Monday, November 28, 2011

Battlefield 3 is a step back


Battlefield 3 is probably the last new game I will ever buy. The game was not ready to be launched and it is clear that EA and DICE only launched to beat Modern Warfare 3 to the market. If anything, I should have waited for the Black Friday $30 sale. Battlefield 3 is NOT worth $60. While Battlefield 3 is a definite step back for the Battlefield series, it will still be a solid installment once they patch in the rest of the game and fix the glaring WTF balance issues (IRNV anyone?).

Battlefield 3 is a perfectly serviceable game at this point. It runs well for everyone I play with and aside from the initial rubber-banding issue on 64-player servers, I have no technical complaints about the game. The graphics are beautiful, even on low settings, and it plays smoothly. Graphic card manufacturers have been very responsive with BF3 specific drivers.

So if there aren’t any technical disasters, then why would I say the game was not ready to be launched? BF3 is one of the rare games that launches on a solid platform (Frostbite 2) from an experienced team (DICE), but is missing that extra layer of polish and features that could separate it from other titles on the market. On top of this, there are previous Battlefield games that, in my opinion, have far better feature sets. In fact, I’ll reiterate; Battlefield 3 at launch is a step back for the Battlefield series as a whole.

The biggest glaring problem for Battlefield 3 is one of UI design. This is ironic considering that the one thing Battlefield 3 did fix for the series is that of a functional server browser. Some may not like Battle Log, but the truth is that Battle Log is the best server browser to be featured in any Battlefield game. However, the actual in-game UI is terrible and only now with the first patch is it even approaching being useable.

At launch, squad management within the UI was impossible and even after the first patch fixed some of the problems, there is still massive room for improvement. It is entirely possible for a player to be locked out of joining a squad if all the squads get locked to private with less than four players (the max squad size). There is exactly enough squads and spots to accommodate 64 players. On a full server if a squad locks itself private with only two players, two players will not be able to join a squad on that server. I don’t have to state how dumb that UI limitation is. The ability to create an unlimited number of custom squads needs to be added.

The lack of in-game voice further destroys the squad aspect of the game, especially when the in-game chat UI is unusable. The chat window is too big, with no control of text size or font, and features the new and annoying “glowing” text that DICE seems to love. Both of these combine to limit on-the-fly squad creation.
Missing from the game as well is the role of a commander, a prominent feature from Battlefield 2 that set the Battlefield series apart in the FPS genre. In BF2, a single player could take on the role of commander and survey the entire battlefield setting up UAV drones to spot enemies, issue artillery strikes, give squads attack/defend orders, and in general provide that strategic organization so badly needed in a Battlefield game.
BF3 isn’t remiss on the “key components” of the commander role as they have shifted the features into various aspects. Squad leaders can issue attack and defend orders. Any player can spot enemy players (press Q more pls). Artillery strikes are replaced by the mortar of the Supply class. The Supply class can drop ammo boxes to resupply players.

Even though almost all of the functions of the commander role are present, the biggest and most important aspect is missing: organization. There is nothing that ties all the squads and battlefield assets together. Without a commander, the battlefield doesn’t live up to much more than a sparsely connected series of firefights.
To harp on the UI’s last fatal flaw I want to point out how damn impossible the mini-map is to read. Again, DICE chooses to use the glowing neon lines and glowing text that they are so fond of. It’s distracting and annoying; especially considering the map is a blue/black/white satellite image of the map. Other than checking for spotted enemies, the map is worthless leading to the final nail in the organized battlefield coffin.

The UI was the first and biggest step back, but there are a couple other things that equally upset me about the game. The destruction is dialed back significantly from that of Bad Company 2. Mostly, it is a problem of map design. The maps are meant to be larger, but also more “iconic”. And by iconic I mean they feature set pieces which clearly aren’t meant to be destroyed such as large communication antennas, shipping crates, gas stations, refinery pipes, etc. This results in a very confusing play experience where in some instances a tank shell will crumble a wall and in the next instance the tank shell can’t even penetrate a flimsy tin shed. Or the hilarity that ensues when a tank is stopped by a dreaded indestructible light post. The “most destruction ever” bullet point on the box for BF3 is a complete and utter lie.

The destruction is only part of the issue with the maps. BF3 features some truly atrocious maps. Operation Metro is hands down the worst Battlefield map ever designed. It takes out everything that makes a Battlefield game Battlefield and replaces it with a corridor shooter. Caspian Border is a lesson in running and running and running as too few land vehicles spawn and only seem to spawn back at the bases which are located much too far away from the fight. Nashar Canals features a stationary anti-air turret that dominates a third of the map and resides on an almost unreachable ship anchored off the shore. I could go on and on about the maps, but I won’t. Hopefully the Back to Karkand mini-expansion and it’s updated Battlefield 2 maps will bring back some sanity to BF3 maps.

There are also other things missing or altered for BF3. There is no battle recorder which was one of Battlefield 2’s best features. Fun tools like the grappling hook and zip lines of BF2:Special Forces are gone. Night vision is plugged into a scope with infrared (aka IRNV) which is pretty much equivalent to a wall hack. Night vision, as implemented in Special Forces was a much better way to go. There are no custom squad settings. In-game voice is missing.

BF3 should have been a combination of Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 2. Instead BF3 is a crappier version of BC2 that happens to have planes on some of the maps. With all of this said, I still will play the game for a good bit. It is, at its core, a Battlefield game and while some aspects are lacking, it still delivers that Battlefield experience. At the end of the day I rank BF3 in last place on my list of played BF titles, which isn’t too bad considering every BF game has been good to me.

My list:

1. Battlefield 2
2. Battlefield 1942
3. Battlefield: Bad Company 2
4. Battlefield Heroes
5. Battlefield 3
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