As the Open Beta for Battlefield 4 closed last night, I wanted to share some thoughts. As DICE’s latest entry in the mammoth game franchise, it’s inevitable that high expectations are going to be placed upon it. Though the Beta is but a tiny vertical slice of the content on offer, it does offer some interesting glimpses at what the final version will hold.
Starting with the basics, the combat in Battlefield 4 is just as good as it ever was, with a chunky physicality that still requires thought and dexterity to handle given situations. Rushing headlong into a fight will basically just get you killed, so a little thought and patience is required in the heat of battle.
The class system helps to define a player’s role, continuing to push players to work together as squads. Though the Engineer will remain overwhelmingly popular thanks to having an RPG handy, there’s enough flexibility to the load outs and customisation to allow for anyone to play. I personally prefer the Assault class, just to make a difference and be able to revive downed comrades, even if it means I have to constantly run away from tanks that come my way.
Yet I can always hop into a tank, missile truck, jeep, quad-bike, attack helicopter, and so on. Vehicles are such a core part to Battlefield’s gameplay, and they are still just as good as ever, helping to keep the game at quite a high tempo, even on large maps. Players who enjoyed some of the various map packs for Battlefield 3 will also be glad to hear that many of the vehicle types from that game are making a return.
However, there’s also a much greater focus on water-based warfare, and both the Paracel Storm and Siege of Shanghai maps do a pretty good job of integrating that. Whilst Shanghai’s layout is still very much conducive to staying on foot throughout, the ability to break out of your main base with a jet ski and nip over to the other side to try and capture a control point is very welcome.
Paracel Storm was predominantly water, with a variety of islands that will make game modes on the larger versions of this map quite an interesting change from the land and air battles which the series has predominantly seen. However, Zavod 311, the map which was playable on Xbox One at Eurogamer Expo, shows Battlefield back to basics, with not a drop of water in sight as you fight over hills, between trees and through a large abandoned factory. The closest comparison I can draw would be back to the Caspian Border map in Battlefield 3, merged with an industrial complex
There’s excellent potential for all of the maps to play very differently, thanks to the added variety of vehicles, but also the addition of interesting new game modes. Domination and Rush will quite inevitably return, but the latest mode of Obliteration is also a lot of fun, and sees people trying to make the best of what a map has to offer.
On Siege of Shanghai, it sees the bomb regularly spawn at the top of that central sky scraper, with people skydiving off in a given direction. Paracel Storm had the largest island as a frantic battleground, as people tried to escape and get to the smaller islands, and being cut down as they swam or tried to hijack boats.
But as the two teams vie over control of the bomb, and battle to reach or defend the various objectives, it’s a really centralised focal point to the combat. As you inevitably die and look at the map for the best possible spawn point, it’s almost amusing to see the stream of little arrows following the bomb carrier, like rats marching to their deaths behind the Pied Piper.
Essentially, this would be enough for Battlefield 4, to take the solid foundations of its predecessors, add more options, maps and game modes and get it out the door. However, DICE have decided to take the destruction and interactivity to the next level with “Levolution”.
And here I find issue with the game, because I don’t feel that the level and degree of these new additions to the maps really warrant the term, compared to what existed in Battlefield 3. There has always been an odd relationship between buildings and structures which can and cannot be destroyed, and I feel that this accentuates and makes that divide much more pronounced. Simply put, I have yet to be convinced.
The core idea is to allow players to take a map and change the flow and the way in which it is played, through the additions of Levolution. These could be small and subtle things, like being able to open and close doors on shipping containers or raise and lower bollards at a bridge, but extend to the truly spectacular collapse of the skyscraper in Shanghai or run a ship aground on Paracel Storm.
The doubts I have come from Siege of Shanghai, which I played quite heavily in the PC beta, where each of these most major events feel too set in stone, and the smaller ones a little too inconsequential compared to just blowing a hole in a wall. The first thing that people will do is level a building, given half a chance, and there is only a single collapsible building on this map. Similarly, there is just a single underground support which can be used to collapse the main road.
They’re both impressive moments, and yet disappointingly limiting, especially as players will generally go out of their way to trigger many of these events as soon as they can. However, why can it only be that one building? Why can I not collapse other smaller buildings, too?
The beauty of the destruction in Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 3 was that it could largely go unexplained. Yes, you might bump into a wall which couldn’t be destroyed or building which couldn’t be collapsed, but now we have special one-off events which have to be signposted for players to understand, with the four front-facing pillars on the skyscraper already visibly weakened to indicate their interactivity.
Battlefield 4 is still going to be a grand follow up to Battlefield 3’s success, bringing 64-player combat to next-gen consoles and with a few new tricks up its sleeves. I just wish that Levolution didn’t feel like a hollow marketing term right now. I want to be convinced.
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