I’m 33 years old, and I’ve been gaming practically my entire life. In that amount of time, it’s only natural for certain series you’ve played for years to fall by the wayside. Something better comes along and your tastes change—I stopped playing Counter-Strike: Source in 2006 after I got an Xbox 360 and Gears of War, for instance. Other times, however, it’s not you that changes. It’s the the series you love that starts drifting in a different direction.
This is by far a more painful experience. It’s the bluntly direct “it’s not me, it’s you.” And when a beloved series starts going making changes to appeal to a newer, younger, hipper, more successful, longer-lasting player base, it’s hard not to wonder what we, the aging and decrepit fans, did wrong.
Never has this experience been so painful, however, as it’s been with Battlefield V.
The latest game in the Battlefield series has had a rough road since it launched back in November 2018 (following an initial month-long delay from its original October release window). Bugs—the hilariously innocuous and disastrously game-breaking variety both—have plagued the game since before it even came out. Fan-favorite modes that were in the game at launch have been removed, while other modes that were promised either never made it into the game or did so in a half-assed way. New maps have been delayed for months at a time, and patches often break as much as they fix.
Most recently with its late-December 5.2 patch, developer DICE implemented changes to the weapon balance that were overwhelmingly unpopular with the core community. It’s been over a month since these changes were implemented, and members of the Battlefield V subreddit are still calling for DICE to revert the weapon balance to what it was before 5.2.
Despite all the issues that Battlefield V has encountered over the last year or so, I still played the hell out of that game in 2019. Battlefield has been my main multiplayer series for almost a decade now, ever since Bad Company 2 showed me the light. The friends who I played Bad Company 2 with are several of my closest real-life friends, and we soldiered on in the series on and off for a solid 10 years. So playing Battlefield V wasn’t necessarily a sign I enjoyed the game so much (though I sometimes did)—it was out of habit. But, as with most habits that turn into addictions, even as my friends started to leave that lifestyle behind, I was still grinding away, playing every week to unlock new weapons or skins.
That is, until January 8th, 2020, when I uninstalled Battlefield V. Like most overly sensitive white dudes after a breakup, I listened to the same Mountain Goats song on repeat for a day straight before posting about it on Reddit.
I’m not usually someone who writes long, ranting Reddit posts—about Battlefield V or otherwise—but as a player who’s spent years watching the series evolve and change, I not only love Battlefield more than I love most people, I also think I have a pretty good idea of what makes a Battlefield game work. And as a decade-long Battlefield player who feels like the series is starting to move in a direction that’s counter to its own identity, I felt like I had to say something.
I’ll reiterate the reasons why I uninstalled Battlefield V, the first time I’ve done that with a current Battlefield game: the recoil is nonexistent, the modes are focused on pile-on killfests, the character movement feels floaty and fast, and the weapon customization is simple and easy to understand. All of these criticisms could actually be seen as positives, depending on what you want out of an FPS game. But here’s the thing: They don’t belong in Battlefield.
The biggest, most important question revolves around Battlefield’s identity as a series. What makes a Battlefield game Battlefield? Some people might say that it’s all about the large-scale, 64-player combat. Others might say it’s destruction. Others still might point to the mix of infantry- and vehicle-based gameplay.
They would be completely missing the point of Battlefield.
When talking about what a series is, it’s important to know what a series isn’t. Battlefield isn’t Call of Duty. It isn’t Halo. It isn’t Titanfall. It isn’t Counter-Strike. It isn’t Gears of War. And it certainly isn’t Fortnite.
Interestingly enough, I think the closest thing to Battlefield in recent memory is PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds—if you leave aside the whole battle royale thing.
Kills shouldn’t be easy to achieve in Battlefield. That doesn’t mean that the bullets shouldn’t do a ton of damage, but that the weapons themselves should be hard to use until the player has had a ton of practice with them. Even then, “easier” weapons should have their drawbacks, while harder weapons should be high risk, high reward. Putting an ACOG scope on a DMR in Battlefield 4 meant that you had the advantage of distance over opponents using a shorter-range scope and weapon, but those guns kicked like mules, making it harder to keep the magnified scope on target. Higher rate of fire weapons, meanwhile, have a faster TTK capacity, but being able to control the recoil effectively takes hours, if not months to master. Most importantly, guns in Battlefield games should feel punchy and dangerous, for both you and your enemies. They should feel like machines, not toys.
Anticipation is also a huge aspect of Battlefield’s identity. Traveling to an objective should be just as emotionally intense as getting into a firefight. The Rush game mode in Bad Company 2 is the perfect example of this feeling. The maps in Bad Company 2 are probably the best in the series, and that’s because they all follow a very simple philosophy: There are stretches of distance with multiple pathways to traverse before coming upon intricate bases to infiltrate. It’s the age-old script-writing formula of rising action, climax, and denouement, repeated until the attackers destroy all the objectives or the defenders eliminate all their tickets. The anxiety you feel approaching a base carries all the tension; getting in a firefight is like a relief, similar to how deaths in the horror genre are almost cathartic following the abject terror of waiting for their arrival. This tension in Battlefield is accentuated by the player’s movement: While being able to wall-run and slide is fun in other shooters, the more grounded movement of Battlefield games lent to the immersion of being a soldier in a warzone and made players feel vulnerable.
Most importantly, though, Battlefield is about freedom. Flying around the map in a chopper, off-roading in a four-wheeler or Jeep, crossing a channel of water on a motorboat with a grenade launcher mounted on the front, or just sneaking through the bushes and setting up a sniper’s nest are all options. As another added twist, this freedom should give way to a spectrum of consequence. Sure, flying a chopper is fun, but hover over an objective and you’re just asking to be shot down. Likewise, if you’re going to hang out on a hillside with a sniper rifle, the longer you’re stationary, the better chance you have of another Recon picking you off.
More and more, Battlefield as a series has been moving away from its reputation as the more pensive, immersive, anxiety-inducing, sandbox-y shooter and inching closer towards the kind of sweaty killfests that have made the Call of Duty series so popular for years. Battlefield 1’s Operations, which smushed all 64 players together in a writhing pile of violence, and Battlefield V’s Breakthrough have prioritized death and chaos over tactics and freedom. YouTubers showing off massive killstreaks have replaced those like XfactorGaming, whose thorough analyses and breakdowns of maps showed just how much thought and strategy went into not only playing on them, but making them in the first place.
I’m no slouch when it comes to FPS games, but I don’t necessarily like to play for kills. I play for the experience, and out of any mainstream multiplayer FPS series, Battlefield has always been about the experience. It’s been about hiding behind cover with my friends as shells explode nearby and bullets whiz over our heads. It’s about moving in as a squad, knowing we have one another’s backs. It’s about letting loose a torrent of suppressive fire with guns that feel like they’re going to buck right out of our hands.
It’s a tough question for designers: How do you evolve a series without alienating its longtime fans? How do you introduce new concepts without losing the spirit of what the series was in the first place? What makes a series a cohesive body of work and not just several different games with the same name? Call of Duty, Gears of War, and Halo have all struggled with this question throughout their histories.
But I don’t care about any of those games. I care about Battlefield. I just don’t know if Battlefield cares about me.