Complications at Birth
I find it hard to believe that Battlefield 4 launched just shy of a year ago, not because “time flies when you’re having fun” or anything, but because I just downloaded a massive 2.2GB “game changing” patch for it. The patch in question is the biggest in Battlefield history, and addresses so many issues and makes so many tweaks, that it was probably made illegal to print the complete patch notes in fear of starting a worldwide paper shortage.
To say that Battlefield 4’s launch was a rotting atrocity is to put it mildly. The unbelievable state of the game at launch is a tired topic by now, but it is important that I remind you just how bad it was before we discuss the game as it stands today. Consider yourself reminded.
The resulting outcry (not to mention lawsuits) from the community was to be expected, and quite frankly, justified. Games are expensive, and with paid DLCs and loyalty programs like Battlefield Premium, not to mention online subscriptions like PS Plus on consoles, your favorite pastime quickly turns into a damn expensive exercise. For many gamers, myself included, this makes choosing which games you are going to throw money at a considered decision. So when an AAA title like Battlefield 4 launches as nothing more than a glorified beta, the resulting rage is no surprise.
Primary among the reasons cited for the game’s condition at launch was an over ambitious goal, making the game for 5 unique platforms and building the game using the new next-gen Frostbite 3 engine. None of these are excuse enough for taking (a lot of) my money and trust, piling it on the rubble of a fallen Shanghai skyscraper and taking a huge dump on it, but I do feel it is relevant to this review (if I ever get to that it seems).
Not all was lost though, and patches came in hot and heavy since day one, literally. Initially, these patches contained major bug and crash fixes for the most part, and it was evident that Dice was frantically trying to put out fires and plug the gaping holes in their game.
Things seemed to stabilize to a degree around the release of the Naval Strike DLC. The release of the most recent DLC, Dragon’s Teeth, was the first time I felt like I was not constantly playing “around” bugs and glitches. The netcode though… let’s rather not.
A Revolutionary Treatment
On May the 8th 2014, more than 7 months after Battlefield 4 was launched, the Community Test Environment (CTE) was created and launched on PC with the noble purpose of fixing Battlefield 4, and any future Battlefield related titles. CTE participants play in a separate build of Battlefield 4, where developers can receive and monitor a constant stream of player-feedback and make on the fly adjustments to the game to test what works best.
To me this was equivalent to the first time I used the DVR function on a TV, like “why wasn’t this around since day one?”
For the first time in ages it felt like the “old” (read pre-EA) Dice was back. The Dice that took intimate notice of community feedback and actually made changes based on it.
Immediately, feedback from players in the CTE program was positive, and I watched dozens of videos showcasing CTE footage with an ever-increasing feeling of hope. Unfortunately the CTE was not available to console players, simply because patching games is very expensive when it involves third parties like Sony and Microsoft. I would like to think I speak on behalf of all console players when I extend a huge thank you to our PC brethren for actually taking the time to play, provide feedback, constantly download patches, rinse and repeat; all to the benefit the Battlefield community as a whole.
On Tuesday, September 30th, 2014, five months and around 26 (holy sh*t!) CTE patches later, the big “Fall Patch” launched across all platforms.
It included a plethora of (just shy of 200) changes, most of which I am not going to highlight here. If you still have not read the complete patch notes, do yourself a favor and check it out. For many PC players who partook in the CTE, the change in game experience was gradual and therefore a touch underwhelming I imagine.
For me as a console player however, the difference is astounding.
I want to briefly discuss five main aspects of the patch:
- The HUD
- Weapon Balance
The moment I spawned in post-patch, my jaw dropped. It was as if my character had a giant load in his pants since launch, and he was finally allowed to take a shower and change his shorts. The “new” player movement is snappy, crisp and responsive. I could take cover when I wanted to, instantly, without feeling like my character was first deciding whether he liked the taste of hot lead or not. Turning and acquiring targets is a smoother, more consistent experience. I really can’t find a better word for it than “snappy”.
It feels like Battlefield 3, just shinier.
Although Dice has improved on the netcode in previous patches, this latest netcode update seems to be far more substantial. I am not going to pretend to know much about the intricacies of coding, but what I can say for sure is that hit detection has been improved. Dying behind corners is all but gone, at least in my experience so far, and kill trades are down to a minimum.
Since the patch I have logged a fair amount of game time and I am yet to die behind cover, scream in a blind rage, wake up the sleeping baby and end up in a heap on the floor softly weeping. I have however traded kills a few times, but it is certainly nowhere near what it used to be, which was all too often.
One aspect that I found unnerving was an inconsistent experience in extreme close quarter gunfights. On quite a few occasions I was very aware that I died because of a netcode/network/server side registration “delay”. This may well be a client side issue on my end, but it is something I only started noticing post patch.
In short the netcode has seen a vast improvement, and in fact, Dice states that the client-to-client value count is the fastest in the franchise’s history with a delay between counts being as low as it has ever been.
3. The HUD
The cluttered HUD of Battlefield 4 is a thing of the past. No longer does it feel like you are wearing a wig made of flashing Christmas lights. Every single aspect of your HUD is now fully customizable. Different opacities for HUD elements, when you are zoomed in versus when you are zoomed out, bring a much-needed level of clarity to the information on screen. At first the new menu options for the HUD customization are daunting and somewhat confusing, but after a few minutes of experimentation I was good to go.
Independent settings exist for enemy and friendly player HUD elements, ammo crates and medbag icons, objectives, etc. The minimap has its own breakdown of options from size, zoom level, background opacity, icon sizes, and rotational properties among other options. These substantial HUD options are exactly the kind of changes you can expect when feedback comes directly from the community. I love the new features and feel like I am in control of what I see and how it impacts my play style – truly a great addition.
“I love the new features and feel like I am in control of what I see and how it impacts my play style – truly a great addition.”
4. Weapon Balance
As with any Battlefield patch, there are quite a few tweaks to promote better weapon balance. As with all the other aspects of this patch, I urge you to go and read all the details here.
The changes I want to focus on are the ones that directly influence everyone’s in-game experience. Primary among these must be the nerfing of nearly all the grenades. Not only have the grenade counts been reduced for some, but the damage mechanics and resupply timers have also been nerfed substantially.
The fact that grenades are now once again a precious commodity and require careful consideration, instead of just spamming them at every corner, has a great influence on the flow of the game. I found certain choke points to be much less frantic, and I felt like an organized squad, with good communication, could actually make a valid, successful push to an objective without being drowned in grenades.
A great example was a CQ match I had on Operation Lockers, pushing the C objective. The pre-patch grenade spam made the push (or defense) via the upper or lower corridors more a luck-of-the-draw. The team with the most deployed ammo bags, and who could therefore crap out the most grenades, was the one that would end up being the victor.
The round I played post-patch had about 20 seconds worth of grenade spam, after which it turned into a proper gunfight. I witnessed nearly half the team clustered up at the entry of the corridor move away and push the snow lane instead. I honestly believe this was due, in part, to the fact that no one had any grenades left. With some grenades now taking 25 seconds to resupply, people had to rely on their gun skills, and that is a refreshing change from the constant, screen-shaking madness that was Operation Locker pre-patch.
Some other significant weapon changes are the nerfing of the MBT LAW and the SLAMs (please do claymore’s next, Dice…please?), the complete removal of all trigger delays for revolvers (about fucking time), and the removal of the random visual recoil on close and medium range sights. Although the weapon’s recoil remains exactly the same, your red dot now replicates exactly where the bullets are going. The fix is kind of funky looking, as the dot and the surrounding site now move independently, but you get used to it within minutes, and the effect it has on micro adjustments and recoil management is very welcome indeed.
Dice has tweaked the ever-living hell out of the Rush game mode on the vanilla maps (except Dawnbreaker), with this being the first step in an ongoing initiative to improve Rush over all, and seeing as Rush is a Battlefield classic, I for one am very pleased indeed.
I put in an evening of only playing Rush and the changes seem thought out and thoroughly play tested. MCOMs have been moved all over the place, and I agree with every new position. It is evident that the focus has been shifted towards better infantry play. I still feel one or two of the MCOMs that remained in their original positions can be moved to better facilitate a balance between defense and offense, but the ones that did move were done so with careful consideration towards the aforementioned attacking/defending balance. I would love to break down each new MCOM position, but it would simply take too long. I urge you to go play a few rounds and judge for yourself. With the default ticket count now sitting at 100, and the complete removal of the commander from Rush (praise Jah), the changes to Rush bring back a more dynamic sense of rock-paper-scissor in terms of positioning, priority lanes and more deliberate vehicle placement.
There are other, more subtle changes that I personally like, notably the dynamic hit indicators that change slightly depending on how much damage you did to your target, the revive timer on downed teammates, the new “fully charged” sound cue for the defibs, the volume increase for enemy footsteps and being shot by a DMR no longer makes me want to jam a hot fire iron in my ears. These are among a slew of smaller changes that amplify the immersion factor, many of which are so simple yet effective that they beg the question: “Why only now?”
It is evident that I agree with, and in fact enjoy, nearly every aspect of this “new” Battlefield 4, but what does it mean for the game, and more importantly, the franchise?
As a die-hard Battlefielder, I for one am grateful that my favorite game finally feels “right”. It is finally solid and offers the new layers of immersion and customization I was hoping for after Battlefield 3. However, at the same time I am severely pissed off. This game has been out for a year. A YEAR! There is absolutely no excuse that can justify only fixing a game this late in its life cycle. Battlefield as a franchise has lost a ton of previously loyal fans because of this, and that is truly sad. The fact that this post-patch Battlefield 4 feels so much better just highlights how bad it was pre-patch and I cannot blame anyone that has written off Battlefield, unless they can come out with a stellar product next time around.
To further compound this problem, any new Battlefield release has to be better than good, because people will be looking for and highlighting every tiny bug or glitch from the word go. I have sympathy for the producers of Battlefield: Hardline; they have an impossibly steep mountain to overcome thanks to Battlefield 4.
I find myself in a position where I have to convince many of my gaming friends to at least try the post-patch Battlefield, and who can blame them for being reluctant to pick it up again?
The ugly reality is that we as a community paid EA/Dice millions of dollars to take part in a giant beta. We paid for them to fine tune and master the intricacies of their own game engine. We can only hope that this means we can expect solid, finished Battlefield titles in the future. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, only time will tell.
I love the “new” Battlefield 4 and would gladly have waited another year if it could have launched in its current state. I honestly believe it still is one of the best, if not the best FPS title out there, and I can finally say that with confidence.
If you haven’t played Battlefield 4 in a while, download the patch and give it a go – you will be pleasantly surprised.
As for the future of the Battlefield franchise, I am cautiously optimistic. If Dice could give something back to the community, (such as a free DLC or a significant discount on Hardline) keep up the current improvements, and maintain the level of community integration present with the CTE, there is certainly hope.
If I had to rate Battlefield 4 for the way it was launched, and the company behind that debacle, the score would be between “fuck you” and zero out of 5. However, if I had to give Battlefield 4 as it currently is in isolation, it would easily score 4.5 out of 5 or higher.
For more Battlefield related content check out my channel.
For details on release dates and other related info, head to Battlefield 4’s game page.
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