Battlefield 3 Beta Preview

To call me a long-time Battlefield fan is a bit of an understatement. I’ve purchased everyone of the previous Battlefield titles on launch day, and I plan to do the same with Battlefield 3. As such, you imagine that I was chomping at the bit to get into the multiplayer beta and see how BF3 was shaping up.

Getting into the beta is where the trouble starts. First, you open Origin, then Origin opens a browser, and through the browser you get to the game. Unlike past Battlefield titles, there’s no in-game server browser or menu. At first, I didn’t think this would be that big a deal. Unfortunately, it’s not as smooth in practice as it sounds.

The server browser isn’t bad, offering up plenty of info on each server, including a list of every player currently playing there. It’s simple to add a server as a favorite, check your ping, and even set filters to sort servers. It all works fairly well.

Once you select a server, the game loads in the background, and you click a “Go To Game” button when it finishes. It’s not the most elegant system in the world, but it does get the job done. I understand that EA wanted to links stats, friends lists, and game launches together, but it seems like there should be a way to do that with an in-game browser. Still, Battlelog does offer some useful things, like the ability to invite friends to your server by simply dragging them from your friends list to the game manager.

Once you make it past Battlelog and actually get into the game, you’ll be confronted with one more headache: Setting up your options. Changing video and audio settings or rebinding keys can only be done in-game. That sounds OK until you realize that you can’t access the menu unless you’ve spawned in and are alive. It may soiund like a nitpick, but once you try it, you’ll find out just how annoying it is to be almost done setting up your keys when you suddenly get shot. You’re kicked out of the menu, and all your changes are lost. To make matters worse, re-binding mouse keys isn’t working in the beta. Thanks to this, I’ve been forced to play throughout the beta with a very unfamiliar key config – I keep jumping when I try to pull up the iron sights. All of these headaches getting into the game are frustrating, but once you’re in the game, things smooth out. Hell, things get awesome.

One thing Battlefield games have always done well is gameplay, and DICE hasn’t forgotten anything. Battlefield 3 is an absolute blast to play. The only map most people in the beta are playing is Operation Metro, so it feels a little more like Bad Company 2 than BF2. There are no vehicles, so it just doesn’t have that classic Battlefield feel. Still, it’s a great chance to check out the new engine and the infantry combat.

Frostsbite 2 lives up to its billing. The visuals are gorgeous, even with Ultra graphics disabled in this beta. There’s not a ton of environmental destruction going on, but as bullets cut through the tree you’re hiding behind, you’ll wish there was even less. The game runs smooth as silk on the test rig we’re using (i7 2600K, 2 GTX570′s), but there is some annoying lag that pops up from time to time. Currently, it looks like a bit of server slowdown, especially on transitions in the Rush map. It’s nothing game-breaking, though.

Combat is fast-paced and deadly. It doesn’t take many bullets to put a target down, so you can’t adopt a gung-ho, Rambo-style strategy unless you want to spend a lot of time staring at the respawn screen. As in the past, Battlefield rewards teams that work together with crushing victories over teams full of lone wolf types. Combat in the beta feels like it’s balanced somewhere between the hardcore and normal modes from BFBC2.

There are a ton of unlocks (although many of them are disabled in the beta), and the progression towards feels very similar to BFBC2. However, it seems as though each kit has a raft of specific unlocks, so it’s doubtful folks will be running through all the unlocks before they hit level 30 (like they did in Bad Company 2).

Some of the unlocks are pretty handy, like a 4x scope for your weapon. Others are downright devastating, like the tactical flashlight that pretty much blinds any nearby enemy it’s pointed at. I’m hoping that there’s a lens flare diffuser for snipers at some point, because the scope glint that BF3 adds on snipers has made them almost moot. It’s not environmentally sensitive, so you can have some major scope glint in a dark underground tunnel. It doesn’t make much sense, and it makes playing sniper exponentially harder no matter how careful you are.

I’d love to talk more about the Conquest maps, vehicles, or maps besides Metro, but none of those things are currently available in the beta. Conquest is really the heart and soul of Battlefield to many long-time players, so it’s unfortunate we couldn’t get our hands on it. Still, this beta does give you a glimpse of what gameplay will be like in the retail release. DICE has already confirmed that the build we’re all playing in beta is a fairly dated piece of code, so I’m hopeful that many of the issues that we’re encountering have already been resolved.

To sum it all up, the Battlefield 3 beta has made me even more enthusiastic to play the game, but even more leery of how Battlelog is tying the whole experience together. Obviously, we’re still about three weeks away from retail release, so there are still lots of changes that can be made. Regardless, the game is going to be a lot of fun to play, and that’s welcome news to any Battlefield fan.

We’ll have more on Battlefield 3 as the launch draws nearer. For now, you should go check out the beta yourself on PC, PS3, or XBox 360, and then come back and tell us what you thought!

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