We spent a lot of time playing Battlefield 1 during both the open and closed beta, and we had a great deal of fun. Once you overlook how bastardized the historical content is (e.g giving everyone experimental machine guns and tanks that can outpace modern sports cars) you can get into the experience fully and have a great time.
But Battlefield 1 has a deeper problem, a problem that has existed in the entirety of the Battlefield series since Bad Company. The signature chaos is awesome to look at, but a detriment to the gameplay. And we’ve been trying to work out how you can fix it.
Battlefield 1 revels in insanity, with action taking place in a series of hotspots around the large maps, throwing in a combined offensive of tanks, infantry, cavalry and planes. This generates a huge variety of tactical approaches and overall visceral destruction that is a joy to behold, but the gameplay and map design does not fit the overall ideal.
The real issue here is that there is no motivation within the gameplay to employ strategy, and because of this trying to follow objectives, assist your team and do anything but run around like a chicken with your head cut off is nearly impossible.
Infantry and weapons
The problem is most apparent when playing the infantry classes. You move fast, you are accurate no matter what and you can take a significant amount of shots before you die. None of these skills encourage anything but rushing towards an objective with reckless abandon. You feel no threat despite the utterly devastating orchestra of death flowing around you and you have no tactical awareness. Most deaths and kills occur when players unexpectedly meet inches away from each other, either face to face, or more likely, one behind the unsuspecting other.
Either you shoot them or they shoot you, and bang! Start the whole inane process again, without any reason to try and learn from your mistakes. Health plays a big part in this, as you simply have too much and can shrug off most damage taken at a distance thanks to a regeneration system that doesn’t fit this type of game. This is why almost all combat takes place in close quarters, making such fighting mundane and leaving it lacking the tension it should have.
Weapons have been made far too accurate in close range and useless at long distance fighting, and to balance this characters have been made take stupid amounts of damage before death. Without the added health, close combat would be frustrating as players would be killed before they have time to retaliate. With the added health, players are rewarded for shooting faster, or hitting with a more powerful weapon rather than any type of skill. It is also why snipers are such a problem in Battlefield 1, because they can target you at any range, killing you instantly, while any other class has no hope to retaliate effectively unless they are close enough for their weapon.
How many times have put 4-5 rounds in an enemy only to have them kill you with a single rifle shot to the head? Doesn’t sound right does it? Without the threat of serious damage from enemy fire, suppression, cover and smoke play no part in the gameplay, reducing the experience to simply running and gunning with no thought to the consequences. By simply making character far more vulnerable to damage, decreasing the reliability of most weapons in close range and slowing down movement just a little, it makes the shooting experience far more rewarding and less based upon luck.
Vehicles and Roles
By changing the infantry dynamic, vehicle roles in turn become more crucial and are required to assist the movement of infantry. Right now, anyone who gets in a tank or armored car simply goes off to follow their own objectives, rather than helping the team, which means they don’t contribute to a shared goal. Dice made the right choice by limiting most vehicles to specific classes, rather than leaving them lying around the map, but planes, tanks and cars are not rewarded for fulfilling specific roles. Players treat them as individual powerups rather than important tools to win a battle. Simply put, no one is encouraged to play a role on the field, so everyone does what they feel like. This being a WW1 game only makes the issue more problematic.
The lack of players following their roles is an issue within itself. Medics don’t revive teammates because combat is too fast for them pay attention and the window to heal a downed comrade is far to narrow. Similarly, Support roles often can’t provide ammo because the team is too spread out and you can just forget a Sniper’s contribution to anything important. There are no class restrictions within infantry, meaning players choose their role based on weapon rather than responsibility and ignore whatever duty is required of them. There is no pressure to play your role.
This sucks, and results in no team-play or coordination to be found. Medic and Support roles should be given more important duties, while placing a limited number of them on each team and handing out larger bonuses for their specific responsibility. Spreading weapon classes among specialized infantry rather than giving the wrong weapons to the wrong classes will see less people wasting their abilities. And most of all, drastically reduce the number of snipers around the map, while giving them a primary duty of spotting targets for the team to focus on. Then, after all these years, snipers might actually help the damn team for once.
Maps and Objectives
But the biggest problem with Battlefield 1 are the maps. The issue isn’t that they are too large, its that they are made in such a way that doesn’t encourage team play and lets chaos overtake everything. By having objectives dotted randomly around a map, which can be captured at will and used as spawning centers, there is no defined frontline for teams to focus on. Enemies can appear anywhere, so stationary weapons, fire support and defenses are useless.
By providing objectives that must be attacked in sequence, all of which that have defensive advantages and disadvantages for both attackers and defenders, a whole different way of playing is created. You have clear objectives, easy to understand goals and more room for tactical planning which results in a more rewarding flow to the game. Right now Battlefield 1 lacks those “break-through” moments where a team overcomes a deadly defense from the enemy, or holds back overwhelming fire from an attacking foe. Objectives are taken and lost at random, as team mates simply sprint around a map towards each point and finding nearly every single one undefended. No one defends an objective, no one flanks hard points and no one uses firepower effectively, so most tools available are wasted.
Reducing objectives to one hard point after the other allows room for the proper use of tanks and aircraft to break down defenders, stationary weapons to provide fire support and a team to effectively use their specialist roles. Think Rush mode and Conquest mode combined into a single entity, forcing the whole power of each team onto a single, large objective with multiple routes to completion.
Even with all these additions, the signature craziness of Battlefield will not be lost at all, instead it will be supplementing a natural back and forth between teams without hindering the experience. Gameplay will require more thought, communication and role fulfillment, overcoming the current issues the game is plagued with.
Why it’ll never happen
We aren’t kidding ourselves here, these changes will never be a part of Battlefield, because the negative elements of the game are far too established to change. Not only that, but most players don’t want to think when they play a multiplayer shooter, which is a real shame. However, we totally understand the need for some games to provide some straightforward fun.
These changes could make Battlefield 1 a much more dynamic and rewarding experience, allowing for teams to benefit from each others commitment and skills, but trading off from the mindless thrill the series currently provides.
The success of these mechanics has been established before, in the Red Orchestra and Project Reality series (both of which you should really check out if you have a decent PC), so it isn’t far fetched that the bastard child between these example and Battlefield 1 could work. But Battlefield has found an audience who want nothing more than what they already know, and there is no denying the fun that already exists within the series. We just wish the Battlefield audience could motivate a little bit of innovation from EA and Dice.
But hey, if consumers could convince EA to do something different, they wouldn’t exactly be EA would they.