Let’s get a few things out of the way first: I’m not going to do a great deal of complaining about Battlefield 4 here, but other people already have. Every single server I’ve been on has had at least one person asking “Is anyone else getting loads of lag and framerate drops?” and then a chorus of “Yes” from everyone else in the server (or, well, a vocal six people). Thus far, I’ve never seen anyone but me respond with “Actually, everything seems fine…”
So there you have it: everything seems fine. Everyone else has framerate and lag problems. I don’t. This might be because I’m running a veritable ninja bastard of a super-computer; I don’t know. It looks beautiful and runs at a decent clip. Hurray for me. Boo for everyone else, who do appear to be having problems. (Although if you’re complaining that the framerate drops when people start shooting, I’d argue you maybe have the graphical settings a bit high for your computer, or perhaps want to go look at the new Nvidia drivers, or something.)
I should also point out that this beta does not contain Commander Mode, so I have no idea how that works, and that it’s limited to the much-recorded Siege of Shanghai map. This is a bit sad, and also a tad worrying. I quite understand that you’ll want to show off your bestest ever map in the beta, but seeing single-map stuff like that always makes me think “Okay, so the rest of them aren’t that great, then.”
There are three modes of play in this Battlefield 4 beta: 32-player Conquest (three capture points), 32-player Domination (three capture points in a teeny-weeny area), and 64-player Conquest Large (five capture points). The latter is easily the best of the lot.
Domination is set in a tiny little section of the map – a shopping arcade – that normally houses one capture point, is infantry only, and has random respawn points as well as squad respawn. What this means is that you will regularly spawn and then get shot in the back by an enemy who just happened to wander past, or respawn on a squadmate just as an enemy starts shooting. It’s fast-paced and hectic but it’s also hopelessly chaotic to the point of not being much fun at all, and thus is not much fun at all. It’s like a particularly rubbish version of Call of Duty. Its fast pace also means it’s the easiest and quickest way to level up. Sigh.
Conquest is set in the Siege of Shanghai stuff you’ve already seen: big skyscraper in the middle of the map providing one capture point, with the curved sections of the city around it providing two more – one in a shopping arcade, and one in an underground Metro station. The skyscraper itself is home to a few weapons you can grab, like a Javelin rocket launcher and a gigantic sniper rifle, and – yes – the skyscraper can indeed be felled. Leaping out of it and parachuting to safety just as it starts to crumble and the sky starts to fill with ash and rubble is quite an experience.
Then there’s Conquest Large, also set in the Siege of Shanghai stuff you’ve already seen, which is fantastic. This is a 64-player scrum over five capture points in an area that’s as high as it is wide, with plenty of rooftops to lurk on and plenty of streets to battle through. As it’s just one level, though, an in-depth analysis would be a bit boring and you can see how the level’s made up by looking at any one of the innumerable gameplay videos, so – short of saying that it’s a big semi-circle around a bay, with the skyscraper providing an explosive centrepiece – let me give you an idea of what’s possible by regaling you with a few tales of my exploits instead.
I spent one match doing literally nothing but defending the skyscraper in the middle. I perched on top of it like a bird of prey with spectacularly crap accuracy, fending off enemies parachuting in, or coming up the elevators, or strafing the building with gunfire from helicopters. All around me the other capture points were continually changing hands. Occasionally there’d be a quiet moment and I’d try to help out by laying down suppressing fire from the rooftop, or shooting off a few rockets at enemy tanks below, but for the most part I spent 30 long and bloody minutes trying not to die to helicopters.
Another match saw me roaming the streets with my squad. A fallen girder had provided us an easy path up onto a rooftop overlooking the enemy-controlled Capture Point B (an underground metro station), so we wandered on up there and took up positions, blasting away at them. Then a few enemies snuck up behind us and murdered us.
This was not the end, though, because I respawned on the side-mounted minigun of a helicopter being flown by an entirely unrelated teammate – and he was heading for that self-same rooftop. I opened fire. I cut down one of the enemy soldiers; the rest desperately returned fire, but I was like an avenging god. I was unstoppable. I was laying down a murderous hail of hot lead, sending them scattering, chipping away at their health. There was no cover. They were going to die.
Five seconds into my barrage, my teammate steered the helicopter into an adjacent building and killed us both.
Another match, I was mostly acting as the turret gunner (and mobile repairman) of the world’s most unkillable tank: we roamed the battlefield, heading to where the action was thickest, blasting the hell out of soldiers and vehicles alike. Every time we came close to destruction he was smart enough to back off and let me repair it before we went back into the fray. This time, I didn’t even go near the battle for the skyscraper (not until it fell over, anyway, at which point the capture point – now situated in the ruins – was within our sights).
Another match, I decided to spend my time BASE jumping. I’d head to the top of the skyscraper, leap off the top of it, use my parachute, and head towards whatever I could see. Sometimes I’d land on a rooftop, and likely die to sniper fire. Sometimes I’d land near a contested capture point and help to take or defend it. On one memorable occasion I parachuted down above an unseeing enemy and blew him up with an Airburst Grenade before I landed.
So yeah, I’m having a pretty good time with Conquest Large.
I’m not having such a good time with all the bullshit surrounding it all, though. Battlelog is back, so you still connect to multiplayer by using your internet browser for some reason that remains a mystery. I don’t actively hate it as much as I did with Battlefield 3 but that probably just means I’m now so cynical about it that I’ve stopped caring. It’s not fantastic when all you want to do is change your sodding display options and you can’t do that without joining a game.
The community is already full of people complaining about campers and “omg noscope bullsh*t” and the like (because replacing a letter with an asterisk stops things being offensive), but that probably shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s spent more than an hour playing any popular game online. It’s also a little sad that the game still feels somewhat CoD-ified, with people sprinting full-pelt through levels while firing from the hip and jumping around corners, but – right now – they seems like a minority. There are also people who will take helicopters solely to parachute out of them so that they can snipe you from physically impossible locations, but… well, that’s Battlefield.
What else? Um, the embers floating through the breeze are the same colour as the orange markers that indicate spotted enemy targets, which is kind of annoying. And while Frostbite still lets you knock down walls (as I remembered in the most unfortunate way when trying to flee from a tank), the stuff added with the terribly-named Levolution – like the skyscraper collapse, for instance – seems rather limited to just those specified points, which makes every other building around seem weirdly impenetrable by contrast. I realise that having the entire map be destructible is going a bit far, but it does break any real sense of immersion when some things are fully destructible and other things are mysteriously impervious to cannon fire. Speaking of things falling over: the game crashes every couple of maps, but hey, beta.
Still, I’m mostly enjoying myself, and – from my experience, at least – the PC version seems pretty solidly built. There are even plenty of visual options, including an FOV slider. (I was going to complain about the FOV before I realised I’m now so used to games not having an FOV slider that I hadn’t bothered to check. It turned out there was one. I am Stupid.)
I haven’t tried Battlefield 4 at its best, though. Thanks to the squad system, Battlefield is usually at its finest when you’re playing with four or five friends, and you can all bundle into a squad, respawn on each other, and properly support each other. The fact that I’m enjoying myself without the assistance of people I know bodes pretty well.
Post-writing update: Okay, so the rest of the preview was written before now and the article is due to go live pretty shortly, but… I just played a round with Commander Mode on, and I thought you’d like to hear about it.
Right now, it looks like Commander Mode is available in the beta, but seemingly only to DICE employees. Or seemingly only on certain servers. I’m not sure which. Our Commander claimed the former, but if who knows; maybe he was lying.
I can’t go into too much detail on what the Commander can do as I (obviously) haven’t had a chance to play around with it myself, but it felt like it added a little bit of depth to the battle. Somehow, I wound up as leader of a full squad of five men, so I guess I was the link between my pack of grunts and the Big Boss ordering us around. And order us around he did.
Periodically, I’d get an alert that Commander Ordersyouabout wanted me to go and attack or defend a certain objective, or he’d mark a troublesome tank as a High Value Target or somesuch. At this point I’d normally use my own orders to tell my squad to go and defend point E or whatever. They would then ignore me, because they were much more interested in fighting it out on top of the enemy-controlled skyscraper and dying repeatedly, but occasionally one of them would respawn on me and assist me in following orders, so that was nice.
Other than giving us orders that we would then largely ignore, he seemed to have the ability to send in UAVs to scan for enemy vehicles or infantry, or drop off vehicles and supplies. Regardless of how few people were actually following orders (and I honestly don’t know if those orders were given to my squad, or to all players on the server) there was something genuinely nice about, say, marking a helicopter moving in towards point D, and knowing that someone was actually paying attention to it. There was also a bit of a warm glowy feeling in being ordered to attack point D, and then – when the adjacent point E unexpectedly came under attack, and orders came in to defend it – being immediately diverted back there. And actually being able to go back there, and defend it, and make a difference to someone who’s watching over everything.
Then the entire server crashed, judging by the fact that the server browser listed it as having 0/64 players when I next looked.
Commander obviously seems like it’ll have the most impact in battles when people are willing to follow orders. He seems to be part mastermind and part support player – he can’t intervene directly, but he’s got a much better overview of what’s going on than those of you on the ground, and he can give you assistance when you require it. I can’t really compare it to Battlefield 2‘s Commander yet, but having a Commander floating around like a demanding ghost is definitely more enjoyable than not having one at all.