Releasing a beta for Battlefield 3 might be the biggest mistake EA has made with its biggest game this year. Or, more specifically, releasing this Battlefield 3 beta has been a spectacular miscalculation on EA's part. It isn't just the technical issues, though those are distressing. DICE has insisted that the open Battlefield 3 beta is very much that: a beta. And I think that if they had released it six weeks earlier, it would be easier to swallow.
DICE has insisted publicly that the beta that released was an old build caught up in the vagaries of console manufacturer certification, but a) most gamers have no idea what that even means, b) most gamers will never see that information, and c) EA and DICE are fully aware of the amount of time it takes to get content through the certification process.
I don't know that we've ever seen a console beta with as many major technical issues as the Battlefield 3 beta; I know that we haven't seen one recently. And whether DICE and EA care to admit it, there's a public expectation that console betas will be more functional than the version of Battlefield 3 being offered now. And DICE has conducted betas on console before, most recently with Battlefield: Bad Company 2, which did not have the myriad technical issues that Battlefield 3 does.
The main problem with the Battlefield 3 beta – the one that's out right this moment – is that it doesn't play like Battlefield 3 does now ...
But that's not the main reason that this beta has been a mistake. The main problem with the Battlefield 3 beta – the one that's out right this moment – is that it doesn't play like Battlefield 3 does now, how I assume the final game will play.
There are major gameplay balance differences between the two. Weapons feel different, with different fire rates and recoil. And the damage model has been radically shifted. Death comes quickly in the beta, situated more towards Call of Duty's durability, or even last year's DICE-developed Medal of Honor multiplayer. Firefights in the beta prioritize reflexes over tactics, which is a departure from Bad Company 2.
This is not the case with Battlefield 3 as it is now. The version of Battlefield 3 that I spent hours playing last week has weapons and damage that feel like Battlefield Bad Company 2. This, if you aren't sure, is a good thing. It changes the dynamics of firefights, allowing for each side to take and hold positions, and making flanking and tactical coordination much more viable. The increased player survivability also make vehicles in Battlefield 3 more fair than they would be with the beta's damage models.
Getting the drop on someone isn't the end of a fight in the version of Battlefield 3 I played last week. You have to be persistent, and you have to watch your ass to make sure you aren't left holding your, uh, empty gun in your hand if the guy you murdered has a teammate around the corner.
It leads to more interesting, frantic firefights, including one moment where I killed one enemy with my M4, shot another that came around the corner from the hip, and had to switch to my sidearm to handle yet another opponent a moment later. This happened all the time in Bad Company 2, and it's one of the things that gave it an identity separate from other modern military shooters. Requiring more ammo per kill also makes the support class more important – as you run out of ammo, you'll be looking for that resupply. Battlefield 3 has made machine gunners your source of ammo, which means you'll probably need to fall back to resupply.
As it stands now, Battlefield 3's beta is a wellspring of misinformation about what your final Battlefield 3 experience will be.
It's an example of one change resulting in a cascade of differences in how Battlefield 3 will play when it's released later this month than the beta does now. As it stands now, Battlefield 3's beta is a wellspring of misinformation about what your final Battlefield 3 experience will be. I'm glad for that – I enjoyed what I've played of this more-final build of Battlefield 3 much more than any time I've spent with the game throughout the year. DICE and EA told me last week that they've been taking player feedback from the beta into account, though I have a hard time comprehending how they could make such sweeping changes based entirely on player feedback. But the question is whether or not what EA and DICE have let people at home play early has done more harm than good for Battlefield 3's prospects.
We'll find out soon. Battlefield 3 is scheduled for release on October 25th.