Battlefield 4 multiplayer preview: Commander Mode and 'Levolution'

For the most part, Battlefield 4 looks and feels like Battlefield 3--not that fans are likely to complain. However, even in a single 15-minute match, there were appreciable changes that show where DICE is trying to go with its sequel.

Battlefield's core strengths were immediately apparent when going hands-on with the Shanghai map showcased at E3. The scope of the level, for example, seems unmatched by other shooters. The massive arena has you riding tanks, running through underground tunnels, swimming through the ocean, riding boats, or taking an elevator ride to the top of a skyscraper. The amount of freedom and variety that this single map provides is absolutely staggering.

Vehicular combat remains satisfying, and the loadouts of all the classes feel as varied and unique as they did before. The visuals are still impressive, and the environmental destruction is still a nice touch. However, some issues did arise in the the live 64-player match. Primarily, the lack of communication. Apparently, when squads of five strangers are matched together, they simply want to go to their own devices.

Which is unfortunate, because the lack of teamwork fails to highlight BF4's newly-added Commander mode. Instead of directly engaging in combat, commanders are given a top-down map to play with. From here, they can issue orders to squads. As a player, I didn't get to see how the commander role worked, but I did see certain points on the map highlighted in my HUD. Apparently, if we follow orders, both players and commanders will be rewarded, which should encourage more coordinated teamwork when the game goes live. This video from EA does a good job of explaining what could have happened were my team a bit more coordinated.

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The most eye-catching new feature of Battlefield 4's multiplayer is what EA's marketing department is calling "levolution." In layman's terms, it means that not only will things blow up, but really big things can blow up too. In the Shanghai map, a skyscraper can be brought down.

Refreshingly, taking down the skyscraper is not a scripted event. It takes quite a bit of work to destroy the building's support structures. It may be the flashiest tactical maneuver to take on the map, but not necessarily the best. Interestingly, should you manage to topple the building, the control point that was sitting atop the penthouse will come crashing down into the rubble, changing how teams will have to defend and attack that point.

15-minute demos at E3 with random strangers are certainly not the best way to get a feel for a game. However, the little I did play of Battlefield 4's multiplayer certainly showed promise. It may not be a significant evolution of the franchise, but the addition of Commander mode could genuinely open up a new level of teamwork and tactics. Being able to engage with the game while you're away on a tablet also adds an interesting wrinkle to BF4's online offerings. And "levolution"--as stupid as it may sound--has the potential to deliver some memorable show-stopping moments.

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Battlefield 4 will be out this October.