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Battlefield 2042

Battlefield may just not be for me anymore.

I wasn’t there at the very beginning of the franchise, but I caught Battlefield 2 at just the perfect moment in college such that I abandoned console gaming and spent all my limited monies purchasing a gaming PC to play it at higher fidelity. Battlefield 2 consumed me. And even after all these years, there are experiences with that game that are not replicable – grabbing the Commander reins during a losing battle and RTS’ing my teammates to uncertain victory is a top 10 gaming memory. Shit, just having a Commander role at all was something else. Sneaking deep behind enemy lines and getting an unrequested radar sweep was a gentle reminder that someone out there recognized what you were doing and wanted you to succeed.

I understand why the Commander role was removed in Battlefield 3 though. The difference between a team with a Commander and one with an empty seat was enormous. Nothing in the game proper prepared you for that critical role either, so the only practice you got was typically when your team was losing and the previous Commander abandoned ship. And even if you were an expert? Better hope someone else didn’t grab the slot or that other players went along with your vote kick.

In any case, Battlefield 3 was fantastic, Battlefield 4 was good with some annoying bits with unlocks/Battlelog, Battlefield 1 was a bit too oppressive, and Battlefield 5 was hot garbage. Between the series trendline and the poor news articles, I didn’t have high hopes for Battlefield 2042. And yet I am still disappointed.

But… why?

I played Battlefield 2042 for about 7 hours via EA Play, which I get for “free” from Game Pass. One of the first options you are presented with is whether you want to allow Cross Play, e.g. get matched up with console players. I chose No, as console players typically get a generous Aim Assist to “level the field” with mouse & keyboard players. Then I had to quickly reverse that decision because it was literally impossible to find a match. Actually, it was still difficult to find a match considering you don’t really “look” for matches, you just get auto-sorted into one (or an empty lobby). I think there was maybe one game mode that allowed you to manually look for a lobby? But those were primarily custom XP farms, like the one where everyone just gave each other ammo, and you get kicked for shooting at each other.

When I actually got to play the game, it was… basically Battlefield. Sorta. There was a lot of criticism about the pivot to Specialists at release, and I agree conceptually. What do they bring to the table that simply having a “specialist tool slot” would not? It’s also kinda weird having these named, unique-looking Specialists when fights are supposed to be 32v32+. It is precisely due to the larger battles that I felt like the Specialists weren’t all that special. Can one of the Sniper guys fly a drone around? Who cares? The enemy is back-capping Point A 1000m away with two tanks. Meanwhile you have a thumb up your ass pressing Q. I guess technically the Sniper can equip whatever other gear they want, even tossing a bunch of C5 packets on the drone like the San Francisco PD. It’s clever, but again, the scope is a bit too small for how games play out.

After a few sessions, it occurred to me that nothing really felt like it mattered. Yes, in the broad view, nothing matters. The nihilism felt particularly acute in Battlefield 2042 though. It’s already one thing that you cannot select specific servers to play on, and always get thrown into a mostly-empty map any time you accidentally press Escape too many times. But you’re also getting thrown together with console players, with whom you fundamentally experience the game differently. Then there is the BattlePass deal, whereby you are no longer really working towards gun unlocks in a satisfying way. Maybe it ends up being all the same in the end, but it feels worse when you “unlock” several items that you cannot actually touch because you haven’t spent however many dollars buying the BattlePass.

All I know is that I did not feel particularly satisfied playing Battlefield 2042, even when I won. I could psychoanalyze it further – as if there is anything left to say on the topic – but if a game is not sparking joy, what is the point? Play something else. So I am.

Battlefield 1

All my yes.

Okay… most of my yes. Concerns:

  1. Alternate timeline WWI, or is this down and dirty WWI?
  2. Will default weapons be single-shot/bolt action guns?
  3. Melee hasn’t really been Battlefield’s strongest suite.
  4. Going to be real interesting without a minimap. At least, there shouldn’t be one.
  5. I hope the weird fixation on the biplanes doesn’t mean will still see 40-1 pilots strafing all game.
  6. There might be some cannibalization via BF4 due to the (presumed) extreme gameplay shift.

I got into the series with Battlefield 2 and that remains my favorite to this day. So without any of the Battlefield 1942 nostalgia, the time period is a bit weird. But I definitely think DICE and crew deserve massive props for going forward with what is otherwise a huge gamble. Yeah, COD is doubling-down on near-future, so a Battlefield 2143 or whatever might have been too much SciFi. But ceding it entirely? That takes some gumption.

So, yeah. This will be an interesting Fall.

In Fairness

If it appears as though I am being unduly harsh towards Diablo 3, it is probably because I am juggling at least two other extremely fun games simultaneously: Tribes Ascend and Battlefield 3. My normal M.O. is to focus on one game to the exclusion of all others until completion, perhaps for this very reason, e.g. I start making unfair comparisons. Do I really want to gain 7 levels on the Witch Doctor to get a summon that won’t die instantly to mob packs, or do I want to charge through a photo-realistic shooter and knife that cocky sniper right in his camping throat?

Also, explosions.

This sort of thing just happens.

So what has been going on lately is a division my time between those three games. And since I have already covered my Diablo 3 experiences, it seems only fair to talk about the other two.

Tribes Ascend Impressions

I never played any of the prior Tribes titles, although I know of them by reputation. After many weeks of suggestion, a friend of mine finally convinced me to download this ostensively F2P title. I cannot speak of the fidelity of the experience as compared to the past games, but I do find it quite enjoyable.

The biggest thing I want to mention though, is how HiRez handles the F2P side of the game.

It is, in a word, insidious.

Right up front, they tell you that if you become a VIP member, i.e. spend any amount of money, you will get a permanent 50% boost to XP gains. While I am typically inoculated to the sort of XP boosters that are common in F2P-land, the knowledge that for every match that I waffled on the issue would be half a match’s worth of XP lost got under my skin right away. Indeed, considering that you can unlock classes/upgrades/weapons with either XP or gold (RMT), it felt like a decision between a double whammy or double rainbow. And the $10 minimum buy-in? Seemed reasonable anyway.

And that’s when the thumbscrews come out.

First, there is a “deal of the day” that discounts anything from a weapon to a class to anything inbetween by 25-50% gold. Then, you get a +1200 XP bonus from your first win of the day. So already it is giving me the same vibe I get from Steam, wherein I feel like I need to at least log on for a few minutes to see what’s what. Getting that first win is not always forthcoming, and while you are stewing on an embarrassing loss, you get to thinking about that 240 gold (~$3 at the worst exchange) or 100,000 XP (~29 VIP matches or 45 free ones) weapon that would wildly change the nature of whatever class you like. Or whether you should go ahead and splurge a few thousand XP and upgrade your current gear to get extra grenades or armor or whatever.

The game is still fun, and it is great that you can go check it out for yourself to see if it’s your own cup of tea, but I vastly prefer these F2P game companies to NOT have my number down to the second decimal place. For my own protection.

Battlefield 3 Impressions

Meanwhile, BF3 can have all my digits, if you know what I’m saying.

Now that I think about it, things are oddly coincidental. Freshman year of college, I came to the dorms with my big bulky Gateway computer loaded with Diablo 2. Then I was introduced to Battlefield 2 my Junior year and played it with a depth of intensity that rivaled even my most solipsistic WoW days. And now the circle is complete.

In any case, there were some concessions made in BF3 to the CoD movement – the removal of the Commander role being the largest – but trying to sneak around the backside of a tank to plant some C4 while jets dog-fight in the air above you is exactly the same. Indeed, what has been the most difficult part of the acclimation process is training yourself to ignore the wildly amazing graphics and actually find the dudes you are supposed to shoot at.

Also, you die really fast. Bullets are OP. Until you are shooting them, then it sometimes feels like you’re shooting a Terminator.

That guy won’t be back.

Technically BF3 has the same sort of unlocking mechanism Tribes does – complete with “shortcut bundle packs” for a whopping $40 – although it feels in no way necessary. As much fun as I will have once I finally unlock Claymores, I am having plenty fun already with the “base” classes.

One of the things I have always loved in BF2 that is back in full force is the incentivising of teamwork. Killing a guy results in 100 XP, with headshots adding +10 XP. If you notify your team about a hostile soldier’s location (i.e. look at them and press Q) and someone else kills them, you get 10 XP. Shoot at a dude in cover, while your teammate circles around back and kills him? 50 XP. Help cap a flag? 200-250 XP for making the flag neutral, and another 200-250 XP for capturing it. Giving your teammates ammo or health packs is 10-20 XP per tick. If a member of your 4-person squad chooses to spawn at your location instead of a normal spawn point, you get 10 XP. Reviving a teammate as the medic ahem, “Assault” class is 100 XP. And so on.

In a very real sense, this is exactly the genius of the series. You do not have to be a pro-shooter with lightning reflexes to A) have the most points, or B) make a difference. You can lead the boards by going 0-10 and simply playing support to those with better shooting skills than yourself. More importantly, matches are not All or Nothing, zero-sum affairs. You can lose and still come out with more XP than most of the players on the winning side. This is the way I wish more MMOs were. Things would need to be tweaked, of course, but what exactly is the point of the winners walking away with three times the Honor of the losers? I join a lost-cause match in BF3 and you know what? I fight exactly the same as if we had a chance, because that is what’s fun and I won’t be punished for “wasting” my time.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see if I feel the same a month down the line, as I acknowledge that my spiritual experiences with Battlefield 2 might be overwhelming the rational centers of my brain concerning the sequel.

So far, very good.