Battlefield Heroes PC Review
Attention, PC gamers – are you a fan of shooting at stylised, cel-shaded soldiers that have been designated classes that loosely describe their abilities and role in battle? And are you also too cheap to pay up for a copy of Team Fortress 2? Then by Christ are you in luck, because Battlefield Heroes is finally here. Chances are you already know a fair bit about the game, as it was all over the place about a year ago – although, weirdly, the game’s actual launch has been relatively muted. For those who don’t, it’s an online shooter that has adopted the Korean MMO business model – that is, the game’s free, but you pay money for extra cosmetic stuff in-game – and it’s part of the Battlefield series, which automatically means it’s great. Right?
Comparisons to Team Fortress 2 are, rightly or wrongly, inevitable – after all, both games are team-based online shooters with a cartoony graphical style. Gameplay-wise, there’s actually plenty to differentiate the two, but they’re going to get shoved into the same space as one another whether they like it or not. And while Heroes has a whole plethora of its own interesting ideas, it’s also got a few really irritating ones that’ll have you running back to Valve’s masterpiece with open arms and tears in your eyes.
Still, let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way – those graphics, eh? While there’s certainly grounds for accusing DICE of thieving TF2‘s art style, I honestly much prefer Heroes’ verdant locales to TF2‘s dry, desert-like environments. You might not agree, but there’s no denying that Heroes is a nice-looking game – and it doesn’t need spectacular hardware to pull it off, either. Developers’ claims that a game can be scaled back to run even on really old hardware often turn out to be optimistic at best, but Heroes ran just as happily on my six year-old rig as it does on the one I built last month – albeit with fewer bells and whistles, obviously.
Like most Battlefield titles, you can play as one of a number of different classes – although in Heroes, the number of classes has been stripped down to just three (the two armies, the Royal Army and the National Army, are basically identical in all but appearance). However, what Battlefield veterans might at first perceive as a dumbing-down of the class system soon reveals itself as an excellent distillation of three distinct approaches to the game. The commando specialises in sneaking and using the sniper rifle; the soldier is your all-round infantry with a good mix of weaponry and abilities that assist you and your surrounding team-mates; and the gunner specialises in firing really big guns and being able to withstand more damage than the other classes. Where this gets more interesting is in the fact that DICE have thrown in a bunch of RPG elements – the game still plays like a straight action-based shooter, but playing the game earns you experience points which can be sunk into a number of different class-specific abilities, all waiting to be unlocked and then improved as you advance through the ranks. Which is easily done, by the way – any damage done to an opponent whatsoever will earn you combat experience points, and there’s no real reward for actual kills, as far as we could tell. This goes a long way towards making the game less frustrating than other online shooters – you may get killed a lot as you’re learning the ropes, but as long as you at least take a chunk or two out of your opponents in the process, you’re still clawing your way up the ladder.
The skills system also shows a surprising amount of depth for an action game, and allows players to specialise further within their current class. The commando, for example, can specialise as a sniper by purchasing a better rifle and the abilities that allow him to spot targets for other players, and temporarily increase the damage done by his shots, guaranteeing plenty of kills at long-range but making him useless if anyone gets in close. Or, he can level up his stealth ability to make him more difficult to spot, then invest in a pistol and the poisoned knife ability in order to become deadly at close-range, and excellent at capturing enemy control points without anybody noticing. The best part is that, if you ever make some terrible mistake or decide to take a different approach with one of your characters (the game allows for four, unless you pay up for more slots), you can hit a button and reset all the points you’ve spent thus far, then spend them again however you see fit. This is a bit of a cop-out, mind you – it would’ve been nice if the game actually educated or guided you somehow to make sure you’ll understand the choices you’re making, but hey-ho.
Then there’s the missions. The easiest way to think of them is like a whole bunch of achievements/trophies, but you’ve got to call them out beforehand. You can ‘equip’ up to three missions to a character at any one time, and each one comes with its own set of objectives, usually along the lines of ‘do 1,000 damage to enemy infantry’, or ‘blow up five tanks in one round’. Completing one of these missions bags you a bunch of ‘valor points’ to be spent on stuff in the shop (although not the stuff you’re meant to pay real money for, we should point out), and frees up that slot for a new mission. It’s a really nice idea that keeps you on your toes and encourages the player to diversify in their styles of play. For example, if you’ve been focusing on killing infantry and capturing enemy control points, tackling a tank-hunting mission will make you look at the ways in which your class can do damage to armoured targets, increasing your options and shaping you into a more useful teammate.
Now, Heroes is a completely free game, if you choose to ignore the cosmetic guff that does actually cost money. This is, obviously, a good thing. I mean, you can’t complain about something if it’s free, right? Well, maybe not. But everyone harps on about money being the root of all evil, and playing Heroes made me realise where they’re coming from.
See, a lot of Heroes’ problems stem from its pricing structure. None of the stuff you can buy with real money actually gives you any real advantage in the game, which is obviously a wise decision. But it goes deeper than that. Say you’re playing Team Fortress 2, and a friend of yours joins the game. Your team is full, so your friend shrugs and joins the other team. Not quite as cool as fighting alongside him, but you’re still in a game together, right? And when a slot frees up on your team, he can just swap over. Easy. Now, say the same thing happens on Heroes – you’re playing with your Royal Army commando and your friend wants to join in, but your team is full. Guess what – he can’t join. Nor can he simply choose to fight for the National Army instead – at least, not without quitting the game and logging back in with a National Army character, assuming he’s already made one. If he hasn’t, he needs to go on the game’s website and do it from there. Either way, it’s an unnecessary pain in the arse. And what if he’s spent a fiver buying some nice gear for his Royal Army guy? Well, he can always buy some equally nice stuff for a National Army character too. If he pays another fiver. Same applies if you join a team and find out that it’s too heavily biased towards a certain class – you can’t switch characters without quitting the game entirely.
The fact that Heroes has stuck so rigidly to the MMORPG character-management model is more than enough to make you wonder if it was a financially-motivated decision. DICE know how a Battlefield game should work, because they’ve made enough of them before. But giving you a set of discrete, individual characters with paid-for content attached to them on an individual basis (and no, you can’t swap items between characters) seems like a cheap way to rinse more cash out of the game’s faithful audience. And that’s just plain awful, really. Oh, and there aren’t really enough servers to go around, either – and you can’t make your own, but you can rent one for a reasonable monthly fee!!!!!
Still, let’s stop whining and be realistic here. If Heroes got a ‘proper’ retail release and didn’t ask you to pay up for any extra content, I could have easily coughed up £20 and been entirely happy with my purchase. So far, I’ve tossed a fiver in DICE’s direction to get some nice clothes for two of my characters. If I was to gather a group of people who wanted to play together regularly (say, the denizens of the DarkZero forum) and we all chipped in to rent our own server – leaving it open to the public but giving ourselves VIP slots so we can join whenever we want – you’d be looking at maybe a few quid per person per month. So you could, theoretically, dress up a few characters and rent a server for a few months, and you still wouldn’t approach the cost of most video games. It’s just a huge shame that, in the process of implementing the game’s retail structure, they’ve gone and made it a complete nightmare to actually play alongside your mates. Team-based shooters like this thrive on such things, and I’d be more inclined to sink more cash into the game if it hadn’t seemed so eager to snatch it off me to begin with.
Of course, this entire review is basically moot, since it’ll cost you absolutely nothing to follow this link and try the game out for yourself, for free. Just be warned that while you’ll enjoy it much more if you play with your friends, you’ll have trouble doing so unless you want to – gasp! – give the developers some money for their hard work. It’s just kind of sad that such a great game makes you feel like such a mug for actually paying for it.