Battlefield 3: Early Impressions

I’ve had a couple of nights of playing with Battlefield 3 on the PC, and while I’m enjoying it, I’m not actually sure that I’m enjoying it more than I did Bad Company 2.

A lot of the problem is just that I’m still relatively new to Battlefield. Last night I had the classic experience of trying to pilot a helicopter and immediately taking a nosedive. It’s not terribly surprising that I crashed, but it’s frustrating that, as is, there’s no way to practice flying by myself. There’s no way to create a private server for yourself, and if you join an empty server it won’t let you out of the spawn area. After one of my better runs, I unlocked a smokescreen for my tank. How do I use it? Who knows?

Speaking of giving time to learn, the opening of the single-player was appalling. I’m very much of the Halo and Gears of War school, that designers should give players some quiet time to tweak their settings before throwing them into combat. Battlefield 3 throws the player immediately into combat after the opening cut-scene. So my introduction to the game was me immediately dying because the default mouse sensitivity was way too high. Fun!

Speaking of player-hostile design choices, while I don’t mind Battlelog and the move to having the front-end of the game be a webpage, it would be nice if it was more fully-featured. Why can’t I adjust my load-outs? See map-overviews? Adjust my settings? (Again, as it is now, to adjust settings before going into a multiplayer game, the options are either to go into single player game, do the adjustment there then quit all the way out to the browser and relaunch in multiplayer, or join a multiplayer game and do the adjustments while idling. Neither are ideal. It also would be nice if groups could go over 100 people. I know, a very small percentage of users are in such large groups, just like a small percentage of people hit the 100 friend cap on Xbox Live. But the people who do are your hardcore, socially networked, power users. I don’t why you wouldn’t want to help them enjoy your product help them evangelize it.

Likewise, when EA made a stink about requiring Origin for the game, I had assumed there would be some meaningful integration with the game. Boy way I wrong. I’m amazed and, frankly, annoyed that Battlefield 3 doesn’t use the same friends list as Origin. EA benefits from Origin by being able to track me across multiple games. I resent that they can’t even be bothered to give me the commensurate benefit of unifying my friends list across their games. It’s absurd that I have to maintain yet another list. And it’s annoying that Origin starts up when I run Battlefield and then just sits there pointlessly afterwards and I have to manually quit it. I’m tempted to believe that this whole “Launch from the web-browser” thing if contrived solely to prevent people from getting the benefit of launching the game via Steam and thus using Steam’s overlay. Hurray for getting caught up in corporate pissing matches.

Speaking of corporate pissing matches, the single-player, even after my abrupt introduction to it, was a pretty abysmal Modern Warfare clone, at least for the hour I played. Heavily scripted, bland, and just not a lot of fun. I don’t intend to go back to it. I’ve got better things to do with my time.

The multiplayer, on the other hand, once I got into a game, was pretty damn fun. It looks and sounds great. I heard some concerns about there not being as much destructible terrain, but I still felt like there’s a suitable amount of rubble by the end of a round. I’m god-awful at it, but usually after a few lives on a map I’ve been able to find a niche I can occupy well enough. I’m not getting a ton of points – it feels harder to spot than in Bad Company 2, which is cutting down on the number of kills I get as well as the points for spotting. But I shot down a helicopter and then I got points because it crashed into another enemy.

This is also my first time playing Conquest for a significant amount of time. I think I prefer Rush mode. While I like all the vehicular chaos, Conquest just doesn’t feel like it does enough to focus the action, and so unless I was in a vehicle, I was finding I’d go a long time between encounters (and most of those encounters were someone getting the drop on me and killing me before I knew they were there.)

Incidentally, the Team Deathmatch mode also feels a lot like a Modern Warfare deathmatch being played on a map that’s too small to accommodate the number of players. Lots of spawning right on top of an enemy, or killing a guy whose killing another guy, and then immediately getting killed by another enemy.

I sort of think it was a mistake to put the health-kits on the assault class. They occupy the same equipment slot as the ever-popular grenade launcher, which leads me to suspect that we’re actually going to see less medics, not more. And I thought the med-kit worked well with the light machine guns, since it meant that if the guys around you were in a tight spot, you could go from shooting to dropping a med-kit to reviving and back to shooting, without getting caught having to reload.

I’m very slowly accumulating unlocks. I can’t decide if it’s clever or frustrating that they make the starter weapons distinct for the Russian and American sides. Combined with the Modern Warfare kills-for-scope-and-weapon-attatchments system, it means that you gain unlocks for the starting weapons at half the usual rate, which gives a strong incentive to try out the next weapon that gets unlocked (which is usable by both sides). The actual interface for controlling load-outs is serviceable, but not great. It doesn’t need to be three pages deep, especially since, like I said, load-out changes can only be done once you’re already in a game, at which time you’d rather be playing. I also have a lot of trouble keeping the alphabet soup of military hardware acronyms straight. I see the load-out of the guy who killed me (but not a kill-cam, still) and I have a hard time deciphering what he’s using.

So, there have been some bumps. But all in all, it’s fun, especially with a server full of nice people, which is what my community provides.

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