In Now Playing PC Gamer writers talk about the game currently dominating their spare time. Today, Phil grapples with Battlefield 4's gun collection.
Battlefield 4’s launch was a fascinating mess. It’s not just that it was unplayable, it was downright surreal. The day it released, the PC Gamer team loaded onto a server and experienced a round of Obliteration unbound from the laws of space and time. There were invisible players, teleporting opponents, and the server-wide recreation of a scratched DVD. When your shooter resembles a high concept Doctor Who episode, things have gone badly wrong.
I didn’t play much after that—first deciding to wait until it worked, and then simply losing interest. But I do ostensibly like the series, and, more importantly, I bought all of the DLC in a sale. I figured I owed it to myself, and my wallet, to give it another shot.
The first thing I noticed was that I wasn’t having fun. The people who are still playing BF4 are very good it. I am not. I’m using the starter assault rifle, while being repeatedly killed by guns with more impressive sounding names. There’s a lot of XP grinding ahead of me.
I’m helped by the discovery of ‘noob friendly’ servers. Initially I’m suspicious. A beginner server is exactly the sort of place a Battlefield pro would go—hunting down the downtrodden and the lame for sport, just like all posh people secretly want to do. Thankfully, Battlefield 4’s server options let admins utilise a series of restrictions. Players with a kill/death ratio of 1.05 or above are barred entry. For new players, this is a land of opportunity. A place for the tired, the poor, the mediocre masses.
Suddenly, I am able to kill people. I feel this is a significant step forward. But am I having fun yet? No, I don’t think I am. The part of my brain that recognises achievement is gratified when all the XP bars go up, but that’s not the same as enjoying myself. My problem is with the unlock screen. It’s overwhelming. My biggest obstacle to meaningful success is not knowing which guns are good. Maybe this is a deficiency in my own ability to operate as a human being, but I don’t know the difference between an AUG A3 and a CZ-805. One has 20% less aim-down-sights base spread, but I’m not sure what that means or why I should care.
Worse, unlocking a gun isn’t enough—I then have to earn its attachments. How can I know if the AN-94 is the gun for me, unless I’ve tested it with a PSO-1 sight and stubby grip? I don’t have the knowledge to even conceive of an effective build, let alone work towards unlocking it. I’m left floundering with sub-par setups, and forced to score opportunistic kills against equally confused players.
A criticism often made of Team Fortress 2 is that the new weapons have left it impossible to follow. For instance, a Scout can now throw a bottle of milk at you. It’s strange and upsetting to be coated in milk, but all it takes is a moment to learn that, while drenched, a percentage of damage taken is returned to the attacker as health. It’s a clear and distinct status effect, conveyed in a clear and direct way. It’s milk. It’s recognisably different from a shotgun.
None of Battlefield’s weapons feel distinct. Deciphering them feels like having a mechanic dryly explain to me the ways in which each model of Ford Focus is slightly different. It feels less about war, and more about statistics. If a shooter is best learned via a spreadsheet, it’s not for me.