It is not very often that a guide comes around and knocks the traditional formula on its ass. Then entered the Prima Games’ Battlefield 4 Strategy Guide at stage right, which gleefully overturned the tables that previously held all of your expectations about what a game guide should be. Gone are the days of a laborious single player campaign walkthrough. It isn’t like the developer spent years developing that as an integral component of a cohesive experience, right? After all, who needs that useless garbage when all people really care about in a Battlefield title is the multiplayer experience. Will this new approach bode well for the Battlefield 4 guide, or does the shift in focus take away from what strategy guides are all about?
If there were ever a guide that could be labeled as a grade school textbook, Battlefield 4’s would meet the description to a T. Sure the subject matter might be a bit more on the saucy side, but cover-to-cover, it is the comprehensive end all be all, for what is widely considered to be the most complex and diverse multiplayer shooter on the planet. But every good story has a beginning, and the writers saw fit to properly acknowledge that with an introduction section that covers the legacy of the Battlefield brand. This is also complimented by behind the scenes discussions with the key team members that have been a part of the series since the beginning. Though it seems almost too brief, it is fantastic to get insights into the original goals of the developers, the brand’s evolution and where it is going in the future.
DICE’s tight ties to the book are further evidenced in the “Road to Battlefield 4” section that follows. Each major mechanic section is actually penned by a key member of the game’s design team, including multiplayer lead Thomas Andersson. Each developer spends a significant page count emphasizing what were key modification and/or additions in the most recent outing, such as adjustments to class structures, the new “Levolution” system, “Commander Mode”, vehicles and much more. Having the individuals who essentially owned specific features of the final product break down what makes this newest version so special does wonders for imbuing even the most trivial of components with the passion of those who made it possible. This is a fantastic way to help re-introduce traditional Battlefield players to the new mechanics and inform newcomers what to expect when they first venture into the immense and intense world of online multiplayer.
Next up is the meat of the actual multiplayer guide, but first it is worth mentioning the interesting approach Prima took to the drafting process. Veteran guide writer David Knight has teamed up with four of the best Battlefield players in the world to co-author this massive tome. Though it is a little unclear as to who is writing each individual general commentary segment, there are numerous specific call-out portions that are dedicated to a specific member of the team as a “pro-tip.” These are actually scattered throughout the guide and provide insight into many different strategic elements that take place over the course of a match, but more on that later.
Leading things off is a thirty page “Battlefield Bootcamp” that is dedicated to breaking down all of the key aspect of the game, its mechanics, modes, interactive elements that extend beyond the warzone itself, and most importantly, standard multiplayer tactics. It is imperative that players read this area, especially virgins to the series. Even then, noobs will probably still be eaten alive, but at least they will be able to speak the same language with their online brothers in arms. There is nothing worse than being saddled with a clueless chunk of cannon fodder. This will help prevent you from being that lame duck.
What follows the “101 class” in the ways of online combat are sixty eight pages of infantry information. Some of the key topics touched upon are proper class selections, weapon and perk loadouts, and the various unlock progressions for each unit type. Additionally, there are also several more “pro-tips” for each class, from each of the contributors. It is very interesting to see four varying approaches to using the same variety of soldier. If nothing else, it further demonstrates how versatile and complex the online ecosystem can be in the world of Battlefield. While this alone would be substantial enough to stand on its own, the majority of this section is actually reserved for detailing the title’s countless weapons and their respective modifications. Though it is hard to say if the information in this section is actuate, over a month after its release, it is still at least a valuable reference point for those needing to compare the pros and cons of different firearms.
And what would a Battlefield game be without vehicles? The franchise’s multiplayer suite is probably best known for its extensive use of these mobile weapons of mass disruption. Just like every other chapter, each grouping of motorized mayhem is laid out efficiently, including a list of the equippable upgrades available for purchase and advanced tactics that will utilize them the most effectively. Most of the tactics call-outs are focused towards the seasoned veteran, but even rookies see their benefits in time.
Once this has all been combed through, then comes the most impressive and expansive portion of the entire book: multiplayer map analysis. To put it into perspective, the smallest map commentary still boasts an extremely healthy twenty four pages. Considering that there are ten individual maps covered in the book, this would help explain the collection’s impressive two hundred and seventy pages. All of the stages’ are initially led off with general impressions from the writing staff and explanations of its marque levolution(s). These are then followed with dissections of each multiplayer mode, all the way down to recommended squad compositions throughout a battle. The more objective commentary is also buffered with additional “pro-tips,” from the resident expert writers. While the information contained within is fantastically detailed and almost overly explicit, it did feel like there were many pieces of art that, though beautiful, could probably be deemed superfluous. This sometimes led to pages feeling more claustrophobic or visually distracting than necessary. Everybody loves a good side profile shot of a tank or downed helicopter, but when the game itself features a plethora of them already, it probably isn’t necessary to include these unless critical to the strategy being discussed in the text.
Anchoring this massive manuscript are extremely brief campaign and achievement/collectables section. How brief, you ask? Why, a mere eleven pages. Yes, it is understandable that multiplayer makes up a vast majority of the guide, but why even bother to include even a reference to the single player, when it is going to be glossed over so egregiously. There are any number of explanations as to why this might have occurred, but it doesn’t change the fact that the main character’s name is only mentioned once and all but the introduction page consists of a continuous wall of spreadsheets. Unless Prima has plans of selling a single player guide separately, to call this effort disappointing would be like calling Thomas Edison a tinkerer.
One last piece of the puzzle is the prominently promoted digital/mobile component. Sadly, this two ends up lacking the original content necessary to justify its existence, aside from potentially being updated should new balance changes be introduced into the game. It has yet to be shown if it will be further augmented when new DLC is released, but this might be a step in the right direction. Pouring additional gas on the flame, the single player is still an afterthought. Sure, at least there is now a video playthrough of each stage to watch, but there is no direction, voice over commentary or so much as sliver of additional information, aside from the video timestamp where collectables are uncovered and a list of weapons available in each stage.
For fans that are exclusively consumers of Battlefield 4’s online multiplayer, Prima Games’ official guide will prove to be a wealth of information, the likes of which have rarely existed outside of dedicated fan sites and enthusiast forums. However, those that are focused on a single player walkthrough will be much better served turning to specialty sites online. It is hard to say whether this is a step backwards or simply sidestepping the bigger issue of whether or not print guides for a constantly evolving online experience are even valid in the internet age. Regardless of this author’s opinions on the matter, it still doesn’t excuse neglecting to cover half of such a prominent title, without communicating that to the reader before purchase. Misleading the audience is never a good foot to start out on, so buyer beware.