With the release of Call of Duty already circulating the rumor mill with the expectation of a return to its original WWII setting, the annual debate on franchise re-hashing among AAA titles will no doubt surface earlier than usual. Among the regular criticisms that are often leveled at the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises, there is one particular issue that needs more focus than it currently receives, the complete lack of structure in what is supposedly ‘team-based’ multiplayer.
In the modern online shooter environment, being on a team is often just an indicator that 19 of the usually 39 other players in a server will not shoot you on sight during the entire match (at least not intentionally). Otherwise, the process is often the same: a mass of individual soldiers will repeatedly smash into the enemy until one side secures whatever minor objective is the focus of that specific game (flags, resources etc). Even dedicated team shooter games like Team Fortress 2 and the newly released Overwatch fall into this trap despite being designed with specific classes in mind to complement each other. Players stick to a character they enjoy and play nothing else, rendering the team element pointless in most regards. While the chaos that such an environment inevitably brings can be enjoyable and exhilarating, the repetition of fighting (and in my case, dying) over and over in the same mess of flying bullets and bombs can become uninteresting for any gamer wanting a little bit of tactical variety outside of pure strategy. It also restricts the game audience to the “run’n’gun” shooter market with little regard to a more mature and tactically adept group of gamers.
This lack of tactical variety has become more obvious as publishers begin a revert back to older military conflicts and away from the future genre that has characterized the last few years. While Battlefield 1 is an excellent reflection of WWI equipment and the chaos of early 20th century warfare, the gameplay itself does little to reflect the tactics of the conflict upon which it bases its characters and environment. As most aware of history will know, throwing heaps of disorganized soldiers at enemy positions was the major shortfall of First World War strategy that by the end of the war had been replaced with coordinated offences supported by artillery and air support. Yet, in Battlefield 1, the old strategy repeats itself, a boring cycle of slaughter with just an arrow saying ‘attack’ or ‘ defend’ hovering over some form of landmark. The squad system also fails to add any tactical flavor, serving mostly as just a time-saving re-spawn location. Wars were often won through the direction of field officers and their ability to lead and inspire their men; the inclusion of an officer mechanic to Battlefield 1 could have provided a more satisfying and diverse battle experience for gamers while also providing better team integration and game replayabiltiy that doesn’t have to rely on DLC packages and new maps.
As with most issues in modern gaming, the indie sector seems to be saving the team-based shooter from its own blandness. There is a growing appetite for a strategy-shooter hybrid that bridges the gap between real-time strategy and first-person shooters in the online space. For example, War of Rights is a small indie game currently in development that contains a command structure from foot soldier to general in the environment of several battles of the American Civil War. The player has a choice of general rifleman, squad commanders, all the way up to the overseeing general taking on a more strategy focused role. No-one is forced to participate in a role they dislike, but the option provides a welcome change to simply jumping in front of gunfire in the pursuit of experience points and shiny weapon skins. An effort towards developing a command backdrop for multiplayer matches would seem to be a win-win for the AAA sector as it attracts a wider audience of gamers, allows for a more varied experience, and also rekindles the ‘team’ element that has been lost across mainstream shooter multiplayer.
More information on War of Rights can be found here