There used to be a time when the "launch" of the game was defined differently. Before the mindset of "Push it now, patch it later," a game had to be fairly well polished before it dared to launch. While Battlefield 4 technically launched last week in the sense that you can buy it and it is openly accessible to the public, the lack of any real polish is conspicuously absent. There is little doubt that Battlefield 4 will eventually become a gem of a game, but in its current state, it is anything but.
The game is not leaps and bounds different from the previous entry in the series, but it does feature a lengthy list of changes. The web-based Battlelog system is still used for loadouts and to find servers to join, but the new version seems slightly more polished. The "Levolution" system can affect the dynamics of a map in a much more meaningful way, and the second-by-second tactics of a multiplayer match have changed due to minor, yet important, alterations. Players familiar with Battlefield 3 will feel at home with the newest installment in the franchise, and there are enough changes so it doesn't feel like a glorified expansion pack.
Battlelog is more polished, but it retains about the same level of functionality. You still can't join servers as a group of players, which makes playing with friends a bit of a pain. However, other aspects, such as changing loadouts, have been made much easier and all but remove the need to mess with them during gameplay. There's been more love put into Battlelog, but it's probably not enough to bring around those who didn't like using it the last time.
The dynamic damage system and its associated "Levolution" aspect seem oversold, with a few standout examples to the contrary. For the most part, the damage system for your "normal" buildings and terrain doesn't seem much different than it was in Battlefield 3. The damage is more well defined, somewhat to the extent of the Close Quarters expansion for the last game, but overall, it feels like the same dynamic. At the same time, the previous system worked perfectly fine, so not many changes were needed.
"Levolution" is more hit-and-miss. One example of "Levolution" in a level is little more than the fact that IEDs can be detonated in specific areas of the map at any point. In another map, the "Levolution" system permanently floods the map under a few feet of water. What was once roads are now canals, and players can dive and travel for a short while underwater to conceal their movements. It has a decent effect on the map dynamics, and it does so for all players on it. While "Levolution" does have its high points, it doesn't exactly mean that every building can be brought down in a thundering collapse.
The changes made to the actual gameplay are the most important ones to mention. One change is in the dynamic cover system, which lets you pop out from cover and back simply by aiming down the sights while near a corner or low wall. Once near a corner or wall, your character holds his weapon slightly differently, signifying that the cover system is in effect. It's subtle, but it also communicates the direction where the game thinks the cover "works," and it's usually correct. Once you aim down the sights of your weapon, your character leans out from cover, and he does so just enough to aim where you're pointing. This minimizes the surface area you present to the enemy, and it makes it possible to trade fire with the enemy.
Other minor changes to the formula also provide appreciated results. In the previous game, choosing an optics attachment involved a lot of risk; holographic sights were great for short-range skirmishes but bad for longer encounters, and scopes had the opposite problem in addition to a longer delay. Battlefield 4 adds a few more attachments, such as allowing players to mount a small 2x scope in addition to a holographic sight that can be toggled on or off. For scoped weapons, you can mount canted iron sights that let you use the weapon with the scope or with iron sights for closer encounters, where the delay of bringing up the full scope could mean death.
The campaign mode is underwhelming, thanks in no small part to the brainless enemy AI and the disjointed plot. Throughout the course of the game, you will rescue a Chinese VIP with a mysterious background and protect some vital information from enemy hands, but the game never really explains who the VIP is, why he is important, or what the information is. All the while, you're fight off waves of enemies, each with AI that rarely does more than move to scripted locations and trade predictable fire with you until they are killed. It adds up to a campaign mode that, while gorgeous and full of big moments, is awfully forgettable.
In reality, most Battlefield veterans are picking up the game for the multiplayer gameplay, and unfortunately, the issues with the game are even more apparent in that segment. Server issues that caused players to lose progress were patched within a couple of days, but numerous other crashes and game-ending bugs exist. You may play for a few minutes on a server only to get kicked off with an error of "Server is full." Join that server again before it loads a fresh match, and your progress is overwritten. At the time of writing, our copy of the game wouldn't stay on a server for more than a round, and we'd often get booted within a couple of minutes.
Other issues abound, some of which are downright goofy. Some keys are hard-coded in their usage and cannot be changed, such as how the B button inexplicably brings up the console but is also assigned to toggle the minimap. This also makes it an easy key to accidentally hit, and suddenly, rather than strafing back behind cover during a firefight, you are typing into a barely noticeable console prompt. Other keys on the keyboard cannot be mapped at all, so players who favor those keys (or have assigned them to mouse buttons) are out of luck. Finally, there's at least one combination of weapon and attachments that, when fired, essentially mutes all sound for all players on the server until they leave the server. One wonders why EA/DICE didn't conduct a proper beta test (instead of a week-long glorified demo in October) to help catch these issues before they hampered the game.
Unfortunately, it all adds up to be a less-than-stellar experience for Battlefield 4. There is little doubt that the game will see patches to address some or all of these issues, but as it stands, it has an underwhelming single-player campaign and an unstable multiplayer mode that severely hampers enjoyment. The launch of a game used to mean that something close to a polished product was made available. In that regard, the Battlefield 4 launch can only be seen as an embarrassment. Hopefully, the game will be better after some patches, but in its current state, it shouldn't have been released in the first place.
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