where they can get the most kills. While you do sometimes get on a competent team, the majority of the time will be spent cursing at your allies because they didn’t defuse the bomb even though they were camping right beside it. This was a really strange choice for a Beta map, because I’m hearing that Caspian Border is the better of the two.
Now that we’re done with the game proper, I can dig in to Battlelog and whether or not that actually adds anything to the game. Battlelog, if you’re unfamiliar, is essentially Facebook for Battlefield. You have a Wall, awards and stats get posted to the Wall, you can friend people and even give a “Hooah” to their status updates. It feels really forced and doesn’t fit in with the tone of the game at all. It does make it a lot easier to party up with friends and join their game, but so far Battlelog hasn’t “wowed” me. One thing I do like, though, is the ability to create Platoons so you can easily keep track of your friends and their stats. This isn’t fully implemented yet, but the final version of Platoons will allow you to rank up towards unlocks by combining your stats, so that’s pretty neat.
As is to be expected, there are also a lot of problems finding games and keeping your connection to servers, but that’s natural when hundreds of thousands of people jump on a service that was previously supporting a fraction of that number (given that this has happened with every single Battlefield game since 2, you’d think that EA and DICE would anticipate this but I guess not). Once Battlelog gets tuned up I expect it will make the game joining experience much easier, but I’m not liking the interface right now.
I especially don’t like the fact that you can’t change loadouts, video/audio settings or key bindings from Battlelog; you have to jump into an active game a do it from there. Who thought this was a good idea? There’s also no in-game squad browser so you can’t actively pick squads and join friends, the game just sticks you into a random open spot so it’s kind of a crap-shoot. These two oversights are pretty glaring, especially since both of these features have been part of the series forever. I mean, you have to be in a running game in order to change your settings? DICE had better add the ability to do that from Battlelog, or at least have an in-game interface to handle this in the final version. In regards to the squad joining I hear that’s in testing and will be implemented soon, but still. Pretty damn frustrating.
There’s also a whole host of glitches like sinking into certain spots of the map, animations not rendering correctly, or my personal favorite, sliding along the ground and firing into the air. I know that public Betas are usually a couple builds behind the in-house version being used by the developers, but given the amount of bugs, glitches and crashes I’ve seen this feels like an Alpha build. While the actual gameplay is pretty addictive and exhilarating, DICE better shape up fast if they want to hit the ground running in October.
I ended up getting pretty negative at the end there, but what I detailed is basically what I experienced. Battlefield 3 is a really, really fun game, but right now it’s hidden behind counter-intuitive UI and a veritable army of game-breaking bug. If DICE manages to fix all these things in a month then the Beta will have fulfilled its purpose, but either way we’re looking at a hefty day one patch.
So that’s what I thought of the Beta for Battlefield 3. I do want to stress that it is very fun when you can get it to work, so don’t let my negative impressions of Battlelog scare you off too much. Has anyone else been playing this? What do you think of it? Anyone going on the “do not want” side thanks to me?