World War 3 is a more hardcore Battlefield

Battlefield has always enjoyed evoking reality in its weapons, graphics, and more recently its campaigns, but it's still goofy at heart, with stunt videos and plane wing acrobatics deeply embedded in DICE's DNA. World War 3's goal seems to be to eschew that playfulness for a grittier and more realistic take on Battlefield's 64-player scale.

Whenever I had enough points for the Battle Robot, that's obviously what I called in.

World War 3 redeploys some of Battlefield 3 and 4's look and feel directly, right down to the setting, squads, target marking, vehicles, maps, modes, and its blue/red/green color coding to differentiate friendlies, hostiles, and squads. It's instantaneously recognizable to BF veterans, but quickly you realize that this isn't simply a clone. Bullets hit like a sack of bricks, weapons are usually a one-shot headshot, and a magical defibrillator won’t save you.

WW3 uses systems that Battlefield has only ever flirted with over the years. Soldiers peek around corners with manual Q and E leaning more often seen in smaller-scale FPSes like Rainbow Six Siege, and ammo is limited to encourage teamwork. But developer The Farm 51 still makes plenty of concessions in the name of fun, like easily accessible first aid that restores your health in seconds. The competing influences of realism and fun can produce shooters that feel real to the point of unfair or discordantly silly (see: Arma 3), but so far WW3 manages to avoid this.

The guns consist of mostly conventional military fare, but there’s a lot more freedom of choice in WW3’s loadouts. Classes aren’t really a thing here. Instead, player roles are defined by which gadget they choose to bring along. I can be a feared sniper who also lays down ammo for my squad. A circle above teammates’ heads reveals what they’re carrying, so I can find a buddy with a first aid kit and hit X to request they use it on me.

The closest that WW3 gets to classes comes at the beginning of a match, when you choose to play as an attacker or a defender. This is admittedly confusing: choosing defender doesn’t restrict your ability to attack, it simply tells your squad what you plan to do. It’s not only a symbolic gesture, though, since sticking to your role awards you extra Battle Points that can be used to call in “strikes”: drones, missiles, and vehicles. 

In practice, the roles really work. The Battlefield series has tried many times to encourage players to stick by a point and not just run around wildly, but I’ve always felt pressure to keep moving from flag to flag. In WW3, even when I'm being alerted about which objectives are being captured, knowing that I should be focusing on an attack or defense makes my next move a lot clearer. It’s a small thing, but surprisingly transformative.

WW3 also adds a clever twist on the Conquest mode popularized by Battlefield. Each capture zone is broken up into two separate objectives: for example, area A1 and area A2. Adjacent objectives sit within spitting distance of each other and can be captured separately. This adds a fun layer to attacking and defending objectives because suddenly the struggle over a single location is broken up in phases. Instead of losing my whole squad and having to respawn across the map at zone D to take back zone B, I can respawn at B2 and have an immediate shot at redemption. Battles feel more like prolonged struggles than a race to quickly capture an objective so the enemy has to respawn far away.

Better than before

World War 3's unforgiving damage modeling adds weight to everything you do. Running across a wide road toward an objective carries a real risk, since anyone who can land a few good shots can put me down. Snipers are powerful, but maybe not for the reason you'd think. WW3's maps are actually smaller than Battlefield's, so bullet drop isn’t much a factor. One shot to your unarmored back or sides is an instant kill.

There are only four maps in the game right now, but the density of each one is impressive. Every objective area is appropriately balanced to support infantry infiltration from buildings and vehicle capture. In Battlefield, I’ve always hated the feeling of getting punished for playing medic when tanks kill me and I have no way to counter them. WW3’s maps are refreshing because they usually allow a single soldier to mostly avoid wide-open death marches and still quickly navigate the map via underground tunnels and side alleyways. 

And vehicles, in general, feel like less of the focus here anyway. Instead of pre-determined spawns for tanks or cars, everything is delivered by helicopter a la carte with your battle points. You can equip any three you’ve unlocked with in-game currency. I usually stuck with a UAV, an ATV, and the Battle Robot. Map layouts tend to have more inside areas for infantry than open land for tanks, so even after saving your battle points for 10 minutes to call in an APC, it’s not always the best option to drive into an objective. Especially when anyone can take C4 and quickly blow you up. 

Whenever I had enough points for the Battle Robot, that's obviously what I called in. This remote-controlled APC can drive over anything, capture objectives, and make quick work of enemies with its mounted machine gun. Battles take on a different pace when vehicles are dropped on command. Instead of waiting for the next tank to respawn, it’s more like everyone has an ultimate ability they can deploy every once in awhile. Vehicles don’t tend to turn the tide of a match, though. 

Between matches, players donate resources to the conflict zones of Europe to outbid the rival faction and win bonuses that give them advantages in subsequent matches. After a month of real time, the overall winner is awarded with a tactical nuke. This is the area of the game that feels underbaked and largely inconsequential. The rewards given to the winning faction are minor and, at least right now, the deck seems stacked against the East faction. More players seem to have chosen the West when prompted by the game on first launch. This leaves the minority East faction with no hope for securing the bonuses.

Blackout

World War 3 has some novel systems that are dragged down by technical issues, and a confusing war metagame that doesn’t add much meaning to the multiplayer. Spawnkilling is currently the worst plague on the experience, but connection and server issues have also been a a big sticking point. In the few days leading up to its Early Access release, the game worked as advertised. But come launch day, the servers were so overloaded that almost nobody could login at all.  Now a few weeks into release I can play mostly without issue, but the servers still feel a bit unstable. According to the devs, more modes, maps, and other constant updates can be expected.