Without “Mr Battlefield”, EA’s premier shooter is about to get real weird

'Battlefield' creative director Lars Gustavsson is leaving EA after 22 years

This Week In Games is a weekly gaming column that tackles gaming’s biggest stories. This week, Jake Tucker examines what a major departure at EA Dice could mean for the Battlefield series.

This week EA delivered a Battlefield-themed one-two punch, announcing that there would be a new narrative campaign in the Battlefield universe and also that Lars Gustavsson, the creative director of the franchise affectionately known as Mr Battlefield by fans and co-workers alike, would be leaving the company.

Lots of my fondest gaming memories are tied to Battlefield. The series has gone through several iterations, but the core ideal has always been about throwing a huge amount of players into a big map to fight over objectives in huge combined arms fights. Want to feel the desperation of lobbing your last C4 at a tank and hoping it connects? Want to leather helicopters with a mobile AA platform? That’s Battlefield, baby.

I can link eras of my life to different Battlefield games. I used to play Battlefield 2 on a loud laptop in the kitchen of my parent’s house, struggling for purchase with my shitty £8 mouse. Later, at university, I made a group of international friends I still talk to every week as we came together over round after round of Bad Company 2. Battlefield 3 was one of the biggest threats to my early journalism career as I had to pry myself away from the game each night to write, edit and create.

battlefield bad company 2
Battlefield Bad Company 2. Credit: EA

Sadly, Battlefield has lost its way slightly. It’s hard not to speculate that Gustavsson’s departure might be linked not just to the disappointing Battlefield 2042 – where one journalist midway through the review event intoned “why are we even still playing this” – but for the fact that the series as a whole hasn’t really captured the mainstream audience in a big way since Battlefield 4. Plenty of people flocked to the confusingly titled Battlefield 1 and Battlefield V, but they both had trouble retaining players. In the same way that many silent movie stars failed to adapt to Hollywood adding “talkies”, Battlefield feels like a game that couldn’t make the jump to being a “service game”, with fans feeling starved for new content, and full of complaints about the content that existed.

Still, this is a change that feels positive. Gustavsson leaves behind a legacy that will be hard to beat – despite the struggles with the later games in the series, there have been so many phenomenal successes on his watch that it’s hard not to admire what he’s achieved. While the series may not have always produced winning games, it’s a franchise that has never been afraid to innovate, trying new things and then iterating on them in the service of Battlefield’s main goal: 64 people blowing the shit out of each other. To achieve that for 20 years, with the hit-rate it has to make it one of the more successful franchises in that time period.

What next? In a blog post talking about the future of Battlefield, general manager Byron Beede outlined the new leadership team, a kind of shooting game Avengers who are coming together to steer the franchise as a collective: this will consist of Battlefield franchise boss Vince Zampella, Rebecka Coutaz at DICE, Christrian Grass at Ripple Effect Studios, and Alex Seropian at Industrial Toys.

‘Battlefield 2042’ has cross progression and dual entitlement
Battlefield 2042. Credit: EA DICE

It’s an exciting line-up. Zampella has credits on the best FPS games of the last 20 years, with credits on Call of Duty 2, Call of Duty 4, both Titanfalls, Apex Legends and more. Coutaz, a recent addition to DICE, just came from ten years at Ubisoft, with credits on both Tom Clancy’s The Division games. Grass has been working on Battlefield games since 2002’s Battlefield 1942 and worked on EA’s ill-fated Medal of Honor reboot, while Seropian worked on Bungie’s Halo and earlier Marathon games.

This is a lot of experience to wedge into one franchise. Better yet, the forthcoming EA Battlefield campaign will feature a new studio – Ridgeline Games, helmed by Halo co-creator Marcus Lehto – and a new story in the Battlefield universe. Considering the Battlefield universe seems to be a series of unconnected stories linked only by the theme of “things blowing up”, oscillating between settings that are contemporary, historical and science fiction, it’s not really clear what the Battlefield universe could even mean, but one thing is for sure: Battlefield is going to innovate again, and for better or worse, it’ll be interesting.

What else?

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