So as I said yesterday I managed to get a key for the beta release of Enemy Territory Quake Wars, the new game from iD Software and Splash Damage (who also made Wolfenstein - Enemy Territory, Return to Wolfenstein, and Doom 3). This game was announced ages ago, and I've been watching it since at least 2005.
So yesterday afternoon I frantically hit the links for the stupid fileplanet registration that you have to have, then fought my way through a malfunctioning image capcha (which didn't work and eventually just seemed to let me through) and got my beta key (wh00t) then waited 20 minutes in line for the download from the public servers, and then a couple of painful hours waiting for the 900mb file to download (thankfully the speed was decent).
Note that this is a work in progress, I'll update as I start to "get" more of the gameplay aspects that I currently don't totally understand after a couple of hours of play.
Read on for my take on the beta.
Installation was nice and easy, and the game started up and got you to put in your key, create an account for online play, etc. I didn't tweak out the default preferences much other than setting the resolution to match my monitor (1680x1050) and adjusting a couple of the key bindings. My first bitch was that the way of doing keybindings seemed a bit odd, it warned you if a key was already bound, but it wasn't obvious (at first anyway, to me) how to unbind or overwrite the binding. Not a biggie. There seemed to be a lot of keybindings too, my standard setup from Battlefield 2 and 2142 took some knocks.
A bit of background about my hardware and my playing style.
Basically a very nice setup that I'm happy to say hasn't lugged against any game I've thrown at it.
I'm an FPS bitch. I love 'em, but have played lots for a few minutes and then never played them again... there are very few FPS that keep my attention for very long. Quake3 (and the Urban Terror addon) kept my attention for years, and recently Battlefield 2 and Battlefield 2142 have been my game of choice for the last couple of years as well.
I particularly enjoy the online teamplay aspect of the BF series. It's not about the graphics or the "feel" of the game (though both are pretty good), but more in the way that if you play as a team (or a squad in this case) you get ahead compared to being a lone wolf. In fact, the first time I played BF2 I almost put it away to never play again because it seemed like you were all alone, would run around this huge map, then get shot and restart. Once I discovered how to join a squad and spawn on my squadleader the game suddenly changed and became 10x more fun.
Enough about not QW stuff, here's the actual game!
Graphics and Sound
Both top notch. The mega-texture technology looks gorgeous, though I didn't take the time to see if you could really see across the entire map or not. I haven't used the weapons long enough to see if the weapon sounds are as good as they could be, but to the first time player they seemed just dandy. A great thing was that the grass and trees had a nice natural "sway" that I first saw in the Battlefield series. When you're standing in grass or by foliage the leaves or grass will sort of sway back and forth in the breeze, which really helps with the immersion of the world. After seeing this, playing a game without this feature feels far more static and un-realistic. The foliage still appears to be sprite based, not as nice as Crysis promises to be, but still very nice.
Performance and RAM
Played fine for me, though I have to admit I've got a decent system to play it on. The game is based on the Doom 3 engine (I believe) which plays very nicely on older hardware such as my previous system, an XP2600 with 1G RAM. I wouldn't doubt that this game will not require huge hardware to be playable. By contrast BF2/2142 seems to need a fair amount more system to go nicely. I noticed that RAM usage (running on Vista Ultimate) was lower than BF as well. Based on viewing my task manager after the game closed, BF2142 used about 1G of ram while QW used about 700mb. The Mega-Texture technology is probably helpful here. QW also appeared to use both CPU cores as well, which was expected.
The menus, options and non-game visuals were great and up to the standards of iDs previous games.
Gameplay and Teamplay
This is the most important part to me. The first time you join the game it's very confusing. It's similar to every other FPS of course, and similar to squad based FPSs such as BF2/2142 (my apologies for continually comparing BF2/2142 to QW, but the similarities are obvious and easily comparable). There is a lot of stuff on the screen and it's easy to not know quite what's going on and what to do.
You have a map which displays both friendly and enemy targets, an area at the top of the screen with tips and information, and a place on the left of the screen for messages from other players, death messages, etc. Pretty standard stuff.
The "feel" of the game (weapon switching, speed and movement) were good, comparable to Doom 3 and similar games. The crouch / prone switch isn't as good as it could be I think, or as fast. Sometimes it seems that going prone doesn't, or there is just a long delay. The difference between an overweight computer programmer going from standing to lying compared to a in-shape soldier throwing themselves to the dirt. Tweaks like this are easily changed at this point though as this is a beta to collect information like this.
I wasn't able to really "grok" the squads. When you die or are waiting to go into the game there is a limbo menu where you can change your weapon layout, class or spawn point. You have a map where you can select the place where you spawn and a countdown to the next wave of deployment (every 20 seconds or so). This is nice but sometimes it seems that you hit deploy and immediately spawn with your previous weapon load and class instead of with the new load out you just chose. This could be due to being revived while I was in the limbo menu. BF solves this by not covering up the gameplay screen completely while you're in the menu, but also grabbing you out of the menu so you know when you are revived. Sometimes this really sucks though :) There doesn't seem to be a way to join a squad (or fireteam is the terminology they use) from the limbo menu.
In the gameplay there were invites to join a fireteam, but there didn't seem to be that obvious way of showing what squad you were part of or spawn on the squadleader or anything like that.
The other thing I don't get yet are the objectives. I'm not an ET player, but I do know that the gameplay is such that you work as a team to do something, then you move forward in the map, do something else, etc. In the one map these objectives seemed to be things like build a big cannon, plant explosives, defend explosives / cannon for X minutes, that sort of thing. This is different than the BF way where a commander gives squads individual commands to move, attack, defend, etc. This other way works well if you have a good commander, but if you don't have one, it can suck. I think I remember hearing that QW was going to have the ability to do individual missions for squads, so it's just a matter of figuring it out.
In QW you have "missions". A notice will appear that a new mission is available and you hit the 'm' key to move through the missions available. They are things like 'defend ion canon <19xp' or 'attack sewer grate <2xp'. I honestly have no idea what this is for or what to do once you select them. I suppose there is probably a change in the HUD or the map, but I didn't see it or it wasn't immediately obvious. In the HUD there is a square overlay that may point you to where you should be going, but it's not obvious to me. This will hopefully be fixed with either a set of instructions or a tweaked tip system when the game is released.
XP Points and Powerups
XP points are something that I'm not totally sure what they are, how you get them, or what they are used for. They are mentioned in the 'm' mission menu and in the post-game stats, but beyond that I'm not sure. Probably something that's easily found with a bit of digging, but my concern when first playing was to kill and not be killed :)
Upgrades / powerups were also mentioned in gameplay a couple of time. I think I was awarded 'silent footsteps' while playing as a sniper at one point, but I'm not sure if this is a permanent thing, something you turn on or off, or what. I think there was also notification of an unlock that was available for the next round, but again, I'm not sure what/how/where to do anything with this.
Compared to the unlock system from the BF series I have to say that BF seemed to be simpler and easier to understand. That could be just experience talking though.
I'm going to keep playing this for sure. The look and feel is awesome, and I think once I "get" the team gameplay it'll be much better. The forums seem to indicate it takes a few hours of play to get up to speed, which seems a bit long, but it is a beta after all. Looking at the maps that have been in screenshots and the videos that have been floating around I'm really looking forward to the full release. In my 2-4 hours of play yesterday afternoon and evening I found no "bugs" per-se, nothing massively out of place or crash inducing, and the only things I see that need improvement is the introduction of gameplay and game concepts.
Compared to BF this game seems a bit more complex when you first go in. I seem to remember BF being a fairly gentle introduction to new concepts, ie: the first time you use a new weapon or vehicle you get a voiceover telling you about it and how to use any special features. The map seemed more useful as well, or at least the idea of what you are supposed to do and where you're supposed to be going was better placed. I'm not sure if I prefer the QW (see everyone on the map) or BF (see only your own team or any sighted enemys on the map) map type. Again, this is most likely more cause I've played way more hours of BF, and I plan to revisit this assessment as I get a bit more into QW.
Final conclusion is that if you're a fan of the original Enemy Territory, or of squad based online FPSs this is definitely a download to play around with. Check out the forums and see if your question or complaint is there and if not, ask. I'm sure the devs are reading it to hopefully make QW a kickass game when it appears.
If you can't get on the beta, well, try try try and hopefully another round of beta keys appear soon!
Graphics / Sound / Visuals: 9.5/10
Gameplay (feel): 8/10
Gameplay (squad): 5/10
Ability to Jump in and go: 6/10