Thursday, July 5, 2012

Battlefield Premium, One Month On- Is It Worth It?

I bought Battlefield Premium on one of the first few days it was released. It was AUD$50 on PC, and the expansion packs are about $20/25 each, so I’d be crazy not to really. I already had Back to Karkand, and Close Quarters didn’t interest me much, but the savings I’d make on the other packs, the teased exclusive content, and being able to try out Close Quarters should I choose won me over. A month on from its release, is Battlefield Premium worth the money? Here’s how I feel about it so far.

Pre-Close Quarters

Premium was available before Close Quarters was released, so before then you had access to the following perks:

Cosmetic changes
You got a new knife (works the same, just looks different), some weapon and soldier camos, and some dogtags which required an assignment to be completed before you could use them. The new knife looks quite nice, it’s much more colourful than the default, though you don’t have the option to use the old one. Most likely so people are forced to see the Premium incentive. There’s also some extra camos for both your soldier and weapons, which are nice for customisation, but the soldier camos available seem to change depending on the map or your team, you can’t use all of them all the time, which is a bit irritating. The number of weapon camos at the moment is also very limited, with only four weapons having them available, and they are the weapons required to use for the dogtags. They look nice, but you only get the camos for the four weapons, and it’s a different camo for each weapon. There’s more camos being released at later dates, so I assume eventually most, if not all, weapons will have a variety of camos available. I hope so, they look really nice on the guns. There are also six new dogtags added, one Battlefield Premium one, four others unlocked through new assignments, which basically involve using a class specific weapon and doing a class specific action so many times (e.g. The Assault one requires you to get 50 F2000 kills, 25 F2000 headshots and 50 squad heals) and then one final one unlocked through an assignment, which first requires the other four tags to be unlocked, and then a certain number of kills with a variety of weapon types.

The dogtags look really nice, I’m currently using the Jack of All Trades one. Firstly because the black and gold colouring looks great, but also because some of the requirements for the previous dogtags took ages to complete and I wanted to show people I’d done it XD My semi-OCD however doesn’t like the fact that I can only have a black and gold tag on the right, with a silver on the left, I’d like if they made some black and gold dogtags that you can place on the left. But that’s just a minor nitpick.

New Weapons
While the Close Quarters maps weren’t made available, the assignments to unlock the weapons that came with it were, oddly enough, meaning they could be unlocked as soon as you bought Premium (and completed the appropriate assignments of course). The majority of the new weapons are good additions, they’re viable without being overpowered and putting people without the pack at a disadvantage. But what I really liked was the assignments, including the dog tag ones, because they were encouraging me to try out new things, and you could see that these assignments were changing how people played. For example, for some reason until an assignment told me to get C4 kills, I never thought to place C4 on MCOMs in Rush for some reason, but when I was prompted to get C4 kills I had to think of an efficient way to rack up the kills, and it suddenly hit me. I also discovered you can repair helicopters from certain seats while still riding as a passenger while trying to meet the squad repair requirement. And you could see people were trying to get the assignments, because they were doing similar things, more C4 was being used, people were using specific weapons because they counted towards the assignments, and EOD bots became a much more common site than usual due to one of the assignments requiring an EOD bot kill. So I was happy when some of the assignments asked people to do things that contributed to the team, like healing, resupplying and capturing flags, because it made people more likely to perform these actions (unless they were going for the sniper headshot requirements, I am guilty of this too!).

Queue Priority
One feature that’s really helpful for me (but I imagine not so great for non-Premium players) is that when you’re waiting in a queue and a space frees up in the game, Premium players get to take the spot before anyone else in the queue. Once I was in a queue of about five people, and got to skip ahead of all of them. I felt a bit bad to be honest, but I mean, it’s a feature I paid for, I’m gonna use it. It doesn’t seem to be as dramatic now that most people seem to be Premium players now.

Close Quarters Video
The first Premium exclusive (until it was put on Youtube :3 ) video was an overview of the Close Quarters pack before it was released. It was good to see what the content we had already paid for was going to be like, and it was good to see the thought processes behind the design of the maps and modes the pack would introduce. I wasn’t looking forward to Close Quarters at all, so this hadn’t really convinced me, but it was good to see what the maps were going to be like. Having played the maps now, I’m not sure the video really does them justice, but it’s hard to get a feel for what they’re like without playing them. The video seems to be more plugging the gunplay and explosions (the game isn’t as hectic as the video seems to indicate), but that’s what the people who this pack was designed for want, so whatever.

Back to Karkand
Most people already have this pack due to preordering the game, but in case you don’t already have it, it definitely adds a lot more value to the Premium package. The Back to Karkand maps are some of the better maps in the game, and it gives you some new weapons as well. Since it’s been out for a while and most people already have it, I’m not going to go into too much detail, but if you don’t have the pack this should definitely be a big draw towards Premium.

Premium Advertisement on KIllcam
This is the one part of Premium that I really don’t like. Whenever you get a kill in multiplayer, on your opponent’s killcam, the following graphic is displayed

Essentially, each time you kill someone now, it plugs the Premium service to them. I really don’t like this, I mean if someone sees you using Premium content they might see that as an incentive, and it’s a less in your face way of advertising. This graphic however is incredibly tacky, and basically says ‘Buy Premium, and you can be more like the guy that beat you!’. As you can imagine, non-Premium players don't like this form of in your face advertising, but Premium players are actually unhappy with it too.

Misc. features
Premium gives you access to a few more little features, like being able to reset your score, save five battle reports as ‘favourites’, and gives you more customisation in the platoon editor. I haven’t used any of these features, but they’re exactly what they say they are, so you can make up your mind whether or not they appeal to you.

Close Quarters Release

Close Quarters Pack
I’m not gonna lie, I really detested the idea of a Close Quarters pack. It was an obvious attempt to appeal to the ‘hardcore’ (read: 12 year old COD players) that went against what made Battlefield what it is. I’m not a big fan of FPSes, they’re mostly pointless killfests where the aim is to just get as many kills as possible. Even in non-deathmatch game mods like Capture the Flag, there’s really only one way to play the game. That’s why I like Battlefield. It has large, open maps, vehicles, a focus on teamwork and playing for objectives, and multiple ways to play. I can be a medic who keeps our team alive when we storm an objective. I can be a support player who keeps the enemy supressed and unable to advance on an objective. I can be an engineer who tags along in vehicles so that I can repair my team mate’s vehicle should it get damaged. And there’s so many more varied playstyles offered, rather than ‘shoot enemies up close’ and ‘shoot enemies from far away’. Close Quarters seemed to go against this, with small maps designed for deathmatch, appealing to the more general FPS fanbase. Watching the promotional videos the maps just looked like small fractions of a full Battlefield map promoted as full maps.

Nonetheless, Premium meant I could save money and also give the Close Quarters maps a go, and I can say I was kind of wrong. The maps definitely do feel different to normal Battlefield play, but at the same time they feel similar enough so that they don’t play like a generic FPS which would be of no interest to me. I didn’t feel this way at first though; I absolutely hated the maps at first. They were small, there seemed to be no teamwork, and you were killed every two or three seconds. I kept playing them to give them a fair chance though, but I just wasn’t enjoying it, it wasn’t Battlefield. Then I tried out the new game mode, Gun Master. This wasn’t promoted much before the pack’s release, but it’s what saved Close Quarters for me. Gun Master is Battlefield’s version of Counter Strike’s Gun Game. Yes, that’s right, COD didn’t invent Gun Game. Everyone starts with a pistol, and each time you get two kills, you ‘level up’, and gain a new weapon. Once you get to the last level you need to get a knife kill to win, but a knife takedown at any other time will demote the person you killed, meaning they need to level up again. Now, some of the first few times I tried out this mode I happened to join mid match, which meant I was at a huge disadvantage and didn’t have a good time. And even when I was there at the start of the match, I was losing by significant amounts and not enjoying myself, but I was determined to get in the top 5 one match in order to finish one of the assignments. Gradually, I was learning the maps, and the importance of hip firing in these maps, and was able to hold my own a bit, but I was still getting smashed by the other players. But then, one time as I was raging at the game because the other team were ‘ganging up on me’, I realised why I wasn’t doing well on these maps- teamwork was just as, if not more, important on these maps as it is in the normal Battlefield game. If you don’t play for the objective and capture the flags in Conquest Domination, your team is screwed. Camping will help no one in this match. If your team has no medics to revive you and bring back tickets, you’re not necessarily screwed, but it can really change the flow of the match. Most Conquest Domination matches I’ve played have been right down to the wire, with both teams having very low ticket amounts, and the tide can change really quickly if the other team suddenly starts working together. You can’t lone wolf to much success in these maps. Sure, you may get a lot of kills if you know what you’re doing, but if you get caught by an enemy squad, you’re dead, and you’re not contributing to the capturing or defending of flags, so your team could be losing valuable tickets while you’re fishing for a high K/D. On the topic of K/D ratios, I have found that Close Quarters has helped me out in knowing how to handle combat. Usually in other maps I would mostly play for stealth, or defending objectives, because I would always get slaughtered in head on confrontations. Playing Close Quarters has helped me discover strategies and weapon combinations that help me stay alive a lot longer, and gain more kills per life than I used to. Even in Gun Master, a mode where only one person can win, you still need to work as a squad, because you’re much more powerful and harder to kill as a unit rather than a single person. Once you find a squad/team who work together and focus on objectives and helping out teammates, you can have a lot more fun with the maps.

The maps themselves are very pretty. The design that went into them is really well done and they feel unique from each other, and other Battlefield maps. They’re a lot bigger than I was expecting, they’re not small, confined maps like you’d find in a lot of FPSes, although most of the space comes from the ‘verticality’ of the maps. This means that they’re designed to have multiple levels in order to have more ‘space’. Each map has around 3 or 4 different floors, which link to each other in different ways. It makes for a variety of ways around the maps and to sneak up on enemies and objectives. The improved destruction is also a nice touch, adding a layer of strategy into the maps. You can blow through walls and cubicles to get better shots at enemies, you can blow up cars in parking lots to fill the area with smoke, and there’s plenty of destructible objects there just to add to the fast paced chaos going on during gameplay. Glass will be smashed, papers will fly across the room, paint cans will splatter paint across the room and more. It makes the maps feel a bit more involved than static maps you can’t interact with in anyway. While the maps are surprisingly spacious, I think they could be even better if they were included as a smaller part of bigger, standard Battlefield maps. A city filled with buildings like Ziba Tower and Operation 925 would be great fun to explore, and would make it really feel like warfare throughout a whole city. I think I would even find them more interesting if they had a bit of the outside area included. The map Scrap Metal is set in a junkyard/machinery complex built over train tracks, but if you drop down the train tracks you’re counted as out of bounds and die. If there was, say, a 25m or so radius around the map that included a few extra flags and more playing area including the train tracks it would feel more like a miniature Battlefield map, and they could even chuck in a light vehicle or something. It would make the maps more enjoyable and would appeal to the Battlefield fans who were turned off by the Close Quarters gameplay.

The Close Quarters maps were certainly better than I was expecting, but they’re still not as enjoyable as standard Battlefield maps. I’m playing them a fair bit at the moment, but that’s mostly because they’re new and add more variety, I’m not sure I would actively seek them out as much as normal maps once this novelty wears off. However, if the maps popped up in a normal server rotation I certainly wouldn’t object to playing them, they can add a bit of variety, but playing just Close Quarters can get old rather quickly, due to it being purely infantry focused. The maps also take a bit of time to get used to, as you can get lost easily in some of them due to all the stairs and hallways, and the minimap doesn’t show enemies on the floor above or below you so while someone may be shooting at you, they won’t necessarily be visible on your map. My advice is to just bear with it a bit, and make sure you have a good squad.

Double XP
There was a Premium exclusive Double XP event to celebrate the release of Close Quarters, which was really nice. Combined with the high point totals in a short time period that I was getting from the Close Quarters maps, I was levelling up really quickly, and I managed to get most of the last few unlocks I needed for all the kits, meaning I could focus more on playing the kits I wanted to, and getting attachments for the weapons I wanted to use. I feel like the Close Quarters maps will be the go to maps during Double XP events due to the fact that you can get really high point totals and the matches don’t last anywhere near as long as 5000 ticket Metro.

Post Close Quarters

MORE Double XP
There’s been more Double XP events since Close Quarters’ release, and at the moment it’s getting a bit ridiculous. At the moment, there’s a whole WEEK of it for Premium players, and it basically means everyone’s going to unlock everything, and future Double XP is worthless as there’s nothing more to gain from it. I can understand a monthly Premium exclusive Double XP weekend, but so far we’ve had multiple events, and Premium’s only been out for about a month. DICE should be a bit more restrained with it, or it just becomes pointless and lessens the value of it.

Close Quarters Strategy Guide
The strategy guide I thought was of really high quality, which is to be expected since it’s done by Prima. It gives a good overview of general Battlefield tips and the Close Quarters content. A lot of the stuff I’ve already figured out through playing the game, but for people who have only just bought Premium, or are not as skilled at the game as they’d like, I’d imagine it’d be very useful. It tells you all the information about Close Quarters you’ll need to survive that took me a while to figure out, and once I did I started to enjoy the maps, so if you’re not enjoying Close Quarters it might be worth a read. For example, things like the surprising necessity for squad work in Close Quarters play, quirks of the maps you may not be aware of (for example being able to shoot through the fireplace at B on Ziba Tower), and to always be wary of C4 on control points. I soon learnt the importance of trying to grenade a control point before capturing it in order to disarm C4, but I often see people charging in and complaining about how ‘cheap’ it is for people to plant C4 there. Hopefully people will give the strategy guide a read so they can get better accustomed to the style of play required to succeed in Close Quarters. Future strategy guides will likely be more useful to more people, since the maps will be bigger and harder to learn, and they will release the same month as the expansion packs (the Close Quarters strategy guide was released this month, while the pack itself was released last month).

The Verdict

So all in all, I’ve been very happy with my purchase of Premium, and I’m excited to see what it brings in the future. The full release schedule is shown below, but a more in depth version is available here on Battlelog. It’s mostly self-explanatory, however ‘Unique In-Game Content’ covers things like the new knife, dogtags and camos, while ‘Bonus Content’ could really be anything, we’re not sure what it will be.

I’m really excited for the future expansion packs, but in particular I’m interested in what the ‘Bonus Content’ will cover. The first batch was Back to Karkand, and while I’m sure it won’t be three Premium exclusive expansion packs, it could very well be something like game modes from the expansion packs becoming available on more maps, or heck, even Dino mode. Some exclusive content like that would be sure to draw more people to the service.

If you’re still undecided on whether Premium is for you, ask yourself the following questions:

Do you have Back to Karkand?
If you have Back to Karkand, the Premium service certainly loses some value, although you will still save some money and gain access to some exclusive content. Right now though, I don’t think the exclusive content is enough to sway you over if getting the expansion packs earlier and cheaper hasn’t. If you don't have Back to Karkand, then Premium is definitely worth getting, as it's a great map pack and you save even more money.

What Platform will you be playing on?
I ask this for two reasons. The first, is the different player counts, which console players by now probably know about all too well. While the PC can support up to 64 player matches, the console versions can only support 24, and 16 in Close Quarters. I find that 16 players probably isn’t enough for Close Quarters as odd as it sounds, with 24, and sometimes 32, player matches being much more enjoyable (any more than that is chaos though). 16 is still enjoyable, though not as much. Also, from what I can gather, this player count apparently means that Close Quarters maps can’t be put into normal map rotations on consoles, meaning you need to seek out Close Quarters specific servers, which is a pain, and means it’s easier to get tired of the maps easier. I don’t believe this is a problem on PC, but don’t quote me on that. Basically, if you don’t mind the player count then the console version is perfectly fine.

The second reason I ask is that, in Australia at least, different consoles have different Premium prices. On PC, it’s $49.99, PS3 it’s $75 and on Xbox 360 it’s 2000 points I believe, which I have been told is around $66. To compare, the Close Quarters pack by itself is $23.95. So as you can tell, that is a ridiculous saving on PC, and if other regions have the same pricing, then don’t pass it up. You’re getting 4 expansion packs (5 if you include Back to Karkand) plus some extra content and perks, for just over the price of two expansion packs. The savings aren’t as great on the other consoles, but still worth considering if you’re going to buy every pack anyway.

Do you intend to buy all the expansion packs?
If you do, then you’d be silly not to get Premium, as you save money regardless of whether you already have Back to Karkand or not. You may wish to old off and wait for more details on the expansion packs before you pay for them, which is fair enough, but keep in mind that that will decrease the value of the Premium service, as you’ll miss out on Premium exclusive events, and early access to the expansion packs.

Hopefully I’ve given you a bit of insight into Battlefield Premium so you can make up your mind whether it’s for you or not :)

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