tl;dr Summary at the bottom.
Battlefield has always been one of my favourite games to play on the PC, I first played Battlefield 2 back in 2005. My brother had bought it for his laptop while we were on holiday in Singapore, and we used to watch each other play it in the mornings before we left on the day's outing, we only ever played against bots though, the internet in our hotel room wasn't nearly good enough for joining a multiplayer server.
Anyway, after we got back from the holiday, my Twin and I decided to "borrow" the game from my brother for our computer (he didn't really touch it again, he was always more of a console gamer) and we used to take turns playing the game. When I got my own computer, it was one of the very first FPS games I installed on it (I also had a thing for SWG back then, which was awesome too - go look it up). I've always played almost exclusively Medic in pretty much any game that offers it, I don't know why, but I've kind of typecasted myself to it and stuck with it through every iteration of the Battlefield franchise so far.
Anyway, we played Battlefield 2 to death, and when Battlefield 2142 came out, we both had it pre-ordered and played it on release day. To me, these two games have been, and probably always the definition of a Battlefield game. The Bad Company games (while fun) were not Battlefield games, they were a entirely different style of game, focusing more on infantry warfare and fast-paced gameplay as opposed to all-out warfare.
Battlefield 3 was DICE's first attempt at a return to form, again it was a good game in its own right, but it wasn't anything like Battlefield 2/2142. Battlefield 3 focused far too much on realism, in my opinion; I don't enjoy being practically blinded by other people's gun attachments, maps felt far too expansive (Caspian Border), or far too intense (Operation Metro), with no original maps that balanced the two together, and I didn't much enjoy the overall desaturated visual style that overlaid almost all of the game's visuals.
It's worth noting at this point, that I'm not even going to go into either game's single-player or Co-Op modes, that's not what Battlefield is about to me, and I haven't played enough of it to comment. I'm also playing Battlefield 4 without having read or watched much of the game's promotional material, so there's a lot of stuff I don't know about the new multiplayer mechanics.
The range of maps that Battlefield 4 provides offers a variety of different ways of playing the game, some maps focus on hectic back-and-forth point capturing, others require a little more thought in regards to your team's strategy, there's something in there for everyone, whether you're an old-style Battlefield Junky, or an Operation Metro addict. Personally, my favourite so far has been Rouge Transmission, and I'll give my reasons for that a little later on.
When I saw the first trailer for the game-changing map events that DICE is calling Leveloution, I honestly thought it was a bit stupid, and from what I heard coming out of the beta, it was indeed a gimmick that players attempted to set off right from the get-go, and it would be over within a few minutes of the round starting. Having played it myself a few days after release, I've changed my mind: It's incredibly satisfying watching the US Destroyer in Paracel Storm slam into an island and thwarting an attempt to capture it. Basically, when these events are used in moderation, and both teams aren't solely intent on simply setting them off from the get-go they offer an interesting change in the dynamics of the map. Going back to Paracel Storm, the US Destroyer that slams into the island offers the team that climbs onto it some impressive cover, and allows them to effectively lay down covering fire onto half of the map's objectives, however, in an interesting trade off, they also lose sight of the objective closest to them.
Leveloution also has a few more tricks up it's sleeve, allowing for new routes to be opened up in maps, or existing ones to be widened. Some might argue that this is the same as the Destruction physics that Battlefield has had since the first Bad Company game, but to me these are actual extensions of it, and make the destruction physics a much more practical gameplay mechanic than "oh, the six million engineers on their team are just going to blow up my cover".
There are also some doors you can close and lock for a few seconds, and some elevators you can use, those are cool, but not exactly revolutionary.
Paracel Storm is a throwback to the past: It's reminiscent of Wake Island, but instead of the impenetrable defence of tanks that you ended up with in the BF3 incarnation of that map, you don't have bridges between the objectives, making the use of boats essential. Paracel Storm, in case you haven't guessed yet, is a set of Pacific islands, with objectives scattered across various different islands.
The map starts off fairly calm, lush and vibrant. However, as the game progresses the weather steadily worsens eventually forcing a US Destroyer to ground itself directly into one of the objectives, and a few wind turbines get destroyed by the high winds (yay). Besides the massive fuckoff boat in the middle of the map, the most interesting thing about this map to me is the fact that due to this weather shift, the conditions in the sea also worsen, with the distance between the troughs and peaks of waves easily being a good 5~10 meters, meaning that you go from being able see the shoreline, to being able to see nothing but your impending doom as a wave forces the boat underneath the water for a brief few seconds. On a map that relies so heavily on boats for map domination, this is awesome, it makes them much harder to use for simply camping an objective from a few hundred meters away and forces them to get up close and personal with the battle, usually resulting in their demise. Or, if you’re like me you end up grounding your jet-ski on top of the Destroyer and getting it stuck up there.
Oh yeah, and there are some tanks that can swim in this map, however someone managed to get them stuck on the wreckage of some destroyed bridges on the few times I played it, the morons.
I can't help but feel that a lot of the maps in this game are based on previous incarnations of other maps. The first time I played this map, I couldn't help but feel that the ridiculous choke points and grenade spam everywhere made it feel like Operation Metro, it's only now, upon writing this, that I've actually noticed that they share a part of their name.
However, calling this map anything like Operation Metro would be doing it a massive disservice. Okay, on first impressions, it plays a lot like Operation Metro, but after you've learned the map a little, it becomes better in almost every single way. Operation Locker is set in a Chinese Prison, conveniently located at the top of a mountain. In Conquest, it's reminiscent of a 5cp Team Fortress map, however the gameplay is completely and utterly bonkers. Unlike Metro, Locker has a fair few side routes around it's choke points allowing the teams to flank one another by capturing objectives "behind" the front line.
This means that the direction of combat is constantly changing, and often teams are left fighting on two fronts or end up getting sandwiched in between two objectives before being annihilated and forced to "start again" from their uncapturable objective right at the end of the map. The map also has a number of different levels around choke points, and the map's major Leveloution event results in these different levels being joined together by a variety of ramps and rubble.
If you do end up on one of the side routes that take you outside the prison, you end up with an epic vista of the valley below the mountain range.
Hainan Resort is a set in a coastal holiday resort, with the centrepiece of the map being the large skyscraper hotel in the middle of the map which commands a view over the rest of the objectives in the map.
Hainan resort is apparently supposed to be more infantry based, however from when I played it, we were being completely dominated by vehicular superiority, and found it quite difficult to get a foothold back in the map without an enemy LAV showing up and obliterating my squad.
The exception to this was the centre of the map, which is pretty easy to wrest control of, and is usually traded between the teams more than any other point on the map. As it gives the recon classes such a wide view over the rest of the map, I'm quite glad it's hard to keep control of, otherwise we would have been utterly destroyed by sniper fire and spotting. The map's main event also takes place around this map, however it wasn't triggered at all on the few times that I played, and apparently is quite difficult to activate at all.
That being said, I did have fun losing; so it can't be that bad.
When I played it, this map had some serious issues with it's sound, and I ended up leaving the game after a few minutes, apparently it's an issue with this map in particular, so I'll come back to this one at a later date.
Rogue Transmission is another tropical map, with a large radio telescope in the center of it, however the central objective isn’t inside the dome of the telescope, it’s underneath it, along with a large portion of the map.
The design of Rogue transmission is quite novel, instead of ending up with a single front, each objective surrounding the dome tends to be captured in a clockwise/anti-clockwise manner (depending on where the team started from) and then used to push downwards into the dome itself, while the enemy team tries to defend, rather hopelessly, an attack from all-sides in which the enemy has a massive height advantage.
Looming over the map are three large support structures for the “big ear” on the telescope, which are probably easily a few hundred feet tall and are fully walkable, these allow recon classes to garner a lot of map control, the catch obviously being that they are highly exposed to anyone below them. There’s also a large element of risk vs reward due to the fact that the Leveloution event results in their collapse and cuts off about half of their height.
Coming in just behind the expansive maps, vehicles are perhaps Battlefields most definitive feature. The previous iteration of Battlefield suffered from sluggish vehicle controls and overall poor handling. To me, a vehicle in Battlefield 3, was a last resort option for combat. Battlefield 4 improves massively on that, the vehicles are easy to control and, more importantly, fun to use. If you spawn in a helicopter in your base, it will be in the air virtually instantly, removing the sluggish wait for the turbines to spin up, a good step away from realism in the name of faster-paced gameplay.
There have also been some major role overhauls in Battlefield 4, for example, boats are no longer simply for transport anymore, the RCB combines the high mobility of a jeep with the weaponry of a light tank, a lethal combination (and incredibly overpowered, some would argue).
Tanks also appear to be less abundant than in the previous games or perhaps more importantly, don't remove all the infantry cover within the first few moments. This makes the infantry fights a little more bearable by removing the constant worry that you aren't going to have any cover should a tank show up. Partly because of this, there also appears to be less need for the engineer in the game as a combat class, reducing the amount of rocket spam flying about in most cases.
Perhaps though, the vehicles have stepped a little too far back from realism: While playing I had a friendly attack helicopter decide to divebomb someone directly in front of me and they didn't manage to pull up in time to stop themselves, I was expecting the helicopter to explode into a mangled wreckage of fire and metal, instead they just hit the ground, skidded along it for a few meters and took back off again. I was a bit dumbfounded to say the least. I've also bailed out of numerous helicopter's and seen them drop a good distance, only to be picked up and used by the enemy. The same thing applies to Jets that people have bailed out of... you do find them in some very odd places.
I'm not sure I'm the best judge on weapons, having dedicated myself to playing just one class, however I can say that I do love the weaponry in the game for Assault. Each weapon so far has felt like a viable alternative, as opposed to an upgrade or downgrade, but this might change fairly quickly if one weapon ends up being more powerful than every other ones (i.e. BC2's M60).
The sound in Battlefield 4 is amazing. Every single sound is beautifully crisp, and the resulting sound scape that the game produces from those sounds is truly epic. I really do think this game is probably best experience with headphones, but if you want to see what I mean, go take a look at some gameplay videos on Youtube and crank the quality up to HD.
I'd be surprised if a Battlefield game didn't look amazing, and Battlefield 4 is no exception. The main improvement in this for me is the step away from realism that this game has taken, giving us back what appears to be a more lush colour palette and removing some of the more stupid shader effects from the previous games (or at least toning down their use).
Battlelog is the logical extension of having Ranked Servers in any game, however it's original implementation in Battlefield 3 always felt clunky and rushed. Since then, it's matured massively and is now an absolute delight to use, it also removes the need to commit to starting the game should you want to play: Want to find a server to play on? It only takes 5 seconds to check with Battlelog.
What's really great about it for me, is the fact that I can have Battlelog's Battlescreen up on one monitor, and the game up on another. Extending this, I can also have the loadout menu open on another machine or a smart device (phone/tablet). These ability to have a full screen map open at all times adds an extra layer of depth to the game, and is probably something I won't play without in my gaming time.
I can officially say: I like Battlelog.
Battlefield 4 is awesome and has an opportunity to rival the masterpieces that were Battlefield 2 and 2142. If you haven't picked up yet, I'd do so now and start playing early. The game does have some teething issues to go through though, but for me, they wouldn't be enough to justify putting it off.