Battlefield 1 Open Beta Weekend Impressions

Battlefield 1EA continued the their pre-release shooter content with an Open Beta for October’s Battlefield 1, starting this past weekend and going through this Thursday. I put in a good chunk over the weekend, both solo queue and with a buddy and thought I’d put down a couple things. It’s a beta and there are certainly a couple little quirks about it – mainly in regards to loading post-match screens and loading into games – but there’s more good than bad here.

To me, the most important thing that this beta had to do was do what the Titanfall 2 Tech Demo didn’t – feel like a logical progression in the franchise. Where Titanfall 2 felt like it was lacking in that identity, Battlefield 1 very much feels like a Battlefield game. If you’re coming into this game from a more arena-style FPS standing, you will struggle a bit with the learning curve. This isn’t a fast paced game – the sheer scale of the maps prevents that from happening. Games take a good chunk of time, and it’s entirely possible to play entire games without seeing huge portions of the map. Weapons may kill quickly – the time to kill is certainly faster than some shooters, but you do have a little downtime before a respawn. If, on the other hand, you’re a Battlefield series vet, you’ll feel right at home – especially if you’ve played the early games in the series. I said after E3 that this one evoked the same feeling that Battlefield 1942, the first game in the franchise, did for me. Now that I’ve had a little time to play the game I think that comparison still stands. It feels like a natural progression for the series – the same parts of the original game that made it so much different from the rest of the FPS scene still are there, while the advances in the genre over the last 13 years that DICE has picked up feel at home in the game.

What is less important about this beta to me are the nitty gritty details about things like the weapons or gadgets and vehicles. Sure, it helps a little to know about how the rifles behave with bullet drop and damage-per-shot; and it certainly is important to know how to counter the vehicles whether you’re in one or on foot. But ultimately, those are the things that matter more in the final release. For now, I was much more interested in finding a couple weapons/classes that I liked playing and just getting in as many games as possible. I would say that my biggest issue with the minor details like that has been that spotting enemies feels a lot more hit-and-miss than previous games. As a mediocre sniper, I really take advantage of spotting enemies for my teammates to finish off, and even when I use the spotting scope in this one, sometimes they don’t get marked – and if they do, they don’t stay marked for long. Maybe it’s just a quirk of the beta, but compared with Hardline and Battlefield 4 – the two most recent entries in the series – it hasn’t felt nearly as consistent. Where I think Battlefield always shines is the atmosphere it creates. There aren’t many shooters that actually feel like a huge battle – Titanfall did to an extent, and Halo can with big teams – but Battlefield has always felt just like its title says. And because a huge part of that atmosphere is due to the scale and scope of the matches, this is one game where I really think you need at least a friend or two to play with. Playing solo the other night was not fun – my spots were going unfinished, even in a squad, and it felt hard to get into a rhythm. Playing with my buddy from college though was the total opposite – we were consistently finishing off each others targets, holding down Conquest points (frequently just us two together) and routinely placing in the top quarter/third of the leaderboard. Running two snipers and communicating made holding down the B Flag not only possible as a duo, but just a ton of fun. You have a pretty surprising view of a lot of the battle from B – you can easily see and snipe to A, C, and D flags as well as the intervening portions of the map, in particular the village. After a bunch of games on this one Sinai Desert map, I feel like holding B and C might be the key to a Conquest victory as they give you a really good amount of map access and overwatch. Good snipers – AKA not me – can easily post up near B and snipe all the way across to the rocks near F and G Flags. While they can’t hit the actual Conquest points, they can provide some cover from enemy snipers in those rocks – in fact, the only point that they can’t see at all from B is E Flag which in my experience so far has had the least combat, but the most vehicle combat.

Battlefield 1 is coming into a crazy packed launch season this fall with a lot of hype. EA has really been pushing it since its spring announcement, perhaps knowing that it’s going to really be competing with two Call of Duty games this year. Based off of essentially a week of play, I do think that there’s definitely something here. It’s reminding me a lot of the new DOOM game from earlier this year, which I just finished the other night. Both games are clear examples of taking what worked exceptionally well in their early entries and finding ways to work in modern touches. They’re great examples of progression within a franchise without abandoning the identity of the series, which is no easy feat. If the full game is as strong as EA keeps saying, Battlefield 1 could do very, very well this fall.

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E3 2016 – My Biggest Takeaways

E3 LogoE3 is always my favorite week in gaming – at least that doesn’t have a slew of new releases. It’s a full week where the industry can come together and show off just how big our industry has become. Excitement runs high, hyperbolic words flow freely, and trailers show us games in all different states of development. It’s not all sunshine and roses – I saw a couple really disturbing reports about sketchy and dangerous behavior at private events, which just highlights that even in an industry built around games, we have some darkness still to overcome. But overall, I think E3 is all about setting the tone for the coming year. A couple years back, it was a running joke that every game had a bow and arrow, but that’s not entirely off the mark – E3 is where we see the industry as a whole in one spot. It’s easier to spot trends that reach across platform and genre there.

Dishonored 2

If I had to pick one trend this year, I think it’s probably going to be beards. There were easily eight or so games that prominently featured a main character (player or not) sporting some notable facial hair. That might seem like a silly thing to point to, but I think it speaks to a deeper underlying theme. Traditionally in entertainment, we use facial hair (especially full beards) to denote wisdom, grit, determination, toughness and resolution. In gaming that can be seen translating to darker, more nuanced stories – even in games we might not expect it in. We saw the surprise return of Marcus Fenix with his gray bear in the Gears of War 4 footage – a wizened, older veteran imparting his knowledge to his son’s team. Kratos has a big beard in God of War 4 – notably bigger than any beard he had before – again, a father figure teaching his son; both games are set in dark, almost hopeless worlds. If all of this beard talk does end up pointing to darker stories, we’re going to need games like Trials of the Blood Dragon and even Mass Effect to balance it out. Gaming needs wackiness, it needs humor and love and actual human emotions to balance all of the typical conflict and angst we see. That’s what’s always drawn me to the BioWare games – yes, the worlds are embroiled in conflict – usually cataclysmic  – but the characters that live in those worlds have real emotions – there’s humor, there’s joy, there’s love. The same works for Bethesda’s RPGs – sure there are dragons all over Skyrim, but you can balance that out by getting married, hunting game or forging arms and armor.

The other big takeaway I had was that this fall all of a sudden got really crowded, but in a different way than usual. Generally speaking, the busiest release window is late October, early November. We’ll often see multiple games coming out on the same day. I’ve noticed more and more over the last couple years that developers have been spreading out the releases. This year, that’s absolutely the case – Rise of Iron for Destiny launches on September 20, Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2 are all in October, Call of Duty, and Dishonored 2 are still set for November – and that’s just off the top of my head/games that I am already planning on playing. I know there are more in there, across all three months. It’s happening more and more – every year I think, “Boy, this fall only has a couple heavy hitters, I can branch out a bit,” then E3 hits and it’s suddenly full of AAA titles. That’s not even talking at all about the new trend of a swath of games in the Spring either. Gaming has definitely evolved to a year-round, massive entertainment medium. It’s here to stay, and if it keeps evolving as it has technology-wise, there’s really no ceiling. It’s a lovely time to play.

E3 2016: EA and Bethesda Press Events

E3 LogoIt’s that time of the year again, E3 is upon us. Yesterday things got underway with two press events, one from EA in the afternoon and the other from Bethesda. This is always my favorite week of the year, there’s so much excitement and positive energy in gaming to talk about. And today, we’ll look at yesterday’s two pressers.

EA kicked the week off yesterday afternoon, and it was certainly an EA conference. The event itself was very stiff and felt really corporate, although I think the second site in London had a little better energy thanks to Peter Moore being on stage there. But I don’t really watch these events for the stage banter and presence – it’s always more about the games to me. EA was in a weird position to me this year – we already knew their big hitters going in, so it was more about if they had any surprises up their sleeves. Turns out, no not really. But they started with Titanfall 2, which looks to be a major step forward from the original. A true single player campaign that looks like it’s putting a lot of emphasis on the relationship between your character and your Titan. Some of the set pieces that they showed got me really excited to play – in particular the one where your Titan flings you across a massive gap into a wallrun. The multiplayer as well got its own trailer, showing off a bunch of new abilities for both pilots and Titans and it really made me want to get back into form. The original three Titans are being replaced with six new models, combining new and old abilities. It still looks like the scale the first game had is there, and the speed is still faster than most other shooters today. Really, really excited to play Titanfall 2 when it launches October 28, on XBox One, PS4 and PC.

As always, EA likes to show off their sports titles, especially FIFA. Last year’s show had Pele on stage, this year, they went a little quicker with the presentation. Madden NFL 17 was talked about briefly, with the bigger focus on the competitive scene. This year’s Madden NFL 16 finals will be shown on ESPN 2 of all places. They also showed plans to have multiple levels of competitive play online with Challenges, Premier matches and EA Majors. It’s a way for anyone to start getting into competitive gaming. Sticking with the EA Sports titles, they of course talked about FIFA 17. Along with a number of other EA titles, FIFA 17 is moving to the Frostbite engine, meaning it’s going to look better than ever. They’ve also put a new focus on telling a story with “The Journey” mode, telling your tale as you progress in the Premiere League. The other big focus – and part where they brought out the guest this year – was the addition of managers on the sidelines of the pitch.  In terms of actual gameplay changes though, expect better set pieces, better physical play, better off-ball AI and more ways to finish your shots on goal. It’s the usual EA Sports motto – keep refining the mechanics to make it the truest soccer game out there.

Stepping back in the show flow, one of the biggest games I was hoping to see more of was Mass Effect: Andromeda. So when the mentioned BioWare, I got excited. We still didn’t really see any gameplay, although we did learn a few new things. It’s going to be set outside of the Milky Way galaxy – that means totally new planets, species, technology, and perhaps most importantly, we are going to be the outsiders in the Andromeda galaxy. It’s going to use the Frostbite engine – no surprise there, it’s a massive upgrade in visuals from Mass Effect 3. Beyond that, we didn’t learn a ton – the footage showed an Alliance ship called the Tempest, which I think will end up being the new Normandy; and we know that the MAKO vehicle is returning, with the driving being worked on by Need for Speed developers. The new facial models look awesome, with a definite focus on emotion; I definitely want to see more, and we apparently will learn more this fall.

EA also showed their new EA Originals brand – it’s their take on indie development. Last year they showed off Unraveled. This year, it’s Fe. A game from a small team in Sweden, focused around exploring a young cub’s relationship with the forest it lives in. It has a real cool visual flair, using sounds and song to communicate with the other animals, and certainly seems to have a bit of an environmental message behind it. EA isn’t usually a publisher that I associate with strong indie development, but I was pretty happy with what I saw with Fe.

Battlefield 1

Of course, as soon as the mood was quieter, EA went loud, closing the show with Star Wars and Battlefield 1. Let’s start with Star Wars. EA said that there are seven developers working on different Star Wars games. We know that next year we’ll get a new Battlefront game, and from the video package, it looks like we might get some VR elements.The next year, Visceral will put out an action/adventure game. Beyond that, there’s a Respawn developed, 3rd person action game. The highlight here was a video package showing all of the work off, that really was a cool package. Of course, EA was always going to focus a lot on Battlefield 1. We got a new trailer, showing gameplay(?) that I still don’t quite believe is actual gameplay. II buy that it’s in-engine, but until I see clearly gameplay, I’m still a little skeptical it looks that good.That said, what they showed looked incredible – I couldn’t help but get lots of flashbacks to playing Battlefield 1942. I’ve thought that over the last few Battlefield games, the real visceral feel of the combat has been lost – that definitely looks like it’s back in this new game. I also really like the idea of the behemoths – huge vehicles that drive the combat. There are three that EA mentioned yesterday – the zeppelin, an armored train and a battleship, covering each of the areas of combat in a Battlefield game. With an open beta coming this summer, hopefully I’ll be able to get some hands on time in.

Quake Champions

A few hours later, Bethesda had their own show starting up. Last year, Bethesda kicked off the week, with a killer show – bit of a lofty expectation to set. I think though that they managed to nail it this year. From the opening game, I was hooked. That’s because the opening game was the return of Quake – and it’s exactly how Quake should be, a competitive arena FPS. Quake Champions looks like it could be the logical step from what DOOM was last month – taking the foundation of the old-school and finding ways to take modern aspects and put them in. In this case, it’s the idea of individual characters with abilities. I’m a little cautious about it, because Quake is such a near and dear to my heart kind of game, but I’m really happy to see it back.

Next up was another look at Elder Scrolls: Legends, the mobile game coming soon. I can’t help but describe it as Hearthstone, Elder Scrolls Edition. It’s the same basic idea – strategy and deck building, with a variety of modes to play through. That wasn’t the only Elder Scrolls news though – we got the confirmation of a Skyrim remaster coming this October which looks gorgeous and brings mods to console, and a couple new bits of info for Elder Scrolls Online, the big one being that they are going to put globalized level scaling in place soon. Essentially that means that as soon as you’ve finished the tutorial, you can go anywhere in the world and do anything – the game will scale and level based around you and your group.

The other big Bethesda RPG series – Fallout also got some attention. Fallout 4 had its next three DLC packs outlined – one next week based around contraptions for shelters, one in July that lets you build your own Vault and the final in August set in a theme park called Nuka World. It’s just more of the Commonwealth, which is never a bad thing. Fallout Shelter is also seeing a new update, as well as a PC launch.

Dishonored 2

Bethesda also has a couple other IPs to be excited about. They finally announced the return of Prey, a game that has been a bit of an open secret over the last few years. I played the first game way back in the day, and really just thought it was a run of the mill FPS – what I saw last night was totally different and looked incredible. It’s got a much darker tone, more grounded in realism and perhaps showing some of the dangers of scientific experimentation. I thought it was curious that, although it’s the second Prey game, it didn’t have any branding as a sequel. It’s from Arkane studios, and I am very much intrigued by what I saw. The other IP is one that I’ve been a fan of since day one – Dishonored. Much like Adam Sessler said last night, it was my favorite game of 2012, and ever since the sequel was announced last year, I have been waiting for more. Boy did we get it last night – a new trailer along with two samples of gameplay. The new setting Karnaka looks gorgeous and does have a different feel from Dunwall. The new visuals look incredible, and the new engine they built for lighting and particles make the world feel a lot more alive. The gameplay immediately made me think of the original, just with even more options – especially when you take into account the two different characters have different powers. I am very much excited for November 11 when it launches.

One last thing from the Bethesda show that I was super impressed with – Bethesda announced that they are working on VR games. In fact, they have two games set for the HTC Vive platform to come out next year – the new DOOM that came out last month, and the big one – Fallout 4. As VR becomes more and more a reality, and the platform gets better at not only accessibility but the visuals as well, games like Fallout are the kind that were built for VR. I might not have a Vive, or even next year when it comes out for the platform, but the potential moving forward is incredibly exciting. Imagine the next Elder Scrolls game, combined with VR and the newer, more powerful consoles that we’re seeing this week. It’s these kind of announcements that really get me pumped to play games.

Yesterday really set the tone – new games, returning favorites and those lovely surprises that we all talk about for weeks to come. E3 is always fun to watch, and even more fun to think about where we’re going.

Weekend Recap – Overwatch Beta, Battlefield 1, and Black Ops Black Market

Over this past weekend, we were graced with a good selection of gaming goodness to enjoy. I thought I’d talk a little bit about the two games with new polish that I played over the weekend along with my early thoughts on the Battlefield 1 announcement. We’re still a month out from E3, but we’re already getting some big bits of news.

Black Ops 3

Let’s start with the quick hitter – Black Ops III put out a hotfix going into the weekend that added in a new feature to the Black Market. Treyarch put out Contracts – eventually they’ll be daily and weekly features, but for now there’s just a featured Contract. Complete it – win 75 games – and you earn a weapon bribe for the Black Market along with 10 free rare supply drops. On top of that, Season Pass holders were gifted that same prize upon logging on this weekend. I was super lucky with my packages, netting the HG-40, Brass Knuckles and MVP baseball bat, but I know that there were lots of people who only got the one guaranteed weapon. What I really like with this new patch is it looks like Treyarch/Activision have heard the arguments from the broader community about supply drops. It’s early on with the new elements of the Black Market, but if this is a way for Treyarch to reward players with rare supply drops or even gear bribes for completing the Contracts it is bound to up the level of engagement with the Black Market. It’s a positive sign from a publisher that tends to not back down on secondary purchases like the CoD Points are. If it’s an early signal that Activision is going to be a little more flexible omoving forward, that is a great sign for their other big games – Destiny, Infinite Warfare and soon Overwatch. We just have to hope that it is the start of something.

The other quick thing I want to talk about is the Overwatch beta. I played a good handful of games with a few different heroes and I have to say, I think it’s a very fun game. It is drawing comparisons to Battleborn, mainly because they both are dropping close to each other and both are hero shooters; but I actually think the two games are really different. Battleborn is a lot closer to a MOBA, both in terms of game modes and the way the heroes have to level up each match. Overwatch is a lot closer to a game like Team Fortress. It’s an arena shooter, just each hero has their own powers and roles. Widowmaker is a lot of fun if you just want to focus on killing the enemy team, Bastion is basically a built in Play of the Game hero, Mei is awesome for crowd control and power plays and Zenyatta is a really great hybrid support hero. Overwatch wasn’t really on my radar aside from a couple stream clips I had seen going into the Beta, but coming out it’s a game I could definitely see picking up.

Finally, let’s talk about that Battlefield announcement. Not even a full week removed from the Call of Duty announcement, EA and DICE came out swinging and reignited the military FPS wars. Sort of. I’ve never seen the two franchises as direct competition – they appeal to two different markets. That said, I think there’s a lot to be excited about with Battlefield 1. This is the first time that a major Triple A shooter has gone back to the First World War. I’m really looking forward to the opportunities that the setting presents, especially in terms of set pieces in the campaign. The multiplayer side still has a couple questions that I think need answering – it’s going to have to be a slower pace across the board, and Battlefield  has always been relatively slow paced outside of time to kill. The games are long, and with technology that’s older than any game we’ve played yet, the weapons/vehicles are going to be a tricky thing to nail. I have three hang-ups going in though – two directly relate to the game, the third is more about the developers/fanbase. As sson as the Call of Duty trailer dropped, there were a number of DICE developers casting shade on the looks of the trailer, saying it looked like a ten-year old game. Firstly, saying that is utterly ridiculous – ten years ago we were playing Oblivion and the first Gears of War, which looked nowhere even close to that good. Secondly, at least from that trailer, we got wehat really looked like gameplay. The Battlefield 1 trailer was all pre-rendered footage. Just because it says “game-engine footage” doesn’t mean that it’s showing actual gameplay footage. DICE pulled the same thing with Battlefront – which definitely doesn’t look like that first trailer did in-game. So maybe cool the jets a little on that, especially when your trailer looks a lot less polished than the Infinite Warfare trailer. The other issues I have are more directly related to the game. Firstly, that name is dreadful. Battlefield 1 – but it’s actually the fifth main series game. I get that the “1” is in reference to the WW1 setting, but take a page out of your own playbook – call it “Battlefield 1918” or something along those lines. That not only draws the focus to the setting, but also acts as a throwback to the first Battlefield game. Secondly, DICE really hasn’t proved to me that they can do a campaign at the highest level consistently. Bad Company is usually put out there as the example of the franchise doing it well – but that was almost ten years ago! And it’s the only one – Hardline wasn’t terrible, but it sure wasn’t on the level of some of the other FPS campaigns. So the campaign is a question mark that I have, but one that I really hope DICE answers. I have a feeling E3 will be plenty exciting this year.