Things were looking high and mighty for the Battlefield brand in late 2011 as marketing was ramping up for the impressive Frostbite 2 engine and its debut with DICE’s Battlefield 3. The game had a lot of bugs and many patches were required to make the multiplayer work as intended, and while the game earned accolades for what players could do on its large maps, the game’s single player campaign was unimpressive and forgettable, and a few key features from old school BF games were missing.
Two years later, we get a direct successor in Battlefield 4, this time running on an upgraded engine dubbed Frostbite 3, and with it some returning series features (i.e. Commander Mode). This installment however, released too early and was somewhat broken (death shield, rubber banding, netcode, etc.) on the multiplayer front. Again, the single player campaign was forgettable, DICE didn’t even try to improve co-op play (dropping it entirely), and EA’s boss Andrew Wilson described the launch as “unacceptable.” We won’t even get into the lawsuits from shareholders.
Keep in mind, this is after Electronic Arts had allowed Medal of Honor to release despite it not meeting their “quality expectations” according to Senior Vice President EA Patrick Soderlund. After MoH and its followup Medal of Honor: Warfighter both disappointed, EA chose to focus on just one series in that modern warfare space, and that it would be Battlefield. After all, BF3 was EA’s fastest-selling game to date at that point so it was a no-brainer.
So, as DLC and microtransactions were rolling out for BF4 while DICE was still trying to get the game working as intended, EA and Visceral announced a followup in the middle of all of that – one that looks almost identical to BF4. It runs on the same Frostbite 3 engine, and from playing its closed beta we can say that it has the same playable classes and interface, and similar weapons, mods, vehicles, etc. It looks and plays like a re-skinned mod or total conversion of Battlefield 4, comparable to the days of Battlefield 1942 when DICE and EA were far more consumer-friendly and players could make wonders such as the (award-winning) Desert Combat mod and fans could play more without paying more.
That doesn’t mean that Battlefield Hardline is bad, and in fact, we had fun while playing the one map and two modes available in the closed beta (check out some videos here), but it does bring into question the bigger picture concerns. EA has now admitted three of their shooters didn’t meet their standards, yet they were all launched by EA anyway. We also know that Hardline is coming just one year after BF4 which to detractors screams of a “money grab” during a time when annualized franchises are really starting to result in some yearly disappointments (see: Call of Duty burnout and Assassin’s Creed excuses one and two).
The obvious question raised by media and a chunk of the fanbase becomes, why then, if Battlefield Hardline is built on the same engine, and looks and plays like a re-skin isn’t it just an expansion of Battlefield 4 – a game DICE and EA promise to keep working on beyond Hardline’s release?
PlayStation Lifestyle spoke with Thad Sasser, Lead Multiplayer Designer at Visceral Games, who admits that they’re keeping the UI for BF Hardline similar to BF4 to make it feel like Battlefield and he heavily emphasizes that the devs are listening to user feedback and want to hear of any issues players have – similar to what DICE did in working with the community to improve Battlefield 4 on PC. He teases that there’s a lot more to Hardline than what we’ve seen so far and that it’ll be worth it:
“What you see on the [E3 2014] show floor here today is just a small portion of what we got. Obviously, we got a wide range of maps. We got a lot more weapons. We got a lot more cool gadgets. We got a lot more exciting stuff to show you in the upcoming weeks and months. We got a slew of new game modes.
“I think you’ll understand where the value proposition is with this game. There is a lot of new content. It’s not just a re-skin or a re-use of assets. We’ve got all new assets, we got a lot of stuff still coming in, so look forward, check us out in the future, play it, tell us what you think.”
We’ll just have to wait and see what else will be revealed down the road about the game’s offerings. In addition to promising a more stable launch, one bit of potentially good news is Sasser hints that they just might not go the controversial microtransaction route when it comes to multiplayer progression. Hardline lets players earn in-game cash and to use that cash to choose what they wish to access on the weapons/mods/gadgets front instead of grinding it out with certain classes or a specific weapon for a long time to unlock something. We’re not sure we buy that quite yet, given how Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare and the last two Battlefields both added microstransactions post-release, but we’ll see.
We’re also waiting to see if Battlefield Hardline will feature female playable characters in multiplayer, something the series has strayed away from and something Call of Duty: Ghosts made a point of including and highlighting in their competitive marketing efforts in 2013. At E3 2014, this was again a point of contention in headlines since Ubisoft had to dance around the fact that they didn’t include playable female characters in Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Far Cry 4 but somehow, Visceral and EA escaped that fire unnoticed.
The answer to the question up top is money. Hardline is being sold separately because it can make money off of DICE’s game engine and template. The real questions surround Visceral Games and whether or not they make up for issues some players had with BF4. Will it deliver a worthy next-gen experience on the latest consoles? Will their promise of bringing a better single player campaign from their Dead Space experience hold true and will this erase any criticisms for feeling like a BF4 mod? Are you loving what you’ve seen from the beta so far? Share your thoughts in the comments and stay tuned for lots of Hardline news in the near future!
Battlefield Hardline releases October 21, 2014 for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.