With almost 20 years of history behind it, it feels like every new game with the word "Battlefield" on it is destined to underdeliver on every person's internalized idea of 'peak Battlefield'. If you're one of Battlefield's oldest fans, you may look back at its roots as a simplistic WW2 class shooter fondly. If you're a bit younger, maybe Battlefield was never better than when it had mechs.
It's no surprise that Battlefield 2042, which boasts the most radical changes to the series ever seen, has been met by a prickly, sometimes fiery reaction. Not only has it blurred the lines of roleplay by replacing traditional classes with specialists armed with unique gadgets, it has also doubled the player count, supersized the maps, ditched singleplayer, and reintroduced a modern setting for the first time in five years. That's a lot of change!
But if a week of reflection on the series has taught me anything, it's that Battlefield has always been controversial to its fans. Everyone has a Battlefield they love to love and love to hate, and despite complaints at launch, the latest Battlefield always seems to find its people.
Here's how fans reacted to the last 10 years of Battlefield, according to original impressions, preserved slices of internet forums, ancient memes, and my own memories.
Released: October 25, 2011
Platforms: PC (Origin), PS3, Xbox 360
Thing people were maddest about: The servers
The 2010s marked a new era for Battlefield. Off the heels of the offbeat but well-received Bad Company games, DICE had clearly made Battlefield 3 with the increasing popularity of Call of Duty in mind. Battlefield 3 took a far more serious tone and included a linear campaign with a story that could've fallen off an Activision truck. Battlefield 3 was also the debut of the Frostbite 2 engine, which was a huge deal. The reveal trailer (that one where a building falls on you) blew my damn mind at the time.
If you were a 15-year-old shooter fan in 2011, the "Modern Warfare 3 vs Battlefield 3" showdown of Fall 2011 was a big moment. Underdog DICE was taking on the FPS that'd been enjoying the videogame throne for four years straight, and BF3 looked good enough to (maybe) take it down. How did it shake out at launch?
😠Battlefield 3 was riddled with server issues and bugs
Quote from the time: "Tom Senior's game crashes to desktop every five minutes. Rich gets disconnected from every server after a round-and-a-half of play, without fail. Tim can't connect to servers at all, most of the time." —Former PC Gamer deputy editor Graham Smith in 2011
Yikes. I clearly remember playing Battlefield 3's beta a few months before release and thinking "I'm glad they're doing this beta so the final game will be more stable." Oh how little I knew. Servers were dodgy for weeks after launch, as our review referenced.
🤠It was unbalanced as hell, but we didn't care
Quote from the time: "After playing with and without fore grip on my FAMAS, not sure I could nerf it enough lol. Hmm, this one is a biiiiiiiiiit OP." —Former DICE senior designer Alan Kertz in 2011
If you had asked me in 2011 if I thought Battlefield 3's tanks had enough armor, I would've responded, "Who cares?" Back then, frequent balancing updates weren't an automatic expectation of multiplayer games. Meanwhile, players felt strongly enough about Battlefield 2042's underwhelming assault rifles that DICE buffed them all within a week.
Even if Battlefield 3's FAMAS was annoyingly strong (I do remember seeing it a lot), I think the average player in 2011 was inclined to just… get used to it? Patches used to take longer and developers weren't nearly as communicative about what changes were in the pipeline as they are now. There certainly wasn't a Battlefield Twitter account dedicated to communicating upcoming changes to players in 2011.
😤Battlelog was a chore for PC gamers
Quote from the time: "In Bad Company 2, if you wanted to change servers, you had to quit the round and then load another map. This is no different at all." —Former DICE senior designer Alan Kertz in 2011
Battlelog was DICE's official companion site for Battlefield 3 that kept all sorts of fun personal stats that you could compare against friends. It was snazzy as long as you were a console player at the time like me. If you happened to play BF3 on PC, Battlelog was a lot more than a stat site: It's how you launched the freaking game. The entire matchmaking and server browsing process: trapped on a web browser!
DICE reckoned that players would be thankful not to sit through a bootup sequence or load a real main menu to get into a match. Even if it worked as advertised (seems like it wasn't always reliable), alt-tabbing out of the game to find a new server sounded awkward and PC players didn't appreciate not having the option to bypass Battlelog, especially considering the console versions had normal in-game server browsers.
Battlefield 3 was also the first time PC players were forced to buy the game through the Origin app. Players didn't like this either, because the Origin app sucked back then and still sucks a decade later. Today you can buy EA games through Steam again, but you'll still be routed through Origin to actually launch them. At least the whole Battlelog thing didn't stick.
Released: October 29, 2013
Platforms: PC (Origin), PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Thing people were maddest about: The servers (but worse)
With a shorter dev cycle and a (somewhat?) upgraded Frostbite 3 engine, Battlefield 4 came out looking a lot like Battlefield 3. That was perfectly fine to many, but DICE's big sell this time around was maps that dynamically change over time thanks to its "Levolution" events. You know that skyscraper that fell in BF3's campaign? Now that can happen in multiplayer!
But the same fans planning to pick up Battlefield 4 at launch remember how janky BF3 was out of the gate and hoped DICE wouldn't let that happen again. Well…
🤬Servers were a complete disaster
Quote from the time: "We're not moving onto future projects or expansions until we sort out all the issues with Battlefield 4." —EA spokesperson in 2013
DICE went bigger on everything in Battlefield 4: more guns, bigger maps, and bigger server problems. Widespread crashes, disconnections, and bad netcode plagued every version of the game right out of the gate, and it wouldn't be cleaned up for months. Players were less understanding this time around, with some demanding refunds or putting the game down until conditions improved.
Battlefield 4's issues persisted well past its Fall 2013 launch and into 2014. The debacle led to dozens of patches that addressed everything from netcode, weapon balance, and bizarre bugs like the "death shield." Battlefield 4's poor launch state became a saga bigger than the game itself (one that Polygon cataloged with 46 articles). EA eventually put on a weeklong double XP event to say sorry and committed to putting DLC on hold until the game was in better shape. EA even got sued by shareholders for allegedly misleading the public about the quality of BF4. Battlefield 2042 has had some annoying bugs and spotty hit detection so far, but nothing quite like BF4's silencer that could literally mute an entire server.
🙄Battlelog was better, but still unnecessary
Quote from the time: "Er, guys, I think you've mistaken 'fixing things that Battlefield 3 did badly' with 'a whole new way to find games.'" —PC Gamer UK Editor-in-Chief Phil Savage in 2013
Battlelog was still around, but an in-game overlay let you access most of Battlefield 4's menus from within the PC version and not a webpage. At least it had some extra features that nobody used like a real-time map and remote joining.
🙁Next gen upgrades weren't free, but it could've been worse
Quote from the time: "You can get in the game without any worries that you will have to start ranking up all over again when the next generation consoles launch. We got your back." —EA spokesperson in 2013
This particular grievance didn't matter if you played on PC, but if you were on a PlayStation like me, upgrading to the next gen version was a bit awkward. Most publishers charged the price of a whole new game, some offered free upgrades, and Battlefield 4 landed in the middle with a $10 fee that only worked if you put your PS3 disc into your PS4. It was a weird transaction that really should've been free, but next to other games it didn't seem so bad.
EA almost charged for a next-gen upgrade for Battlefield 2042 as well, but it later switched to a free upgrade path after pushback.
Released: March 17, 2015
Platforms: PC (Origin), PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Thing people were maddest about: The price
OK I'll admit it: I forgot this one existed. At a time when Visceral had wrapped Dead Space 3 and EA didn't know what to do with it, the publisher threw them a cops and robbers-themed Battlefield 4 spin-off. It was the last game the studio would ever make before it was shuttered in 2017. My impression of Hardline at launch was that it was a fine and forgettable Battlefield game, but it wasn't without its own (much smaller) controversies.
🤔Battlefield Hardline straddled a line between expansion and $60 game
Quote from the time: "Release Battlefield Hardline as DLC for Battlefield 4" —A 2013 Change.org petition
Is Battlefield Hardline worth the full $60? That was the question fans and press were asking themselves up until Hardline's release. DICE reckoned that its unique campaign, new maps/modes, and engine improvements justified the price. To many, Hardline still had the mouthfeel of a fancy expansion (perhaps because BF players stay for the multiplayer, and that part of the game was basically modified BF4). The uproar wasn't huge by any stretch, but as is required by gamer law, there was a Change.org petition involved. (If you're curious, there are already 10+ petitions for Battlefield 2042 out there.)
🤠Hardline's launch was disaster-free, but had a few hiccups
Quote from the time: "We’re still working hard every day to improve the gameplay experience to make Battlefield Hardline even more fun." —Former Visceral lead multiplayer designer Thad Sasser in 2015
There were some rough edges to smooth out, like a CPU usage bug and some crashes, but Hardline launched relatively disaster-free. Cool!
Released: October 21, 2016
Platforms: PC (Origin), PS4, Xbox One
Thing people were maddest about: The servers
With BF4's reputation slowly recovering and Hardline already leaving our minds, the main Battlefield team at DICE was cooking up a bold setting completely uncommon to a competitive FPS: World War 1. Battlefield 1 went on to be one most beloved games in its history with only a few minor grievances, like janky private servers.
🤠DICE took liberties with the WW1 setting, but it worked
Quote from the time: "We tried to find the interesting weapons that could have theoretically been used." —DICE executive producer Aleksander Grøndal in 2016
A big question around the reveal of Battlefield 1 was how DICE planned to translate WW1, a war mostly fought with bolt-action rifles and not a ton of machine-gunning, into a fun Battlefield game. Turns out DICE's answer was, "Screw that, everyone gets an SMG if they want one." Battlefield 1 didn't recreate WW1 combat authentically, but neither did Battlefield 1942 recreate WW2 combat authentically, and an immaculate attention to detail in its maps, uniforms, and vehicles still sold the fantasy well.
There were also several posts complaining that Black soldiers were featured prominently in Battlefield 1's marketing, despite the fact many African soldiers were recruited or forced to fight for colonial powers, and that all-Black regiments served in WW1. If there was any reasonable complaint here, it was that you only played as a Harlem Hellfighter for a few minutes of the campaign before dropping dead.
😠Private servers were janky
Quote from the time: "Seriously, this is absurd and a complete letdown." —Reddit user GrowlmonDrgnbutt in 2016
EA's Rent-A-Server program returned with Battlefield 1, but it was pretty light on features at launch. Server owners couldn't do basic things like create VIP slots, add every map to the rotation, or disable autobalance. And the service wasn't cheap, either: Servers cost up to $300 for a year.
Released: November 9, 2018
Platforms: PC (Origin), PS4, Xbox One
Thing people were maddest about: The women
And then we arrive at the most recent Battlefield before 2042. With a two year dev cycle and maps/modes/guns that all felt similar to BF1, Battlefield 5 was a swift follow-up that retreaded old FPS territory with its WW2 setting. It also had battle royale, because it was 2018 and that's just what you did.
😡Fans weren't happy that Battlefield 5 had women
Quote from the time: "We want Battlefield 5 to represent all those who were a part of the greatest drama in human history." —DICE general manager Oskar Gabrielson in 2018
Many Battlefield fans took issue with DICE's inclusion of women soldiers in their World War 2 game, to the tune of over 300,000 dislikes on the Battlefield 5's reveal trailer after its premiere. Setting aside that women did serve combat roles in WW2, particularly Soviet women, those upset argued that women soldiers sharing a battlefield with men crossed a realism line for a WW2 game (because Battlefield has always been about its realism). DICE stuck to its guns and kept its customization options in place. Few seemed to care once the game launched and also featured many men.
🤢Battlefield 5's TTK was all over the place
Quote from the time: "Our intent with the TTK changes was to see if we could evolve the Battlefield 5 experience and make it more enjoyable for new players… Clearly we didn’t get it right." —Former DICE community manager Dan Mitre in 2018
Early word from data and players after BF5's launch suggested that the average time-to-kill (TTK) was too high for most guns. Within a few weeks, DICE deployed a big patch that bulked up player health to increase survivability. Turns out, Battlefield veterans liked it the way it was and felt like it was now too hard to get kills. Less than a month after the changes, DICE reverted the TKK values and issued a long apology on the game's subreddit.
😕Body dragging never arrived
Quote from the time: "Having discovered that soldier dragging would negatively impact the core gameplay loop, we’ve decided to not add the feature to Battlefield V." —DICE spokesperson in 2019
One of Battlefield 5's most intriguing features (at least for Medic mains like me) never saw the light of day. First depicted in the 2018 reveal trailer, DICE planned to allow players to drag a downed ally to safety so they can be revived. The mechanic didn't make it into BF5 at launch, which led players to casually wonder when it'd arrive for months after. DICE eventually announced that body dragging had been cancelled because it would "negatively impact the core gameplay loop." Still bummed about that one!
Looking back at a decade of Battlefield, I was a little surprised at how things that really ticked me off at the time have now morphed into nostalgia. I remember shouting at my TV several times as Battlefield 4 decided to crash, so why did I feel like I was saying hi to an old friend when Battlefield 2042 servers briefly went down on day two? Maybe it's because "Battlefield is borked at launch" is a concept I'm so used to that it almost feels like a rite of passage?
It shouldn't be, of course. We should expect games to work as intended at launch, even if it's not surprising when they don't. It's interesting that in 2021, Battlefield 4 is considered one of the greats of the series. The most disastrous launch in BF history didn't taint its reputation forever. Even Battlefield 5, which was at one point considered a series low, found an audience that liked its WW2 setting and didn't mind the old spotting mechanic was gone.
I wasn't one of those people. I resisted Battlefield's plunge into the world wars because I missed jets, humvees, and massive tanks. Feeling alienated from a series I like for five years sucked, but I had an inkling DICE would find its way back to a modern-day game someday. And hey, it did and I'm enjoying it, warts and all.