Some truths are hard to swallow, but here's one that I've been reluctantly digesting over the last few years. The Battlefield series has had its ups and downs over the course of the last generation, as its overall trajectory continues to bend away from the franchise's core appeal, to the point where its most recent release, Battlefield 5, felt a far cry from the series' highpoint of Bad Company 2.
That's not to say that DICE's shooter series hasn't had its moments since then. Battlefield 4 and Battlefield 1, in particular, are fantastic games in their own ways. On the contrary, it's not so much that the quality of Battlefield games has deteriorated, but rather their identity has shifted, and subsequently narrowed in the process.
The franchise's patented brand of destructible, open-ended sandboxes have been slowly switched out for more static, corridor shooter-style arenas that hold more in common with DICE's recent Star Wars Battlefront games than they do Battlefield. Again, there's nothing wrong with that kind of shooter. It's just not the experience I've come to know and love from this long revered IP.
Which is where Call of Duty comes in. Battlefield's primary competitor has been undergoing its own pivot of late, albeit one that swings in the opposite direction.
Where Call of Duty was once known for its three-lane, close quarters combat, Activision and its rotating roster developers have been empowered by the opportunities of evolving hardware to stretch those parameters upwards and outwards, designing larger maps with higher player counts, vehicular combat, and more.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's Ground War mode, while problematic, represented the apotheosis of that evolution... until Call of Duty: Warzone came along and took that scope to even greater heights. Now, with Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, we have Fireteam mode, in which "10 teams in squads of four face off against one another in large-scale maps featuring land/sea/air vehicles and various objectives". I don't know about you, but that sounds awfully familiar to me...
Only in Battlefield?
While my impressions of Black Ops Cold War had been somewhat marred by a poor experience with last month's Open Alpha on PS4, October's ongoing Beta testing presents a much better picture of Treyarch's upcoming instalment. Nowhere is that picture more flattering, however, than in the recently released Fireteam mode, which is already a favourite of mine amongst the roster of the game's new multiplayer modes.
Set across a collection of large-scale zones (which are almost certainly going to be stitched together to form the next Warzone map), the mode is a tapestry of chaos in all the right ways. There are a number of variants planned, too, but players are currently privy to only one in the beta, Dirty Bomb, whereby teams are tasked with collecting uranium caches to arm and detonate radioactive bombs peppered around the battleground. Blow up a bomb, and its blast zone becomes a toxic wasteland. It's Conquest meets Rush, with a Warzone twist.
What's more, Fireteam's introduction of squadplay, right down to the ability to respawn on a squadmate, is yet another brazen-faced loan from Battlefield's playbook, but I'm not even mad about it. Frankly, after long losing interest in Battlefield 5's unsatisfying shootouts just a few months after its launch, I'm just happy to be enjoying something that emulates the comforting rhythms of classic Battlefield once again.
To be clear, Call of Duty is still leagues apart from the soaring heights of Battlefield at its best, where RendeZooks and destruction multi-kills were just part of the package, and that's okay too. There's room for both shooters in the marketplace, and both occupy a space in the genre that caters to different tastes. But that's just it. With Battlefield currently MIA, I'm more than happy to let Call of Duty come in and fill the vacuum for now, even if it's not a worthy replacement in and of itself.
Battlefield 6 is scheduled to launch sometime next year, and with the power of PS5 and Xbox Series X behind it, I hope DICE capitalises on the opportunity to take the series back to its roots, removing the ever encroaching barriers of recent entries to put player experimentation and sandbox strategy back at the forefront ofs its multiplayer combat. If it doesn't, however, then I don't see any reason why Call of Duty can't keep winning me over in the meantime.