Battlefield 3 beta impressions - Some flaws, but lots of fun

I’ve put about ten hours into the Battlefield 3 beta now, after getting in once it went public, and my general feeling about the game has changed from eager anticipation to mild disappointment and frustration upon release to now feeling pretty confident about the game. It definitely has some flaws but it’s captured the excitement and fun of the previous games well.

Outdoors: Very pretty

Origin and Battlelog

At best, the multiple interfaces required just to launch BF3 are an annoyance, and at worst are needlessly complicated. Origin is responsible for launching Battlelog, which is kind of a web based Steam Overlay that provides server browsing, a friends list, and VOIP, except when you’re in game you actually get an overlay which is provided by Origin. The worst of this odd integration (or lack of) is that Origin and Battlelog have two separate friends lists. You can import friends from one to the other, but I have to wonder why this is necessary at all. If EA wants to compete with Steam by offering their own complete vertical integration, they’re confusing me here.

On the other hand, I don’t actually mind browsing servers via a website, it turns out. It’s far more responsive than any other Battlefield game’s server browser, and it does its job well. The stat tracking has been present in previous titles to some extent, and it’s all nicely visible here too, showing exactly what upgrades and awards you have and what is next.

Room for improvement

It’s tough to tell what is part of beta and what is not. Some of the minor issues, like falling through the world at times or odd flashing on the screen, I hope to have resolved. But others I doubt we’ll see fixed, at least until a few patches down the line. (It’s worth remembering that my memories of BF2 or BF:BC2 are largely after a few patches…)

  • VOIP: the only voice support the game currently has is to other people in your Battlelog party. These people may not be in your squad, or your team, or even your game, so it’s not too useful in game unless you have a lot of friends. I’m going to assume that for some odd reason team (or squad) VOIP support was left out of the beta, because it would be foolish to launch a team based shooter like this without voice communication.
  • Squad management: There’s no way to choose which squad you’re in. You literally have one option: Leave squad. And then, if you’re in no squad, you have an option for Join squad, except it just puts you in any random squad, it seems. It’s near impossible to get into a squad with a friend, which I thought Battlelog was supposed to handle, but apparently not.
  • Map: Other people have mentioned this before, but the map is pretty ridiculous. You have a thumbnail of the map in the corner, and if you press M, the thumbnail gets larger, but you don’t see any additional map - just a larger version of the thumbnail. Maybe useful for console players with low-def TVs, but it seems like a foolish decision.
  • Spawning: This is a minor balance issue, but to boost the usefulness of mobile spawn points I don’t think every spawn member needs to be able to spawn on every other squad member. Optimally, the squad leader could spawn on any member, and any member could spawn on the leader - plus any mobile spawn points planted by Recon classes.

Indoors everything has a cold hue and sounds echo

The good is great

Still, despite my annoyances above plus the odd crash, I’m playing the game a ton and having a lot of fun. The game (especially the indoor sections) does a great job of funneling people into choke points, giving a great sense of intense combat, while still allowing paths around so you can surprise unsuspecting squads as they cover a hallway. I’m not a huge fan of the first stage of Operation Métro, but I love the middle two, when the open sniper-friendly areas give way to up-close-and-personal combat.

There’s a few nice changes for the series as well. Reviving is harder than BF:BC2 (you can no longer revive through walls it seems), and once revived you’re still on the ground with your pistol out, until you stand up (‘accepting’ the revive) where you can use your primary weapon and other abilities. You can use one button to knife or throw grenades, but you can also swap to those weapons like the old days. Knifing from behind is a one-hit-kill (with an initially impressive but eventually annoying animation), but from the front it seems to take a few swipes.

Mainly, the game feels like a Battlefield game. At least, Battlefield’s infantry combat. At this point I’m pretty excited for the final release, and expect to get quite a bit of play out of the game. Until then, here’s a few tips:

  • The revive paddles can be tricky to use, but if you’re lying prone you can revive a lot easier and actually with about a 2m range.
  • Mobile spawn points don’t disappear when you change class! At the start of a map, consider playing recon, planting a mobile spawn at a reasonable location, and then changing to your other class of choice.
  • Nobody expects the engineer robot!