EA has courted the esports crowd for a long time, with squad modes like Deathmatch, Rush and Obliteration offering a smaller scale vision of Battlefield’s 64 man squabbles more suited to competition.
Problem is, they’ve never really gained traction. Battlefield is a game about big fights: planes screaming overhead, tanks pounding buildings with high-explosive shells and infantry running amongst it all like ants. Heavily armed ants.
EA’s answer to this is Battlefield Incursions: a five versus five mode that blends Battlefield’s gameplay with that of a MOBA, replacing the squall of chaos present in Battlefield’s usual multiplayer offerings with something tight and competitive. But I’m not convinced in its esports chops, quite yet.
It’s still Battlefield, at its core. Two teams face off in a smaller custom-built map with three different control points, one situated next to either side’s spawn point and one in the middle, all of them bracketed by a lot of destructible scenery. This creates a much clearer front line, which does make the game a little easier to parse, and makes it easier for individual players to have an impact. When you only have five players, a flanking position or a sniper picking defend a point become even more devastating.
The smartest design tweak is the classes. I played both the vehicle driver and the AT Assault and while the vehicle driver was a terrible experience (I’ve struggled to drive vehicles ever since Battlefield 2) but the AT Assault class was excellent, as the best man for the job whenever a tank rolled around, I had a clear role. Over the course of each match I levelled up and unlocked abilities and items that made me even better suited to my role.
Better yet, because the classes are dished out, there’s not the standard Battlefield worry of having to push an objective while more than half of your team are laying on a hill trying to get long-distance headshots for a montage video.
At this early stage, it doesn’t feel that compelling to play and the scoring system is a confusing mess that would make it both tough to watch and tricky to work out if you’re winning or not on the ground. I still couldn’t tell you what you need to do to win, except to say that after several games I had no idea when a victory was coming until it flashed up on my screen.
This is fixable, a rework from EA on the scoring system can make it simpler, but the deeper problems may persist: there was only one map to play on and every match I played was a stomp that ended in an easy victory or a crushing defeat. However it happened.
The current five classes: Mortar support, AT Assault, Trench Surgeon, Vehicle Operator and Squad Leader, they all have a different role, but until they’ve levelled up some they feel like they lack some punch.
Big Battlefield fans will no doubt find a lot to enjoy here, but in terms of attracting a new audience I’m unsure what Battlefield’s Incursions mode has to offer in a crowded genre filled with solid esports contenders.
That doesn’t mean it won’t find some success, but it’s a flawed product right now. EA’s money and platform could help it find some success, but it feels like a half-formed idea, a solid push towards esports that has all the bells and whistles at a surface level, but at the moment seems to be lacking depth.