Has some issues, but it's still Battlefield, and it's still fun.
Before I start with this, let me get the elephant in the room out of the way first. I've played every single Battlefield game on the PC, and even though I've complained about them, I've still loved them. So when I heard BF3 was going to be Origin-only and not available on Steam, I raged, and vowed not to preorder this, and not play it until it came out on Steam and EA pulled their heads out of their ass. And now, 41 ranks later, and 61 hours into the game, here I am writing a review.
And it's not as bad as I thought it was going to be. Origin is not terrible, and launching the game through a web browser works a lot better than it could. Still, there are some things that really just scream of multiple forms of DRM rather than ease of use in launching your game. Friends in Origin don't get automatically added to your Battlelog lists, and vice-versa, and the Battlelog server browser regularly disconnects you from games when you change tabs waiting for it to load. DICE has done a nice job designing Battlelog, though, and it's very easy to check stats and keep up with your friends ranks and unlock progress. It's just a shame it was so saddled and essential to launch the game rather than an alternate site just for stat tracking and social services.
But what about the game? It's expected with DICE games that the graphics are going to be beautiful and the sound is going to be fantastic, but I still feel it should be touched on here. This game looks really, really good. The lighting and texturework works wonderfully, and as far as I'm concerned, this is the best looking game on the PC right now. The audio is another knockout, from the music that plays at the end of rounds to the perfect sound of the guns and explosions.
Unfortunately, such a good engine doesn't exactly make such a perfect game. Battlefield has struggled with hit registration since 1942, and BF3 is no difference. During the first few months of the game there wasn't any way of checking your ping ingame, so you couldn't really be sure if your shots were hitting and not registering or not hitting at all. A recent update has added ping functionality, but it doesn't actually show your ping in-game, it only shows other players, rendering it relatively useless unless you ask in chat. The UI all around isn't great, as the chat box doesn't show up when you're waiting for the next map to load, and selecting attachments for your weapon can be downright clunky, taking upwards of 5 or 6 clicks.
Destruction, even though DICE has touted the "enhanced destruction" of Frostbite 2.0, appears to be toned down, especially in the original maps that BF3 launched with. Shooting your grenade launcher at a wall will no longer leave gaping holes like in the previous iteration of the Battlefield series, Bad Company 2, and many walls and buildings are relatively indestructible. Realism aside, it does change the gameplay. The Back to Karkand expansion maps remedy this issue greatly, but if you have fond memories of every single building on the map in BC2 being flattened after an hour long conquest round, you'll be disappointed in Battlefield 3's destruction.
I previously mentioned the improvement the Back to Karkand maps brought to the destruction. Well, the Back to Karkand maps brought improvements to the entire game. I cannot stress enough how much better the DLC maps are, especially as someone who played and loved the expanse of the Battlefield 2 maps. The Karkand maps aren't just great maps in themselves, they're made better by the fact that the vanilla BF3 maps just aren't very good. Using Operation Firestorm as an example, DICE has claimed that it is the largest map ever found in any Battlefield game, which I find to be true. Unfortunately, the flags in conquest are all centered in the middle 1/3 of the map, really negating the size. It may be the largest Battlefield map ever, but all the action is centered in 1/3 of the map and it takes maybe one minute to run on foot from point to point. In my opinion, that is not the "biggest Battlefield map ever". And don't even get me started on Operation Metro.
It's still a Battlefield game, though. Even though the maps seem claustrophobic and tiny, the action feels Battlefield-esque, and both Conquest and Rush generally feel fairly well balanced again. All in all, I don't regret paying $50 for it at launch, but it's a shame so much of the game was fixed with the Karkand DLC and maps. Origin and Battlelog aren't perfect or ideal, but they could certainly be worse. As a consumer, I don't worry about the role Origin plays in Battlefield 3, as it actually works surprisingly well, I worry about what it holds for future EA games like Mass Effect 3. Competition in digital distribution is good for everyone, but forcing consumers to use one channel of distribution feels rather archaic and childish.
But yeah, how about that Battlefield 3. Not too bad, but I wouldn't buy it for less than $30 unless you're really into the Battlefield series like myself.