Battlefield games have been wrestling with size for a little while. Mostly, it’s worn as a badge of honour – grand battles, giant maps, The Great War – and mostly that’s fair. But it does lead to some problems. A death timer is replaced with a long trudge through empty, expansive desert or mud; the front line – quite important in a game based on years of static trench warfare – is often more of a swirling carousel of capture-and-forget control points; and the best work of your crack squad can, at times, feel like a churning, futile struggle to make waves in a 64-man ocean (although that kind of existential doubt is at least fitting for the setting).
Incursions, the upcoming five-a-side competitive mode, is an elegant, if sort of blindingly-obvious-in-hindsight solution to the problems caused by Battlefield’s scale. Why keep tweaking the giant Conquest modes, in endless search of an impossible balance, when you can create a new one, still very Battlefield-y – tactical and vehicular and full of buildings that fall apart in all kinds of lovely ways – but without the sacrifices demanded by its size?
I played Incursions back at Gamescom, and it’s even better in practice than theory. Two teams set up across a dense, roughly Domination-sized map with three control points – one near the spawn points at each end, already captured by the respective team, and one uncaptured in the centre – with the goal of accumulating enough points to win a round, and winning enough rounds to win the game.
The most immediate benefit to that setup is a more distinctive front line. There is a clear point of conflict at the central marker, but thanks to the intricacy of the map – the one I played on was a modified corner of St Quentin Scar – that line of combat never degenerated into a static choke-point. Instead it was all prodding and probing, some sniper fire here, smoke grenades there, a sudden vehicle to break the deadlock and force some momentum (or just to act as cover once it’s destroyed, with broken vehicles now staying in place on the field).
It’s that intricacy of combat where Incursions really excels; the classes for each team are fixed, with one player per role, and thanks to some rejigging and Incursions-specific abilities they take on quite drastically different responsibilities to a usual match. There were five available in our time with the game: a Squad Leader, a Vehicle Operator, and three variations of Soldier – Mortar Support, AT Assault, and Trench Surgeon – and nothing else. That means there’s only one sniper on each team, one player capable of both driving and repairing the singular vehicle, one medic, and so on.
No longer having to worry about typical Battlefield annoyances, like twenty of your thirty-two teammates trying to snipe from the same hill, immediately lends you a greater sense of tactical control than a regular Battlefield mode, whilst also forcing you to play to your role. If the Medic isn’t getting stuck in reviving players on the front line, or your AT Assault doesn’t quickly remove the enemy vehicle (you only get one per round), you’ll feel it.
Likewise, those classes feel much more well-defined than their big-battle counterparts. I played the Squad Leader, for example, which holds the coveted sniper rifle, but also a flare, some smoke grenades, and acts as the only mobile spawn-point for your team. You’re immediately forced into some smart choices on the fly – hold too far back and you’re no benefit as an advanced spawn point for your team, but get too close and not only is your rifle less effective, you also run the risk of death and losing that advanced point of attack, too.
I could go on and on about the merits of design around the classes, but in a way that would be superfluous – it works because the genre works. This is a push – a blatant and unashamed push – into the realm of esports, via the now tried-and-tested route of class-based shooter.
There are still some areas that need attention – I mentioned the scoring system earlier, but didn’t dive into the specifics. That’s because the specifics are a needlessly complex amalgamation of sets and tickets and rounds, smushed into a best-of-arbitrary-number format. A confused scoring system means a confused audience, and in esports audience rules all.
But, nonetheless, Battlefield 1 is the perfect fit for a more defined, class-focused mode like Incursions. It’s quick, tactical, satisfying. Perfect influencer-fodder, if you’re cynical, but also perfect for re-engaging any fans who’ve accumulated a particularly war-weary case of franchise fatigue. With a little polish to the scorecard, this new mode addresses every problem I’ve had with Battlefield, and then some. It’s almost everything the modern shooter needs to be a success.