A Losing Battle

The internet is rife with complaints of predominantly single-player games being marred by a bolt-on multiplayer mode, but with Battlefield the opposite has always been true. DICE’s shooter series is famous for its defining online warfare; grand scale conflicts fought across land, sea and air, where even the most cack-handed of players can contribute to their team’s war effort by helping to complete objectives and providing valuable aid and support. Conversely, Battlefield is not famous (although perhaps it is infamous) for its entirely forgettable and often highly derivative single-player campaigns.

Let’s face it. Nobody comes to Battlefield for the campaign, and if they do they quickly wallow in disappointment before being won over by the best-in-class multiplayer. Multiplayer is the heart and soul of this series, and even in a buggy and broken state remains a cut above most of its peers. The mixture of infantry and vehicles controlled by (mostly) thinking humans clashing against each other across giant landscapes offers up endless possibilities and intense levels of excitement that a scripted single-player can’t ever hope to replicate. Sometimes a single match of Conquest or Rush can provide more adrenaline-fuelled thrills and explosive anecdotes of heroic derring-do than all of the better set-pieces from every Battlefield campaign combined. So, with that in mind, I put it to you DICE and EA that Battlefield should hark back to its roots by once and for all abandoning single-player and concentrating on its core strengths by becoming a multiplayer-only shooter (and no, that doesn’t mean free-to-play).

Yes, the timing might seem odd, saying this off the back of Battlefield Hardline, the series’ strongest campaign to date. However, while it’s reasonable to say Dead Space developer Visceral’s recent Police-flavoured offshoot is above and beyond anything DICE has ever put out, it’s only faint praise when you consider the quality of Battlefield’s past. From the more light-hearted Bad Company games to the stubbornly po-faced mainline series, Battlefield’s single-player offerings have ranged from middling to passable. And that’s being kind! Hardline may just about be the exception to the rule, but it doesn’t change the fact that it was only ever going to be a supporting act, a supporting act which hardly anyone particularly cares about. Only a matter of weeks after it came out, is anyone still talking about – let alone playing – the campaign? Players don’t want it and Battlefield doesn’t need it, so why bother in the first place?

No doubt there would be a few disgruntled EA shareholders if future Battlefields were to drop a traditional single-player campaign. All it really means, though, is that there’s one less box to tick on the back of the case. Besides, they should think of the positives which could come from its disregard. For instance, as the classic argument goes, all the time and resources which would otherwise be wasted on building a solo mode can, instead, be utilised in refining, tweaking and damn near perfecting multiplayer. Practically every Battlefield has been plagued by unstable servers, balance issues and game-breaking bugs and glitches at launch and beyond. Would it be the case any more if there was no single-player for DICE to worry about?

Furthermore, not only could multiplayer be “fixed”, as such, for day one, it could also be expanded upon with more maps, more features and more modes. All the post-launch DLC content lined up for Battlefield Premium could theoretically be finished in time to ship on the disc, easily bolstering the number of maps up to or around thirty, meaning the notion of value shouldn’t come under such fire from angry gamers who feel they’re getting short-changed.

As for features, besides the usual gamut of new weapons, vehicles and gadgets, DICE could possibly use the extra manpower to elevate the destructive capabilities of both their powerful Frostbite engine and Battlefield’s badly named ‘Levolution’ mechanic to the next level. As impressive as Frostbite currently is at blowing stuff up, it’s never felt as intuitive, freeform or dynamic as Red Faction: Guerrilla’s Geo-Mod 2.0 engine. In comparison, Battlefield looks like child’s play, feeling quite limited in the way it brings down structures the same way over and over, and that’s assuming they can be brought down in the first place. Destruction felt disappointingly nerfed in Battlefield 3, and Levolution in Battlefield 4 and Hardline are essentially canned animations which alter the map in a single way.

Imagine, then, if in Battlefield 4’s Siege of Shanghai map that it wasn’t just one skyscraper you could topple, but all of them, and depending on how and where you went about bringing it down would determine the trajectory of its fall. Maybe it collapses in on itself or maybe it crashes into an adjacent building, which is also destructible. What about battleships which can be sunk, slowly flooding and capsizing with players still inside. Or, for the more mountainous maps, how about the danger of triggering an avalanche with a misplaced rocket or grenade. Of course, the kind of coding required to achieve such simulations in 64 player matches is perhaps a little too much to ask (and that’s without even considering hardware limitations), but redirecting resources from single-player would surely help such technical feats come closer to reality, if not in full then at least in part.

Still, if new innovations weren’t developed, more content wasn’t created and technical issues were to persist even in the absence of a single-player story, the fact remains Battlefield is better off without it. It’s only ever dragged the series down, getting progressively worse with each passing game (Hardline being the exception). If push comes to shove, DICE could take a leaf out of Titanfall’s book and attempt some form of campaign-multiplayer, stringing together a bunch of match types and telling a narrative through radio chatter, perhaps bookending each round with a short cinematic. But it’s not necessary, and would likely be shunned in favour of good old-fashioned Conquest and Rush. And that’s what EA need to realise, that the formula for success is already locked down. If they truly want Battlefield to go up against Call Of Duty then it should compete on its own terms, by sacrificing single-player to become the ultimate multiplayer shooter. As they say: lose the battle to win the war.

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