“I go back so far, I’m in front of me” – Paul McCartney, The World Tonight
Today, DICE and EA presented a livestream on the future of Battlefield on Twitch.tv. To me, a great deal hinges on the next Battlefield product that DICE offers, and I say that as a HUGE fan of the franchise. Battlefield 3 remains one of my favorite FPS experiences ever, and I put in almost 1,000 hours running through the Noshahr Canal, leaping from Damavand Peak, or cursing the fates as I played on the U.S. deployment side of an Operation Metro spawn-lock. But then came Battlefield 4. From the beginning it was rocked with issues, from poor netcode to balance issues to game-breaking bugs, and as the months unfolded, Battlefield began to feel unfun, a criminal accusation for such a great sandbox game. When Hardline was released, through DICE partner Visceral Studios, they did bring some of the fun back, at the expense of smaller maps, weaker vehicle action, and simplified gameplay. It was Battlefield and Call of Duty’s bastard love child, and I began to worry about the state of the Battlefield franchise.
Thankfully, Battlefield 4 has, over the last 18 months, become a playable and fun experience. It still, in my mind, isn’t Battlefield 3, but I fully admit to looking back on my time with that game using rose-colored glasses. So my curiosity was peaked as the days counted down toward the livestream: would DICE once again capture lighting in a bottle? Could they reignite interest in their franchise and reintroduce what it means to have fun inside their FPS sandbox? Early signs point to a resounding yes.DICE’s Design Director, Lars Gustavsson, kicked off the event by reminding viewers what a DICE FPS game should be – solid teamplay environment, all-out war in air, land and sea vehicles, squad-based combat, and heavily destructible and beautifully rendered environments. At least he’s saying all the right things, I thought. You’ll forgive me if I shuddered a bit as an EA Executive VP next took the stage. I awaited the inevitable “console exclusive” announcement, followed by the Premium DLC package details. Sure enough, the next Battlefield will indeed be an X-Box One early-access game, and while the Season Pass details were not yet announced, you can hurry over now and reserve your copy of the Deluxe Early Adopter edition (complete with several personalization packs, whatever that will mean) for only $20 more than the usual price of a AAA game. Oh and by the way…you want to play on Oct. 18, the official release date? Well good, you HAVE to buy the Early Adopter edition of the game. Wait…what? Yeah, you heard me, you have to pay $20 extra for the privilege of playing the game on the “official” release date. Otherwise you can wait with the rest of the scrubs (read: smart people) when the “Regular Edition” version of the game releases on Oct. 21. And boom goes the dynamite.
I say that to get all the crap out of the way first — because once the trailer itself rolled, all of my doubts went with it and I (almost) forgot about EA and their shifty sales tactics. The next game, the sixth in the franchise, goes back so far it’s in front of itself (in the words of Mr. Paul McCartney) with the somewhat awkwardly titled Battlefield 1 moniker. The one in the title actually stands for the era this game is set in: World War I. The trailer vividly brings this setting to life, showcasing swooping biplanes, charging cavalry, and dirty trench warfare with mace-wielding, gas masked protagonists. And man does it look sexy. Now that recent Battlefield tweet war over the Call of Duty trailer makes a lot more sense. This game truly looks to outshine its FPS rival in almost every sense.
As the trailer winds to a close, with its awe-inspiring final shot of a massive zeppelin looming over a hapless trooper, fan reaction was so strong that they immediately lobbied to play the trailer again. Once the second play-through was complete, Gustavsson came back on stage with a panel of guests to discuss some of the finer details. Gamers will get to saddle up and ride horses across the Arabian deserts, slog through trenches in the Western Front brandishing a wide variety of melee weapons (with various stat differences and bonuses, including what appears to be trench shovels) and swoop between peaks in the Italian Alps in the infamous Fokker Dr. I .
With Battlefield 1, DICE promises epic, global maps that takes players on a journey around the world, with an immersive teamplay focused experience. I have no doubt that they will deliver on most, if not all, of this promise. The big question in my mind is…but what about the balance? There are a wide variety of vehicles being teased here (even battleships are mentioned), and the livestream featured light and heavy tanks, and scout and bomber airplanes. Throw in the usual compliment of weapons, and its a lot of “rock, paper, scissors” for their programmers to juggle. And what about the netcode? In order for DICE to maintain its momentum as the biggest sandbox FPS on the market (along with it’s “Only in Battlefield!” war cry), the Battlefield 4 debacle cannot happen again.
One of the smartest things DICE did was distance itself from Call of Duty’s futuristic gameplay by turning back the clock to the first World War. Battlefield is also at its best with massive maps, heaps of vehicular mayhem, and near-completely destructible environments. Hardline was a short diversion while waiting for the next main Battlefield title, but it skewed too close to CoD-play for my tastes. The two franchises need to stay apart, and from the early glimpse we’ve been given in the trailer, there’s a plethora to like here. Fingers crossed, but this might be exactly what Battlefield fans have been waiting for…we just have to wait until the
18th 21st of October to find out.