The Battlefield Series 04.02.09: Where We've Been and Where We're Going
Posted by Joe Richardson on 04.02.2009
Over its history the Battlefield franchise has had some huge hits, and some near misses. What has the series done well, where has it gone wrong, and what can it do to return to prominence.
First let me start out by saying that this will only focus on the Battlefield series on the PC. I have not played any of the games on the X-Box 360 or PS3 as of yet. I am aware that Battlefield 1943 is coming out this year, and that many of the ideas I have regarding Battlefield 3 may be addressed in that release.
When the Battlefield franchise launched in 2002 with Battlefield 1942 it looked like just another World War 2 shooter. Thankfully DICE broke the mold that most in the genre were sticking to, and forever changed the way multiplayer shooters were played.
For the uninitiated, Battlefield 1942 is set in World War 2, and focuses almost entirely on the multiplayer experience. Players jump in to maps with up to 63 other players, and take on the roll of one of 5 different classes: The Medic, Assault, Scout, Engineer, and Anti-tank. Think of it as Team Fortress meets Call of Duty. The only game type available was "conquest."
Conquest is probably familiar to most gamers at this point, but there hadn't really been anything like it until Battlefield 1942's release. In it two teams start with a certain number of tickets, and controlling certain points on the map determined where players could spawn. Controlling more points than your opponents also made their tickets drop at a faster rate than yours. Killing your enemy also makes their ticket number drop. Team that hits zero first loses. This concept was surprisingly addictive. It meant that just killing your opponents wasn't enough, and teamwork happened more organically.
The gameplay itself was constantly changing depending on your class, vehicles, and control points. On a good life you could jump in a plane, take out some enemy infantry, parachute on to a control point, hop in a tank, and wreak havoc on your opponent's artillery. It was easy to pick up and make a difference. Sure you would run into streaks where snipers seemingly could drop you at will, but you could also save your entire team by sneaking behind enemy lines and capturing a point they had forgotten about.
Each class had its specialty, though assault and scouts made up a majority of any given team. Scouts had sniper rifles and could use binoculars to help guide artillery. Assault had high health and strong automatic weaponry. Medics could heal themselves and teammates. Engineers could repair or destroy vehicles with their wrenches and mines. Anti-tank had bazookas to take down vehicles. They all filled roles nicely and you could change with every respawn.
Battlefield 1942 was critically acclaimed and received multiple PC Game of the Year and Game of the Year awards. Though it was extremely limited on the single player front, gameplay was fast, fun, and over the top.
Two expansions were released: The Road to Rome, and Secret Weapons of WWII. Each added new vehicles, weapons, and maps. The developers at DICE were also learning what type of maps worked best for large scale vehicle based multiplayer, with more chokepoints and better placement of control points.
DICE followed Battlefield 1942 up with Battlefield Vietnam in 2004.
Battlefield Vietnam was the natural successor to 1942, and it added a number of improvements both graphically and through gameplay using an upgraded 1942 engine.
The classes were changed and the abilities of some classes were combined with others, resulting in Assault, Recon, Engineer, and Heavy Assault, with different weapon layouts available to each. Vehicles coinciding with the Vietnam War were also included, with the big addition being helicopters. Helicopters could pick up and move vehicles such as tanks and jeeps to other areas of the map. The Vietcong could even use one as a mobile spawn point. Booby traps were added such as punji sticks and rolling logs, to make just traversing a map an extremely dangerous affair. A noticeable criticism of the game was the overpowering heavy assault class for the U.S., which was given the extremely strong and accurate M60 and LAW missile launcher, rendering them capable of handling both infantry and vehicles.
Battlefield Vietnam was received very well, with reviewers citing the updated graphics, ability to play period music through vehicle radios, and gameplay improvements as reasons to justify a purchase. Critics were still vocal over the complete lack of a meaningful single player experience, but DICE seemed determined to make great multiplayer, class based, shooters.
It was clear the direction that the series was moving in would lead it to the modern era.
Battlefield 2 was DICE's first true sequel to Battlefield 1942, since Vietnam ran on a modified engine, and it brought the series into the present day. An entirely new engine was developed with up to date graphics and a slew of refinements to their tried and true gameplay model.
The most noticeable change to gameplay was the implementation of squads and the commander. Upon entering a game players are automatically placed in a squad, with in game VOIP communication to your squad mates. One player on each side is also elected the commander, who is imbued with special abilities and powers specific to them. Commanders could give squads directions and waypoints to follow, call in air drops, UAV recon, and Artillery. These abilities made having a competent commander the key to victory for most battles.
DICE included 12 maps with the initial release of Battlefield 2, but had the maps scale in size with the number of players, so small games would not be lost on huge maps, and small maps wouldn't turn into spawn killing fests with large number of players.
A feature which has evolved in more recent games such as Call of Duty 4 and 5, but which DICE helped launch was the idea of upgraded weapons based on experience and level. As you played Battlefield 2 you gained rank, and with these ranks came the ability to upgrade your weapons. For example a sniper could upgrade to carry the 50 cal. M-95 instead of an M24.
Classes were expanded from 1942 and Vietnam, with certain abilities found in the former being broken out into new classes altogether. Heavy classes such as Assault, Support, and Anti-Tank had higher health, but couldn't run for as long, while light classes such as Spec Ops, Sniper, Engineer and Medic have lower health, but can sprint for long distances.
Vehicles were upgraded to fit with the modern theme, and employed a Rock, Paper, Scissors style of play. For example tanks destroy anti-air, which destroy helicopters, which destroy tanks. It kept single players from dominating a map with aircraft, but it also dumbed things down a bit in that it was nearly impossible to win a battle against your counter.
Battlefield 2 had only one expansion; Battlefield 2: Special Forces. It added 8 more maps and focused on infantry combat rather than vehicle domination. Players were able to use such special equipment as tear gas, grappling hooks, and night vision goggles.
Battlefield 2 was highly regarded and won a number of PC game of the year awards, but some wondered where the series would go from here. The answer was the future.
The most recent iteration of the Battlefield franchise took gamers into the future of combat. In the 22nd century the ice caps began reclaiming the world, and two new superpowers fight for the last remaining land. Players take the side of either the European Union (EU), or the Pan Asian Coalition. (PAC)
The familiar tenants of the Battlefield franchise returned, with classes and vehicle based combat being the basis of gameplay, but for the first time in the franchise's history a new game mode was introduced. Alongside the trusty Conquest mode, DICE introduce a more objective based game in Titan.
When playing Titan, each team has a large flying battleship (or Titan), which needs to be destroyed by the other team. In order to do this players must first disable the shields by pelting it with anti-aircraft missiles, then land on board the ship through drop pods or transport, and destroy the hull by either infiltrating the reactor or destroying the consoles. This was a massive endeavor, and whichever team destroyed the enemy titan first found themselves the victors.
The classes this time around were cut down to just four, with combined abilities of Battlefield 2's seven. This time the Assault class also handled Medic duties, the Recon class combined sniper and special forces, the Engineer also took on the role of Anti-tank, and the Support class was largely unchanged.
Ranks and awards stayed where they were for the most part, with the only real change being in that with each rank players could upgrade a part of their kit. The popularity of upgrading a weapon from Battlefield 2 was taken a step further, allowing players to upgrade their helmet, grenades, weapons, and special abilities.
A dynamic in-game advertizing system was also included in Battlefield 2142, which met mixed reactions. Some players thought advertizing the DVD release of Ghost Rider (no I'm not kidding) took them out of the action, while some felt that the more humorous ads just increased the fun.
Though the formula was tried and true at this point, Battlefield 2142 received less praise than its predecessors. Clearly the formula had been done to great success, but the series lacked that oomph that it used to have.
With all that in mind, lets look at where the series might go for its next installment.
First off the game should be Battlefield 3. Just as Battlefield 2 recognized that it was the true sequel to the first game, this one should do the same with 2142. The engine should be brand new to the PC, to keep up with today's high end graphical and physics based gameplay. Fortunately the frostbite engine from the Battlefield: Bad Company series on X-Box 360 and PS3 should work nicely if upgraded.
Which time period Battlefield 3 should be set in is the most obvious question. To me, the game felt most natural when it was played as a World War 2 shooter. The vehicles and weapons from the era are instantly recognizable. The technology for the time also blends better with one large open map. It seems like more of a stretch when futuristic technology is only going about 50mph in game, whereas it seems more of a fit for you to shoot down a P-51 with a bazooka.
The next question is which classes should there be, and what roles should they fill. I feel like there is a movement in games to allow players to customize their character to be whatever they want, but what usually happens is that some weapons or upgrades rise to the top, so players end up using only the top end gear and everyone looks the same. Battlefield is about class based combat so there needs to be differentiation between what you can do on each respawn. Each class should fill a role that others cannot, and there shouldn't be much overlap.
Assault is obvious, as it specializes in eliminating enemy infantry with the ability to do some damage to vehicles as well. They should have a high power assault rifle and sticky grenades.
Scout can fill the role of a long range sniper, but should be fairly useless against vehicles. They should have pretty good camouflage and a higher run speed than any of the other classes by a pretty large margin.
Support should be able to help both vehicles and other players. Think of them as the buffers from MMO's. They can repair vehicles and heal players including themselves. They have some offensive capabilities, but are going to be pretty overmatched if they come out in the open against an assault player.
Pilot should be the last class. These are the vehicular combat specialists, with extra damage and maneuverability to the vehicle they are in. They can also plant satchel charges, or have a bazooka for taking down other vehicles, but if they come up against any infantry, they are going to have a hard time.
If Call of Duty has taught us anything it's that players will keep playing a game if they know rewards are quickly coming, so the upgrade system needs to be in effect once again. With each rank players will be able to upgrade one of the four classes, a max of five times. They can focus on upgrading just one class and be done after five ranks, or spread them out and be done with all of them by level twenty.
The first upgrade should be small, perhaps the armor will be upgraded. For Support, they will regain hitpoints at a slow but consistent pace. Assault will have higher hitpoints overall. Scouts will have better camouflage, a ghillie suit for example. Pilots will have more armor in their vehicles.
The second upgrade will give players a better secondary weapon. Perhaps a pistol with higher damage or more ammunition.
The third upgrade should focus on the grenades. Maybe it will give each class an anti tank grenade or something of that nature.
The fourth upgrade will give players a better primary weapon, which will make everyday life for the class easier.
The fifth upgrade should be something specific to the class:
Scouts will be able to use their binoculars not only to assist artillery strikes, but every enemy sighted through them should show up on the whole team's radar for 15 seconds. This will make actual scouting more of a priority than just being a sniper.
The Assault class will get more ammunition per clip, and their main weapon will never run out of ammunition. Where this becomes even more fun is if you pick up another class' weapon, such as the pilot's bazooka, the unlimited ammunition carries over.
The Support class should be able to overcharge players with about 50% more health than usual, and will be able to "toss" first aid packs to recently downed players to revive them.
Lastly the Pilot class will be able to hijack vehicles. The would have to be close by, and it would be very difficult, but how cool would it be for a pilot to parachute out of a damaged plane, land next to a tank, and jack it from its driver.
The last real issue with a Battlefield 3 would be conquest mode. Lets face it, conquest mode was an incredible experience when it first arrived on the scene, but nearly every shooter now has a variation of it. DICE should use their frostbite engine and a bit of creativity to put a new spin on this classic game mode.
Here's what I have in mind. Conquest mode still exists in its full form for every game. Teams still have respawn tickets, controlling more points makes your opponents number drop faster, and you can still capture points by standing in them with no enemies around. Everything is the exact same so far. The difference comes in with the frostbite engine and its ability to destroy buildings and terrain. If you can register an opponents spawn point destroyed, then it doesn't count for them or you until it's rebuilt. Rebuilding points should just be a matter of picking up and dropping off a few supply packs in marked off areas where the buildings need to go. So for example if there are 3 or 4 enemies at a point, and hunting them down doesn't sound like your cup of tea, just drive your tank over the buildings and render the entire point obsolete until it's rebuilt.
Building strength would need to dynamically scale based on how many control points an opponent has, so that if an enemy is stretched thin and your team is losing points fast, just drop some bombs on a faraway point and start the rebuild process faster. This would also make it very hard for the winning team to simply fire artillery on the last spawn point as a simple way to finish off the enemy, sure you can do it, but a tank won't be able to just drive through a wall in that case.
I think this will add an element of objectivity to the Conquest mode, kind of like Titan was trying to do, only combing them instead of rendering one obsolete altogether.
All other aspects of previous games should stay intact largely. There should still be commanders and squads. Maps should scale based on size. The focus should be on your soldier being able to do outlandish things like jumping from one vehicle to the next or sniping people while parachuting. What DICE needs to realize is that what made the Battlefield series popular in the first place wasn't its ability to cater to the casual player with it's "pick up and play" mentality, but rather its ability to deliver outrageous moments to its players by blowing up the traditional model.
Any way you look at it, the Battlefield franchise has changed the way shooters are played. Whether you look at the open nature of the Farcry 2, the upgrade system from Call of Duty, or the vehicular combat in Halo, Battlefield has left its mark. Where this franchise is going is anyone's guess, but hopefully the developers at DICE have lots more in store.