Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Consider Battlefield Heroes

I recently got my beta code for Battlefield Heroes, DICE's free to play cartoon shooter. Being intrigued by this game from the get-go, I was finally able to take it for a spin. On first looks, DICE succeeds in creating a whimsical "casual" third person shooting game. But looks can be deceiving.

First of all, this is a beta I'm talking about so the game is still a work in progress. However. There's already a store in place for you to go spend real money on battlefield bucks, called Battlefunds. These are used to buy in-game items, such as fancy uniforms. I knew character customization would be on a to-buy basis, but it was sobering to see that just about everything in the virtual wardrobe is on sale. Of course there's some freebies in there which you can buy with valor points. These are the points you get from just playing the game. Logic would tell you that enough accumulated valor points (which boil down to "time played") would beget you some better customization options, or at least some form of visible markings of veterancy. But no dice. Because of this I think the game is lacking a basic form of feedback, namely that of character growth. The one constant is your hero and his Hero Points, In MMO-speak, this would be your character's level and skill bar. But there's no way of reading either.

To add insult to injury, the items you get in the game disappear after a week or a month, depending on how much you are willing to spend. The problem here is that DICE can slack off in making new items, since you'll never accumulate a lot of them anyway. Adding a time limit also adds pressure of "having to play the game, or I have paid for nothing". I can understand why you would apply this to weapons and power-ups because they give you an advantage in the game. Even if those weapons are considered balanced. If you play better with them, there's still an advantage. But I don't quite get why you would have clothing an accessories disappear. This goes against some MMO conventions, where you "win" gear, and once you do it's yours forever, or until you sell or replace it. People might find it disheartening if they have to rebuy their outfits time and time again. But the special gear is more of a hook rather than a gameplay defining element.

I'm unsure as to how well it will score with the casual audience. Maybe the concept of a shooter isn't that well suited to casual play either - even if it is from a third person perspective. We can make the case that casual players play games for killing time and having some easy fun. It's hard to match this with a shooter, which operates in a competitive, hostile environment. Sure, the game is easy enough to dive into, but from there you need to really work your way up the roster. The game is said to find matches according to your skill level so maybe this won't be as much of an issue as I think. Still, the people I played against were often on voice comms, really organized and put up a very good fight.

This game feels like a reskinned, hardcore battlefield game. Where all the character models are replaced by cartoons and some of the sound effects were swapped with the ones you hear on a Sunday morning. To some ears this might sound like a bad idea. But for me, this game looks and feels better then the older battlefield games. Of course, "realistic" shooters are a dime a dozen nowadays, which makes Heroes stand out as being quite unique. The closest comparison I could make are to Batallion Wars and Team Fortress 2. With Heroes sitting somewhere in between those extreme ends of the spectrum. It's not an imitation of either, mind. To add some contrast, Batallion Wars is a third person shooter RTS and Team Fortress 2 is Quake to Battlefield heroes' Battlefield.

So will it all work? I think so. But not with the casual audience, because I don't think this is a casual game. If this is marketed right, and (content) updates keep coming, DICE may be sitting on a goldmine. But they will get competition from other shooters. Many are aiming for the same audience. It's easy to see how someone might become invested in this game however. Spending real money on digital items. I bet some people on Ventrillo will agree with me, given the fact they have already spent some of their earnings on peg legs and sailor uniforms.


vdeogmer said...

Battlefield Heroes will be my first Battlefield game. I've known about the series since Battlefield 2 came out when some of my friends were playing it, and it sounds like alot of fun once you get into it. The problem is, I missed the boat entirely until the third iteration of the series(really DICE? Vietnam just doesn't count in your nomenclature?), so I knew if I just jumped in I'd be terrible at it. With the more casual audience in mind, there should be a greater number of competition my own skill level for me to cut my teeth on to start with.

Even with the normally hardcore audience that shooters have, if EA markets this correctly, it'll be huge simply because it's free.

Joril said...

I like to think DICE has put all their past experience into this game. With an almost spotless track record, BF Vietnam and BF2142 (imo) aside, it's no wonder this game feels good.

Indeed, it is very easy to pick up. And by the time you get matched against high level players, you'll know how to handle your character class and how to navigate the maps.

I'm not sure about the marketing, EA will need to push the game. It's been in development for so long that people might have stopped caring by now. Though I hope not.
What's worse, so much is still missing from the game. Like the community site and user/character pages.