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Battlefield 4: bringing back the destruction (sort of)

Phil Owen checked out Battlefield 4 at E3 and seems to have spent the whole time trying to blow up the environment or asking DICE why he couldn't.

"The thing comes falling down, it creates this rubble pile at the bottom as another gameplay area has moved from up there to down in the rubble pile. It throws a lot of dust in the air, and so now the whole visual feel and also how far you can view changes."

Despite the precedent set by the entire franchise thus far, Battlefield 3 had a robust story campaign and very little in the way of dynamic destruction on its multiplayer maps. Yes, playing BF3 online was definitely still a Battlefield-esque experience, with most of what the fans have long enjoyed and everything that all frag-fest bros hated, but it is what it is.

If you watched the Battlefield 4 demonstration on Monday, you surely noticed there was a point in the fight on a new map based on urban Shanghai when a damn skyscraper was knocked over, and that was pretty remarkable to see. DICE and EA showed us that because that's exactly the type of dynamic world destruction that will be possible in the Frostbite 3-enabled BF4. But while that particular sequence was without a doubt spectacular, you should not get your hopes up that destructiveness like that will be the norm in running street fights, as DICE multiplayer producer Aleksander Grondol told me at E3.

“We wanted to focus destruction on the right areas. The thing is destruction is one of the things we felt like we can do better than in Battlefield 3. We'll admit that. So we're focusing destruction around – what we're showing here is Shanghai – on destruction we're focusing on where players are. We don't have destruction everywhere. That's not something we want to do.

“We want to keep the gameplay intact, because if everything is in rubble all the time it becomes not so interesting anymore. So we want to make sure there are things that are standing. So we choose this building, which has a control point on top of it, so it has a purpose. It's very strategic to hold, and it basically gives you direct access to all the other control points by jumping out and sort of sailing out to where you have to be.”

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Here's Sam's assault on Shanghai, running on PC with an Xbox 360 controller.

Obviously, something like a very tall building containing a key control point falling over in the middle of a fight won't have an insignificant impact on the, ahem, battlefield.

“What that means now is the thing comes falling down, it creates this rubble pile at the bottom as another gameplay area has moved from up there to down in the rubble pile,” Grondol said. “It throws a lot of dust in the air, and so now the whole visual feel and also how far you can view changes.”

Still, in the end destruction in Battlefield 4 occurs where DICE wants it to, and while they do try to funnel you into those areas of the maps so you can see experience these morphable elements, incidental destruction won't occur much. But Grondol insisted that they've built enough “dynamic elements” into the maps that even players who've experienced them many times might encounter new interactive bits from time to time.

“We want to try to make sure that the maps are as dynamic and they have dynamic elements possible, and that includes destruction, it includes that skyscraper and it includes the big changes, and it also includes the smaller changes: things like car alarms going off so you can be aware of things that are happening around you,” he said.

“People run out from stores, and there are alarms going off, and you can close or open shutter gates, you can open new routes that you want to go.

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Here's the 64-player Commander Mode demo shown at EA's E3 2013 conference.

“You can be creative. We put it out there, and it's cool, and you can use it. So that's the idea of creating this, so every time it will feel a bit different.”

DICE is building Battlefield 4 for the PC, next-gen consoles and the Xbox 360 and PS3, and despite stark differences in the hardware capabilities of the various systems, the core experience will remain intact across all platforms. By which I mean you will be able to knock over that skyscraper in the Xbox 360 version of the game if you so choose. In other news, console gamers will be able to experience 64-player Battlefield matches for the first time on the Xbox One and PS4, which will make for one less thing PC gamers have to lord over the gamepad crowd.

“We want to make it be as awesome as possible on the current gen and on the next-gen consoles,” Grondol told me. “You know we're bringing 64 players to the next-gen consoles, so they will have the bigger battles, finally. I've been waiting for that forever, you know, to get the console audience to experience this 64-player gameplay. But, yes, of course, all these dynamic elements will also be on the current-gen.”

That fact is brought to you, Grondol said, by the power and ease of use of EA's ubiquitous in-house game engine Frostbite 3.

“We're working on Frostbite 3, which allows us to do parallel development quite easily, and that scales really good. We've been working with these [current-gen] consoles for quite some time, so we have a really good idea of what we need to do in order to scale, but still make it look awesome on all platforms.”

Battlefield 4 is due on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on October 29 in North America, October 31 in Australia and November 1 in Europe. PlayStation 4 and Xbox One releases are dependent on console launch dates.

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