Battlefield 3 goes on sale in less than a month, and EA finally opened the beta yesterday for press and those who already pre-ordered. There's no doubting that BF3 is one of the most hotly-anticipated titles of 2011, especially if you're a PC gamer. Chances are you've seen all the trailers, TV spots and videos (this one is my favorite), and now you're looking for something a little more substantial...
I've logged about five hours in the beta so far, and if I was unemployed, that number would probably be 2-3 times that. Before going into any more detail, it's important to note that this is a beta, so some things are intentionally rough and incomplete.
Starting with Origin; the service is pretty intuitive, simple, and didn't make me pull my hair out and/or smash my keyboard against the wall. EA has made several attempts at digital downloads - outside of Steam - in the past (EA Download Manager, EA Link), and all of those services were downright awful. While making purchases on Steam was simple and effective, I would intentionally avoid EADM/Link and buy my EA games on Steam or at Best Buy (shudder). Thankfully, EA has pulled its head out of you-know-where, and the end result of that and putting together a solid dev and QA team is Origin.
I've had an Origin account for a while (thanks to Crysis 2 and my BF3 Alpha invite a few months back), so I already had the client installed when the beta started yesterday. Updating the client is a breeze, and no restart is required for such an event. I got an email from EA with my beta code, and I redeemed it like you would any other code on Origin. Less than 90 minutes later, and BF3 was ready to play...almost.
What immediately separates BF3 from its predecessors is Battlelog, a new browser-based service from EA that acts like the server browser you would normally find embedded in the game itself. Why did EA and DICE decide to separate this service out from the game itself? For starters, it makes updating the server browser and its various components much easier, since you don't have to release it in/with a patch for the rest of the game. Updates are done quickly and efficiently, too. Furthermore, Battlelog is more than just a server browser; it also acts as a chat client, stats board, forums, and clan page. Everything that the Battlefield community would do outside of the game has now been brought in-house...not to say that external stats pages and boards aren't necessary, but it's nice having a solid community portal baked into the BF experience by the company making the game.
There are some glitches, however, but hopefully these will be ironed out by the time the beta is complete. Your friends list in Origin is not seamlessly imported to your Battlelog friends list. The Party function, which allows you and your friends to all join a server at once, doesn't always work, either. Once everything is working as it should, the experience will be nearly as good as playing a game through Steam.
So what about the game? For now, the beta focuses on the same map and mode as the Alpha: Rush on Operation Metro. Plenty of tweaks have been made since the alpha. Blowing up M-COM stations is no longer possible, so it's classic "arm and defuse" for now. M-COM locations have also changed in some of the zones, but only by a few feet. Ultimately, if you've played Rush mode in Bad Company 2, you'll be right at home in in BF3. That said, this game mode tends to favor the team on defense; If you're attacking (trying to blow up the M-COM stations), you're in for a bit of a grind.
Gun control has seen a significant change, as the kick you experience when firing an M16A3 is enough to warrant some serious mouse-dragging when emptying a clip. Rockets have a different feel as well; When using an RPG or SMAW, you need to factor in for distance and gravity way more than in previous titles. Also, the TOW missiles aren't as responsive to movement as I'd like them to be, as there seems to be some significant lag between cursor movement and missile movement. As for weapon damage, there aren't any changes immediately discernible when compared to the Alpha. Compared to Bad Company 2, the food chain (Support machine guns > Assault/Medic assault rifles > Engineer rifles and SMGs) is the same, but Sniper/Recon weapons are very different. Gone are the days where one or two shots are a guaranteed kill. A headshot is necessary to put someone down that fast with the M14, and snipers will be working harder for their kills. All in all, the infantry combat feels more like Medal of Honor than it does Bad Company 2, which makes sense if you factor which engine is used in each game (plus, DICE did the MP work on MoH).
The class design in BF3 harkens back to the days of BF2, as it gives medpacks and defibrillators back to the Assault class, and the ammo packs to the MG-hauling Support. Engineer is the same as it was in Bad Company 2, although your weapon options are a bit beefier (M4, anyone?).
But what about vehicles?! Sadly, there are no vehicles on Operation Metro while playing Rush. The APC that was present in the Alpha is gone, so it's strictly an infantry war. There's supposedly a build of Caspian Border being played on several password-locked servers, complete with several kinds of vehicles. Unfortunately, that is not open to the public, or me, so there isn't much to write about on the front...yet. Based on previous Battlefield games, you can probably guess what vehicles are going to be included in BF3. My hope is that another map is added to the beta at some point in the near future, because I know players are clamoring for a Conquest map with vehicle play. Rush caters more to the Counter-Strike and Call of Duty crowd. Is that an important constituency to lock down? Absolutely, but EA and DICE risk alienating the hardcore Battlefield fanbase by not including a Conquest map.
Graphics: What can be said that hasn't been already? The game is gorgeous, thanks to the new Frostbite 2 engine. Like most betas, you're limited in what can be changed (like motion blur doesn't always turn off, and playing in a window is a bit buggy). My rig (Core i7-860, AMD Radeon 6970, 8 GB DDR3-1600, 300 GB VelociRaptor) handled the game while it was (supposedly) on Ultra settings...but since this is a beta, it's hard to tell when certain setting actually kick in and when they don't.
Thus far, Battlefield 3 has met all of my expectations: The weaponry is diverse and easy to control/manipulate, while the Rush game mode is the same as it is in Bad Company 2, take it or leave it. I've been a devout BF player for years, so I won't be satisfied until I get more time in on a Conquest map (or rather, time that I can actually talk about). Most of the glitches in the game, like the headaches that go with trying to switch squads, will (hopefully) be fixed in the coming weeks.
If I missed anything, or if you have any questions about BF3, leave 'em in the comments and I'll answer them in order. Also, I'll be talking about BF on Twitter, so feel free to hit me up there as well (@devinconnors).
If you're in the beta now, or starting tomorrow, look for me in the servers! (mcdoomington)