So last night after some wrestling with PunkBuster I finally got a few rounds of BF3 in, here are my first impressions and opinions on how the game will play out in the future.
BF3 is without a doubt the most anticipated release of the year at TG, BF2 and 2142 were the most popular titles here for a long time and with BF3 being the clear sequel it certainly has some pretty hefty shoes to fill. A large marketing campaign certainly helped to whet the appetite and prepare us for what is an undoubtedly huge release, the gaming world was hungry for more as fan-boys fanned and haters hated. Amid much speculation and a healthy does of trolling the BETA finally hit, throwing many a cat among the hordes of pigeons. We finally had our hands on what would presumably be a thoroughbred Battlefield game, a shining light in the swarms of botched console ports and CoD clones. Well not quite. Plagued with bugs, missing features and the tears of hardcore fans the beta opened the flood-gates to a tsunami of requests, flaming and rage. But would DICE listen? Would the thousands of threads on forums and twitter conversations manage to turn the game around into a game we will be playing long into the future? Well read on to see what I think and make your own decision!
Visuals / Audio:
This is pretty much self explanatory and should come as no surprise that this is both the best looking and sounding game I have ever played, bearing in mind I'm running the game at lowest of low settings on a pair of ipod headphones I dread to think of the amount of saliva and other bodily fluids that would appear on the keyboard if you happen to be running the game on high or ultra. Dice have once again pushed the envelope way past the mark with this title and shreds any claims that BF3 is merely a 'console port', PC is the lead platform and you wont be disappointed in this department. Vegetation is luscious and thick, locations brilliantly vibrant and explosions genuinely scary. All this helps to create one of the most immersive experiences currently available and it comes as no surprise that the gadget show used Battlefield 3 to create their 'Ultimate FPS Simulator.'
Bugs / Issues:
Its difficult for me to comment on this as I am running the game on a rig that is currently less than the minimum required specs, I have run into a few bugs but it is difficult to determine if these are local to my machine or more widespread. There are certainly technical issues in the game as it stands at this point, however DICE and EA don't exactly have a stellar reputation when it comes to release day and I am sure these server issues and punkbuster failings will be patched out in the coming weeks. CTD's are somewhat frequent and server crashes are common place, again I am confident these can be ironed out. Overall, with some patches the game will have a very polished feel to it, as you would expect from a AAA title. The interface is improved significantly from the BETA and many of the issues discovered have been resolved, the game 'feels' better than it did in the beta phase and issues experienced during last months test shouldn't put you off the game in my opinion.
Wall of text time. When speaking about how a game plays it is mainly subjective and a matter of opinion, it mainly depends on what you are expecting from the title. Let me make this clear, don't join a BF3 server expecting it to be a PR or Arma, you will only leave disappointed. This is by no stretch of the imagination a simulator, what it is tho is a very good teamwork oriented game. I see BF3 as a happy middle-ground between BC2 and BF2, the destruction and feel from BC2 and the maps, vehicles and team play from BF2. I'll break this section down somewhat as there is a lot to cover.
The game 'feels' much better than either BF2 or BC2, it has more weight to the movement and shooting than the previous titles, no more are you some sort of floating rice pudding (if you played BC2 you know what I mean ;)) The guns feel more lethal, I actually think the gun play is more akin to PR. When you squeeze the trigger you can almost feel the recoil, much better than the paintball feel to previous BF games in my opinion. The animation system keeps the gameplay fluid, especially vaulting over walls and such. I am definitely enjoying the technology they have taken from the EA sports games that blend animations together.
Vehicles are implemented much better into this game than in other BF's, you feel vulnerable in buggies as you race past enemy positions and you can feel the walls being crushed beneath your lumbering tank. They are much more balanced than in previous titles, I like the way that you can scare off jets and choppers using .50 calls and missiles but you still get a sense of satisfaction when you finally down one. A well balanced game feels like an intricate version of rock paper scissors and BF3 definitely has that feel about it. A good team can steam-roll an un-organised one and when you have two good teams playing each other as seen on the TG servers you find yourself adjusting your load-out to take on changing threats on the battlefield, swapping between stingers and at4's as engineer or taking a shotgun in close-combat. I personally find this very enjoyable, especially in a squad communicating with each other and basing their equipment of what others have taken to create the perfect squad for their situation.
The spawn mechanics have been mainly kept from BC2, it depends on the server settings and game-mode but in general you can spawn on each captured flag and each member of your squad. Although I believe squad leader only spawn is available as a server option. This has both pro's and con's but overall I think it is well done in BF3. When you clear a flag you need to make sure you clear the entire area as one stow away soldier can suddenly become a fully fledged angry squad hungry for revenge. Although at first you may think of this as annoying I actually think it adds another layer of tactical depth to the game, allowing for squad members to retreat to a safe distance to 're-spawn' his squad. One thing I should mention is that for a few moments after you spawn you cannot do anything and you do not have spawn armour. This balances the mechanic quite well as it means you cant spawn right in the thick of the battle as you will most likely insta-die, again this leads to tactical retreats and re-grouping squads.
The maps are big enough that you feel there is space to manoeuvre but small enough that you can run from flag to flag, on average I feel the maps are slightly bigger than BF2 but with more focused fighting over concentrated areas. So far I have yet to find a bottleneck scenario that were oh so common in BC2. It is almost as if you are engaging in multiple skirmishes throughout the course of a battle, moving from flag to flag and dealing with threats as and when they appear. I think that you get less of the overall feel of the battle but more tight-nit squad play in BF3 than in BF2.
Overall I think that the game-play in BF3 is far superior than that of BF2, it keeps the good parts of BF2 such as the encouragement for teamwork but removes the spam and horrifically overpowered vehicles. Like I said, I think its somewhat of a middle ground between BF2 and BC2, although I think it leans more on the BF2 side of things from a squad play and battle point of view and BC2 from the feel of the combat.
Again, somewhat difficult to gauge at this early stage of the game. My limited exposure to the game hasn't lead me to believe there are any glaring balance issues. All the weapons seem fairly symmetrical and none are immediately 'overpowered'. The maps seem reasonable to me, some of them will most likely be phased out at TG due to their claustrophobic feel, similar to skirmish maps in PR. The unlock system is quite good, definitely better than in BC2. You unlock the weapons fairly quickly and it is the attachments that take the time to unlock. This works two fold as you don't have the situation where a player that has played more hours than you is automatically better due to his equipment but on the other hand you keep unlocking stuff way into the high levels. I like the system so far and although unlocking guns gives you more variety I don't feel as if they are outright better. I don't foresee a race to the L85, a la BF2.
Squad-play / Battlelog
The squad system as it stands right now is probably one of my biggest dislikes of BF3, it is improved upon from BC2 but is certainly not on par with BF2. As of now you are assigned a squad by the server, and although you an change squad the mechanic is quite clunky and doesn't work as well as BF2, which is a shame. Although there are squad-leaders they don't have any extra features other than a comm-rose of basic commands such as attack and such, as far as I can see you can't set markers on the map and it basically amounts to a 'go here, kill this' command style. Not great, although with TG's main focus on voice communication I haven't found this to be a hindering factor in teamwork. The voip situation is pretty abysmal, which is why TG has created its own solution which does work very well. From a vanilla point of view you have to create voice channels in battle log which is the website based main menu from where you launch the game, you have to drag friends into the channel and all in all is a massive faff and very much pointless, Teamspeak is far superior. For those of you that are not familiar with KnyghtMare's Teamsync plug in for Teamspeak (all server side, no set up required), basically it automatically moves you to a squad channel with your squad mates. If you change squad, you will auto-magically change channel, also if you are a squad leader it will automatically add you to a squad leader net. All in all it actually creates a better voip situation than BF2 had, although a shame we had to make it ourselves rather than the multi-million dollar development company the outcome is there so whatever. :)
As you would expect TG has taken to BF3 like a duck to water, any worries about a lack of teamwork or similar should not be a concern. We are running a TeamSpeak script that essentially adds squad VOIP to the game, although not perfect by any means it is an admiral place holder that I feel is implemented well. Simply the amount of TG'ers currently playing the game means that you are almost guaranteed to be in a good squad when you join the server, the community has blended well together and I look forward to making new friends that originate from other sectors of the community. In the end, I think it will be the community that will make this game great and I have no doubt that we will.
From what I have experienced so far, BF3 is a solid team based first person shooter which carries the Battlefield series on fairly well. Although its not the all singing, all dancing, second coming of Christ that it was first hyped up to be, it is definitely fun, definitely team focused and certainly worth considering for your next purchase.
What I would recommend is looking back to BF2 vanilla, not PR. Lets face it PR is basically a new game on the BF engine rather than a mod. BF3 is without question an improvement over BF2 multi-player in more ways than it is not. If you think you would still enjoy BF2 multi-player now then you will love BF3. If you couldn't stand going back to BF2 and would prefer to stick with PR and Arma then I would definitely caution purchasing BF3.
All in all, I think the main theme of BF3 is actually quite analogous to the game itself. Its new, its shiny, its full of bass but at the end of the day it still has a strong undertone of Battlefield.
Any questions post them here or catch me in TS, I'll be happy to explain my experiences in more detail. I find the game very fun to the point where it is making me upgrade my PC just for this title!