Battlefield 4 Beta Impressions

16 10 2013

Battlefield 4 is set to go live by the end of October but the beta has been running for about 2 weeks now, having just concluded last night. I got some extensive playtime in and have a few observations, comparisons, and comments on the new entry into the Battlefield series.

Overall match pacing and flow

Although they only were featuring the Shanghai map for the limited Beta, it was a very strong showing for the dynamics of map control and large scale battles to look forward to in BF4. The map seems to have been sized just right; big enough that there was a feel of scale and grandeur and multiple avenues of approach to every objective of the map but also small enough that players can relocate and engage even as infantry on foot. A major change is the increased emphasis on the vertical space on the map, namely high-rises and skyscrapers that provide excellent vision and movement advantages when controlled by a coordinated squad. A new game mode “Obliteration” was introduced which is very similar to one-flag-CTF, where there is a neutral bomb and multiple bomb sites on each team’s “side” of the map. The layout and design was such that players were always in on the action, but also had many different angles of attack to exploit.

The destructible environment was not as extensively integrated as I had expected; it is more or less on par with that of BF3 in that there are certain environmental objects that can be destroyed, and structures can collapse but they are treated as events that occur rather than emergent/procedural breakdown due to structural damage. The massive skyscraper crashing down into the middle of the level is an impressive spectacle, but it collapses in the same canned way every single time.

If there is one complaint that I have it is to the changes in the melee knife system: a single hit will still kill an opponent approached from behind with a satisfying grab-n-stab animation, but if you attempt to use this from an opponents front, they have an opportunity to perform a reversal which will kill you instantly instead. This reversal consists of a one-key prompt and seems exceedingly easy to do; not a single time that I tried to initiate a knife move to an opponent’s front resulted in me killing them, the tables were turned 100 percent of the time. This feature needs to be reconsidered and polished.

Class changes, rebalancing and unlock progression

The same 4 core classes that were in BF3 make their return in BF4, but with a few notable differences that change the dynamic of play. The assault class’s defibrillator has been toned down; it now has a finite amount of uses per spawn and it is an unlock, albeit an early unlock. The assault class’s weaponry seems to have been improved as a tradeoff with some of the best firepower available, especially the SCAR-H assault rifle. The engineer class remains highly useful and effective, featuring an improvement to the basic RPG that allows it to lock on and home on enemy vehicles when it is laser designated by another device. The support class had perhaps one of the most substantial improvements of all in the form of a new default gadget the XM25 Airburst-grenade launcher. This clip-fed semi-automatic launcher can set a distance to explode via its scope mechanism that lets the airbursts damage targets behind cover or out of sight behind ledges, and is a very effective tool for flushing opponents out of cover. Additionally, the XM25 can deal moderate damage to vehicles if an entire clip is expended to hit the vehicle with direct shots. The recon class had a few substantial changes, namely that they are now able to carry C4 as a gadget as in BF2, making them once again able to deal with vehicles effectively, and also featuring variable-zoom scopes as early unlocks on their sniper rifles. Additionally, sniper rifle scopes can now be “zeroed” to compensate for the dropoff when shooting across extreme distances.

Given that all classes now have an effective method to combat vehicles, infantry is much more relevant during BF4 matches which is a refreshing adjustment. There is no longer a feeling of complete helplessness when an enemy tank smashes through a nearby wall raining machine gun fire. This is not to say that vehicles are less effective or valuable, but simply that they must be used more carefully and rely on infantry support as well.

Each class also has a weapon category unlock which enables all other classes to use that class of weapons once it is obtained. For example, the engineer class unlocks carbines which can then be used with any class thereafter, opening up the interesting tactical possibilities in loadouts. A support class with a DMR? An assault class with a semi-auto shotgun? There will undoubtedly be many interesting combinations to explore when the full game launches.

Matchmaking system

One small but immensely helpful inclusion is a feature that automatically tries to put you together in a squad with your friend when it detects that you have joined a server with a registered Battlelog friend. In the past it was a huge headache to even attempt to get on the same team as another friend in the same server due to arbitrary autobalancing, but in the BF4 Beta there was not a single match where I was forced to wait to join into my friend’s squad; rather every single time we played the game automatically saw to it that we would be placed in the same squad upon connecting to the match! While this may give rise to the occasional team imbalance, it is an incredible convenience and a huge boost to the experience of the game considering that BF has always been best when playing with your friends in a squad.

Battlefield 4 is looking to be a real winner when it comes out in late October. I am very intrigued to see the variety of maps and weaponry that will be included in the full game and look forward to being able to connect, play, and dominate alongside my squadmates more easily than ever before.