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Thursday
Nov032011

Battlefield 3 Is The Worst Best Game I've Ever Played

Seriously. Is there a reason why a console gamer should have to care about ANY of this?

Battlefield 3 multiplayer is awesome. It looks awesome, the gameplay is awesome and the maps are awesome. It is also the absolute worst multiplayer experience I've ever had in a video game. And for those of us who tried playing Gears of War 2 multiplayer, that's saying something.

For a great overview of how EA completely messed up the multiplayer launch of Battlefield 3 (as well as all of the other multiplayer Battlefield games in the franchise), definitely check out Ben Gilbert's great editorial in Joystiq last week. The back-end server stuff clearly has issues, and although EA rolled out a server "upgrade" a couple days ago, finding a game during peak times can still be very difficult, especially if you want to play with friends.

But even if the servers were working perfectly it would still be the worst multiplayer experience I've ever had. Why? Because of the utterly baffling front-end design that users are required to navigate in order to get into a game with their friends. Battlefield 3 is a game that is so beautifully designed and well thought out in so many respects and it's hard to fathom how the user experience of matchmaking could be so terrible.

Actually, it's not hard to fathom, because it seems like it was designed by engineers who are used to playing games on the PC. For the most part console gamers aren't used to having to "browse servers" or "bookmark servers" that they might enjoy playing on later. In my opinion this is how matchmaking works best on a console:

  1. You and your friends get into a party together and decide to play the same game.
  2. One person is the leader and they initiate matchmaking.
  3. Everyone in the party is put in the same game on the same team.
  4. That game is populated with players of a similar rank, so the gameplay isn't one-sided.

This is essentially the multiplayer matchmaking experience of Bungie's Halo franchise, and compared to Battlefield 3 it was flawless.

Currently in Battlefield 3, if you want to play a game with more than four people, one person has to go to the server list, wait to find a server with a game that has enough openings for your entire party, then jump into that server and invite his friends. Then the friends have to jump into that game as quickly as possible before other people join and fill up the game. If you've got more than 5 people, someone almost always gets left out, and it's profoundly frustrating.

Without outright acknowledging the bad design, EA seems to realize the matchmaking experience is frustrating their console gamers. Yesterday on the Battlefield Blog they posted a "Quick Guide to the Battlefield 3 Server Browser" which is basically a walk-through of the completely obtuse Server Browser screens. If you've got to publish directions on how to navigate the matchmaking process, you've failed.

There are other big failures too. If you accept a game invite from a friend who isn't currently in a game, it will place you in that person's squad, but it won't send you automatically to the squad screen (the pre-game lobby). Then, once in that squad, one person (the "squad leader") has control of the matchmaking, though there is no way to know looking at the list of names who exactly is the squad leader. And then, once that player uses "Quick Match" to start a game, the squad is, more often than not, broken up.

And the concept of playing in a game with players of similar skill level seems to have been completely thrown out the window. If you want to play in a game with more than four friends, you have to pick a server with openings. In my experience those servers are full of shut-ins who have been doing nothing but playing Battlefield 3 since it launched. Players shouldn't have to choose between playing together with their friends or playing in a game that is evenly matched. It all seemed so simple in the Halo days.

I know launching a multi-million dollar video game with millions of players all demanding perfection isn't an easy thing. I get that. But if EA had just spent a fraction of all the pre-order money on a couple of user experience designers and some independent user experience testing before launching the game, things could have been a lot different. Or better yet, maybe they just should have hired someone from Bungie to explain how to do it correctly on a console.

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References (4)

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    Gentlemen of Gaming - Gentlemen of Gaming - Battlefield 3 Is The Worst Best Game I've Ever Played
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    Gentlemen of Gaming - Gentlemen of Gaming - Battlefield 3 Is The Worst Best Game I've Ever Played
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    Response: cheat
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    Response: buy essay
    Well it is so confusing so please state it clearly whether it is best or worst? Lol! I am kidding I also know that the game is just too good to describe in words. I am overjoyed by playing it.

Reader Comments (2)

Great article, Chris. I echo everything you say, and I have a few complaints of my own:

Once the game is over, you're taken to the game stats screen, and there's a waiting period of a minute or so for people to review the stats. THEN you start loading the next match - another 30-45 seconds. Then and only then do you have the ability to actually exit the game to join a new one. This was one of the most frustrating parts of playing BF2BC, and I had assumed they'd fix it. I know the delay is only a minute or two, but it seems like eternity when you just want to switch servers and try something else. Does anyone think this is a good idea? Do they like traffic lights and long lines as well?

You also can't start your own game. Maybe this is one of the differences between Halo's player hosted matches and BF3's dedicated servers. If you had a party of 8 or 10 guys and you wanted to play your own Halo game, you could. Start your own game, choose your map and game type, make it private, and enjoy. With BF3, you need to go jump through all the hoops Chris mentioned, but you're still stuck in a game with strangers.

BF3 makes it hard to join a friend's game in progress. You can do so from the Xbox live console, "Join Session in Progress", but via the BF3 menus, you can see your friend, but there's no option to join them directly (unless the server my friend was playing on has been full every time I tried this).

The filters in the server browser are nice - but what's the point of having a filter for servers with "5+ players"? You still get the servers with 22, 23, 24 players and have to scroll all the way to the end. If you want to join a game with 4 or 5 friends, how about an option to find a server with "Less than 18" players. Some of these things make you wonder - did anyone from DICE actually try this in real life?

There are a few things BF3 does do well, that Halo did NOT - you can join games in mid-game, BF3 balances the teams well, and if you want to join a full server you get put in a queue until a spot opens up. Kudos for those.

BF3, in many ways, is an outstanding game. Again, I echo Chris' praise for the gameplay, and it looks SPECTACULAR. But, it's harmed by the clunky multiplayer interface. I think Halo 3 had the ultimate multiplayer experience/interface. It was well thought out, intuitive, and let you easily play with friends (which I thought was the whole point of having an online gaming service). It's unfortunate in the 4 years since Halo 3 came out, we've moved BACKWARDS. I'm extremely frustrated by this. I pre-ordered BF3 sight unseen. If there is a BF4, I'll weigh my decision more carwfully.

November 3, 2011 | Registered CommenterJason

More bizzareness last night. In a nice change, there were few server issues, servers weren't full, and we were able to get our party of 8 onto one server with a minimum of fuss.

However, the teams were unbalanced. We played 4 or 5 games in a row where one team had an 8-4 team member advantage. Since the server was mostly our group, and we're all decent guys, we tried to switch teams to make it more fair- and the option was greyed out and we weren't able to balance the teams ourselves. Nor did BF3 add any players to the server to rectify the inequity.

For those of us on the short end, it was good practice to got up against superior numbers - except for the random dbags in the game who were practicing their sniping on us. Nothing like being a good sport!

November 4, 2011 | Registered CommenterJason

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