Or: How I started losing patience with the Battlefield Series
I’ve been a big fan of the Battlefield series almost 10 years now. It provides a good balance between infantry and vehicular combat. A tone of the gameplay in the series ranges from being absurdly funny to making mild tactical decisions, such as storming an enemy base, after the commander has bombed it with artillery. It gives you a lot of options, while being simple and challenging: you can fly jets, heal wounded soldiers or repair broken vehicles, and all of this is with up to 63 other people, simultaneously trying to achieve objectives.
But as the title of this article suggests, I think there is an ongoing issue with this series and perhaps we can draw some definitive conclusions from it.
Since few years there has been a ‘battle’ between EA’s Battlefield and Activision’s Call of Duty series. Much has been said about every new instalment, but I want to look at the identity crisis BF has. It worries me that the series is shuffling between what it was and what it wants to be.
If we look at Battlefield’s past, we can see how the series arch provided us with the same gameplay, while putting us in different time periods. It allowed us to fight all over the world in WWII, Vietnam and in modern or future eras. All this was until 2008 and the reveal of Bad Company – a spin-off series.
I don’t have problems with the spin-offs in Battlefield. Bad Company 2 was actually great for what it was – a lighthearted approach to the familiar formula (speaking as a PC player). But BC1 was EA’s answer to Activision’s blockbuster hit of 2007 – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Its huge success (13 million copies sold) changed the modern military first person shooter genre (MMFPS) in a lot of ways. MW1 and the games following it, became deeply embedded in people’s mind, where today we can’t help it, but compare every new FPS experience to CoD – it is the king of shooters.
Since Bad Company 1, BF started doing several things, which made it a direct competitor to Call of Duty:
• Releasing story driven singleplayer campaigns;
• Degraded map quality;
• Extensive item unlock system.
And while you might see only one problem in my list, I see three.
In my opinion making a singleplayer campaign for a multiplayer only game is a waste of money and not only because of the ol’ Beef filin’, but because we have seen how ridiculous they are in the most recent ones.
Battlefield has always been about big and open maps with loads of objectives. Transforming that gameplay mechanic into linear corridor shooting is pointless. Imagine GTAs multiplayer to be GTA Online and its singleplayer a strictly controlled The Last of Us, would you appreciate that or even care? And I’m not saying The Last of Us is bad, it’s a brilliant game, but it’s a completely different experience, with different set of goals.
The second issue is the smaller and narrower maps (particularly in Bad Company). They were meant to be played by fewer people than the usual 64. Most of the maps are designed to be played in every gamemode, meaning that only a very few of them excel in any one mode (Conquest Large on Metro and Damavand Peak are delicioso). The majority of the maps were stuck firmly in mediocrity, forced to be a jack of all trades and a master of none.
And my last point is – the large amount of locked weapons, attachments and vehicle unlocks. Getting your favorite weapon at rank 43 or the sight of your choice for it is a joke. All of those frustrating moments when you are trying to kill the last five guys to unlock the 4x scope are out of place. The unlocking system needs to be fixed or removed entirely, because it does not benefit anybody. It is designed to keep us play the game for longer; seeing the pop-up of a new unlock makes you feel like you’ve achieved something, when the only thing you’ve done is participate in an artificial goal seeking madness.
DICE/EA should direct their effort into more and better maps and quality assurance (the recent post launch debacles with BF4 on all five platforms are proving my point). And can we not have a Premium option? All it does is promote unnecessary elitist behaviour and divides the player base by putting some people ahead of others, be it with new expansion pack release or in server queues.
Medal for Battle Duty
All of these factors add up to Battlefield’s identity crisis. While it had a distinctive image and feel before the introduction of Bad Company, with 3 and now 4, it’s really all over the place.
If anything, the last few years made me realize one big thing about BF and it’s that the series has become a clone of Call of Duty.
All of those abandoned features like modding, basic esports support, dedicated servers and commander mode were crucial for the series’ sanity AND obtaining the more casual features from CoD is concerning to say the least.
I’m not arguing that Battlefield has ever been a realistic simulation of war or that Call of Duty’s appeal to casual players is in anyway bad. All I’m saying is that BF has lost its charm. Calling Battlefield 3 “the true sequel” to BF2 was a mistake. Because it wasn’t true. The redone maps from its prequel were a cute treat for the veterans, but a large portion of the player base didn’t know why those maps were a big deal.
Not providing the important features (mentioned above) made its prequel from 2005 a superior title. How ridiculous is this? And I know what people say when someone mentions that 2 was better than 3 – better graphics and destruction. The first topic about the improved graphical fidelity is a natural evolution of technology – of course a game in 2011 will look better, than one from 2005. The latter argument does not remotely stand next to modding support, for example. It’s basically the only community feature Battlefield needs. If it ever gets back, BF will be a big competitor, when it comes to modding (as noted by Dean “Rocket” Hall, the creator of DayZ from Bohemia Interactive).
Contrary to EA’s present logic, Battlefield 2 was actually co-developed with a modding team called Trauma Studios. They made a very successful, 21th century warfare module for 1942, they then joined DICE and briefly before the game’s launch they were shutdown. It is unbelievable how EA/DICE today refuses to develop any kind of modding tools, just for the sake of selling five map packs.
I’d like to get back to the issue of cloning (because I can sense your anger) but first, I’d like to clarify why I use it.
When I put the word cloning next to a title I don’t use it to shame the game or humiliate it. I use it to show that the game in question is heavily inspired by some other title. Generally, that’s what all games are – they are inspired by others, they try to do things different and potentially better.
In 2007, the enormous critical acclaim of CoD: MW generated a new trend in the MMFPS. Which continues to today. And naturally, to some degree, Battlefield has fallen under it. Just like its brother, Medal of Honor, which after its latest release in 2012, for some very strange reason was placed on hold.
And while you might argue that there is no cloning between BF and Call of Duty, I think my arguments above suggest the very notion of that. And if you are still not convinced, let’s look at the market and Battlefield’s position in it.
Let’s take Minecraft for example – after its boom in the last few years we’ve seen hundreds of games inspired by it. Or even rip-offs in the XBoxLiveMarketplace, iOS and PC. Evidently MC was a by-product of other games and with its success it created a big interest in the open world sand-box games.
DayZ – ironically a mod for the ArmA series, created a new trend in the survival games, focusing on social interactions and emergent gameplay. It is also very successful and it has clones of itself.
And why am I giving those examples? Because, while Battlefield is relatively successful, it doesn’t have clones and almost nothing gets compared to it (apart from the obvous CoD). Instead it is in a constant phantom war with something it can’t beat. I believe there should be a bigger difference between CoD and BF. I believe they can co-exist in relative harmony.
I would love to see a middle ground between arena shooters like Call of Duty and hardcore simulations like ArmA. And Battlefield is a good choice for it. But if EA doesn’t fix the series in few years, we should see new titles, trying to take the position in between. I hope so.
Just like CoD, Battlefield has stopped taking any risks what so ever. Same modern era setting, same broken class system. EA/DICE’ actions are driven by short-term effective and financially feasible decisions. The same more or less applies to Call of Duty, but my “expertise” is in BF.
After all this information I gave, you probably expect me to make a prediction about the series future. What will be the next game? The recently mentioned BadCompany3? Battlefield 5? 2143? Or by some miracle – 1944? Will people continue migrating to other titles such as ArmA? Will there be another stupid marketing battle, costing millions of dollars, between CoD and BF?
I do not know, but I’m afraid EA’s decision about Battlefield is to continue to ignore what was once a unique experience and now pretend to be something else. And unfortunately, I’ve lost my interest in the series, because there are better companies, with better products, who respect my attention, time and money.
Goodbye Battlefield, it was nice knowing you. But I won’t miss you.