Next, 2016, 2143, 1944, or simply 5: What is the potential of the next Battlefield installment, and why?
Let’s start with something essential: Establishing a major skill gap in the game.
First of all, I think nobody would disagree that the removal of auto-rotation is a must for console – Rainbow Six just showed that AAA-FPS releases may dare to renounce of it, and the late BF4 community definitely enjoyed its lack in the recent past.
I doubt it’ll be missing at release, but at least give us the option to deactivate it on servers right from the start. This goes for some crucial improvements of BF:H & the CTE of 4 in general: The incredible customization for multiple hitmarker colours, all kinds of HUD settings, conquest capture zones on the minimap, etc.
One compromise might be the activation of auto-rotation strictly for a possible singleplayer/coop-mode and newbie servers with players below a certain rang, but forcing its deactivation on all other servers.
Another tweak could be more hipfire punishment – the game doesn’t reward steady aim in close to mid range too much, leading to a spray-and-pray practice in close gunfights. Additional bullet spray for players abusing hip fire extensively could provide more firefights being won by the guy aiming better, rather than the one spraying faster with a high rate of fire (ROF).
Also, high ROF weapons need more recoil in order to balance their dominant role which they’re possesing now. In the past, the overpowered guns were always those with a pretty decent ROF but still manageable recoil, as the M16A3 in 3 and the ACE in early 4. The combination of high ROF, meaning basically highter time to kill (TTK), and decent recoil made up for an extreme overuse of these kind of weapons on every level. I’d prefer to see high ROF guns being balanced closer to the recoil of BF4’s FAMAS, challenging players to control their tool with the faster TTK as a reward.
Which brings me to the next factor for a skill based gameplay: The TTK in general. It’s extremely important that BF5 keeps it at least on the level of 4, but I’d love to see it being slightly increased. Taking a look at a prime negative example, of course the fan favorite BF Hardline, one can easily see how a low TTK ruines the entire gameplay. The shorter it takes to bring someone down, the more are random factors deciding over winning or losing a gunfight. Take any hardcore mode: Lower HP, effectively meaning faster TTK, rewards sight and positioning, but punishes everything else. Most of the 1v1s are basically a question of who has been spotted first, campers rejoice. Add the still to this date mediocre weapon balance of Hardline, and you have a terrible game.
Contrarily though, longer TTK rewards players confirming their movement and aim regularly. The best example is Halo, the FPS taking the most skill on console. Miss a single headshot in a Halo gunfight and you’re done – the requirement of multiple headshots in order to kill one’s opponent is nothing but skillful.
That’s why adjusting BF5’s TTK to a higher level in comparison to 4 and especially Hardline would be an easy way to support more talented players. The question remaining though is, if DICE want to appeal more to CoD with a TTK even lower than BF:H. Millions of players are used to the onehit kills of Call of Duty, and BFH was already an approach to this target group.
To close the discussion about expanding the skill gap, it’s helpful to take a look at succesful FPS franchises like CS:GO an Rainbow. Both deliver hardcore FPS action, focussing on core gameplay mechanics a lot without being unattractive to a larger peer group. There is a market for FPS with a high skill gap.
Shortly after the release of Hardline, mostly the vocal French community spammed this hashtag on Twitter to developers and more, as it had been lacking once again at release. It took more than half a year in BF3 until the rent a server program had been released, though that’s been the first time on console, and again 6 months with BF4. After being forced to play the half-baked single elimination mode Defuse in 4 for several months on ranked servers, every competitive player had a huge desire for rent a sever availability right at launch – at last, it took only 2 months in BFH, with every week being overdue as one can imagine.
The launch window is of the essence for every game, it’s where you’re building your community and try convincing as many players as possible. There’s never a larger playerbase than in the first few weeks, and particularly people involved in esports will show your product a cold shoulder, if it’s lacking core features like custom games.
It would be nice to see more custom / rented servers in the official map rotation or quick search. As of now, a few minor changes will restrict your rented server from being found via quick search, leading to mostly DICE servers being populated while lots of servers bought by fans have a hard time being filled.
It’s hard to understand the treatment of console players regarding the servers, no matter if it’s the late release or the instability. One should not forget that approximately 75-80% of players are based on 360, PS3, One and PS4. DICE has always been very close to the vocal PC minority of players – take the #1 marketing assets, as known as youtubers like JackFrags or xFactor, all being PC-based, or the CTE community on PC.
Battlefront is a good sign
You might ask why Star Wars: Battlefront brightens my view on the next Battlefield release. Let me expand the scope: Originally, the Battlefield series was supposed to change to a yearly franchise with its spinoff Hardline. BF4 launched in November 2013, BFH should have been released in the holiday season 2014. From there on, one might have been expecting a cycle close to this: BF5 2015, Spinoff 2016, BF6 2017, and so on. Luckily, two things came together, although all this is subject of speculation:
Hardline was delayed, though it did not help at all quality wise, and DICE announced their involvement with the Star Wars franchise. The disastrous flop Hardline hopefully showed the decisive people at EA, that the franchise doesn’t function properly on a yearly base. My best guess is EA’s cancellation of former plans to deliver one BF each year around that time, and instead a 2-year rythm for both, Star Wars and Battlefield games. Not only gain the studios more time to focus on a fresh experience rather than copying huge parts of previous titles in a franchise, but in my opinion, this is also helpful to stress the diversity of both series.
Think about Battlefront: Without judging its direction, it’s a purely casual shooter, blatantly trying to gather gamers barely touching a mouse-/gamepad more than once a week, having some kind of interest for Star Wars, as pretty much every human being. It’s more than obvious that they reached out to the gigantic potential playerbase by removing basic FPS features like ammunition and therefore reloading etc., enabling a pleasant experience for players of every skill level. Consequently, the title doesn’t offer any depth and provides no real challenges on the long run. Again, it’s a logical decision from a publisher standpoint.
Now if we assume that BF and SW games rotate each year, where does this leave the Battlefield series?
I’d say, EA positions both somewhat opposive. The casual byproduct of a Star Wars movie hype on the one hand, and the ‘hardcore’ shooter franchise on the other. It would be anticlimatic and unthoughtful to release another simple, pretty basic FPS just one year after Battlefront. In case Star Wars and BF are truly being placed in contrast to eachother, the state of Battlefront is a pretty good sign for the classification of the next Battlefield.
There has been a lot of speculation concerning the setting of the next Battlefield. Personally, I don’t care that much – core gameplay pillars are more important to me. Though I wouldn’t be too happy about a future setting, as it might imply two things: A cheap appeal to the near-future set CoD titles and therefore its playerbase, and even more useless gadgets. A world war setting would restrict crazy, unbalanced gadgets from the start in a natural way. In any case, the current setting of present time has become tiresome for some, and lead to some bashing of BF4 being a BF3.1. It remains to be seen, if another modern day BF can offer enough freshness, or if DICE decide to go with something new.
The more, the better?
Some players have some kind of OCD with the weapon arsenal of Battlefield. Getting 500 kills, respectively every unlock for all guns has become a metagame for some. I never quite understood the fascination about it though. From a competitive standpoint, the ever-growing amount of PDW-Rs, ARs, knifes, pistols, gadgets is more of a nightmare. Balance is extremely important to any esport, and it is hugely affected by a monstrous amount of weapons. DICE always had their problems with it, just take the USAS-12, M26 Dart or M320 Smoke / AUG A3 combination in BF3. They pushed the limit for the sheer amount of guns with every new BF release, even though there’s not even any kind of distinctive difference between similar ones. Why do the Scar-H and ACE 52 exist? One of those two could have done the job easily. I vouch for a small, clear selection, with every gun having its specific role for the gameplay. By the way, if your base game offers enough depth and smart design choices, there is not that much of a need to hold players hands by overwhelming them with unlocks, gadgets, etc. I fear that the buzzword ‘customization’ is far too important for the DICE designers though, and that we’ll see even more pointless unlocks, battlepacks, ranks etc.
Large modes like 64 man conquest don’t interest me too much, but especially with BF4, I had the feeling that the dozens gadgets have taken over the vehicle gameplay. Multiple variations of lock-on anti-vehicle tools (the BF4 beta even had lock-on for basic RPGs), redundant stuff like the anti-explosives ‘shield’, and even more unnecessary additions to this horrible mix with every DLC. Less is more, DICE.
Battlefield5.exe has stopped working
A few words concerning the launch: Don’t fix the game, focus on enabling a stable launch avoiding any kind of major fix already in the run-up. CTE has been a valuable source of feedback and improvements for the series, and it would be great to continue with it. In general, the more DICE LA involvement, the better for BF5. They’ve done a fantasic job on BF4, pretty much saving the mess DICE Sweden launched. After two releases on an amateur level, it’s DICE’s absolute duty to deliver a functioning game this autumn. The beta this summer won’t help too much, as we saw with BF4. Same goes for feedback of youtubers: Their paid trips to launch events and biased video content afterwards does everything but add to the state of the game, I’d rather see some kind of pre-launch CTE for an exclusive group of players.
The integration of esport
EA recently announced the foundation of the ‘EA Competitive Gaming Division’ – an obvious jump on the esport bandwagon. They’d be stupid to ignore the publisher’s major FPS franchise, so chances are we’ll be seeing some huge announcements sooner or later. Several steps are necessary to make BF succesful in this regard:
First and foremost, every BF player has to know and understand about competitive gaming. Take Starcraft, CS, or LoL: The competitive nature of its gameplay is deeply rooted in its design – from scratch. Every novice to these games is playing the same game as worldclass teams. BF is the exact contrast: The vast majority of its players is not aware of esport, and even the few people competing are additionally seperated in their already existing isolation of the ‘mainstream’ BF gamer – 5v5 infantry versus 8-16 man conquest.
Instead of having these huge gaps between 1337DaRkPsYcHoXX saying ‘Lol BF without vehicles, might as well sweat CoD’ and a ‘pro’ bragging ‘Filthy casual playing public only’, there needs to be a common understanding between both.
First step is a competitive matchmaking, directly integrated into the main menu, enabling everyone to easily jump in a competitive match. BF Hardline included a rough version of this after launch, hinting towards a fully developed version for BF5, with BFH playing some kind of beta test role.
1337DaRkPsYcHoXX needs to be in a position of easy access to competitive structures, in order to motivate him and every other random player for esport matches and rules. Further interest can be brought to life by official tournaments, being announced and visible in the game’s main menu. Assuming plans for Battlefield in the new Competitive Division of EA are set, it will be interesting to see how EA is advertising BF5. In the past, marketing stressed the often quoted ‘Battlefeels’, the experience of huge scale, ‘all-out’ battles. If they’re planning to become the next big thing in FPS esport, they’ll need to find a balance between 64 (+X?) man matches and intense 5v5 action. There might be some kind of seperation ingame, as we’ve recently seen with Halo 5’s 4v4 core modes, and 12v12 MOBA-ish Warzone mode with bots, different map stages etc.
One more step contributing to this purpose are free map packs: EA could avoid splitting the playerbase in vanilla and premium players, generating revenue by camos, not gameplay affecting custumization like CS:GO. A steady flow of new infantry maps or even a map editor would help as well.
Most probably, the E3 2016 or some kind of nebulous teaser/trailer is going to reveal the first information about the next Battlefield. At this point and time, there is no confirmation of any detail, not even the setting – an open invitation to speculation. My main issue remains if EA takes esport seriously this time. After all, two things are decisive: Gameplay being designed from the start for competition, and dedication of the publisher. With some luck, some of my suggestions might have made it into the final game. EA do have the means – if they want.