Since Battlefield 2 was released in 2005, the series has seen plenty of games get released, but it is only now that we're getting a new numbered one. Battlefield 3 seems to be both a return to the series' roots, and also a culmination of the changes it's gone through since 2 came out. It combines a lot of the strengths of the original games with some of the improvements by offshoots like Battlefield: Bad Comapny, resulting in a product that seems like the end result of years of tweaking and experimenting, and is being positioned and marketed to take on big bad Call of Duty for leadership in the modern military shooter market. I don't think 3 will do better than its competition, but at least it's a pretty fun game.
Originally, Battlefield was all about online multiplayer, allowing up to 64 players to split up into teams and take each other on in huge maps filled with a variety of outdoor locations, peppered with various structures for hiding in and vehicles to drive. The first game took place during World War II, but the second main release brought things to the modern day and added in squads, which allowed for closer teamwork and a more direct sense of having a goal in these gigantic marathon battles. The online in 3 is pretty much like this, though they've taken a number of additions from the Bad Company games like more frequent and incremental unlocks rather than getting a new weapon every once in a while, and the Rush mode which can be a nice breather from Conquest. The game feels more up-to-date than Battlefield 2, with some streamlining in effect like the removal of a commander for each army and the paring down of the number of available classes, and a more rewarding progress system without any of the annoyances of other popular contemporary features like kill streaks that unfairly reward players that are already better. Yes, players who have played for a long time are going to have better guns, but it doesn't seem significant enough to really impact gameplay.
I haven't sunk more than a few hours into the multiplayer, but it definitely seems to live up to the legacy its predecessors cemented in my mind of being one of the most fun online shooters on the market. Some technical issues still need to be worked out, but the Battlelog web browser is a quick way to look up stats and other players, customize your options, and find matches, and the actual in-game stuff runs pretty well. If there's one thing that might impede the gameplay slightly, it's actually the quality of the graphics. On one hand they're very impressive, but on the other I'm wondering if the fidelity of the animations and lighting actually prevents me from spotting and taking on opponents in a timely manner. It's possible I just continue to suck at games, but more than once I felt that I would have been better served if the environment around the enemy wasn't so nice looking. There's also a co-op mode, which I haven't tried yet. It seems to remix encounters from the single player campaign, but I don't know how interested I am in that when the regular online is so consistently engaging.
Speaking of the single player, those graphics might be their greatest asset. Whatever flaws the story mode might have, at least it looks really nice while you're experiencing it. I can't really recall an experience that convinced me better that I was actually in a war zone, and it would have been better if I wasn't constantly staring at the back of someone else's head with the word "follow" written over it. From what I can tell, I might be one of the only people who really enjoyed the campaign at all. Its one cardinal sin in my mind is that it almost entire fails to take advantage of the fact that it's the campaign for a Battlefield game. For all their faults, the Bad Company campaigns felt like they belonged in the world of Battlefield. Encounters took place in relatively open areas, and could play out in a number of ways. You frequently had full control of vehicles and a couple decisions to make about how approach a situation. Battlefield 3's campaign plays like a Call of Duty campaign almost exactly. There are no sections with respawning enemies, but you're generally led from set piece to set piece, watching some cool things happen, taking part in relatively static battles, and once in a while getting to use a vehicle to experience something slightly different, but only in one mission do you really feel like you have much control. It's not that any of the missions were spectacularly bad, I just don't see how they benefited from taking this course of action. There were even specific dramatic story moments that felt extremely similar to moments from past Call of Duty games. I generally had fun playing the campaign, but there was something ultimately disappointing about it. And if DICE doesn't actually make a sequel to Mirror's Edge with this engine like they were clearly teasing at a certain point, I'll be kind of upset.
How you feel about Battlefield 3 sort of depends on what you want out of it. The campaign seemed to lack a certain something for most people, and if you were hoping for it to be something special you might be let down. But Battlefield has always been a series with a focus on multiplayer, and I know plenty of people will dive into that without even taking a single look at the single player. And I think from my experience with the online, it's certainly a worthy follow-up to Battlefield 2, maybe not overhauling the experience but refining it and making sure not to ruin it. As someone who enjoys a solid six hours of action and thinks the series does online firefights as well as any, Battlefield 3 isn't exactly a revelatory experience, but it's definitely one that I think was worth the investment. Even if having to download Origin to do so was kind of annoying.