Battlefield V was an abject failure. Built on the powerful albeit unwieldy Frostbite engine, and with the accumulation of years of experience building previous games in the franchise and having the benefit of nearly endless source material (WW2), DICE nevertheless took all these blessings and proceeded to ravage them with aplomb. The signs of impending disaster made themselves apparent early on when DICE launched the trailer with its bizarre theme that desperately attempted to appeal both WW2 enthusiasts and those wanting an alternate history setting. Things were no better at launch as players quickly found themselves unable to earn more than a pittance of company coin leaving them unable to upgrade their vehicles/weapons. Games have survived worse in the past though, and there was still hope.
Or so it would seem. Unbeknownst to many, one of the worst bugs to ever rear its head in any game, much less Battlefield, would exist for a shameful 132 days before DICE Fixed an exploit related to the resupply stations for vehicles. This bug allowed ground vehicles to accumulate unlimited quantities of special ammo shells making a mockery of ground combat and destroying any semblance of fair competition as you could simply stock up on super shells and dominate those lesser mortals stuck with the default limited amounts. There were no special circumstances or exotic hoops necessary to jump through which would have limited its effects. Instead, anyone who knew this exploit could cravenly capitalize on the incompetence of the developers and wreak havoc on the game without ever having to worry about tripping an anti-cheat alarm. And if you think this only affected vehicle users then consider that as soon as a tanker was done wiping the field of other vehicles they turned their attention to infantry making your life miserable if you were unfortunate enough to be opposing someone executing the exploit. Yes, I am aware that vehicle shells and armor were somewhat weak on launch and for sometime after – even so, you could still do PLENTY of damage in vehicles.
The bug escaped attention so long because it was confined to vehicles (compared to the more numerous infantry players) and it was subtle; it didn't affect the damage/speed/ROF of a shell and their were no visible effects like larger explosions to give it away. Nobody has time to sit and count how many shells an enemy is firing and even if they did it can be difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between regular shells and special shells. In summary, not only did this allow cheaters to circumvent the ammo scarcity system, they could do so while having infinite amounts of the more powerful special shells and to top it off, this could be performed at any supply station, so abuse was rampant and persistent!
When I posted on reddit on Feb 12, 2019 that the upcoming Feb patch would determine the fate of BFV some labeled me melodramatic and that this was just another patch. They didn't fully comprehend the gravity of this particular bug and how detrimental it was. The fact that the bug wasn't fixed for over month later told me that DICE had already written off the game and it was simply going to be performing drip feed support enough just to keep it from doing irrecoverable damage to the brand. A slow sinking ship is acceptable but a capsize was not, so for months DICE would role out patches containing a few bright spots, but many more fumbles along with some of the originally promised/hinted at features, all at a glacial pace. I didn't want to be, and I was certainly not alone in my prediction, but I was right about BFV.
While most players are focused on infantry combat it is the vehicles that are the heart and soul of the game. Even though BF is far from a simulation, vehicles are incredibly intricate from a design standpoint. Here's the vehicle file for the Panzer IV. And that's just the vehicle itself. The weapons have their own files and operate in an environment where damage is calculated off of multiple factors, the most complex of which are the material modifiers where damage is adjusted based off which in game material the projectile lands on. The larger point I am driving at is that vehicles, due to the power they wield, have dramatic effect on the gameplay. Done correctly, they seamlessly blend into the game and command attention but are not insurmountable. But because they are so complex, they have not been properly balanced and bug purged to a sufficient degree in BFV nor prior installments. No one expects perfection, especially at launch, but DICE is stuck in arrested development and given their years of producing these types of games they should be at a level of refinement far far beyond what they are currently at.
So how do we get to a point much earlier in the game's life cycle where we achieve a reasonable level of quality when it comes to vehicles? The key is community testing. Due to the complexity of the systems involved it is impractical, even for a massive company like EA, to allocate enough resources for bug/balance testing. The good news though is that they needn't do so. There's a portion of the community who will happily take this work on for them! I'd much rather the company give more resources to developers who can create and refine than to testers who are underpaid and may not adequately understand the material they are scrubbing. However, this can only happen if there is an environment conducive towards vehicle testing. Enter the Practice/Test range…
Although I was disappointed to hear that Practice Range was being omitted from launch I was confident that once it was deployed it would be a dramatic improvement over the Test range last seen in BF4. After all, how can you possibly fuck up a practice range, right? Little did I know, a decision maker somewhere in (probably) Sweden thousands of miles away was devoting themselves to that very task. The hideous fabrication that was unleashed on players bared little resemblance to the sandbox type map and options most players were expecting. Instead of spacious map with a mixture of flat and elevated areas we got a rocky island map that offered little breathing room for vehicles. However, that was nothing compared to the mind numbingly stupid decision to not only limit the selection of heavy ground vehicles to two, but to also entirely omit the ability to customize your tank weapons/upgrades. Imagine firing up test mode in SFV and being limited to Ryu and Ken. Want to test out damage vs the various vehicles at various angles and spots on tanks? Fuck you. How about those special shells? Want to see how they differ from the standard shells so you can educate yourself, strategize and better contribute when you play? Well fuck you too. Maybe you just want to see if that upgrade that allows your plane to fly at higher max altitude works or not and what that feels like. Well you're in luck on that one actually….just kidding, fuck you too!
Surely though, this was easily remedied. After all, if resources could be devoted to developing a cringey intro movie for the practice range along with a driving competition for the wagons then surely DICE would see fit to eventually add the other vehicles along with the ability to choose your upgrades. Well I sure hope before you started reading this you opted for silicone lube instead of water based because, well you guessed it, FUCK YOU! You're stuck with two vehicles because after multiple Battlefields and having the resources commensurate with a triple A studio they will NOT be bothered to do more than tick a box so they can claim they technically had a "practice range."
Amidst the other embarrassing bugs, balance screw ups and endlessly delayed features emerged a potential solution. RSP, community games, private games…whatever they wanted to call them. Basically a custom server you create where you can hop into a vehicle, test it out, test the weapons, the upgrades. Make sure shit works as advertised. Make sure you aren't wasting a vehicle. Hell, maybe you just want to take a cathartic cruise around a map and enjoy the scenery (Some of my best BF4 memories were just flying around that stupid island in a F35.) DICE is nothing if not consistent so to ensure that none of that happened they locked vehicles until the "match" begins which can't happen unless you have a minimum of 4 players. Check and mate.
Battlefield has lost its way. It is openly hostile to its most loyal and potentially profitable customers. Battlefield is at its best when it is serious but not comedically so. When it tries to represent realism but not replicate it. When it provides a proper balance between structure and freedom. When there is logic, thought and care put into the systems that govern the game. When they keep their commitments and make sure that when something is put in the game that it works as advertised AND has a purpose for being there (not cluttering up the game with guns/vehicles/upgrade to just pump the count). The rightful place of BF is a position of more seriousness and complexity than COD, but less so than ARMA. When it attempts to be everything to everyone it ends up as a souless zombie of game devoid of any purpose and value sans to serve as a cautionary tale for young developers on how NOT to make a game.
The most powerful indicator as to whether DICE will return to the flock is the inclusion, on DAY 1, of a practice range, private server or whatever that allows as little as ONE person to hop into a sandbox where I can, for example, position 1 tank (of any variety) against another tank and launch shells at it and have the damage show up (just like in a fighting game test mode). You can use any upgrade, any shell any special call-in if they exist ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING. You can use this for serious testing and data accumulation or for doing goofy shit or even just pleasantly strolling around. If players are afforded this freedom then they can quality check all the intricacies of vehicles and quickly discover and reproduce bugs and balance issues which will get them on track to be fixed earlier in the game life cycle. It's not sexy, but it's fundamental to the success of a complex technical product like BF.
The omission of such a mode at launch will be a powerful message that it is business as usual at DICE and you can expect to see the same sort of haphazard implementation of systems, features and micro transactions that, when combined, yield a bittersweet shell of a game that shows flashes of brilliance, but ultimately gets relegated to the dustbin in the face of ever stiffening competition. A lot of gamers love to mock reviews where the player has 1,000 hours and then rates the game poorly but consider this: In the case of BF, there is really nothing like it. Sure, there are other military shooters but none with structural damage like frostbite. None with vehicles done quite the way BF does them. If you want the BF experience then you're stuck with BF. And BF always teases the promise of getting its collective shit together. "We're listening, we're going to communicate better. Just have faith and this next patch we'll have some great news for you!" It always ends up being 2 steps forward and 2 back though. So don't look at those 1,000 hours and think wow they've gotten a lot of value! Instead ask yourself how many of those hours were actually entertaining? How many of those hours actually resulted in a negative experience with the player having a worse day and only playing because if you want that BF style experience, then BF is the only game in town? How many of those hours were spent not because the product was triple A but because BF was occupying the space of another would be developer that could have actually delivered on the promise the BF made so long ago?
Assuming BF6 goes modern day again, also look to these areas to gauge how well BF6 will perform from a design standpoint:
- Mortars – Noticeably missing from BFV, mortars can be a gamebreaker if they are improperly implemented. Thankfully, by limiting their number (like vehicles) and implementing a system where the accuracy circle ALWAYS starts large (inaccurate) and the player is forced to hold down the fire button to reduce the cone of fire (which also locks it into position – cannot move once button is held unless you release which resets the accuracy cone) you introduce a system that is very conducive to what mortars are supposed to do: be powerful against stationary personnel, emplacements and light vehicles.
- IRNV/FLIR – Much maligned in BF3/4, there is lot of tweaking that can be done to make this advantageous in certain situations but with drawbacks. For infantry, this might be a limited time call-in you can use while for vehicles it might occupy the slot of another competitive upgrade.
- Vehicle Spawn – The current system makes vehicle balance very difficult as a light tank has to be just as valuable as a heavy tank. This also makes balancing maps incredibly difficult as you have to factor in all combinations of vehicle deployments. The old BF3/4 system with fixed options is vastly better and allows you to customize your vehicle while you wait to spawn. Improvements can include a progress bar to show you how much time until a vehicle spawns.
- Repair Tool – While the repair tool itself is fine, the fact that it can be used by a repair bro to create meat shield tanks that can absorb absurd amounts of damage creates a huge disconnect in terms of gameplay. Possible fixes include giving the repair tool a fixed amount of "ammo" that can only be replenished at supply depots and/or reducing the repair rate and increasing the overheat/cooldown times.
- Firestorm – The BF3/4 map is great and I'd love to see it back. The game mode though has no business existing and its inclusion undoubtedly syphoned resources that would have been otherwise allocated to the core game. It's totally fine to create mode branches of the core game (rush, breakthrough, etc…) but Firestorm was fundamentally, thematically and systematically different. It was a massive middle finger by tone deaf management while the core game was in a state of unmitigated disaster that this ungodly abomination and affront to the senses was peddled to fans who had faithfully invested in what should have been DICE's victory lap.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading! And if you were on the toilet, don't forget to wipe!
Edit: spelling and added link to Flakpanzer Quad bug
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