Well, I’ve been slacking lately on posting about the games I’ve been playing – and there are two main reasons. Firstly, I’ve been kind of busy with the arcade side of things. Secondly I bought Battlefield 4 and I’ve been spending a lot more time playing it than writing about things.
Rushed to market to appear alongside CoD Ghosts, Battlefield 4 is the latest in EA/DICE’s line of large scale war simulations. Before we talk about the widely reported issues with the game, let me tell you about the game itself.
Battlefield 4 features up to 64 player battles across a variety of game modes – Conquest is considered the ‘classic’ Battlefield mode according to DICE, and aside from some dabbling with the perfectly functional Team Deathmatch that’s where I’ve spent all my time. This mode sees each team start with 800 tickets, tickets reduce based on the amount of territory bases controlled, the number of enemy deaths and so on, with the object being to reduce your opponents to zero. At the start of the round you have nothing but your home base, and both teams have to scramble to quickly take control of the others. It pays to capture something near the middle of the map as soon as possible, since once a base is controlled by your team you can choose to deploy from there when re-spawning.
To fight the battle players must pick one of four classes each time they spawn – Assault, Engineer, Support and Recon. Assault class is aimed purely at anti-infantry with limited ability to attack vehicles. Engineers carry the mines, RPGs, sidewinders and so on required to take out vehicles. Support are there to spam ammunition pickups mostly and honestly I rarely see them outside of Operation Locker. Recon are snipers, or bush wookies – bad examples are mostly found perched on high buildings for the entire match. Everyone hates Recon except Recon. I’ve been playing as Assault and Engineer, and levelling up the weapons available to them.
Speaking of weapons, you’ve got a lot to choose from. Each class can use four main weapon types as well as a handgun and a selection of secondaries (for example surface to air missiles are a secondary for Engineers, grenade launchers for Assault). Each weapon can be modified with a variety of attachments which affect their handling and functions, but these upgrades must be earned through use (mostly). The weapons are .. relatively well balanced although there are a couple in each class (usually ACE) now considered noob cannons. To be honest I think it’s drastically overstated and I’ve had far more success with some of the lesser used weapons which excel in short to mid range combat, that’ll be my Call Of Duty experience…
A core part of the Battlefield experience has always been the vehicles, and Battlefield does not disappoint here. Motorbikes, quad bikes, tanks, armoured cars, anti-air tanks, jets, attack boats, helicopters – there’s something for everyone here. They spawn either at the home base or outside captured bases, and when deploying if you see one next to the base in grey on the map, you can deploy straight into it. I recommend doing that otherwise someone else will by the time you’ve appeared on foot and run up to the vehicle in question. It’s worth learning to drive these properly in the training ground – helicopters for example can be difficult to control and crashing into a building killing yourself and several of your team isn’t going to be popular. It’s worth levelling them up too, a guy in a basic equipment tank is going to have no chance whatsoever against someone with all weapons available.
The game launched with a set of standard maps, since then two expansion sets have been released – China Rising and Second Assault. Most of these maps feature ‘Levolution’ – which is the ability for significant map changes to occur during the match – for example Flood Zone can be flooded, Paracel Storm can see a large destroyer break free from moorings and crash into the islands and Siege of Shangai has the famous collapsing skyscraper. For some reason the China Rising maps lack this feature, although data was found which suggested it was planned at one point, probably another example of rushing content. I’d say the mix of maps is excellent, there’s a good opportunity to use all the vehicle types in meaningful ways, but on the downside you have to choose which set of maps to play unlike the CoD model which simply puts into rotation what everyone has available. Perhaps that’s unrealistic in a 64 player game – it does mean that the expansion content can be a little quieter.
So enough about the details – how does it actually play? I can summarise this with a small story. When I picked the game up I streamed it for a friend to see. Running around in the Siege of Shanghai skyscraper, I smashed a window and jumped out, parachuted across the river, landed on the other side and ran to another base. A tank just outside killed me. It’s that freedom which makes Battlefield work, freedom to change loadout on each deployment, the freedom to jump in and use vehicles as required (even take them from the other team if abandoned), the freedom to play with no real vertical ceilings or invisible walls on a massive open field. When it works, it’s fantastic, especially if you get placed in a squad with people who know what they’re doing and work together instead of going solo.
Coming from a CoD background, it was a steep learning curve. To begin with you’re going to get killed from every direction, the weapons take a fair bit more skill to aim too, you need to learn the maps and advance carefully and intelligently using cover. You need to change the way you attack too, for example you can spot enemies and light them up on allies mini-maps – doing that rather than trying to chase someone down (which will usually get you killed) is tremendously helpful to your team. Being a lone wolf just isn’t very helpful and isn’t very fun.
I actually picked the game up after being less than impressed with the maps and gameplay in CoD Ghosts, I decided that even if I didn’t enjoy the multiplayer, at least Battlefield 4 has a campaign to play through. I’m happy to report the campaign is really good, better than the Ghosts one by far. The characters and script were better, the set pieces more impressive, the battles more satisfying. I actually played through the single player to completion before even touching multiplayer.
The game isn’t without problems. There have been client crashes, campaign progress being repeatedly erased, connection drops, horrendous rubber banding, loadout bugs, server crashes and a whole shopping list of other issues. I’ve been fairly lucky, the rubber banding affects me sometimes and only on two specific maps, I do wonder how much of it is people with poor quality connections (using home wireless for example). The fact remains though that this game was launched too soon and it was a choice EA made. There’s no way they didn’t know about the problems, and their response to them has not exactly been apologetic. The end result has harmed player numbers, although having said that they’re pretty healthy for a brand new system, 80k users on the PS4 alone have been seen (at the time doubling the number playing on Xbox One).
You can either live with that frankly disgraceful situation or you can’t. I can and I know that makes me part of the problem, but at the end of the day I’m having too much fun to care.