OK, so according to the title of the game, it’s actually Battlefield “Play4Free,“ but that’s nit-picking. It’s still a bit of an interesting revelation. We may not normally consider DICE’s seminal shooter much of an MMORPG, but if we’re lumping games like Global Agenda into the mix, it’s really not that far off from matching the classification. The Battlefield series has always focused on dynamic, large-scale battles, but the most recent ones have adopted an experience and level-based system, which seems to be lock-and-stock for the first/third-person-shooter ever since Modern Warfare became a breakout hit. Meeting new benchmarks naturally unlocks new equipment and new abilities for you to use in combat.
While lacking in a grindy single-player experience with loads of quests and story to unravel, to a PvP-minded MMO player, building up a soldier in Battlefield Bad Company 2, for instance, is not that big of a leap.
Now, to be technical, this is not the franchise’s first foray into the free-to-play market. That would be Battlefield Heroes, a comical and simplistic take on the formula meant primarily for younger players whose visual style takes liberal cues from Team Fortress 2, Nintendo’s Advance Wars, and Saturday morning action cartoons like G.I. Joe. And while you could argue that most shooters come with a free online mode (well, these days, it’s more like you’re getting the single-player gratis), it’s presumed in this case you won’t have to make that initial game purchase.
Battlefield P4F is taking the more traditional, semi-realistic tack that the series is known for, though the graphics seem to have been run through the stripper to remove that fine sheen of polish recent entries have been slathered with. I have a pretty beefy machine, and even I had trouble making Bad Company 2 run efficiently without really sacrificing some of the game’s visual splendor. The impetus for going completely free with a game would be to reach as big of an audience as possible, and that means making sure most of them can play it reliably.
This may also be explained by the fact that the predecessor it is most closely modeled upon is Battlefield 2, an entry in the series that is, let’s face it, a few years old at this point. I’m also presuming a lack of destructible terrain, which was introduced in Bad Company, but I suppose we’ll find out when the Closed Beta starts on November 16th.
That said, most of the series’ other hallmarks seem to have remained intact, including extensive use of vehicles (16 total) in battle and ticket-based, capture-the-point gameplay. The initial trailer, and more speculation, follows after the jump.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a whole lot of other details to go on at this point, such as how the game will be distributed and in what ways it will be monetized. Once again looking to its closest analog, Battlefield Heroes, the answers to those questions would be “web-based” and “through a cash shop that sells outfits and special weaponry,” respectively. Where the latter is concerned, it’s doubtful that they’ll end up selling anything game-breaking, instead offering bonuses similar to those found in EA’s Gun Club program.
The rest of the company’s “Free4Play” lineup isn’t terribly inspiring in terms of quality, filled with mostly good-but-not-great downgrades or spinoffs of some of the publisher’s most popular franchises. So that does give me a bit of trepidation when it comes to committing time to Battlefield F4P‘s eventual release (though I’ve gone ahead and put my name down for Closed Beta info on the game’s website).
Regardless of how it turns actually turns out, this title has the potential to set a new standard. It could do for online shooters what Turbine’s great Dungeons and Dragons Online experiment did for MMORPGs. With Team Fortress 2‘s recent Mann-conomy Update, FPS games with cash shops could come to dominate the genre in a few short years. Well, as long as they provide lots and lots of free content along the way, as well. I know it’s hard to believe after spending five minutes on the official World of Warcraft forums, but long-time shooter fans are even less tolerant of companies mucking with the purity of their favorite series. They don’t want peanut butter in their chocolate.
Either way, it’s probably a more well-received proposition than the alternative that Activision-Blizzard’s Bobby Kotick wants to force upon offer you.