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EA is really trying to compete with Activision this year. Modern warfare has long been the king of shooters, and Battlefield 3 wants to kick it off the hill. In order it do that EA has to make a better game and market the shit out of it. They have it halfway figured out at least.
Battlefield 3 uses something called Battlelog on the PC. Battlelog is part social network, friends list, match-maker, server browser, and stat tracker. It tries to be an all inclusive tool for Battlefield 3, but it fails to achieve this admirable goal. There are two major flaws with the system: It's browser based and not in-game, and it only works for Battlefield 3.
These days gaming is all about integration. We want friends lists, achievements, and the ability to quickly jump into matches. Dashboards, overlays, and popups show us information while keeping us in the game. This system is being used by consoles and PC, and it works really well. It's evolved into something that has become an integral part of our gaming experience.
When I'm playing a game on Steam, I like how easy and convenient it is to open up the in-game overlay. From this overlay I can quickly see what my friends are doing, my progress towards an achievement, or I can even open up a web browser. It's fast, quick, easy, and incredibly convenient. This overlay will even work for most non-Steam games. I can just add a shortcut to Steam, and I can pull up this overlay from Lord of the Rings Online, Minecraft, or Bad Company 2.
Steam has the meta experience figured out. It's not just about the game we are playing, or how good that game is. It's also about how easy it is to jump into a game, and our connection to other gamers. Developers need to figure out how to eliminate as many hurdles as possible that stand in the player's way. We don't want to sign up for a new account with every game that we buy, and we don't want to have joining a multiplayer match feel like taking an exam.
When I want to join a multiplayer match, I want a giant "PLAY NOW" button in front of me. Clicking on this obvious button, should cause the game to find me a match, and let me jump in and play right away. This shouldn't be that hard to do. I also want to be able to browse servers easily, for those times when I want to play with a specific group or on a particular map that I really like. Finally, I need to be able to join my friends games. None of these things are revolutionary, or specific to any game. Just about any multiplayer game on the PC has these things figured out. I don't that I am asking to much for any game coming out in 2011 to have all of these things.
Now that I have taken up half a page with me rambling about what a good experience is like, let's take a look at what Battlelog actually does. Before I even talk about Battlelog, I need to tell you about Origin. Origin is EA's digital gaming platform. You can buy games from it, and you have to have it running to play these games. Other game companies do that, and it's not that bad. I install Origin, and I create my magical Origin account, and we should be all set to play Battlefield 3. Wrong. Now I need a Battlefield 3 account.
What? Why do I need to create a separate account for Battlefield 3 when I just made an account for Origin? I need Origin to play Battlefield 3, so why can't I just log into Battlefield 3 with my Origin account? This is a major pain in the ass. Once I set up another account, I downloaded the and was ready to jump into the beta for Battlefield 3. I click on the nice "play" button and I expect the game to launch. What happens next is almost mind-blowingly absurd.
Instead of the game coming up, my web browser fires up and I am greeted with a disgusting looking hybrid of Facebook and Twitter. This appalling service is Battlelog. A web based service that is clunky, hard to navigate, and filled with useless information like what type of guns my friends have unlocked. I want to quit out of this pathetic website and jump into Battlefield 3, but I can't. I need this in order to play the game.
I bite the bullet and proceed to set up my profile. I cringe when I go to pick a picture and I have to use some generic EA themed avatar. I want to cry when I see that beneath my friends status updates I can click a button marked "Hooah!", which is a copy of "Liking" something on Facebook. I am a grown man, and they expect me to see that my friend unlock a new rifle and click on a congratulatory button to "Hooah!" at someone? This feature is designed for frat boys who want to circlejerk about who has the shiniest guns. I quickly decide that the best way to avoid this embarrassing attempt at social networking is to just not add any friends to Battlelog.
Enough of this Battlelog bull, I want to play the game already. Battlefield 3's server browser is located in Battlelog, and you can't do anything like find a match, join your friends game, or browse servers from inside of the game. Once I realized that this was how I had to interact with the game I wanted to scream. What kind of moron thought that this was a good idea? Once the game launches you have no way to change servers without quiting and heading back to the Battlelog. To make it even worse, quiting isn't always that easy. You can't quit unless you are deployed on the battlefield. This means that you can't quit after you die, or in between matches. These are probably the times when I want to quit a match the most. If I am getting frustrated with a match and I am dying a lot (which happens a lot becuase I suck at shooters), then I should be able to quickly change servers. And why won't they let me quit after a match? The game is over, and maybe I want to go play with a friend.
After all of this crap, Battlefield 3 is actually a really good game. It's fast paced, it looks gorgeous, it runs smooth, and it controls amazing well. I really liked playing it, but not enough to want to wade through the muck that's required to jump in. It's a great game that is ruined by a bad system around it.
The overall experience is awful. Joining a game can be cumbersome at best, and it's sometimes downright painful. EA's poor attempt at social networking is poorly designed, and lacks any type of real feature that I find useful. Congratulations DICE on making a really cool game, but unfortunately your publisher has decided to bury it in a backwards and clunky attempt at networking. I was all set to pick up Battlefield 3 in the future, but now my interest has been stifled by the awful tasted Battlelog has left in my mouth. If you are a PC gamer and your thinking about picking up Battlefield 3, make sure you read a review that is specific to the PC version of the game first. Make sure you read up on Battlelog, and that you are prepared to deal with it's quirks.