The most interesting and intimidating aspect of the Arma 3 ecosystem is its capacity to handle change. Developer Bohemia Interactive has updated Arma 3 so widely and aggressively—an all-powerful 'dungeon master' multiplayer mode called Zeus, a physics-based flight simulator mode, a go-kart racing mode—that the game we have now is very different from the game we saw at launch in 2013. Heck, that Arma 3 didn’t even have a single-player campaign mode.
Arma’s community has also grown, with amazingly talented modders bringing new weapons and maps and endless hours of scripted missions to the game. Now that Arma has sold two million units, Bohemia has sketched out its plans for the next year’s worth of updates leading up to the new landmass, Tanoa.
ETA: November 2015
The first and least sexy update is titled Nexus. Nexus is laying the groundwork for later updates by overhauling Arma’s core systems. First, Bohemia is rewriting how stamina and fatigue work. Until now, jogging and walking have always reduced soldier effectiveness in different ways. Having a heavy pack and walking up a hill is enough to make it hard to aim and impossible to sprint. After Nexus, players will be able to enjoy infinite jogging, basically: stamina only comes into play when players are in a flat-out sprint.
While this will make traversing Arma’s giant battlegrounds on foot a little less restrictive, the change hasn’t been received warmly by some parts of the community. Fortunately, as Shack Tactical founder Andrew Gluck wrote on Twitter, the old system can always come back with mods.
Nexus will also change how personal protective gear works and add new community support for players looking for reliable groups to join. The multiplayer mode End Game will change, setting the stage for more game types in a similar vein.
ETA: Early 2016
Eden will bring Arma modders to the promised land with a new 3D scenario editor. No longer will modders squint down at an overhead map trying to guesstimate and place objects by trial and error. The 3D view window based off of Zeus-mode technology lets modders place and rotate objects in real space. A bunch of improvements to the Arma 3 editor will hopefully make the entire process much more seamless.
Players have been begging for some of the changes in Eden for over a decade: an undo button, new MP game finding, control mapping, and weapon switching. Bohemia is also promising some new shading and lighting tech to make water and fire graphics pop.
Nexus and Eden are laying the groundwork for the really big deal: Apex. The new south Pacific landmass, Tanoa, will launch as paid content, along with a co-op campaign, new weapons, and new vehicles. The main menu will be redesigned. New vehicle classes like vertical take-off and landing jets and Light Strike Vehicles (basically: open-air dune buggies full of men with guns) will bring new ways to attack any mission.
Bohemia says it's continuing the “features are free, content is premium” doctrine that we saw in previous expansions like Helicopters and Marksmen. I’m a big fan of that system, as I’ve written here before, but in this case I don’t think it quite applies.
Making new gun physics a free update—while making sexy new guns only for paying customers—works because two players can play together with different guns. The developer earns money without breaking up the player base. In Apex, however, the landmass of Tanoa itself will be only for customers who pay for the Apex expansion, and there’s no way for paid and non-paid players to play together on that island. Despite the policy, Tanoa is the first paid update that will break up the Arma player population. I wouldn't expect an entire landmass to be free, but that worries me.
Assuming the player population keeps growing and new content keeps flowing, though, Arma 3 should get much more user-friendly and much more versatile. With the freedom to mod anything and everything still in place, even unpopular changes should still be part of a more welcoming, exciting version of the best military sandbox around.