Sep 292011
 
Battlefield 3

Now that the “early” access for pre-orderers is over, the Battlefield 3 “don’t call this a demo” beta is open to all, on the platform of your choice. All the juicy details are here, and if you’re playing on the PC, be sure to update your drivers, as described here.

I had a chance to check out the beta, and can say the gameplay is mostly what you’d expect from the next BF game, with some pretty great visuals.  The Battlelog stuff, as I previously speculated about here is a mixed bag, but has a lot of potential assuming DICE can streamline and optimize the experience.  Now’s the time to stop taking everyone else’s word for it and decide for yourself, no strings attached.  Get downloading, soldier!

Sep 262011
 
Battlefield 3

With the BF3 beta starting on September 27th for pre-order customers before opening to a wider release on the 29th, you’ll want to make sure your rig is ready to go to enjoy all the action.  Nvidia and AMD have you covered, with BF3 optimized drivers.

Nvidia’s drivers, version 285.38 ,are out, promising a 38% increase in performance and improve stability and image quality.  Grab your Nvidia flavored drivers here.

UPDATE:  AMD now has  their BF3 tweaked drivers available too. You can download them here.

Aug 122011
 
Origin

Now that it’s confirmed that BF3 won’t appear on Steam, the only mystery was why. While it’s not any great shock to hear EA was pushing Origin hard, now we have definitive word by the BF community manager on Twitter that BF3 will require Origin.  We now know BF3 uses the Origin equivalent of  Steamworks, which means no matter where you buy the game, you’ll need to activate it on Origin — including retail disc formats.  Obviously, if you bought a game on Steam that you had to then activate on a Steam clone, requiring both to run to appease their DRM demons, rips in space time would occur.  That’s why Steam is out of the loop but services like Direct2Drive or GamersGate are still in, because they don’t tack on any extra DRM or client restrictions.

Now we know, and knowing is half the battle.  Anyone not buying BF3 because of the Origin requirement?

Aug 082011
 
Battlefield 3

The BF3 hype machine is in full effect now.  A little over two months out, DICE is claiming that BF3 is the “deepest” shooter they’ve ever developed, and promise unlocks that could take years to achieve.    Now before you start to rant that you don’t want to have to invest insane amounts of time just to unlock competitive weapons, gadgets and attachments in the game, keep in mind that DICE isn’t simply referring to in-game hardware unlocks.  They’re also talking about elusive service medals and pins too.

Battlefield players are among the most loyal out there. Our games are literally played for years by our hardcore fans, and we want to actively support that. There should always be something left to achieve in Battlefield 3.

However, they also address hardware unlocks too.  That was one thing many felt was lacking in BC2 — you could unlock every weapon and gadget fairly quickly, diminishing any sense of game accomplishment thereafter.  They’ve got that covered too:

Compared to Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Battlefield 3 will have more than 10 times the hardware unlocks spread over weapons, weapons attachments, gadgets, and a huge unlock tree for vehicles alone.

So it sounds like you will have your fill of in-game items, awards and cheevos if that’s your thing.  If that isn’t your thing…well, you’re pretty much going to hate most games that come out now anyway.

You can read the full blog post over on the official Battlefield Blog.

Aug 062011
 
Battlefield 3

After it was already almost a forgone conclusion, we now have word that BF3 is really, really, really not coming to Steam — for reals.  The word comes from both the official Battlefield Twitter account and a forum post on the EA forums from staff.  Again, they mention Valve’s restrictions on DLC and post-release support.  Interestingly, we haven’t heard much from Valve’s side of the story, and we still haven’t heard much from other devs and publishers about these restrictions EA keeps bringing up.  The exact details are still unavailable as to what EA is looking to do with BF3 that Steam won’t let them.

Unfortunately, Steam has adopted a set of restrictive terms of service which limit how developers interact with customers to deliver patches and other downloadable content. No other download service has adopted these practices.

Of course, there is still a chance that EA and Valve come to some sort of terms before the launch of BF3, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.  In turn, with BF3 not being available on Steam, it provides EA will a bit more leverage to sell it on Origin, as we discussed here.  So while I’m sure EA would love to sell BF3 everywhere possible, not being on Steam can’t be bothering them too much.  EA squarely places the blame on Valve, but rarely things are that simple.

Is no BF3 on Steam a deal breaker for you?

Aug 052011
 
Battlefield 3

After making Origin mandatory for the BF3 alpha test, EA isn’t letting up on the Origin hard sell.  They know they have a valuable piece of content that can make or break Origin and they’re pulling out all of the tricks.  First off, if your pre-order BF3 through Origin, you’ll get all the “Back to Karkand” DLC for free, which is no big deal, since that’s true of everywhere else that is selling the game.  To sweeten the deal, they are giving early access to the beta in September.  No exact word on how early “early” is, but it’s dangled out there.  If that’s not enough, they are guaranteeing you can pre-load the game so you can play the game the second it becomes available and are also throwing in some Battlefield Play4Free items as well.  The final icing on the cake is that those who were alpha testers can also get a free game with their BF3 pre-order and can choose from Mass Effect 2, Dead Space 2 or Medal of Honor.  Short of coming to your house and cooking you dinner, EA is throwing everything possible to make Origin the place to get BF3.

Obviously, all this is a smart move for EA, who is desperate to get Origin off the ground and help put a few dents in Steam’s armor.  It also provides them a marketplace that they control so that they don’t have to play by Valve’s rules and also not share a cut of the profits of games sold on Steam.  My experience with Origin so far isn’t that great; the interface is clunky and at time feels sluggish — but the same could have been said when Steam first hit the market.  Time will tell if Origin will gain a significant market, but considering the size of EA and the number of games they publish, it’s a safe bet that Origin will be hanging around for a while.  It can’t be any worse than the Games for Windows Live Marketplace, can it?

Where are you planning to purchase BF3? Has Origin offered a sweet enough deal for you to give it a shot, or will you look elsewhere?

Jun 162011
 

Yes, I’m a fan of bad puns, get over it.  After yesterday’s news over Crysis 2 getting mysteriously pulled from Steam and then the assumed demise of future EA games on Steam, we get news that the Crysis 2 deletion was done by Valve, not EA,  over Steam policies.    EA was quick to direct the internet’s wrath directly on to Steam, although I don’t think it’s safe to put your Origin conspiracy hats away just yet.  Here’s a quote from EA on the matter:

“Steam has imposed a set of business terms for developers hoping to sell content on that service – many of which are not imposed by other online game services. Unfortunately, Crytek has an agreement with another download service which violates the new rules from Steam and resulted in its expulsion of Crysis 2 from Steam.”

No word on what “new rules” are in place and what Crytek agreement with another service (Origin?) is at fault with Steam’s terms.  Basically, it’s business deals that most gamers don’t and shouldn’t care about.  It doesn’t have an impact on those who previously bought Crysis 2 on Steam, they will still be able to re-download it if need be — but right now, no new purchases are available, hardly a tragedy on a 3 month old game, except for those holding on for a great Steam deal.  Valve is typically tight lipped about this things, so it’ll be interesting to see if they ever address this issue publicly.

What remains unclear is if this will affect future EA games, since Crytek specifically was called out and not EA in general.  Will this weaken any relationship between EA and Steam, especially with EA pushing it’s Origin service, or will it force the companies to work things out?  It is interesting though that Steam is one of the few places where you can’t pre-order Battlefield 3 today, although previous Battlefield titles remain on the service.

Jun 152011
 
Battlefield 3

A couple of weeks ago, EA essentially re-branded their EA digital download store as “Origin.”  Nothing exactly Earth-shattering, and it didn’t even feel it was worth discussing at any form here.  Yeah, there was the bit about Star Wars The Old Republic being an Origin exclusive, but for a yet-to-be-released MMO, it didn’t really register as note-worthy.  Now things are starting to get interesting.  RPS posted an article alerting us that Crysis 2 has been pulled from Steam and Alice: Madness Returns is no where to be found on Steam as well.  Also, interesting is that there have been zero hints of Battlefield 3 pre-orders on Steam, especially with EA and DICE pushing pre-orders hard elsewhere, as we discussed yesterday.

Of course the conspiracy theorists already have BF3 as an Origin exclusive, meaning if you want to buy BF3 digitally, direct from EA will be your only choice.  While that may end up being the case, there is one small problem in that logic: you can currently preorder BF3 on Direct2Drive and also on GamersGate (at 10% off).  To make things more interesting, you can still by Crysis 2 digitally on Direct2Drive and Amazon, so it doesn’t appear to have become an Origin digital exclusive, at least not yet.   Is Origin solely targeting Steam?  We’ve heard in the past from other retailers and some publishers that they felt that Steam carried too much weight by dominating the digital download market, and maybe EA is trying to strong arm Steam by not making available some high profile titles there.  They’ve done it on the used game market of console games with “Project $10”, so maybe Steam is their next focus.

I understand from a publisher’s perspective the downside of Steam.  Obviously, Steam takes a cut of the game sales, but that’s true of D2D, GamersGate, Amazon, and even brick and mortar stores like Gamestop and Best Buy.  Steam, however, works a bit differently on the technical side, requiring a somewhat rigorous approval process for not only the games but all patches — and let’s not forget that Steam games need to have separate patches applied to them which isn’t true of games purchased digitally elsewhere (except, obviously, if it’s a Steamworks game.)  So, maybe it’s more about having to maintain two different versions of a game and less about trying to forcefully limit market share of Steam.  Or maybe it’s some crazy argument over fees or other back-room deals that have really nothing to do with anything gamers should care about.  The point is, we really don’t know and I’d wager that most gamers don’t care.  They want to buy the games they want, where they want to, that’s it.

I have some, friends, actual real people, who only buy their games from Steam.  They will buy their games from Steam, even if better deals can be found elsewhere, and many times, will never buy a game simply because it’s not sold on Steam.  The question is, if BF3 is never sold on Steam, will those people buy it?  Between this and the pre-order shenanigans, have you been soured on BF3 any, or are you full steam ahead?  Yes, the bad pun was necessary.

Jun 142011
 
Battlefield 3

Pre-order bonus are nothing new.  The fact that it’s a trend that upsets many gamers doesn’t seem to be decreasing the wide-spread usage of pre-order bonuses.  Many games, you’d have to buy multiple copies from both brick and mortar and online retailers to compile all the various extra weapons, levels and perks being offered, which is obviously a non-customer friendly practice.  Even stranger, it’s not uncommon to see codes for bonuses sell on eBay for $10 or sometimes much, much more.  Now that details of BF3’s “Physical Warfare Pack” and “Back to Karkand” have been fully explained, many gamers have been fighting back against DICE and EA on these practices, claiming that if you don’t pre-order the game, you’ll be at a disadvantage online because you won’t get the extra weapons pre-orderers will get.  Also, you’ll have to pay extra to get the “Back to Karkand” pack, which includes some old favorite maps like Strike at Karkand and Wake Island, that any BF veteran will want access to.

What kicked it off was a threat of boycotting the game over at Reddit, which then prompted a response by DICE.  Of course, gaming boycotts rarely work — and we all remember the CoD:MW2 Steam boycott group (over lack of dedicated servers) who many of which were found to be playing the game on release.  However, the internet reminds us it was Sarcastic Gamer who promoted a boycott of the original (console only) BF Bad Company game, which tried to pull a similar stunt on pre-order exclusive weapons scattered about various retailers.  After hearing the outcry of the internet, DICE and EA backpedaled on the idea, and everyone was happy.

This time around, DICE doesn’t seem as willing to compromise, stating that pre-order weapons won’t imbalance the game, and will just offer a “more varied arsenal.”  As far as “Back to Karkand” — well, if you don’t pre-order the game, you can still get it post-release at an undisclosed extra price.

I’m definitely not a fan of pre-order shenanigans like this, although I have been known to pre-order games, mostly at Amazon.  My main motivation for pre-ordering is usually monetarily based, due to the plethora of $10 and $20 credits offered pre-release on high profile titles.  I usually won’t pre-order a game that only offers exclusive content as it’s usually just throw-away items — most developers won’t offer “game changing” items because it throws the whole balance of the game out of whack.  DICE says they are most definitely not doing that here, almost alluding to the fact that these extra weapons are worthless.   However, the extra map pack, offering some highly desirable maps, could save you money by not making you pay full retail for the game ($60 on all platforms) plus conceivably another $10 or more for the Karkand pack which includes Karkand (duh), Wake Island, Gulf of Oman, and Sharqi Peninsula which represent the best maps from the previous BF games.

Who’s pre-ordering this one?  I’m still on fence, but don’t appreciate DICE explaining the pre-order bonuses as “rewarding our core fanbase.”  We know what these incentives are for, please don’t insult us.  A better way to reward your core fanbase is to offer these 4 map remakes to all purchasers of the game, included in the base price of $60.

Apr 062011
 

Last week, EA opened up BF P4F to all their loyal BF players, before a wider release that happened on Monday.  A free Battlefield game, based on BF2 with some adjustments and a new experience?  Sounds great, sign me up!

So I signed up and played for a bit, and pretty early on in my first play through, an old adage came to mind: “You get what you pay for.”  Much has been made about the “evilness” of the micro-transaction system in the Play4Free games.  Thankfully, EA has provided plenty of ways to avoid spending real money on things that really matter in the game, like better weapons and “training” for gadgets.  However, the system can still be annoying.  You have to buy all your upgrades, but you can use your BF bucks earned in game to unlock new weapons for the day or for 3 days.  To keep the guns permanently, you’ll need to spend real cash.  BF bucks are earned pretty easily, and the cost of the guns is low, so unlocking weapons for a day isn’t going to cost you hours of play time.  All cosmetic stuff seems to cost real cash money, so those of you who want to play dress up will have to shell out.

The biggest issue I had with the game is all options and weapon purchases have to be made before you join a server.  Want to tweak your mouse sensitivity?  Quit the server you’re on, edit sensitivity and then re-join another server.  Want to buy a new weapon?  Exit the game and unlock the new gun.  It would have nice for them to incorporate a Counter Strike in-game “buying” system — and they may still do that since the game is still in its infancy.  It’s also worth noting that there is no server browser.  You can either do a “Play now”, join friends, or play on servers you’ve bookmarked — which seems odd…why would you bookmark random servers you joined through Play Now?  Another minor annoyance is the game has to launch from your web browser each time, so even after a web-based installer runs, the shortcut it leaves in your start menu just takes you to the BF P4F website, which you have to click the play button…very much like Quake Live or BF Heroes.

When you’re actually playing the game, it’s hard not to say that the game is essentially a stripped down version of BF2.   Most of your favorite BF2 maps are there, but don’t look near as good as BF2 — a game that was released in 2005.   Video options take a page out of the Crysis 2 book, with only settings of low, medium and high…and in this case, “high” looks pretty mediocre compared to most shooters release over the past several years.  To be fair, this game isn’t built for eye-candy, it’s meant to be an accessible, multiplayer shooter for the masses — if such a market exists.   Does that mean that it’s a bad game?  No, it’s actually pretty fun to play and provides a quick/free alternative to having to dig out BF2 discs, install and then patch a 6 year old game.  That said, I find it hard to imagine myself sinking more than a few hours into this game which doesn’t seem to register as anything more than a temporary diversion for me.

So for BF2 and BC2 die-hards, it’s hard to recommend this game as an alternative to those, as I’d say you’re better off to just keep on playing the existing games until BF3 comes out.  For people new to the BF experience, it’s a quick and easy way to check out that type of gameplay with relatively low system requirements and great for a quick match when you just want to jump in / jump out.  Is this the future of games on the PC?  I doubt it, and I seriously hope not.  My guess is that it’s trying to fill a gap between “hardcore” PC games, who play the “proper” BF games, and the casual PC gamers that play Flash-based games.  This falls somewhere in between which feels a bit like no-mans land.

You can sign up and download the game for free at battlefield.play4free.com

I did try to do a little video of the gameplay, but had trouble with both Fraps and WeGame with the beta version of the game.  With the WeGame client running, the game would crash every time when loading a map.  I could actually record with Fraps, but the result was just a stuttering mess even though the game played smooth — something I hadn’t experienced in other games.  Instead you’ll have to just deal with a few screenshots: