The FPS Revolution Continues…Part 1: Persistent War Fields
A common joke amongst my friends nowadays is that first person shooters (FPS) are stuck in the same mud that we’ve been complaining about for roughly the past 5 or 6 YEARS. About 3 years ago, I wrote an article that highlighted that fact and sought to give developers a few ideas to roll around their minds. After seeing the mediocre offering that is Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, Destiny, and Halo 5, I think it is time to revisit this list and see where we stand. Here’s what I suggested back then:
1. Progressive and Persistent War Fields
2. Formations / Team based actions
3. AI Fodder
4. Loot Based Weapon Customization
5. Unique Leaders and Generals
Looking up and down this list, I can think of a handful of popular games that have used or implemented a few of these. Let’s give a few examples and see whether the use of the suggestion actually helped the game’s rating or success.
1. Progressive and Persistent War Fields
I must say this is probably the most UNDER-used suggestion that I’ve made in most popular FPS games. The only games (much less FPS games) I can think of that even use this are Helldivers, Mechwarrior Online (kinda), Blacklight Retribution, DUST 514, and well, that’s about it. It is VERY hard to say whether or not this feature worked or didn’t work for ANY of these games. Of this list, I’ve personally played Helldivers and Mechwarrior Online the most.
For Helldivers (which is a top down twin stick shooter by the way), the online war is kinda fun since every coop mission that you play contributes points to a meter that is shown at the end of every match. I’ve yet to see the result or award for winning a battle against a specific foe (there are at least 3 different fronts you are involved in assisting) but at least you get ‘news updates’ telling you how the battle is going and how much time you have to contribute and so on. I do think this tactic brings casual fans in and keeps the hardcore ones active. I suppose the real question is once the battle is won or lost, do the players see penalties or bonuses of any kind? Are medals handed out to show off to friends?
For Mechwarrior Online, I’m uncertain if a casual fan would be able to make heads or tails out of ANYTHING going on when jumping into Faction Play/Community Warfare. I’m not certain if that is a strength or not. Selecting from the different factions is certainly a toss up and looking at the map (which doesn’t seem to change that much) isn’t much of an indicator of who is winning and losing. As it stands, the only reason I join these battles are to hit achievements that lead to big money bonuses. The hardcore community seems to be satisfied with the ability to role play the engagements which is a start. Still, it would go a long way if the system allowed players to reduce wait time to begin missions (fight against AI) or could have a form of news updates or in game unit/clan management. The more you have to go outside of a game to play or manage, the less chance you’ll have of gaining or maintaining a casual fan base in my opinion.
In a way, failures of games like DUST 514 and even Chromehounds makes me wonder if this suggestion is simply too complex for developers to waste time on? DUST 514 was simply so complex that most FPS heads (most of whom had never played Eve Online) couldn’t get into the presented conflict OR the unbalanced battles. The idea of using the persistent war was supposed to affect how the main game ‘acted out’ planetary battles. Honestly, I think DUST 514 just failed due to the fact it wasn’t an appealing game for casual fans (which fills servers and sustains most FPS games). If their game had better map balancing and a way to give noobs (new players) a fighting chance, this game MAY have had a chance.
Chromehounds simply suffered from have poor execution of a fantastic concept (poor controls and presentation). Nowadays, it’s hard enough for developers to create a new FPS IP that does well enough in the online multiplayer scene to maintain gamer interest longer than a few months. Maybe it is time for the BIG players to invest in this suggestion.
Imagine if Halo 6 took the Warzone mode one step further and gave purpose to winning or losing each match? What if the two sides playing were Spartans but were opposing sides of a war described in the campaign mode? Giving your custom Spartan a purpose in all of those matches could really help in giving the game a whole new life! Halo 5 is designed to live up to the eSports model so why can’t Halo 6 continue that drive and significantly add to it with a whole other crowd of casual multiplayers that can feel as if their wins and losses online mean more than some kid on the other end laughing at their Kill:Death ratio?
Yup, Halo Wars 2 is coming. I doubt we’ll see anything close to an FPS/RTS hybrid on this sequel though.
Another take on this suggestion is the direction that Mass Effect 3 took. Though not an FPS, Mass Effect 3 gave us an interesting model where online multiplayer coop play results affected the campaign mode. Turned into an optional way to affect the ending for your single player campaign, the Galaxy At War mode would add ‘war assests’ to a preparedness bar to determine if the Galaxy was ready to launch their all out attack against the Reapers. This was an interesting concept and was enhanced by the fact that the Galaxy At War mode had impressive difficulty that forced you to work at improving your character and getting new equipment and characters to help in winning each match. This could have been brought to a whole other level if EVERYONE affected a larger war that raged on (and possibly ended from time to time) complete with bonuses, medals (for bragging rights), and community challenges.
Call of Duty and Battlefield are franchises RIPE for such an addition. It baffles me that the various developers only play around with the mechanics of different ways to take each other down rather than how to sustain a community within ONE version of the game instead of ANNUAL versions of the game. Call of Duty Advanced Warfare actually had a modest attempt at this concept with their Clan Warfare app for mobile phones. There, clans would participate in short wars versus other clans in different modes. Your wins and losses would be compared to a list of rival clans. The winner would then gain XP bonuses in that mode type for a period of time. Once again, the concept was a good attempt but I still believe participation would have soared if it was in-game.
Battlefield on the other hand could benefit from it to avoid falling in with Call of Duty as having unnecessary revisions. I suppose they’ve avoided doing it so as not to have ‘political’ issues in different nations for the game’s release. In my mind, that means it’s time to make the factions fictional and rework the story mode. Either that or just bring back 2142! Personal preference aside, having a persistent online war to sit alongside the established map and gameplay balance that DICE has finally perfected in BF4 seems to be the next logical step. Sure, you could work on another game engine to make it prettier and smoother, but if you’ve a dedicated following in the existing revision, why not use resources to hone and add on to the success that you already have? Honestly, if developers can’t see why the Counter-Strike model is working and has worked for so long, then, well, they must have ‘other’ reasons for making new versions of the game.
With that in mind though, there is a game that seems to be heading the experiment. Called Heroes & Generals, the game is mixing shooters with strategy in a free-to-play model that has seemed to have mixed results. I imagine convincing people to play the game as a general is almost as appealing as getting people to play as a commander in Battlefield 4. I’ll need to invest a bit of experimentation with this game to see how the mix works or does not work but at least the attempt is being made.
A more recent experiment is another game called WWIIOnline. Set as a free to play MMO, this game looks to take on the same experiment that Heroes & Generals have.
Next up, we’ll tackle Formations and Team Based Actions! Stay tuned for Part 2! In the meantime, refresh yourself on ALL of my previous suggestions!