[EDIT: Blog post updated on 20 April to correct the section on mission rewards--they grant valor point bonuses, not experience bonuses.]
The upcoming Battlefield Heroes will be a free-to-play online shooter from EA and our Swedish friends at Digital Illusions CE, better known as DICE, the creator of Battlefield 2. The game is already in a closed beta test state and is planned to go open beta this summer. We had a chance to jump in ourselves and have a few new details to report.
Battlefield Heroes currently has some 300,000 people signed up to play in the beta and already has more than 150,000 players in and playing. You'll start your new life in the game by going to the game's official Web site and registering, while the game downloads and installs itself on your computer. The site has various sections for your characters, including "my stuff" for your character's items, a mission listing for available missions for your character (such as "kill a certain number of enemies," which, when completed, will net your character a valor-point bonus), and the in-game store, where you can purchase "microtransaction" items. Your character may collect two different kind of points to purchase items; valor points, which can be earned from playing the game, and battle points, which you can purchase.
The game's saleable items will include vanity apparel items, like a parrot your character can wear on his shoulder, as well as "boost" items that will let you temporarily gain more experience points while used (to help players who don't have a lot of time to devote to playing). There won't be any powerful weapons, armor, or anything that will make any players more powerful than any others added to the store, otherwise.
Currently, the test version of the game has about three maps with at least one additional map planned to be added before the game launches. Battlefield Heroes has three different character classes, the soldier (which can heal nearby teammates), the gunner (the heavy weapons class), and the commando (the stealth/sniper class). The game will try to make sure players get matched with players of equal skill levels using the "ELO" matchmaking system used for chess tournaments, and the game will eventually have some kind of group or clan system to help you find regular matches with people you know.
The actual gameplay is fast-paced and streamlined down from the previous Battlefield games, so there's no lying prone, no minimap, and when you die, you won't drop your kit's items (so other players can't grab your items and change class). Whichever character you're playing will have to be one of the game's three classes; if you wish to change, you need to hop out of the game and create a new character of that different class if you don't have one already. The map we played on as a commando was a very intimate one with flag capture points in and around small country villages with a few regularly spawning vehicles, like jeeps and tanks. The commando class has several useful, easy-to-understand skills like a stealth ability that hides him from view. He also carries stealth weapons, such as a sniper rifle with zooming scope, and a knife used for melee kills. Aside from being humiliating, melee kills also let you get nice and close to your fallen enemy to leave him with a parting gesture. Battlefield Heroes will have a handful of different animation gestures, and since the game will have a Call of Duty-like "killcam" that immediately changes your view to the person who just fragged you, you'll be able to put them to good use. Politely.
Battlefield Heroes looks like an interesting new direction for the Battlefield series, and with this, and Battlefield 1943, DICE and EA seem to be positioning its next Battlefield games to appeal to more-casual users.