Introduction, The Heart of FPS, What's Old Is New Again, & Less is More
2008 marked a turning point for Battlefield series developer DICE: its brand new Frostbite engine debuted alongside only its second console game in Bad Company, successfully bringing the franchise into the modern gaming era with graphics, controls, and design that are still very palatable to today's audience.
The studio followed it up with pseudo-remake 1943, another excellent console-only title, and then the big one in Bad Company 2, which united PC and console fans for the first time. Although some long-time fans snubbed their nose at it for the smaller scope, it drew in a ton of new series fans including myself who took the game on its own merits and appreciated it for the design gem that it was.
The Heart of FPS
In retrospect, what made Bad Company 2 as great as it was is simple: it got to the very heart of FPS gaming and left almost everything non-essential to the wayside. Pretty well all you got was a handful of weapons and accessories per class, a few vehicles and gadgets, lots of fun, unique maps (all free, so there was no community divide), and two exhilarating, well-balanced modes in Conquest and Rush (three other not so popular modes were included, but two were more or less aimed at competitive play, and one never came to PC).
With no real clutter distracting it, DICE was free to focus on the little things that made the actual gameplay so great as well as the big things like map and gun balance. In turn, players didn't have to endure extraneous content and were left with just the good stuff; the stuff that mattered.
When Battlefield 3 and 4 arrived in 2011 and 2013, respectively, DICE's minimalistic design approach went out the window in favor of what's known as feature creep. In essence, a development studio and/or publisher feel the need to offer more to the consumer, which can lead to over-complicated design and excessive features that detract from core gameplay development and overall game polish, especially the longer a series goes on.
Both games featured a seemingly endless string of weapons, gadgets, accessories (which came in the form of 'Battlepacks' you had to manually open to get your goods, no less), vehicles, maps (a lot of which were paid DLC and divided the community), modes, achievements, emblems, awards, assignments... You get the idea.
The first key issue with all of this content was that because DICE insisted on making all maps playable on all modes, it spread itself too thin and as a result, a significant portion of the modes and maps were good at best and utterly forgettable at worst.
The second is too much content is overwhelming for the player, and inevitably some of it will be unnecessary. I got to the point with both games where when new content came out, I simply didn't bother even though I had Premium; I already had about 100 guns with thousands of accessory combinations to toy with and would never try or master them all even with twice the playtime (I was already many hundreds of hours into each), so just seeing more new content became exhausting. As well, many of the guns were far from memorable or beloved, because again, DICE spread itself too thin, and because it's simply not possible to include that many guns and have them all be wholly distinct from one another.
It's difficult to say how much of the blame for feature creep lies with gamers who demand more, more, more and how much of it is a misperception of publishers and developers, but one thing is for sure: there was a significant portion of the Battlefield community that was not entirely happy with Battlefield 3 and 4 but loved Bad Company 2 through and through. Although many might not know it, I believe feature creep and its secondary effects are exactly why. While both games did some things extremely well and could be awfully good fun, they lacked the distilled design and subsequently consistent quality that Bad Company 2 brought.
What's Old Is New Again
Which brings me to Battlefield 1. In a move that shocked everyone, DICE decided to take its next franchise entry to the barely explored World War I era. Though many doubted it could be exciting (World War I has the stigma and misconception of being boring and consisting of nothing but trench warfare), they were shut up quickly when the trailer debuted, and rightfully so.
World War I was much more barebones than more recent wars which featured more advanced technology and a longer list of popular weaponry. While there were more weapons used during the Great War than many think, a lot were not popular for a variety of reasons. This makes Battlefield 1 a great opportunity to get back to the minimalist design approach of Bad Company 2, and especially Bad Company 2 Vietnam with which it shares many gameplay and aesthetic qualities.
And sure, the main Battlefield series is supposed to be bigger in scope than the Bad Company series (as it should be), but finding a middle ground between the two is what we're after.
Less Is More
First thing's first: the game needs fewer weapons. Battlefield 4 featured approximately 80 primary weapons across four classes after all DLC was said and done. Compare that to Bad Company 2 which featured 24, or Battlefield 2 which featured about 30.
80 primary weapons plus a ton of secondary guns, handguns, and gadgets is a nightmare for any developer to design and balance; keeping the count sane means all guns can be distinct, interesting, and well-balanced against all other guns.
Make Rush Great Again, Back to Basics, & Final Thoughts
Make Rush Great Again
The invention of Rush mode for the Bad Company series was one of DICE's greatest moves in series history. At long last, players had the perfect accompaniment to the large scale Conquest mode thanks to tightly designed maps featuring one objective: blow up the crates or defend the crates. The gameplay was hectic, thrilling, and unlike Conquest, was cohesive whether played with voice chat or none at all, which made it a hit with casual and hardcore players alike.
Unfortunately, with the new plethora of content in Battlefield 3 and 4, Rush took a big hit to balance and fun. Suddenly, most matches were lopsided, maps were a headache to progress through, and before long, the community at large left it behind. Though DICE improved it with patches, it was too little too late.
If DICE is to make Battlefield 1 all it can be, it needs to fix Rush, and of course, adapt it for the setting. The best fit: Combat Mission from Medal of Honor (credit to Reddit user MartianGeneral for this great idea). If you haven't played the game or don't remember it, it's essentially Rush except MCOMs/gold crates are replaced with authentic objectives like "Secure the beach", much as they would appear in real war.
Apart from making sense for the setting, Combat Mission also works as an opportunity to further enlighten the public on events that occurred during World War I, one of the less intimately known wars. And with DICE saying it wants to single player a little more like multiplayer, why not make multiplayer a little more like single player too? Take the best of both in each case and knock people's socks off.
All Battlefield 1 truly needs is these two modes, and including only them would allow DICE to focus on making them and the maps the best they can be instead of designing and optimizing 30+ maps for 10+ different modes and having the quality of all of it suffer as a result.
That said, one or two small-scale modes aimed at competitive play in addition to Conquest and Combat Mission would be welcome, provided DICE is willing to put real work in to have Battlefield 1 be taken seriously on the competitive stage. If not, they're best left out entirely. As my father used to say: if you're not going to do it right, don't do it at all.
Back to Basics
At the very least, Battlefield 1 needs to go back to the Bad Company 2 style of spotting where you only show up spotted for enemies if you were spotted manually; shooting your weapon should not make you automatically highlight you to other players.
It's understandable that DICE implemented this revised approach starting in Battlefield 3 to make suppressors more attractive (whether or not it was worth it is another topic), but suppressors were not used in World War I and communications technology was less advanced as well, so it's only reasonable this mechanic is toned down this go-round. A side effect of this is it emphasizes the harrowing atmosphere the game is rightly going for.
I also expect fewer attachments this time. While quite a few attachments were in use during WWI, they were certainly more limited, and most were simply different sights. This is great news for gameplay as it makes unlocks much more exciting again (nobody cares about scope #241 for gun #3012).
As the old saying goes: less is more. While my suggestions may make this look like a gutted game, that's just on the surface; underneath lies superior gameplay and polish. More guns in a game doesn't necessarily mean more fun gameplay; often it just means more guns.
Given DICE is already advertising DLC packs and Battlepacks for the game and EA is talking about "macro and micro monetization", I'm expecting it to turn out more like Battlefield 3 and 4 than Bad Company 2, but even something halfway between could go a long way.
Whatever happens, I have no doubt the game will be epic and fun, as DICE's Battlefield games always are.
See you on the battlefield, soldier.