Opinion: Battlefield developer DICE needs to stop doing co-op

Last Updated March 12th, 2019

I’ve been a fan of DICE’s Battlefield series for many years now, but when the studio unveiled Battlefield V there was one feature in particular that made me really excited for the game. Along with its standard competitive modes and story-driven War Stories campaign, Battlefield V would have a dynamic, fully-fledged co-op mode called Combined Arms.

DICE’s promised vision for Combined Arms sounded great: full multiplayer progression, highly immersive scenarios, and procedurally-generated mission goals would join together to create a compelling co-op experience unlike any other. Of course, as Battlefield V players now know, the actual release of Combined Arms fell far short of that initial vision, prompting me to write a sentence I never thought I’d write: DICE really needs to stop doing co-op modes.

Grand ambitions

Combined Arms isn’t the first time DICE has tried to work a co-op experience into its large-scale multiplayer-driven games. Long-time Battlefield fans will remember that both Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 3 had similar co-op modes. DICE also took the time to craft single-player/co-op arcade modes for both Star Wars Battlefront and Star Wars Battlefront 2.

As a die-hard co-op fan, I appreciate DICE’s attempts to give their large-scale competitive multiplayer games some added appeal and value, but good intentions don’t always equate to a worthwhile experience. As I’ll soon explain in more detail, not one of DICE’s various co-op/arcade mode attempts has felt worthwhile, hence why I think the studio should just stop trying altogether.    

Coming up short

Battlefield: Bad Company 2’s Onslaught co-op mode was functional but completely cordoned off from the game’s multiplayer progression, making it little more than a brief distraction. Battlefield 3’s co-op had a few unlocks but, again, they were completely cut off from the standard multiplayer. The co-op for Battlefield 3 was also poorly optimized, and its mandatory online matchmaking meant players couldn’t even attempt it solo.

As for the two Star Wars Battlefront games, their co-op/arcade modes are functional, but aside from very small (and capped) currency payouts they offer nothing in the way of multiplayer progression or unlocks. Again, it’s nice that they’re there, but their implementation makes it painfully obvious that DICE would rather you just played the online competitive multiplayer.

And where should I even begin with Battlefield V’s Combined Arms. After delaying the mode beyond Battlefield V’s initial launch (a worrying sign already), DICE wound up shipping a small pool of short static missions with static goals, a far cry from its original promises of immersive, dynamic missions with randomized objectives. Worse, the multiplayer progression earned from Combined Arms is so paltry that it’s hardly worth bothering with in the first place.

Most egregious of all, Combined Arms shipped without any form of matchmaking, which means those who don’t have any Battlefield-playing friends are forced to play the mode alone. Again, I’m always down for seeing more co-op modes, but if this is the end result of DICE’s efforts, the studio clearly needs to re-evaluate its development priorities.

Back to the drawing board

One could argue that closed-off, feature-deficient, and (in Battlefield V’s case) clearly rushed co-op is better than no co-op at all, but I’d wholeheartedly disagree. If DICE can’t put in the effort to make good co-op, it should take the resources it would otherwise have used and put them towards more productive pursuits.

Case and point, even several months after its launch Battlefield V is still riddled with bugs and errors. The game is technically stable for the most part, but the frustrations caused by these errors can still add up fast during regular gameplay. I often find myself wondering what sort of state Battlefield V would be in now if DICE hadn’t bothered with Combined Arms at all, and I know I’m far from alone.

I’m sure the bugs will be fixed in time, and I’m not naïve enough to think that Combined Arms is the sole cause of Battlefield V’s problems. However, the disappointing co-op experience (the latest in a lengthy line) is clear proof that DICE has a scoping problem. The studio promised co-op fans the moon (likely so it could generate more launch-day sales for Electronic Arts) and once again it let them down.

The most disappointing part of this whole situation is that DICE could make a halfway decent co-op experience if it had the time, resources, and proper motivation. I appreciate that the studio is at least trying to appeal to single-player/co-op fans, but you shouldn’t promise something unless you can fully deliver. The novelty of a half-baked co-op experience, even one that’s rendered with pretty Frostbite engine graphics, wears off quickly, and at that point all you’re left with is disappointment.

I’m willing to bet there are behind-the-scenes details I’m not privy to. For all I know it’s EA that’s been pressuring DICE to keep making these half-baked co-op modes. In the end, though, DICE’s attempts at co-op have done much more harm to the studio’s reputation than good. DICE clearly knows how to make compelling large-scale multiplayer shooter games which have an appeal all their own. Maybe it’s best for all parties if the studio just sticks to what it does best.