October 11, 2013

Battlefield 4 Beta - Initial Thoughts

The Battlefield 4 Beta has been active since October 1 for those with "exclusive" access, and October 4 for everyone else.  It has certainly been a great experience to get in and help DICE test server loads and other factors of their game in a live environment.  I certainly hope they are getting as much as possible out of this to make this the best Battlefield yet.  I have been lucky; while my somewhat outdated CPU has been pushed to its limits, I at least was able to play whenever I had time and did not find myself stuck on the loading screen.

Floating Pistol Bug
The version we are playing is about a month old and was developed somewhat in parallel with the retail version to get it ready to go live sooner.  This means we are playing with a number of bugs and issues that have already been fixed in the retail version, thankfully.  This beta has certainly provided us a fair number of entertaining and unusual bugs to report, such as the attack boats spawning on land, elevator button that survives the tower falling, resulting in teleportation to where the tower used to be, and the floating pistol no arms bug I recently posted.  I am confident DICE will get most of these cleaned up so we can have a clean game at launch, so keep testing and reporting.

Unfortunately, I have not played the beta quite as much as I would have liked, but I have managed to gather a lot of thoughts on what I am seeing.  Overall, I feel really good about what BF4 will offer us.  I see potential for it to be much more entertaining than BF3.  The look and feel of the game, from the HUD to the in-game graphics, all feel more refined to me, although that could just be the "new car smell."

This umbrella resists more than wind
I am really excited to see what the other maps offer.  Siege of Shanghai is fun, but I think it will be far from their best map.  I find myself a little let down by the lack of destruction and non-levolution interaction with the map.  I really lose immersion in the game when an RPG fails to damage the side of a glass building, or when a tank is stopped dead in its tracks by an umbrella stand.  That said, I have heard rumors that DICE has a lot of these things disabled, and we will see glass falling and rubble dropping in the final build.  I certainly hope those rumors are not just wishful thinking.

What I do like about Siege is the verticality it offers.  You are not stuck playing on one or two levels.  You can get as low as the water in the bay or Metro (objective B on conquest large).  You can get as high as the top of the C tower and other buildings of similar height.  You can also reach the roof of smaller buildings, as well as ground level and the levels in between.  The map also offers also offers a wide mix of play options: you con focus on driving vehicles, destroying vehicles, getting to a rooftop to snipe, or close quarters combat attacking and defending objectives.  If this is the approach DICE is taking to map design, I like the idea.  A player can choose a role, such as anti-tank engineer, and have a completely different game than their next round on the same map as an assault or recon.  Of course, jury is still out on how the BF4 map design will hold up to the various game modes.

Once they get more of the bugs worked out, Levolution still has good promise.  It may require some tweaking though.  Take the falling tower for instance, it is possible to take that down very early in the game.  It is possibly too easy to initiate that set piece, which may cause it to lose impact on gameplay if it is down early and often.  There is a significant different in how the game plays when it is up versus down.  When the tower is up, there is a clear battle to dominate the rooftop.  When it is down, the game becomes a bit more chaotic.  I have seen games where it remained up for some time and was brought down when a team expressed concern they could not take C without dropping the tower.  It is reassuring to see a round play out is a more tactical and team-based manner.

Where's the dust?
I do have concerns about how graphics settings affect the large-scale Levolution.  The falling tower was sold as game-changing in that it created a large dust cloud that makes things more difficult for air support and snipers.  However, with graphics set to low, the dust cloud is not much of a problem, if at all noticeable.  This brings up the concern that if a team is doing really well in the air and the other team takes down the tower to obscure their vision, will the team dominating in the air be able to continue doing so by simply turning down their graphics?

DICE is still working to perform final tweaking and balancing of the weapons and vehicles.  For instance, Demize99 has tweeted they they have not yet determined if RPGs will still have locking capabilities in the final build.  If they do, damage will be reduced, at the least.  To me, the weapons had a good feel, although there were moments when some weapons, like pistols, seemed to do an extra burst of damage.  Also, the vapor trails on sniper rounds seemed inconsistent with the actual bullet trajectory.

I love the new deploy screen.  Choosing your spawn point is straightforward and intuitive.  I also like that the spawn screen is a real-time map, making it easier to see the big picture and think tactically about where you spawn.  I found myself making better spawn choices.  I also found this was improved by having VOIP, because it enabled me to communicate with team mates on where to spawn and as what class, as well as communicating with them on what I saw on the map while I waited for the countdown timer.

Battlefield 4 will also offer some new weapons and gadgets.  One we got to try in the beta is the XM25 airburst grenade launcher carried by the support class.  I really love the way this weapon works, even if it is a bit of a niche role.  I took out my fair share of rooftop campers thanks to its airburst mechanic.

With less than twenty days until release, I am really looking forward to this game.

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