Show Me The Maps! (And Guns!)

by Matt Bertz on May 26, 2010 at 12:01 PM

The Battlefield series got off to a rough start on consoles, but DICE struck the right formula with Bad Company 2. Since its early March launch, I’ve spent much of my free time climbing up the military ranks, unlocking new weapons, and collecting insignias and pins in the company of friends. Clearly I’m not alone, as the game has sold over five million copies to date, which catapulted it into the upper echelon of the Xbox Live usage charts alongside multiplayer juggernauts like Call of Duty and Halo.

But in the past few weeks, the game has started sliding down the ranks. It’s not just being usurped by shiny new titles like Red Dead Redemption, either. From April 19 to May 3, BC2 fell to the number seven slot behind older games like Call of Duty: World at War and Halo 3: ODST. There’s no shame in placing behind the perennial big dogs like Modern Warfare 2 and Halo 3, but when you start slipping behind other titles from these franchises it’s worth questioning why such a brilliant multiplayer game isn’t demonstrating the same traction as the big guns.

                                                    Xbox Live Usage Rankings

It's surprising to see the big drop off when you account for all the things Bad Company 2 does right in comparison to other multiplayer games. For instance, you can’t pin the blame on bugs or imbalances. Compared to the glitch fest of Modern Warfare 2’s first few months, Bad Company 2 has offered a relatively problem-free experience after EA solved the initial server overload issues. The occasional match suffers from lag, but nothing so crippling or frequent that it would cause a mass exodus. DICE analyzes the telemetric data frequently, and has succeeded in keeping the action balanced. When BC2 forum posters complained about the overpowered M60 and dominance of the Hind copters, the studio confirmed the imbalances in the data and responded by recalibrating the heavy machine gun and making tracer darts more useful against aerial assaults.

The community behavior can’t be held accountable for the shift away from Bad Company 2 either. Unlike the f-bomb dropping, gay bashing masses in Call of Duty and Halo, the Battlefield experience offers a respite from turbocharged, adolescent bursts of profanity. The only people you can hear while playing are the three other people in your squad, which eliminates the rancorous banter of guys talking about tea-bagging your mom and instead focuses the conversations on working together to keep your small pocket of soldiers alive.

When talking to former BC2 regulars on my Xbox Live friends list about why they aren’t playing the game anymore, two particular concerns dominate the conversations. The first is a dried up unlockable pool. Unlike in Call of Duty, most players have acquired all the weapons, modifications, and specializations by level 22 in Bad Company 2. Once you’ve secured the final weapons in the game, what are you fighting for? The carrot of continual incentives is gone. The first 20 or so ranks come quickly, but climbing from the middle ranks up to level 50 is a marathon that takes much more XP for each level. Many of the tougher pins and insignias also require long tours of duties where you must rack up hundreds of kills with specific weapons. I love the idea of a reward system that recognizes the hardcore, but to keep the less dedicated gamers immersed Battlefield could stand to adopt a bigger arsenal, more weapons-based progressions, and even character customization like Rainbow Six Vegas. 

The second complaint I hear often from those who have abandoned Bad Company 2 is the lack of new maps. Bad Company 2 has some amazing levels, particularly Arica Harbor, but if you’re playing the game every night the familiarity starts to compromise the experience considering the multitude of new gaming options available to people every week. The VIP packs opened familiar maps for use in new modes, but that isn’t enough to keep people coming back. As the developers of Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon, and Call of Duty have learned, offering map packs goes a long way toward keeping fans satiated, but DICE has yet to award is dedicated legions with new locales. Halo 3 gets around this problem with The Forge, a customization tool that allows players to tweak maps to their liking, but given DICE’s unwavering dedication to creating balanced multiplayer sessions a steady stream of new maps would be a better solution.

Once the Onslaught co-op multiplayer mode launches maybe gamers will return to Bad Company 2. If they don’t, EA and DICE had better start churning out new weapons, pins, insignias, specializations, and maps if they want to hold their place amongst the Call of Duties and Halos of the world. Gamers clearly took a liking to the game. We just want more.