Not because the game was odd or anything: it was because I broke a habit of mine by trying the beta to start with. I don’t really check out betas, particularly if they’re for games I’m looking forward to. When the Uncharted 3 beta rolled around, I downloaded it and played it probably twice. For Battlefield 3, I was in there as soon as it was open, and have been playing it fairly consistently.
I don’t want to go too much into the beta overall for this post, as it would definitely diminish what will most likely be a fantastic game when it’s properly released, but there’s a few key things to come out of it that could be a potential deal breaker. First things first: Origin. We plan to write a dedicated entry on Origin soon, but for now, all I can say is that it’s not terrible: it’s serviceable and it works without any major issue. Where it falls down is its relationship to Battlefield 3 and Battlelog. Much has already been said of how ridiculous the system is. For the most part, I haven’t had a difficult time with it. Having said that, it’s just blatantly unnecessary. Presenting a user profile through a webpage with stats and other information is perfectly fine (and something that Steam does with Steamworks), but having it be the sole method of launching a game is utterly bizarre. I’m hoping that it’s a quirk of the beta, so I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, because the inability to select a server in-game is, quite frankly, moronic.
As for the game itself, it’s a rather odd mix of frustration and determination. I’ve never had any urge to gamble, but I imagine that this is a similar feeling: constantly losing, but being brought back in, time and time again, with the promise of something better just around the next corner (with the occasional windfall of success). This is a multiplayer experience where you will die, and die often. Perhaps I’m just terrible at it, but a vast majority of my deaths during the beta were through circumstances that are virtually impossible to counteract: an incredibly well hidden enemy, hundreds of metres away, popping off some lucky shots; the inability to clearly visualise enemies in general; and an utter lack of any sort of tactical approach to objectives, or communication among the team. Battlefield 3, at this point in time, exemplifies all that is wrong with mutliplayer gaming. It is my view that multiplayer should be fun when you’re winning, and fun when you’re losing. This is something we’ll be examining in an upcoming topic.
Having said all that, Battlefield 3 is stunning. The atmosphere while in-game feels different to any other war shooter I’ve played: an almost documentary style approach to the experience, rather than B-movie staples. So even if I never touch the multiplayer after this (probably unlikely), the singleplayer campaign will truly be something to behold.
I like betas. They let you try out the multiplayer component of a game before it is released, without needing to (in most cases) buy the game beforehand. Since demos on the PC are all but non-existent now, betas are really all we have to try out a multiplayer game before we buy it. They also let you get a nice impression of how the game plays, as watching gameplay videos is usually not a good replacement for hands-on experience.
Betas aren’t all that common, though, and it’s probably because most publishers wouldn’t like the idea of releasing an incomplete version of your product (people may get bad impressions due to the bugs), for free (they make no profit from it). On the other hand, the beta can act as a demo of sorts to try and get more sales. The true reason for a beta is, of course, so the developers can do load testing on their servers and identify bugs that might not have cropped up in their test environments.
Over the last week or two, I’ve been playing the Battlefield 3 beta. At first, I wasn’t all that impressed, but after a while, I started warming up to it. Once you get used to the complete lack of direction and know to use the in-game HUD to see where to go next, you can start to establish a technique that works best for you. I managed to find a tactic that was reasonably effective, and for a while, the beta was great fun to play. Then it started to go downhill.
The huge game world of Battlefield does mean that each game plays a little differently. But in the end, you’re still always doing the same shit. For a game that expects the team to work together to capture an objective, it sure doesn’t put much effort into encouraging that teamwork. Each player simply attempts to rack up as many points as possible, and because the objectives are worth points, it appears to work when you look at it from a distance.
Realistically, though, it’s just a big game of team deathmatch on a larger scale. Where I really think this game would be fun is in a semi-competitive environment. Perhaps one player could act as a commander, coordinating the movements of all the squads on the ground. Add some voice communication and some co-operation, and suddenly you’ve got a game that’s essentially the same, except with an additional layer of tactics and strategy which would encourage teamwork on a far larger scale. The game itself doesn’t need to change, just the way it is played.
I think that with this in place, the game would be far better. But, as it stands, for me, Battlefield 3 is ultimately not an enjoyable multiplayer game. I don’t have the time or the desire to move to competitive gaming (and organisation on this kind of scale will never happen in public servers), so I guess I’ll just go back to playing Team Fortress 2 instead.