Battlefield Then and Now

There were only two ways the Battlefield 1 launch could have unfolded: outstanding success, or hilarious failure. I predicted the latter, my relationship with DICE being what it is, wherein the glory days of our once blissful relationship have been overshadowed by the disappointments and broken promises of the past five or so years (I.E., since Bad Company 2). To me, DICE is that handsome, charming stud with the great smile who convinced you that he was the one who would make all of your dreams come true; but years later, you’re still not married and he can barely keep a job, while you’re stuck working forty hours a week and doing all of the cooking and cleaning around the house.

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Every time you put him to the ultimatum, he promises he can change, that he can do better. And dammit, you want to believe him when he looks at  you with those sandbox-gameplay, squad tactics focused eyes, and you remember those magical nights you had at Karkand and Shuhia Taiba, those perfect afternoons spent capping points at El Alamein and planting charges at White Pass. But when it comes time to deliver, his attempts are half-baked and sad, and he slinks back to his old habits. You begin to finally realize that the good times will never come back: you have had enough, and kick him out.

It’s been a couple years since you’ve talked to DICE, but out of the blue one day, one of your girlfriends mentions running into him on the street. He seems like he’s really turned himself around, she says, and when you start to stalk his social media, he seems like he finally did manage to pull his life out of the gutter. Your pals all tease you, knowing about your history together, and though you shrug off their comments, you stay up all night unable to get him out of your head. When you realize he’s going to the same party later this month, you spend the next few weeks buzzing with excitement and nervousness. You remind yourself to cull your expectations, but can’t help but look forward to seeing him again with a deeply buried giddiness. When the launch party comes around, and you run into him at last, it hits you: your friends were right all along, and DICE has regained his magic that makes your heart flutter like it did all those years ago.

And it helps that he looks really, really sexy.

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I can see I’ve somehow slid into a really lengthy allegory again, but I think you get what I’m trying to say here. Now, Battlefield 3 and 4 were not bad games, they weren’t even mediocre — but compared to previous entries, they were disappointments for me. Squads were neutered in size, maps felt less organized and fun, and gameplay focused more on twitch reflexes and highly aggressive movement a-la Call of Duty instead of being based on careful teamplay and fulfilling a role in a group. I felt that what made the series so special– having a small, specific role in a much larger war — was pushed to the wayside to make individual players feel like Rambo. This is also in conjunction with the greedy schemes of the evil empire of EA, who shove their blackened fingers into every delicious dish DICE tries so hard to put out into the market. Battlefield games have always had a strong tradition of releasing piecemeal expansions, but other DLC content, like being able to purchase unlocks, are universally disgusting.

I’ve been playing Battlefield games ever since I was loaned a copy of 1942 by my cousin; I’d spent many summer afternoons gunning down Germans and unsuccessfully piloting fighters across Europe and the Pacific. You can probably imagine how the sheer scale of the maps and the large variety of weapons and vehicles excited my adolescent male brain, and just talking about it makes me want to go find my old CD’s and see if there are still servers up and running. (It turns out there still are — wow.)

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Speaking of replaying old favorites, I’d like to discuss how I’ve spent the past few weeks with the games leading up to Battlefield 1. For those of you who don’t know, Battlefield 2 and 2142, as well as all of their expansion packs, have been “revived” by fans, with many servers up for play. These were two of my favorites, and despite their age, they still look cool and their gameplay is as refreshingly tight and entertaining as when they were released all of those years ago.

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As I was saying before, I prefer the gameplay of these earlier titles to the newer ones. I don’t think I am alone when I say I find the newer games slightly frustrating; they’re a little too fast paced, with skill being tied to how quickly you can move and shoot more than anything else. Yes, these skills are essential for  pretty much any shooter ever made, but the older games had a slower, more thoughtful pace to combat, allowing you to react more deliberately to threats and utilize your equipment and communicate with squadmates. It’s not that much slower, but playing a couple matches on 2142 feels entirely different from running and gunning on the maps of 3 and 4.

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In the modern titles, you’ll often find yourself dead much quicker and unable to react or understand where the shots came from, with your death screen almost invariably showing some jackass sprinting around the area like a psychotic 12 year old pumped up on mountain dew and cocaine. On the older titles, the gunplay felt less lethal and more drawn out, with most shots from automatic weapons going completely wild unless the shooter was standing completely still and firing in controlled bursts. This allowed you to get your bearings in long and mid-range engagements, and either disengage or set up some kind of game plan to react. I think it’s a pretty telling difference how, when selecting a healing/ammo box in Battlefield 2 or 2142,  you could either hold on to the box and approach your teammates or place the resupply item on the ground as a healing/refill point, but in the modern titles, your character automatically chucks the healing and ammo bags wildly at your squadmates’ faces like a paperboy desperately running behind on his route. The supportive elements are still present in the newer games, but they seem more like an afterthought, as individual soldiers largely ignore their allies and sprint in a beeline from point A to point B.

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Maybe this isn’t an issue the newer BF titles have so much as it is a problem with the attitudes of modern gamers. I could blame Call of Duty for conditioning a generation of multiplayer gamers into a mass of lone-wolf, kill-streak seeking drones with tunnel vision, seeking out the next kill with single-minded fervor. Teammates in these games have become little more than parasites who steal your kills,  annoying, anthropomorphized props who get in the way of your perfect vantage point. In my mind, this basically forced DICE to pander to the popularity of this gamestyle in order to remain relevant, and now that the Call of Duty franchise has finally lost its steam, we’ve got a Battlefield series that seems to have diverted away from the magical gameplay it originally delivered.

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Battlefield One, in many ways, is a stark step away from the blandness and ugliness that DICE has descended into, not just with its smooth performance on launch day — I’m looking at you, Battlefield 4 — but through its return to the classic gameplay elements that gave the series its own identity. Yes, most players still sprint around, shoot and die like maniacs, and support classes still hurl their health and ammo bags as if they were on fire; gameplay remains largely fast paced. However, some nuances in gameplay have been implemented to encourage players to work in collaborative ways. Squad sizes are back up, and players can once again spawn on their allies, keeping the groups closer together in battles. While spawning on teammates was a feature implemented in Battlefield 3, its reintroduction alongside bigger squad sizes means you’ll spend more time in battle close to  your organized subgroup.

Also, perhaps its just me, but firefights seem to be a bit slower paced and situational. Maybe the bullets travel slower, or player health pools are larger, but regardless, playing Battlefield 1 after slugging it through a few dozen matches in Battlefield 3 and 4 gave me the impression that the gameplay in 1 is much more methodical and thoughtful. I felt like I had a fighting chance in most situations, and my gametime was generally devoid of the occasionally infuriating deaths in 3/4, which sometimes felt like they were completely out of my hands. Combat in this new game is still chaotic, though, but you can generally make better sense of it.

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Anyways, I think we can all agree that the Battlefield 1 is the best that the series has had in a long time, and it gives me hope that the series can be special again. I think it’s time I gave DICE another chance — even though he might disappoint me again sometime in the future, the new him is just too attractive to pass up for the time being.

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5 thoughts on “Battlefield Then and Now

  1. Really good article! I agree and think that Battlefield 1 looks like the real deal this year and I feel there will be a shift in power in the war of first person shooters this year, especially after seeing CoD sales drop so dramatically in comparison to last year!

    1. It is sort of odd to think of it like that, but you’re right: Battlefield looks like it’s now “the” shooter to have. Part of me is happy that one of my favorite gaming series of all time is enjoying so much success, but another part of me is worried, because we all know what happens to a videogame franchise that gets too popular…

  2. Really great article! The BF series has been in a bit of a slump with 3 and 4, but damn is BF1 a blast to play through! Hopefully this isn’t just a grand gesture and then DICE goes back to lying around on the couch.

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