As the Battlefield series grew, it moved away from the premodern setting in which it made its name, and began thriving in the modern settings of Bad Company, Battlefield 3, Battlefield 4, and so on. The WWII setting of 1942 was what hooked many players at the outset, but the series’ shift into later time periods brought necessary improvements– improvements we’ve been losing since the series started taking chronological steps backward. What makes the Battlefield games stand out from other triple-A shooter series is its commitment to military and historical accuracy, until that starts being the reason the series is falling behind. But it’s not the accuracy that needs to go, just the time periods it’s based on.
Games like Call of Duty can dabble more loosely in the past because the influence is largely aesthetic only. Taking the more authentic route forces certain design choices upon Battlefield developers. To honor its commitment to authenticity, Battlefield developers have to make military technology available in games set during WWI and WWII worse or more limited than what is available in the modern shooters we’re used to. This sacrifice is painfully obvious in the two most recent Battlefield installments.
In both Battlefield 1 and Battlefield V, the technological rewind caused by their settings had repercussions that make many of their weapons much more frustrating to use. The most poignant impact of this arsenal backtrack is in ammo management, as many weapon types hold fewer average bullets in a magazine, while also taking notably longer to reload than their modern counterparts. This means players are generally reloading more frequently, and taking longer to do so, increasing the rate at which they can be caught off guard.
Frustrations from more restricted bullet output can be compounded when certain weapon types feel less reliably accurate than weapons from installments set in this century. This was a serious problem in Battlefield 1, and while Battlefield V improved on it with the game’s predictive weapon recoil, it doesn’t eradicate the issue entirely. Accuracy and control are separate gun stats, after all, and there’s a limit to how much the average player can wrangle in their gun in the heat of battle.
Whether or not every player agrees on the effectiveness of the predictive recoil or the state of weapon accuracy in BFV, this promising feature could have just as easily been slotted into a modern Battlefield, where it could’ve improved the experience outright without feeling like compensation for the other setbacks. As is, these hindrances limit the degree to which you have control over engagements, fueling frustration in scenarios that don’t feel like you were given a fighting chance.
Battlefield’s commitment to history not only limits how we play, but what we play with. With each passing war, humanity invents more and increasingly clever ways to kill each other, which is made distinctly evident by the Battlefield series. There are generally more weapons found in modern Battlefields than premodern ones, but in terms of gadgets and equipment, modern Battlefields put their historical rivals to same.
Battlefield V, for example, offers five gadgets for Assault, four for Medic, five for Support, and five for Recon. Alternatively, Battlefield 4’s spread of gadgets for its respective analog classes clock in at 13, 14, 12, and 10. Admittedly, a few of Battlefield 4’s gadgets were added post-launch, and some are just different models of the same gadget, but it doesn’t change the reality that more advanced technology allows for a drastically broader variety of tools available, which is essential for a satisfyingly varied gameplay experience. When it comes to game content, more is basically always better than less.
On the topic of insufficient content, I want to give an honorable mention to one specific feature. Battlefield 1 and V lack vehicles in the same way they lack weapons and gadgets, but the absence of helicopters is an unavoidably crippling blow. Helicopters make for some of the most enjoyable moments in the Battlefield series, but they do more than that. They’re a crucial part of the series’ combat dynamic. Helicopters are the apex predator of ground support, which makes jets’ efficacy in dispatching them vital, forming a necessary connection in the Battlefield food chain by giving jets something to do while mitigating the dominance of tanks on the ground. Without them, jets (or planes in the case of 1 and V) can only have a real impact by engaging each other, while tanks are free to run amuck, which feels very much like what we’ve seen in Battlefield 1 and V.
This should not be interpreted as a call for all developers to stop making WWII shooters. The shooter genre goes through phases, with WWII shooters reigning supreme at the end of the sixth console generation and start of the seventh, before Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare brought in the age of, well, modern warfare. Now, we seem to be back under a wave of WWII shooters, which is fine, but the Battlefield series would benefit from being the exception. DICE’s authenticity-focused design philosophy is what makes Battlefield games so appealing, but through a lens of premodern combat, too much is sacrificed.
Although who knows? Maybe all of this is just my subconscious demanding the developers release Battlefield 2143 already.