The Good And Bad Of Battlefield 3, One Year Later

Last year, Swedish-based developers Digital Illusions CE set out to launch not just a game, but an experience -- an ever-changing and evolving experiment, if you will -- which would serve as a platform from which future Battlefield titles would stem. More than a year after the release, after more than a year of patches, updates, rule-changes and several massive expansions, how has Battlefield 3 held up?

Battlefield 3 was built to last. Fourteen months into it and only now are we seeing the emergence of Aftermath, Battlefield 3's fourth expansion pack, with a fifth still on the way in March. Bearing this in mind, it might still be too early to peek into the looking glass and speculate the future of the Battlefield franchise. But having passed the one-year mark, perhaps a bit of debriefing is in order. How has DICE's approach to this generation of AAA shooters faired so far? What has worked and what has not? How does their idea of post-launch support rate? Is their Premium service really all that "premium?"

It's tough for a first-person shooter to produce multiplayer expansions in the real sense of the word. Realistically, the only type of content that can be 'added', in this case, is perhaps a set of new maps/locations, weapons or customisation options. Compare this to singleplayer-based DLC that can not only deliver all of the above, but also chapters of new story content, new characters, and/or new gameplay elements. I find that the Call of Duty series in particular struggles with this. Personally, I have a harder time coughing up dough for something like Modern Warfare 3's ELITE Premium subscription when all I'm really getting in return are new maps. Otherwise, it's the same experience over and over again.

That's why I know I will be throwing down cash upfront for Battlefield 4's Premium service without a second thought and why Call of Duty is going to have to step its game up in order to earn my investment.

DICE's approach to DLC, which has all been wrapped together in one neat package called Battlefield 3 Premium, differs in that each new piece of content has introduced the player to a new experience and has truly expanded the base product. Take, for example, the contrasting Close Quarters and Armored Kill themed expansion packs: One built on action-packed, fast-paced gameplay set in tight, claustrophobic environments versus the slower, more grandiose vehicle-based warfare taking place in wide-open and breathtaking landscapes. The former, released last June, certainly posed a risk for the team, as many considered its speedy, arcade-like nature untrue to the spirit of Battlefield. But the reason why it worked -- and the reason why I believe it worth the price -- is that it was (and still is) an experience which cannot be found in the standard Battlefield 3 package. It plays different, it feels different, and it keeps things fresh.

Similarly, Armored Kill, released last September, gave "true" Battlefield fans what they always wanted: Insane, all-out vehicle warfare -- something many felt was lacking in Battlefield 3 standard. While it didn't quite gel with the consoles' limited player count due to its large map sizes, PC players certainly felt right at home. With both Close Quarters and Armored Kill, I feel DICE struck a nice balance catering to both the dedicated, hardcore Battlefield audience and those just wanting to shoot people in the face.

The latest add-on, Aftermath, plays similar to the throwback expansion Back to Karkand, released back in December, 2011. It features similar urban war zones with a good mix of infantry and vehicle combat. But at the same time, it literally "shakes" things up with the concept of fighting and surviving in a post-earthquake environment. The new Crossbow (or XBow) for example, adds new gameplay elements while the deformed terrain creates a battlefield you might not be used to.

That's why I know I will be throwing down cash upfront for Battlefield 4's Premium service without a second thought and why Call of Duty is going to have to step its game up in order to earn my investment. DICE has shown that they're not here to cough up more of the same and call it DLC. With their own distinct theme and feel, all of Battlefield 3's current add-ons have literally expanded the experience with new ways to play. I expect nothing but the same for End Game.

Later in Battlefield 3's lifecycle, DICE granted players on both the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 the ability to rent and customise their very own servers -- a first for a console FPS. Players then not only had the choice of entering standard DICE-run servers, but a wide range of player-run servers as well. As an unfortunate side-effect, this spread the butter too thin, so to speak, and led to under-populated servers while rendering the matchmaking experience much more complicated than it should have been. "Quick Match" would no longer always send you along your way to a server featuring a playlist of your chosen game mode. Feeling in the mood for some Conquest? Sure, "Quick Match" might stick you in a nice game of flag-capping goodness on a player-run server, let's say. What it doesn't know, however, is that the next map in the rotation is customised to run a game of Team Deathmatch. Probably not what you were looking for.

The problem is that a lot of newcomers don't even know what they are looking for. They just want to get in on the action in a predictable manner.

The problem is that a lot of newcomers don't even know what they are looking for. They just want to get in on the action in a predictable manner. I shouldn't have to explain how find a 'normal' playlist and avoid any wonky or bizarre game settings to a friend who has picked up Battlefield 3 some time after the introduction of rentable servers. Likewise, no newcomer should have to unknowingly fall victim to abusive administrators who create their own, sometimes-absurd rules. What irks me is that rules like "no shotguns", "no explosives" or "knives-only" are enforced by the server admin only, not by the built-in game settings, as there are no actual options to restrict weapons or equipment. Because many of these "special" servers are public, anyone could be thrown into one at any moment and not everyone who's paid $US60 USD for a game appreciates being subjected to someone telling them that they can't even use half their arsenal. What's worse are admins who kick you for either "playing like a noob" or for simply being "too good".

While I would hope that this sort of feature would stick around for future Battlefield titles on consoles, I believe some fine-tuning is in order to streamline the process and keep the community playing together, rather than having everyone off doing their own thing. I also think abnormal server "rules" should be kept strictly private and not public. "Pistol-only" matches can indeed be fun, but not if you aren't looking for one. While this mostly only applies to the console audience, and perhaps the more casual audience, it is their larger audience in the end. That leaves something to be said for the PC side of life, where the Battlefield series found its original home.

If there is one thing DICE could have done to have kept Battlefield 3's life span healthy and constantly rejuvenated, it would have been to allow PC mod tools. Look at what happened to Bohemia Interactive's Arma 2. We got the Day Z zombie mod, soon to be its own standalone title. Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has also been turning heads with its beautiful texture mods. It's not even a multiplayer game and yet there is a healthy community of modders constantly finding ways to make an already content-rich game even beefier. I think we could see some pretty amazing things coming from a community of dedicated Battlefield modders, should DICE be able to work past the technical issues and complexities of the Frostbite 2 engine in order to allow it.

At the present moment, Battlefield 3 is a very different game than it was back in October of 2011. It raises the question, however, "was Battlefield 3 even finished when it shipped?" Being the first Battlefield title powered by the brand new Frostbite 2 engine, developers clearly had a hard time covering up the number of bugs that came along with it. Nevertheless, it is without question that DICE has done a commendable job at supporting their product post-launch. One could even argue that Battlefield 3 would never have reached the stature it has today without the feedback of the millions of gamers that have had a chance to sink some serious time into it after launch. While the patching process may have been slow and cumbersome, and some particularly game-breaking issues were dealt with rather last-minute, patches were almost little pieces of DLC in themselves. Again, though support in general was top notch, perhaps smaller, more frequent patches would yield a happier community.

Moving forward, into Battlefield 4, or whatever DICE may have in store for the future, I believe asking themselves the following questions would prove beneficial, if they haven't done so already:

  • In what ways could value be added to the next iteration of Battlefield's "Premium" service?
  • Would a more compact DLC schedule keep players' interest better?
  • How can the Server Browser be streamlined for clarity and ease-of-use while keeping the community playing together?
  • Would providing smaller, more frequent updates yield happier players?
  • Would the extra effort put into allowing mod-tools for PC players improve Battlefield's lifespan?

Considering the amount of experimentation that went on over the past 14 months -- new DLC model, new engine, the Battlelog, bigger audience, etc -- it will be interesting to see how DICE acts upon their findings and where the battlefield takes them in the future. Until then, you know how the saying goes: "See you on the battlefield."

David Veselka spends his time running and managing multiplayer-centric gaming website and loves him some online FPS action. You can say hi to him on Twitter by following @N7Veselka.


    I'm really enjoying the Aftermath maps and modes. Scavenger is blast. So intense and forces me to use weapons I usually wouldn't.
    BF3 is the game I keep coming back to, and lately I've been passing on new AAA titles in favour of a few more rounds of BF3.

    The only bad point I have is the random crash to desktop I get every few hours. It only seem to happen when I'm leading the score board.

    Last edited 11/12/12 1:12 pm

      One thing you could try that fixed my random crashes to desktop is to disable uPnP on your router.

      Don't ask me why or how it works but it did for me and i was having the exact same thing :P

    Well that's more then you can say how to very vocal minority treat Halo: Reach and Halo 4. With a vast amount of options to select that any PC would need a large amount of mods to achieve, and we're stuck with, "No AAs! BR only! Final Destination!"

    I just wish they would alter Metro. It's god awful every time when you're stuck at the B flag choke points just lobbing grenades and sitting at a standstill for half a hour.

      There's a decent Melbourne based Hardcore 32 player server usually reasonably full that generally variates a fair bit. Explosives are limited which is a big factor, that and the fact that it's hardcore, somewhat steps up the action.

      thats the point in metro though. Alot of people love the choke points, using the flanks and coming behind 12 noobs sitting at the stairs trying to push through. thats the whole point in that map, its linearity. Another reason BF3 is great is teh variety in maps!

        amen to that brother

      People obviously like it that way. The metro 24/7 servers are always full. Its the best map for lvling the medic and support. I've topped leader board without a single kill.

        Oh I completely understand why people like it, I just think it needs to be opened up a bit. I basically see it as a huge stats padding session with less focus on tactics than other maps. It gets worse when you have a timid team who refuse to push, leaving you stuck behind the wall of nades and rockets.

    - I got the premium service but haven't played any of the expansions. I just got bored of it mainly because you can't deploy sentries. The EOD bot should've been a sentry like in TF2.

      Sentries? Like Auto Sentry Turrets? Battlefield uses common real life weapons not special gizmos.

      I don't get why Sentries are so important to you but personally I'd rather fight other players than auto-aiming bots.

    I don't know about yearly releases or premium services but the game itself did really well, especially going up against something like Call of Duty.

    I enjoyed Battlefield 3 until they got rid of the official servers. There were literally three Dice/EA Australian servers and none of them were populated. I just don't care for rounds with 300% tickets or admins who kick you if you take 'their' helicopter. Then along came Premium at more than the price I paid for the game itself along with Dice/EA Premium servers. That's when I stopped playing.

    im colonel SS 87. no way im gonna stop playing it so close to ss 100. i have premium and track all my stats to increase my xp at any stage i can. i dont give a rats about server rules. rarely have i been kicked for flouting server rules or banned for it. bf3 is not perfect but there is so much to do that finding a game u want isnt that hard to suit ur mood. only gripe atm is the lack of aussie/kiwis too pussy to setup rush only servers

      Wow, a stat whore who's goal is to become a level 100 "no-life" Colonel.This my friends is a microcosm of whats wrong with the game.

        Also +1 to this!

    So worth reinstalling? Do aeroplanes finally fly like fast jets and not a 200hp engine...

    The biggest drawback to this game technically? The pointless layers needed to play the friggin thing. I need Origin, then the game itself, then a browser, then browser plugins (add on to that intermittent Punkbuster problems that I don't get with ANY other PB game and the need for Teamspeak if you want decent voice).
    If this model continues I'll be staying away from future BF titles. Too much unneeded complexity when Steam does the centralised management model so well.

      Agreed. I also hate the fact that you have to level up each weapon. I came in to BF3 7 months late due to no internet at my new house, and found it virtually impossible to be competitive. Any server I join has nothing but maxed out level players, and I rock in with my level 9 and get whipped. It's too campy also. Bring back another episode of bad company. I find that far more enjoyable and fast paced.

        in bf3 and bfbc2, and probably every bf game before that, the best guns are the ones you get first. Fortunately all the basic gun iron sights are good as well (compared to the famas, for example), so all you're gaining by leveling those guns is the recoil/accuracy trade-offs you get in with the attachments, which you can mostly do without anyways. The biggest disadvantage is having to unlock medkit/defib/repair tool :(

          I agree, the best gun 7 months after release was hands down the default M16.

      Too true! God only knows how often I curse when I need steam to install a game for me, then I use a browser to find a way around a problem, but then I need teamspeak to talk to my mates!

      I sincerely hope your post is sarcastic, and that you can read mine. Otherwise this is just pointless... Wait, I'm on the internet, it's already pointless.

    I hadnt played for a couple of months, but started Origin last week to download the new DLC.
    Then, last night I go to jump in a game only to find it needed to download almost 7GB! 3.5GB of updates and 3.5GB of Aftermath!
    Wasnt happy!

    I'll pony up some cash for BF4 but how about some PRICE PARITY YOU U$!#$$ [email protected]%! C....

    Still seething at the BS Dice/Sony pull with screwing over the console users for download-only content. Get a global clue you dicks...

    do replies to comments work from mobiles using guest access? or is there a filter happening for moderating purposes?

    I love Battlefield 3 I play on the 360. However I am tired of not being able to find a normal server with out trawling for ages through rented servers. all the servers I find have tickets increased by 100, to 300 percent and games can last two hours or more. I rarely finish a game because I have other things to do or I get bored. oh for the days when a battlefield 3 game would lat 20 to 40 minutes.

    I don't really have any problems with BF3, to be honest. Only random server kicks, a Battlefield exclusive syndrome where if you are going well, you chances of being disconnected doublefold. Origin is a minor hassle, and I love Battlelog. Enjoying the DLC, although Aftermath is kicking my ass since I've been away for a week, missed the launch of it, and everyone's got a headstart on me haha!

    "Would the extra effort put into allowing mod-tools for PC players improve Battlefield‘s lifespan?"

    Yes, look at Battlefield 2 (released 2005). Thousands of people still play it and it's biggest mods like Project Reality & Forgotten Hope 2.

    Heck I think some people still even play the Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942 (2002).

    Apart from mod tools (or at least a map editor - how hard is that?), the other thing I wish Battlefield 3 had is in-game VOIP.

    In Battlefield 2 you could join any random server, any random squad and have the chance to immediately coordinate with strangers over in-game VOIP. In Battlefield 3 you can only speak to friends on Battlelog or organize a third party solution.

    "Armored Kill, released last September, gave “true” Battlefield fans what they always wanted"
    "catering to both the dedicated, hardcore Battlefield audience and those just wanting to shoot people in the face."
    OK, I take you like to drive tanks then... and everyone else is not a true fan. Great journalism. *facepalm

    Dice is one of the few companies I've experienced (looking at you Blizzard) who dedicated significant resources to community and game support after the fact. They started development from day one with long term goals. They bet big on Premium being a good revenue stream and it paid off.

    People are willing to pay for a decent service, it's been demonstrated time and time again. Despite this, it's probably still hard to convince your publisher to fund your game/service after initial sales have been made. Hopefully the case studies like BF3 will stack up and more games start being sold as a service, not a single 'product' with a beginning and end.

    The only issue will be companies who abuse this demand for service by taking people's money and then sitting on it. It's going to be the responsibility of the industry to ensure that this sort of thing doesn't ruin it for everybody.

    Clearly the game wasn't finished at launch. Hell they even said the PC lead platform was ditched to get the game out in time.

    I think besides the bugs, the biggest place it shows the game wasn't finished at launch is comparing the maps to the premium DLCs. They literally look like they're from the next game in the series, with an improved engine, than the vanilla maps.

    Compare Grand Bazaar to the Aftermath urban maps. It immediately makes Grand Bazaar and maps like Tehran High way look outdated from an inferior game.

    It's interesting the premium DLC it really seems DICE is working on figuring things out they didn't get time to do on release.

    CQ - focus on indoor environments. Making them look better.
    AK - do truly big outdoor environments that they really didn't go properly in the release game.
    AM - Work on more detailed urban environments and start bringing in that indoor environment work from CQ into the maps.

    Rumor has it that End Game is set in jungles. Which is another missing piece of what has been offered in BF3.

    So using the advances in these premium DLCs and just how far and how much they have improved upon the release maps. If they take all of this experience on board for BF4, it should be amazing! They really just need to work on the maps to this level and more for release. Also have more maps on release this time.

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