I’m fascinated by the similarities between Battlefield 3 and Skyrim. Both feature rich, living environments, both build on their franchise, and both attempt to innovate on their predecessor’s designs via streamlining. Unfortunately, both are not success stories. While Syrim uses streamlining to concentrate its focus, Battlefield 3 streamlines away what made it unique and interesting.
First the success story – Skyrim. Skyrim uses streamlining to hone the character progression systems historically present in the series. Oblivion and Morrowind before it used a semi-traditional RPG progression system where characters were represented by stats such as strength, personality, dexterity, and intelligence, as well as skills like blocking, axe, and destruction magic. When the player made a character she chose primary skills for the character. Whenever the player would actively use any skills, the skills would improve. Once a certain number of skill improvements in primary skills were gained the character would level up. This would then give the player an opportunity to allocate points to the primary stats based on how many skill points they gained since the last level in all categories. This convoluted system made it so the most efficient leveling strategy was playing one’s character poorly – focusing on grinding skills which weren’t the primary skills of the character in order to have the most possible stat points to assign when leveling up. See this article for a better description. New players or players unaware of this would be left with a character that was potentially underpowered. This problem was made worse in Oblivion since the world would scale enemy strength to player level, so as players continued with an inefficient leveling strategy, the world would soon outclass the character’s abilities. While this resulted in a seemingly normal difficulty curve that grew over the game’s progression, it did so in a way that felt unfair. Instead of a story about a character that grew stronger and stronger, Oblivion presented a story in which at first the player character easily slayed countless rats and bandits only to be eventually overcome by a frustrating world-gone-mad of vampiric player killers wearing ancient artifact armor and wielding warhammers of enormous death power.
Skyrim streamlines away most of the awkwardness of this system, instead implementing a system that preserves the feel of the old mechanics. Characters no longer have primary stats or classes, but they still have skills. These skills still progress as the player uses the abilities they govern. Once so many skills are gained the character levels-up which allows the player to choose a perk, some kind of gameplay bonus relevant to one of the skills. Level scaling is still present, but is gentler. In Skyrim the player character becomes and more importantly feels more and more powerful due to the streamlined character system.
But where Skyrim uses streamlining to hone its mechanics, Battlefield 3 loses itself due to the streamlining. Battlefield 2′s most exciting part was its focus on teamplay. Players were organized on each side into squads of six players. One player on each side took the role of commander. The commander could issue orders to each squad leader who could then assign objectives to her squad to achieve. In-game voice over ip (VOIP) was implemented to allow squads to communicate, and squad leaders could ask for support from the commander in the form of artillery strikes, radar sweeps, and ammo drops. Battlefield 3 does away with this. Squads are reduced to a max of four players. The commander role has been eliminated and the abilities such as artillery and radar have been assigned to different classes that can kit themselves with this player. There is no in-game VOIP in the PC version and the in-game chat window is too anemic to support communication. The map where squads could visually assign orders and plan their spawns has been upgraded to look more futuristic at a cost of losing functionality. Battlefield 3′s streamlining has taken away any possibility of teamwork in the game. Tragically, the game that’s left features great potential for team-play without any means of successfully doing it. The best a player can do is try to support their squad or team without any overall strategy. It’s a tragic development for a series that had in the past enabled its players to work as team.