29 October sees the launch of Battlefield 4. DICE’s largest iteration of the series yet and the one EA hope will begin the end for Call of Duty. As well as the usual tweaks and engine upgrades you expect from a sequel, DICE have upped the ante of dynamic events in the multiplayer levels. You can now bring a whole skyscraper tumbling to earth, irreparably changing the level.
We’ve played the beta, we’ve read all the blog posts, and we’re ready to tell you Everything We Know.
Levolution is a dirty word but a wicked multiplayer feature
Every map in Battlefield 4 has the potential to evolve mid-battle. It’s a little like a pokemon in that respect but DICE have done it with more dynamite. One level, Siege of Shanghai, is set across three islands of tower blocks. The map’s dominated by a skyscraper housed on the central island. It gives snipers a view of every other rooftop on the level and (in)conveniently has a capture point located on the top floor. If you own the capture point you have a distinct advantage when it comes to controlling the map’s sniper nests. But if capturing the tower seems too much of a struggle you can just blow the thing up. Taking out the support structures on the skyscraper brings it crashing to the ground, resetting the capture point at ground level. a much harder location to hold than before. Plus, snipers level-wide will curse the obscuring dust that now fills the air.
It’s not all tumbling towers. Zavod 311 is set around an abandoned munitions factory and an unexploded bomb left unattended at its centre. Detonate the bomb and you level a section of the factory and vaporise everyone in it. Flood Zone is set in a town below a reservoir. Destroy the levy and the city’s streets will fill with water, making the level into a sort of Asian Venice.
While there’s a tactical advantage to leaving towers standing and dams unbroken, what I’ve played of the beta suggests that if you give players the option to spectacularly blow something up then they will. DICE may be a tad naive if they expect teams to approach levels with anything less than destruction in their eye.
Commander mode should help kill off the lone wolves
Two of the finest features in Battlefield 4 aren’t new at all. Commander mode and VOIP were strangely absent from Battlefield 3 despite being present in earlier games.
The first sees one player on each team directing their allies from a top down perspective. They can issue orders to squads, highlight the enemies’ positions, and call in heavy ordnance to support their boots on the ground. If it works it will provide teams with the cohesion often lacking from non-clan games.
VOIP is a much more basic feature but an essential one for teamplay. As a standard, voice communication among squadmates is possible. If you have a mic then you can be calling for help, offering advice, or making unsanitary jokes at the push of a button.
Both features should help change Battlefield’s multiplayer from a bunch of lone wolves being picked off by a single organised squad into something resembling order.
Every class is getting a nip tuck
All four of Battlefield 3’s classes are returning but the changes DICE have implemented make them more versatile within their field. For instance, I specced out the Recon class to be a tank hunter. Because DICE have allowed snipers to use C4 again - something taken out of their arsenal in the last game - I was able to descend from a sniper nest by parachute, land behind an unsuspecting tank, and destroy the hulk without the aid of an Engineer.
The engineer’s getting a load of new anti-tank weapons that let players specialise in anti-tank or anti-air combat. There’s high damage unguided rocket launchers for the player that doesn’t mind getting up close with an enemy tank or a slew of smart missiles for the fire and forget types.
Also, what with the changes to vehicle disables and direct hits, Engineers are going to want to pick their equipment with care.
Assaults now have a choice of medkits, too. They can drop a health station as before or give an individual player a health regen boost. The first means multiplayers can benefit but stay in a single spot, the second is to heal an ally on the move.
It’s all about giving players more options and, from what I’ve played, it works a treat.
Level one players and new pilots stand a chance
New pilots in Battlefield 3 didn’t have it easy. They’d hop into a jet and find it had no missiles and no countermeasures. You had to do a lot of flying before you had anything other than your front-firing cannons to take out enemy fighters or a single tool at your disposal, besides your eject button, to escape an anti-air missile.
Across the board, classes and vehicles asked for hours of play before they were kitted out with the bare necessities for survival.
DICE have changed all that for the sequel. Now every class and vehicle begins life kitted out to do damage on the battlefield without having a massive target strapped to them.
Another big boon for potential pilots is the new training ground. There you can try any of the game’s vehicles in a less hostile environment. Considering a flew a jet into the end of a runway six times in a row when learning in Battlefield 3, this should save a lot of abuse from disheartened teammates.
Player-generated missions and local leaderboards will be great for rivalries
DICE want to make enemies of us all. Battlefield 4 lets you challenge your friends to self-made missions. This could be as simple as “Who can get the most kills on Siege of Shanghai?” Battlelog then begins tracking each competing players’ stats on those levels and after 24 hours the winner is declared. Though, with the number of data points EA track from the game, the potential for silliness (if DICE embrace it) is immense. I want to see “Furthest infantry kill with an RPG” and “Longest freefall in a tank”.
For those of you without friends, DICE don’t want to leave you out of the rivalries. The new Battlelog global leaderboard lets you see how well players are doing around the world. That can be a little disheartening, so, if you want to feel better about your place in the world, zoom in the map and see how you’re doing locally. You may be well out of the top 10,000 players globally but in the top 10 players in your city.
Singleplayer is doing the decent thing and following in multiplayer’s footsteps
Singleplayer in a Battlefield game still seems like an odd concept and the offerings we’ve had so far are too much like a Call of Duty copycat. Thankfully, DICE claim to be moving away from the linear set pieces of the last game and making missions with more freeform. You won’t have a single route through a level but a section of city to approach and an objective to complete. The manner in which you do this is left in your hands. Attack a city square at ground level with a support squad, for instance, or take to the roofs and pick off the defenders with impunity.
Of course, we’ve yet to have hands-on with Battlefield 4’s singleplayer so it could be much like the last game. Even small steps towards non-linear levels would be a great step for Battlefield and something to set it apart from Call of Duty.
DICE are working to fix all the faults of Battlefield 3 while also filling it with features that separate it from the competition. Its steep unlock curve is gone, uncoordinated teams should be a thing of the past, and bland classes have been replaced with room to create custom builds and specialist sub-classes. Plus, dynamic maps, a commander mode, and player-generated missions are things Call of Duty players should ache for.
There’s certainly enough here for a sequel but it’s still unclear whether it will be enough to make Battlefield into the CoD-killer it so wants to be. What do you think?