This past week has seen the revitalization of a long-standing rivalry between two giants of gaming: Activision’s Call of Duty and Electronic Arts’ Battlefield. These two series have vied for the military shooter crown many times in years past, but the last two years saw a break in the competition. 2014 came and went without a Battlefield release, while Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare released to lukewarm reviews from fans, who were intensely polarized over the addition of Exo Suits, which dynamically shifted the flow of the game’s multiplayer. EA carefully avoided direct competition in 2015 by releasing their Battlefield spinoff Hardline in March, while Activision continued their yearly Christmas season pattern and launched the nearly-equally polarizing Black Ops 3. Now, this fall will see the two titans clash once again, but the odds may very well be in World War I-themed Battlefield 1’s favor.
The trailer for Infinity Ward’s new entry in the Call of Duty series, Infinite Warfare, was unveiled to what was undoubtedly the worst reception a AAA-title has received to date. The YouTube listing has currently amassed a whopping 1,380,000 dislikes, and sits at the fifth most disliked YouTube video ever. Comment after comment bemoans the futuristic setting, as we see soldiers leave Earth’s atmosphere to confront an extraplanetary threat. Infinity Ward has yet to reveal any concrete details regarding the multiplayer component of Infinite Warfare. However, the general consensus among fans is that unless there are “boots on the ground” (a now commonplace term within the community for no Exo Suits, jetpacks, hoverpacks, etc.), they do not want it.
Infinity Ward, in what can easily be construed as a way to snag any lost sales by pushing the series further into the future, also announced a remaster of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. This decision came back to bite IW in their collective behind when the community once again backlashed at the remaster being exclusively available in a Legacy Edition priced at $79.99. The Call of Duty community’s overwhelming majority has called for a return to the more traditional gameplay of the series, so it can be understood that an additional charge for a mere HD remaster can feel like a bit of a slap in the face.
Meanwhile, the reveal trailer of Battlefield 1 continues to be met with overwhelming praise by fans of the series. The trailer currently holds an approval rating of 99% on YouTube, with a whopping 1,100,000 likes. Comments along the lines of “CoD is dead!” and “I play CoD but this looks amazing” go on and on. There is a clear reason for the intensely positive reception of Battlefield 1, and that is DICE’s understanding of the series’ fanbase. Like Call of Duty, Battlefield began as a World War II military shooter, and like Call of Duty, it evolved to a modern day shooter. It experimented with a futuristic setting in Battlefield 2142, but understood that its roots remained a bit further back in time. The fans are military shooter fans at heart, and desire the familiarity that they have grown to love. The future to Battlefield fans, much like to everyone else, is unsure and unfamiliar.
Battlefield has succeeded most as a re-teller of past conflicts and “re-imaginer” of current conflicts, and its creators realize this. A World War I title is seemingly perfect ground for them to cover. It is chronologically the earliest setting the series has visited, but its fundamentals will remain comparable to that of the series’ first entry. At the same time, it will open the eyes of many players to an often overlooked conflict in military video games that is still grounded in a “modern” era.
Meanwhile, Call of Duty continues to push the narrative and setting forward, assuming that the fans will move along with the series. For the past few years, they have; people lined up in droves and complacently committed another year to another drastically changed CoD. Familiarity is a key method of selling sequels. If you look at other major shooters like Halo, Gears of War, even Counter Strike, you will notice a pattern. All of these titles maintain a level of consistency in the gameplay and setting. It is what keeps fans coming back; for the very same reason, a new IP can be a risky endeavour. If a player isn’t aware of what they’re getting into, chances are they will not purchase it.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare now stands at its furthest point away from the series’ roots, and the fans have seem to undergone a collective epiphany. Call of Duty fans can be called many things, some good, some bad; but one thing they are in particular is dedicated. Many CoD fans are such dedicated die-hards that they do not delve into any other games at all. And yet, it seems that dedication is faltering due to the constant push for unfamiliar ground by the developers. Though Activision’s Eric Hirshberg is not worried about the poor reception, it may finally be the year we see the entertainment giant collapse from its attempt to grow beyond its needs.
In what seems to be absolutely perfect timing, EA swoops in to console the dismayed CoD fans with an alternative: a “boots on the ground” shooter, along with the signature frantic, explosive Battlefield gameplay that many dedicated CoD players have never had the opportunity to experience.
Only time will tell, but if EA plays their cards right at E3, they could easily win their war with Activision this fall.
Battlefield 1 releases for the PC, PS4, and Xbox One on October 21 2016, and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare releases for the PC, PS4 and Xbox One on November 4, 2016.