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Changing the world in Battlefield 4 multiplayer

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Destructible worlds are the hallmark of EA DICE's Battlefield franchise, and while destruction takes place on a bigger scale than ever in Battlefield 4, the studio is also focusing on more intimate interactions between players and the environment.

We spent about 15 minutes with 64-player multiplayer action on Windows PC in the Siege of Shanghai map that DICE showed off during EA's E3 press conference on Monday, and were able to see the climactic moment of the demo: the collapse of a skyscraper. The event affects the map in a few major ways, and the changes aren't just cosmetic — they "change the gameplay over the whole area of a map," said Aleksander Grondal, a multiplayer producer on Battlefield 4, in an interview with Polygon after our hands-on session.

After the building fell, capture point C on the map moved into the building's ruins. And all that debris in the air means there's much lower visibility. That means it's crucial for ground troops to mark enemies for teammates as soon as they catch a glimpse of them through the dust. The visibility problems also apply to air support: Helicopter pilots will have a much tougher time seeing the action on the ground through the haze.

According to Grondal, Battlefield 4 players can expect similar landscape-altering events for every multiplayer map, although DICE is currently discussing Siege of Shanghai alone. Grondal also pointed out smaller-scale events that can change the flow of a match: sprinkler systems deploying, car alarms going off and players taking out fuse boxes to turn off the lights. The map itself reminded us of the Seine Crossing map from Battlefield 3: wide-open city streets split up by a river, making for a good mix of close-quarters and long-range combat.

"We wanted to create this feeling that you can interact with your environment," said Grondal. "It's no longer just an arena for you to play in; it's a living world."

Grondal also explained the Commander feature, which we couldn't really get a sense of from our truncated session. It originally debuted in Battlefield 2, but DICE is making some important changes for its implementation in Battlefield 4.

Commanders are no longer physical players on the battlefield; according to Grondal, DICE found that Commanders in Battlefield 2 sort of "did their own thing," and that their actions didn't have a larger impact on the tide of battle. This time around, the Commanders — there's one for each team — participate in the action with a top-down view of the battlefield. They can give orders to squads, and if the squads successfully carry them out, both the players and their Commander will be rewarded with experience points. That will also unlock bonuses that the Commander can deploy into the field for his team, such as vehicles and extra ammo.

Another major change is that a Commander's arsenal is directly tied to the capture points his team possesses. A team might need to hold, say, point B in order for its Commander to be able to launch a Tomahawk missile strike. Commanders can also participate in battle from tablets.

Battlefield 4 is set for release Oct. 29 on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and later this year on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The PC and next-generation console versions will support up to 66 players (64 in the field plus two Commanders), while the current-generation console versions will be limited to 26 players (24 + 2).

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