Thursday, December 15, 2011

Battlefield 3: Back to Karkand thoughts and commentary

Battlefield 3 recently released their Back to Karkand expansion pack which brought four new Battlefield 2-inspired maps and a bug-fixing patch.  I've had some time to play a couple dozen games and here are my thoughts on how the game has progressed.

Anyone that has followed my blog or Twitter knows that I haven't exactly had the best experience with Battlefield 3.  I went from being a good Bad Company 2 player to a terrible Battlefield 3 player and at first glance the games are not that different.  Some analysis lead me to understand why I was not doing as well at Battlefield 3 as I had hoped and most of that revolved around what I felt was Battlefield 3's biggest problem: it was released too early.  Fortunately, the patch and expansion seem to have put the game on the right path and I am finding myself enjoying the game much more.

The best improvements revolve around the UI and while the patch doesn't fix all of the problems, it was a huge step in the right direction.  The chat box can now be hidden and it has been moved to a much more acceptable placement on the screen.  Squad management is simpler and squads are much easier to leave and join.  They didn't up the total number of squads available which is annoying as it literally breaks 64 player servers leaving upwards of 32 players without a squad to join.

The glowing neon text that Battlefield 3 uses hasn't gone away, but ironically enough they added a color blind mode which makes the UI elements (such as names and unit identifiers) contrast much better and I've moved to using as my default mode (and I'm not colorblind!).  Many other players have also moved to colorblind mode which makes me wonder why DICE doesn't get the hint and do away with the horrible, horrible neon lines and text.

Still needing improvement is the mini map, both during the game and during spawning.  It is hard to determine where a certain spawn point is going to place the player and as discovered by some keen-eyed players, the mini maps are clearly not accurate reflections of the actual map.  The mini maps seem to be from a previous map design, showing structures that were clearly removed or moved at some point.

Other than the new maps, weapons, and vehicles that came with Back to Karkand there weren't any huge features added to the game.  Assignments were added, which is like a quest system used to unlock the weapons of BtK.  Kill X players with X weapon and do Y to earn Z weapon.  They are a better system than having to level up specific kits to get new weapons, but some of the assignments just feature dumb objectives such as killing an enemy with the repair tool.

Still missing from Battlefield 2 are in-game voice chat, commander mode, and the battle recorder.  Three items that in my opinion are absolute requirements for Battlefield 3 to ever be considered a successor to Battlefield 2.  Without them, Battlefield 3 will remain low on my list of best Battlefield games.

Back to Karkand inadvertently fixed one of my other gripes with Battlefield 3: the maps!  The Back to Karkand maps are far superior to the vanilla maps.  After a couple rounds on Gulf of Oman and Back to Karkand I knew I would not likely go back to the vanilla maps anytime soon.  The BtK maps look better, play better, and feature a lot more destruction.

Everything that seems destructible is destructible and there are no more random paper thin walls that can't be destroyed.  The capture points on Conquest are tighter making actual defense possible instead of watching your flag cap with no enemy in sight.  The rush modes of the maps bring a refreshing twist to the classic Battlefield 2 maps.  The vehicle spawns seem closer, allowing for more vehicle action.  I could go on, but suffice to say, the Karkand maps are much better.

The balance changes that came with the patch also were a step in the right direction.  Weapons such as the SCAR-H and M240-B had their damage reduced which brought them in line with the rest of the weaponry in the game.  RPGs were slightly nerfed on damage to infantry (but could still go a bit further).   Mines are no longer infinite and limited to six per engineer.  And most critically of all, the IRNV scope was dramatically reduced in effectiveness.  It now only works in close ranges and blurs out at a distance.  The IRNV is no longer the equivalent of a wall hack and no longer the defacto scope everyone uses.

DICE also played with the way burst firing works.  I'm not sure on the details, but I seem to have much better luck with burst firing with certain weapons.  Some weapons still seem to have a first shot that goes randomly off target (and I mean WAY OFF target), but from reading the forums and on /r/battlefield3 it seems it may just be a bug with sprint or changing positions.  Hopefully, it gets tightened up a bit.  Either way though, I feel like I am far more accurate now when firing weapons.

Overall I am pleased with the patch and Back to Karkand.  I would be annoyed thinking I had to pay for BtK, but I bought the Limited Edition so got it for free.  Its still unfortunate that we're waiting for more features to be patched into the game.  Maybe in a year Battlefield 3 will be the successor to Battlefield 2 that we all wanted.

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