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: 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.

Titanfall 2 Talk – The Way Pre-E3 Edition

TitanfallA couple weeks back, EA dropped a teaser showing off Titanfall 2. We had known that it was in development, but this was the first official word and look at the game. It’s a really short teaser, barely 30 seconds so we don’t get much. It’s really just a glimpse to get us all hyped up for the eventual E3 full announcement. Of course that hasn’t stopped people from already talking about the game. OXM has an article out saying that Titanfall 2 has to learn from Destiny, Black Ops III and Evolve to succeed. We know no actual details about the game – anything we talk about is just gleaned from the original game and the teaser. It’s pretty hard for me to already look at games out there now and say that this one needs to draw from them to succeed. And honestly, I kinda disagree with the sentiment – I don’t want Titanfall 2 to draw from the other FPS games out there. I want it to stay as unique as it is.

That said, there’s a couple points to look at that we do know about. First, EA and Respawn said that the sequel is going to feature an actual story campaign. As cool as the multiplayer campaign thing from the first game was, I’m definitely in favor of a true campaign this time around. Titanfall has, I think, an actually pretty cool universe to explore with different stories. That could have been a strength in the original multiplayer campaign, exploring the motives from both sides of the conflict. Hopefully with the sequel that can still happen. The other cool detail we learned was that there’s going to be a new Titan weapon – and it sure looks a lot like a sword. Swords have been popping up a lot in FPS games lately – Destiny, Black Ops III, of course Halo – so seeing it in Titanfall really shouldn’t be a huge surprise. I’m glad that it’s going to be a Titan weapon too – I can’t wait to do my best Gundam impression. I can easily see it paring well with a Strider chassis and electric smoke for a strong melee build. We have to wait until probably E3 to see any more changes to the Titan formula, in particular any new chassis. I would expect that we’ll learn the release date at E3 too, my guess is Spring 2017 since the original was a March release.

Weekly News Recap – Week of October 12, 2015

The busy season has been running pretty hard so far – with Destiny, Battlefront Beta, Rainbow Six Beta all getting some serious playtime. That said, we’re about to really hit the crazy time with five major releases in the next month coming out, along with others too. So news has been a bit on the backburner for me, as I would rather focus on writing about the games I’m playing. That said, I did see a couple headlines recently that I think are worth talking about.

Mass Effect

EA GAMES – NO HD REMAKES SOON
I saw this one earlier today, and I’m torn on it. EA has doubled down on their comments from E3 about HD remakes. Don’t be expecting to see an HD Mass Effect collection anytime soon, or any other last-gen EA classics. Now that we’re deeper into the current-gen of consoles, I’m starting to move away from wanting HD remakes to fill out my library. So in that regard I’m glad to see EA focusing on making new games. That said though, there are a couple games that I would really have liked to see get the sprucing up – Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Dead Space all jump to mind. We’ll have to see if they relent in the future, but for now, don’t expect anything like that.

Halo 5 Guardians

HALO 5 ROLLS OUT FOR STREAMERS AND PRESS
This week we started to see just how Microsoft plans on launching Halo 5: Guardians. Based on what we’ve seen so far, it looks a lot like a soft launch style event – Twitch streamers got the game, along with members of the press and community members. I also saw today that the launch event will be held online, as they see more and more players moving to digital releases. Again, I’m kinda torn here – in general, if there’s a game that I really like and want to support totally, I buy it physically. I know that makes no sense, but it’s just how I’ve kinda grown with gaming. We’ll see how it works out on the 27th.

Fallout 4 Box Art

FALLOUT 4 CONTINUES TO RAMP THE HYPE TO MAX LEVELS
Over the last month or so, Bethesda has been releasing a whole bunch of videos for Fallout 4. Each one has detailed just what each of the seven S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats actually entail in game, done in the style of old PSA safety videos. It fits so perfectly with the style of the game, and they act as perfect ways for new players to get some info on the game; and at the same time, series veterans have some great videos to dig through for details. This week they also put out the Live-Action trailer – not quite the same level trailer as say the Destiny Live-Action ones, but still really cool to see. It’s got both the humor of Fallout, while still showing off some action. Plus it’s got Dion’s “The Wanderer” as the soundtrack, so I’m all in on that. November 11 can’t get here quick enough.

No Lack of Faith Here – Star Wars Battlefront Beta Impressions

Star Wars Battlefront

Yesterday marked the console launch of the Open Beta for Star Wars: Battlefront. After a relatively long download – busy servers I’m guessing – I was able to play a few matches and get a pretty good feel for how I think it’s going to unfold.

The big thing that was on my mind going in was just how close this new Battlefront would feel compared with the old classics from 10 years ago. So far, it feels very similar – but I think that’s more due to the strength of the Star Wars licence. DICE did a good job of not making it just a reskin of Battlefield with lasers. I really like the infantry system in place for the secondary items. Instead of worrying about ammo and item count, you have two item “hand” cards to pick, along with a “top-card” item that requires charges. The hand cards recharge after using them – you don’t need to worry about grenade count or secondary ammo. Just keep your cooldowns in mind, and you’ll be at full power frequently. Ammo in general is a thing of the past here – your blaster has a meter to watch before it overheats, but there’s no reloading (which takes a little to get used to) and you don’t have much in the way of recoil to watch either.

I would offer up this one caution if you’re unsure about Star Wars: Battlefront. It isn’t a true hardcore shooter. If you go in expecting a set of game mechanics like Call of Duty or Battlefield, you will be disappointed. It’s still got a competitive feel to it, but it just seems a bit more about the overall experience to me. I don’t feel like I’m going to be worried about my K/D or overall win/loss with this game. I think I’m going to be more interested in the moments that happen in the games – especially in Walker Assault, or playing as the hero characters. That was how I always used to play the classic games too. There are plenty of other, more intense shooters in the market this fall if I want a more competitive game; Star Wars is all about the fact that Star Wars is just plain awesome.

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.

E3 2015 – Final Thoughts and Wrap-Up

E3 LogoNow that the insanity of E3 week has come to a close, I want to take a quick look back at the show as a whole. After a week of long posts, today’s is going to be a bit quicker.

E3 last year was pretty strong – there was a strong focus on games, from all the developers and publishers. Going into this year’s show I think we had a feeling there might be a bit more tech shown. VR is picking up now, with Microsoft and Sony both embracing it in different ways. And while both publishers did devote a little time in their press conferences to VR, it wasn’t a focus for either one. Instead we got a second year running where games took the spotlight. And really, that’s how E3 should be.

E3 is the one week of the year where developers know that the entire industry is transfixed on their games. They’ve spent a ton of time and effort on these games, and this should be a showcase of them. The show has evolved over the years for sure, and I think that we’ve gotten to a format now that not only makes sense for the exhibitors, but also helps legitimize the industry. And this year in particular was awesome. This year might have had the strongest lineup of games ever. It certainly had the strongest in any recent memory.

It’s a really popular thing to grade the show and declare winners and losers when it’s all said and done. I think that’s only partially worthwhile. Grading the show makes sense – two years ago was weak, this year was much stronger. That helps the developers and publishers know more of what we’re looking for with E3. In that regard, this year’s show was easily an A. There were huge announcements – both games and news – and the games shown looked incredibly strong. With winners and losers though, I hate doing that. The answer to that question is always the gamers. We’re the winners, and there really isn’t a loser of E3.

Fallout 4 Box Art

I do like picking a game of the show though. Really it isn’t any question for me. It was probably going to be Fallout 4 going into the show, and after Bethesda’s and Microsoft’s conferences that decision was cemented. There were a ton of awesome games this year – Horizon, Halo 5, Kingdom Hearts III the list goes on. But for me, Fallout 4 is just the game that I am far and away the most excited about. It comes out this year, so the wait is much less; the game looks like a major step forward for the series, and on top of that just look amazing.