Last week, EA and DICE announced a new entry into the Battlefield franchise, Battlefield 1943. On first glance, BF1943 looks like a return to the classic origins of this franchise. A return to the massive battles where large teams would coordinate on a single map with a variety of different player classes using an assortment of vehicles to capture flags and obtain victory wrapped in a shiny new graphical engine. And while this would have been nothing groundbreaking the original Battlefield 1942 remains a classic multiplayer game with its own unique sensibilities and the controlled chaos present in every game of Battlefield 1942 was a fond experience for many online players.
And originally this post was going to be one reminiscing about some of the better aspects of the original BF1942. But each new detail that emerges about Battlefield 1943 seems to sap my original enthusiasm about the game. Forget that there are only three maps on release and a hard cap of 24 players per map. The reduction of the Battlefield class system to three classes that are all variants of soldier, the removal of a lot of player control concerning transports like ships, and the additional of regenerating health and infinite ammo are all major causes for concern at this point. And with all those changes, its the simplification of classes that gives me the greatest concern.
The stated reason from New York Comic-Con about the changes to the original class system was so that “every class [would] be able to fight in every situation.” And on a certain level, that makes sense. It is frustrating to end up in an in-game situation where your character is completely helpless and the only end result is death. After all, if you’re playing alone there’s very little you could do.
But that’s frustrating in a single-player experience. And Battlefield is by design a team game. Conflicts are between groups of players that should be diversified to provide the best chance for victory. In order to win in the previous Battlefield games you couldn’t just have your scouts and gunners, you needed your engineers to repair vehicles, you needed your antitanks to protect your encampments from enemies, and you needed medics to keep everyone else alive. All these classes played vital non-combative roles that were necessary for victory. So if you were a soldier and you came running into a tank it was not a death sentence because you could count on a teammate to bail you out (assuming you had a good team).
If the problem was that these classes weren’t deemed “fun enough” to play without the gun-fighting, that’s a problem with making these classes more rewarding. Valve has tackled this situation admirably in Team Fortress 2 as the various secondary/support classes have had a lot of attention paid to their mechanics in order to making them rewarding to play even when the player isn’t fighting. This is even more true in TF2 than in Battlefield, medics for example must always be firing their heal beam in TF2, an ideal medic will never have to fight! Battlefield’s medics by contrast were still an important class that could hold their own in a pinch, you just wouldn’t want to do that all game.
Really, it almost feels like EA and DICE were afraid that lone wolf players would be constantly punished for running into situations they wouldn’t be able to deal with. But team games should punish lone wolf players. It makes good sense in a game where everyone is organized into teams to reward players who help teammates and punish those who go out on their own. Yes, it is frustrating when you end up with a bad team, but that would be true with or without these changes to the class system. Call of Duty’s multiplayer allows for lone wolf gameplay consistently yet the frustration remains when you lose because the rest of your team performs poorly. Bad teams will exist regardless of these alterations.
The last thing is that it’ll be argued that these changes were implemented to allow casual players a game with less complexity and less frustration. But I actually think the opposite would be true. Now players with the most experience and skills as related to the traditional gamer skillset (point-and-shoot FPS mechanics) will be the most rewarded. By removing the non-combat classes you essentially force everyone to play roughly the same way. This means that the casual player, who might not be the best shooter in the world, will now have to play the game primarily as a shooting game. No longer can you hope to be a medic and be valuable by keeping other teammates alive, no longer can you hope to be an engineer and score your points by fixing vehicles, now in order to succeed you need to win by the pistol.
What’s most disappointing about all of this is that a game like Battlefield 1942 is still a unique multiplayer game in this day and age. Increasingly FPS multiplayer games are variations of the Call of Duty model for multiplayer. Battlefield 1943 could have carved a nice little niche for itself in this crowded multiplayer environment by taking the core mechanics and systems of the original, smooth out some of the rough edges a little, and transplanting that into today’s games. Instead, it seems like they decided to smooth Battlefield until it was indistinguishable from every other WWII game out there.