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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Battlefield 4 Community Test Environment – Xbox One Thoughts

Battlefield 4I talked yesterday about my time with the Call of Duty: Black Ops III Xbox One beta. Today we’ll look at another pre-release offering, the Community Test Environment for Battlefield 4. It’s been available on the PC for a while now, but just recently was opened up to members of the Xbox One Preview Program. I got my invite and set up the game last week and played a few games on the test map available, Zavod: Graveyard Shift. The Nighttime map is part of a new nighttime expansion for Battlefield 4.

After installing the CTE, which runs completely separate from BF4, I loaded it up and re-familiarized myself the mechanics of BF4 versus Battlefield: Hardline. After remembering a few of the more popular and powerful weapons, I headed out to Zavod. I always wondered why there weren’t more night time maps in the modern Battlefield series. Assuming that Zavod is indicative of the whole nighttime set in BF4, I have an idea as to why. I like the nighttime idea – it adds a degree of stealth and tactics back into the military setting; and makes certain sights much more useful (IR in particular). Unfortunately, in my experience playing last week, I found that night was just too nighty. Even with my brightness cranked way up to the max, I found myself struggling to see anything beyond about 20 feet at Zavod. Even when I was using the IR sights, it was a lot more difficult to see the enemies than I would have expected. Maybe it’s because the builds in the CTE are still technically alpha builds, but I would hope in the actual Night Operations expansion that there is a little more light out there.

I ran into one other issue while I was playing around. I played a few games where the entire ground didn’t load in. There was still a floor that I could stand on, but all that really amounted to was my head popping up above the ground level. The actual land geometry loaded in fine, which let me have some way to stand above ground level – and the buildings worked too. But it really did make playing the game that much more frustrating. That’s where I think the CTE stands apart from most betas that make their way onto consoles. Generally speaking the betas we play are pretty close to final builds, if not final builds just before launch. This was very clearly a pretty early build – and as such, there were noticeable issues with the actual gameplay. Go in to the CTE with that in mind, and I think you will actually have a good time – it is a pretty cool way to mix up the Battlefield flow.

Xbox’s Ultimate Game Sale Has Killer Deals

Sunset Overdrive Xbox Bundle

Starting this past Tuesday, Microsoft started their annual Summer Ultimate Game Sale on the Marketplace. It’s become a bit of a summer tradition for the Marketplace, especially since the Summer of Arcade has more or less been phased out. And just like that event, the Ultimate Game Sale is a fantastic part of the gaming year.

It’s no secret that the summer months are the slowest period in gaming. There tend to be far less major releases, instead supplanted by the major conventions all around. The Summer of Arcade used to highlight new smaller games during that slow period, making sure we had great games in our hands all year round. The Ultimate Game Sale does that same thing, just with a larger variety of games. And this year the selection is pretty damn awesome. There are plenty of awesome games that are marked way down – including some of the Deluxe editions of those games. Highlights include Dragon Age: Inquisition, Battlefield: Hardline, Mortal Kombat X, Borderlands The Handsome Collection and Diablo III. Add in this week’s Deals with Gold, which focus primarily on Destiny and its expansions and that’s a pretty hefty amount of triple A titles at really affordable prices. If you’ve been waiting to look at some of these games, this week is probably the best time so far to look into them.

Battlefield Hardline: Criminal Activity Thoughts

Battlefield HardlineI recently went ahead and grabbed the Premium upgrade for Battlefield: Hardline – after returning to the game from a break. The main factor to pick up the upgrade was that Criminal Activity – the first DLC for the game – is live now for Premium members. The new pack includes a few new guns, a couple new weapon accessories and four new maps. The new guns are all for the Enforcer class, with the exception of the M1A1 Thompson Sub Machine Gun, which can be used on every class. So I thought it would be cool to take a look at the new maps and game mode quick as well as touch on the new guns and equipment.

Firstly, the four new maps all fit within a theme of small scale criminal capers. They tie in pretty closely to the single player – Black Friday takes place in the same mall as one of the missions. They do tend to play a little more on the small side – Enforcers, Professionals and Operators do really well in any mode on the new maps. But the new maps all are really quite strong. Black Friday plays super fun – the middle food court area is where the crazy action happens, and that’s perfectly fine. In Battlefield the middle really should be where the action should be. Backwoods is a lot less centralized, but has some crazy sightlines that good snipers can dominate with. The conquest points are spread around well enough where maintaining control all of them is kinda difficult. Code Blue is the opposite – close quarters combat dominates it, and on Conquest vehicles can make a pretty big swing. Holding the nightclub is super important, since it’s the middle point of the map. The Beat is similar to Code Blue – lots of tight quarters, corners to watch out for, but with a few sections that play longer range. It’s a great mix of maps honestly, that does a good job of mixing up the action. A lot of Battlefield maps in general tend to skew on the larger side of things. It fits with the way the gunplay works, along with the vehicle combat.

Battlefield Hardline Hotwire

Which brings me to my biggest issue with Criminal Activity. It’s not the maps, nor is it the new Enforcer weapons. It’s a very specific combination of the new Bounty Hunter game mode, along with the new maps. That’s currently the only way to play Bounty Hunter, and that’s where the issue arises. Bounty Hunter is Battlefield’s take on Kill Confirmed from Call of Duty. It really is pretty much exactly the same – it’s Team Deathmatch, with a pickup that needs to be grabbed for the point. The problem is that Team Deathmatch has always been a real mixed bag in Battlefield. EA and DICE have done a pretty good job being in front of Team Deathmatch issues, almost exclusively with spawning in the base game. Those maps have all had three months of fine-tuning. These new maps don’t have that luxury. Which means spawn issues galore – I had a pretty good number of times where I spawned last night literally three feet in front of an enemy. Bounty Hunter is a pretty cool mode – I’ve always thought it’s a better way to play Team Deathmatch. It helps dissuade camping, which is what you need to do. Give DICE and EA a few more weeks and I think they’ll address the spawn issues that need it.

In general Criminal Activity has re-energized my view on Battlefield: Hardline. The game is still a ton of fun to play, and the new maps and weapons fit really well. Premium is definitely worth it – getting all the DLC a few weeks early is great, plus add in a few Gold Battlepacks sweetens the deal.

Battlefield: Hardline Launch Wrap Up – Multiplayer

Battlefield HardlineRounding out my coverage of the launch period for Battlefield: Hardline, today I’ll look at the multiplayer side of things on a whole. Yesterday I offered up my thoughts on the campaign, last week I went over each of the four playable classes, and before that we talked about Heist, Hotwire and Blood Money. Today I’m taking a bit more holistic look at that side of things.

COPS AND ROBBERS – DIGITAL STYLE
The biggest question to me going in was just how much Hardline could differentiate itself from the previous games in the series with the setting change. There was absolutely the possibility that it would still feel like we were in the military, just in smaller cityscapes. In the end, I think DICE and Visceral did a pretty good job of getting the setting straight. There’s still a bit of that vibe in there, but reinforcing the cops and crooks at every chance helps fight it. That extends to the vehicles choices – cop cars with blaring sirens, or appropriated cars for the crooks; some of the weapons come straight out of pop culture for this kind of world – the Menz in the Hood achievement really sells that; but the best is through the player dialogue – every tag comes with some kind of comment, each side has comments that fit with their role.

Setting aside, the gameplay had to be as good as Battlefield 4‘s was at the end of its lifespan. I’ve always thought that the Battlefield formula made for the strongest online play – Battlefield 4 just had the troubled launch that hurt it. Fortunately, as of this point, Hardline has only had one hiccup – the DDoS during the launch – which helps keep the player base invested. The other really great thing going for Hardline is that there really isn’t another fresh FPS that’s drawing players away – Destiny and Call of Duty both already have established player bases; and Evolve really isn’t in the same boat. Finally, the fact that the game is actually a lot of fun thanks to the new game modes makes it all worthwhile. It’s pretty uncommon to have a game finish without one or two moments that make you go “Damn, that was cool.”

I went over three of the new gamemodes – Heist, Hotwire, and Blood Money – the three modes that I’ve been playing pretty exclusively. Each offer up just enough of a twist on the Battlefield formula to make it feel fresh, and each mode comes with a different set of ways to play within a team. Hotwire is a great way to get a high score, Blood Money and Heist both are good for frantic action. The four classes all feel distinct enough to make it easy to fill a role, and are all useful in just about any game mode. There really isn’t one weapon that feels truly overpowered – each class has plenty of options that all work.

Battlefield Hardline Bank Job

It’s not a perfect game, but that’s because no such thing exists. It’s really a super fun game to play – the campaign is alright enough, but the meat of the game is the multiplayer, which is pretty deep. The progression keeps you invested thanks to the money mechanic. The Premium subscription is a little expensive, but if it’s on the same level as Battlefield 4‘s it will be worth it in the long run. Special events, Gold Battlepacks, and early access to the DLC is always a nice thing. All things considered, Battlefield: Hardline is a fantastic entry into the series. It’s got a surprisingly engaging campaign, really deep multiplayer and a pretty solid looking future. It’s definitely worth looking into – I fully recommend it.

Battlefield: Hardline Final Campaign Impressions

Battlefield HardlineBefore I start diving into Borderlands: The Handsome Collection posts, I want to wrap up my thoughts on Battlefield: Hardline. Today I’ll look at the single player campaign, and tomorrow I’ll wrap up my thoughts on the multiplayer.

COPS AND CROOKS AND CROOKED COPS
I’ll admit that I had somewhat lower expectations going into the story than I might normally for shooters. I was really unimpressed with the campaign in Battlefield 4, and I wasn’t sure just how much of an impact just adding in Visceral would make. I am happy to say that it’s definitely better than I thought going in. It’s not a masterpiece of storytelling or anything that grandiose; but as far as modern shooters, especially military ones, it’s clearly above average.

The actual story is pretty standard fare – player cop doesn’t like crooked cops, gets framed as one by crooked cops, gets broken out of custody and gets revenge – complete with an ambiguous ending as to his intentions. But it’s how it’s told that makes the story actually engaging. Breaking the game into Episodes – complete with narration every time you leave or come back to playing – gives it a kind of unique feel in the current mix. Having the first half of the game be a flashback, while certainly not a new convention, also helps give the characters at least some depth. Sure, some of the pathos is forced, but there’s at least some humanity in the characters. The actors behind the main characters all do a pretty solid job with their voice work – with a few cheesy bits here and there.

What surprised me the most as I played through the game was that it’s not actually an action/shooter – the game tries its damnedest to be a stealth game. You’re rewarded for not being seen, and taking down enemies non-lethally. I played on Veteran – cause I’m no chump – and it wasn’t particularly difficult. At least it isn’t if you play by the rules – tagging enemies and being stealthy makes it a joke – trying to guns blazing is a great way to fail immediately. It’s especially apparent in the few places where the game forces you into combat – there are a couple sections late in the game where you’re tasked with defending a room against a couple waves of enemies; which is the opposite of how the game wants you to play. It’s noticeably jarring – not a deal breaker, but something to keep in mind. The problem is that once you’ve maxed out your Expert Score, you have no incentive to play non-lethal. When I was cleaning up achievements, for speed’s sake I used silenced weapons to just pick off enemies – even on Veteran they were hilariously unaware of what was happening.

Battlefield Hardline Hotwire

Really though the biggest point that kept taking me out of the moment was, unfortunately, an incredibly common one. In the second half of the game, after you’ve been freed from prison, you still have to option to freeze enemies and arrest them – the non-lethal takedowns I mentioned above. The problem I have here is that you’re clearly not a cop anymore – and yet one of the stock voice clips for your target is to ask “Are you even a Cop?” But you still slap on a pair of handcuffs like it’s perfectly normal. Again, not a deal breaker, but every time that audio clip played, I picked up on it.

The game isn’t a super long campaign – ten episodes, of varying length, which should probably take you about 12-15 hours at most to clear thoroughly. All that I have left to do is beat the game again on the extra hard Hardline mode you unlock for finishing the game on Veteran. Each of the episode specific achievements are relatively simple – the toughest are probably completing Episode 5 without being spotted, and killing an enemy while escaping in Episode 9. It’s a fun little diversion from the multiplayer – I do recommend playing it, if for no reason other than it’s easy achievements.

Battlefield: Hardline Tips and Tricks – Professional

Battlefield HardlineRounding out the four playable classes in Battlefield: Hardline, today we’ll tackle the Professional. The Professional is Hardline’s sniper class – long range rifles and spotting are the name of the game. There’s always the risk in any online shooter to look down on sniper classes as “tryhards” or campers – but played properly, the Professional is a potential team all star.

Weaponry-wise, you’re looking at sniper rifles exclusively. You have a pick between bolt action rifles, or semi-auto rifles. The differences boil down to the obvious rate of fire, but also range and control. The semi-auto rifles have a bit less range, and potential control loss, but have a much higher rate of fire – they’re really built for closer to mid range sniping, like on some of the smaller maps. The bolt action rifles are all about long range power – powerful scopes, super accurate, with small clips. Pick your shots – or have an Enforcer give you ammo. Sniping in Battlefield always takes a little getting used to – unlike other games, like Call of Duty, there’s bullet drop and bullet speed to factor in. You need to lead your shots on moving targets, and also account for bullet drop. Now, the maps aren’t quite large enough to worry about a ton of drop – like in Battlefield 4 – but it’s definitely still present. You have plenty of rifles to look at too – there’s only one cross-team rifle aside from the Syndicate reward. So if you aren’t a fan of the Scout Elite (the default rifle) you’ve got a good amount of options. I personally like the R700 bolt action for the police – it’s a bit stronger per shot than the Scout Elite, but you do have to unlock all the attachments. In general, I have on Professional loadout with a bolt action rifle for longer range sniping, and a semi-auto for more mid range combat on maps like Bank Job.

In terms of gadgets, you’ve got a couple different nice options. You start off with the laser tripmine – a good way to defend your back while your focused on sniping. You’ve also got the placeable camera – which marks enemies that walk into it’s line of sight, a good team option. Beyond those two, you’ve also got the decoy gadget, which makes gunfire sounds, and creates false enemy icons on the other team’s minimap. The final choice is to take stealth training – which reduces your footstep noise, and also reduces the noises that actions make. Now the class assignment does require you to use the laser tripmines for the first one, and camera coins for the second; so you’ll probably want to get used to using them early. But beyond that, I think your gadget picks really depend on your playstyle – if you tend to hang back more, tripmines and decoys are probably a good pick. If you’re more of a close action sniper, the camera is really nice. Regardless, your most important role is to play as a spotter – you should, in theory, have a great view on lots of the battlefield. So make sure you spot any target you see – regardless of whether or not you get the kill. You’re probably not going to see a huge score if you focus solely on kills – you need to support your team in other ways.

Like the other three classes, as you help your team, you gain reputation to use for upgrades. The Professional is certainly the most focused on personal upgrades – there’s really only one upgrade that benefits the team. First though, your picks are either Fast Climb or Reduced Fall – useful for getting you into sniping nests. Second tier is either Advanced Spot or Fast Unspot – this is your team pick, with longer spots netting more potential kills. Third up is longer Hold Breath or Low Profile for explosives – both personal boosts, but focused on different aspects of the game. Finally, you get to pick either Fast Reload or Delayed Trigger.

Of the four classes, the Professional is a lot like the Operator – their roles are both pretty clearly defined. Operators play the medic role, and Professionals are your snipers and spotters. Both are extremely vulnerable to vehicles – most heavy vehicles have bullet proof glass – so even sniping the pilot is out. Just be smart – set up defenses for sniping, limit your flanking potentials and make sure you keep your eyes peeled, and I think you can seriously do some damage with the Professional.