Why first-person shooters don’t need campaigns

Why first-person shooters don’t need campaigns

by Andrew Kulp

As the highly anticipated first reveal for Battlefield 6 approaches on Wednesday, a rumor that the game will not include a campaign mode isn't going away.

For now, the discussion is largely speculative. Battlefield leaker Tom Henderson hasn't heard anything about a campaign, not explicitly that there isn't one, which is an important distinction to make here. And although Electronic Arts has neither confirmed nor denied the report, the company has made no mention of a campaign in its limited statements about the game to date -- yes, that's unusual.

Maybe the campaign is being kept secret because it's "revolutionary" in nature, something Henderson previously reported. Maybe the campaign was an afterthought, possibly a victim of the pandemic, and EA prefers not to draw a whole lot of attention to it.

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But if Battlefield 6 were to actually release without a campaign, that would beg the question …

Would anybody truly miss it?

If you happen to be the person who slavishly plays through *AND FINISHES* the single-player story in every first-person shooter they encounter, this article might come across as an assault on your very way of life.

Surely, though, you realize that is not the norm. Not in an FPS with its popularity rooted in multiplayer, anyway. There are a lot of gamers -- a lot -- who don't even touch the campaign, and many more who start it and quickly tap out. I'd be willing to bet even a good number of folks who play through campaigns do so less for any sense of enjoyment than to reach some other end: for a co-op experience, to collect achievements and unlock items, or simply because it's there.

The latter example was me but a few months ago, dutifully playing through the story in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, because why not? Why not, it turns out, were precisely all the gameplay elements I don't buy an FPS for. Needless role-playing sequences. Boring missions that aren't just mowing down the bad guys. Enemy AI that will never meaningfully advance on you or create the feeling they’re a legitimate threat. Snapping photographs, guessing computer passwords, ziplining and countless other pointless activities I will never use in the far more time-consuming multiplayer mode. I mean, this is supposed to be a shooter, right?

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After several hours of meandering through the campaign, I checked online to see what percentage of the game I had already completed. Upon learning I was maybe halfway through, I uninstalled the campaign.

Are there exceptions where the campaign is memorable and stands out? Sure, I guess. Halo, Half-Life and Doom are among the franchises known in part for their storytelling. Of course there are some pretty notable games from the not-too-distant past such as Wolfenstein, Dishonored and BioShock that scrapped multiplayer in favor of a deeper single-player.

Even in Battlefield and COD, the campaigns aren't necessarily bad.

They've simply become secondary.

Given the undeniable way in which the popularity of multiplayer has eclipsed campaigns for many franchises, is it really so unthinkable Battlefield would go without one?

Games based on real-life combat or historical encounters are at a particular disadvantage because they're all telling some version of the same types of stories. As long as studios are going to cover the same ground anyway, why force a campaign on indifferent players if it isn't bringing anything new to the table? Better off sinking those development resources into optimizing multiplayer.

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It's not as if that would be unprecedented for the genre, either, with prominent titles such as VALORANT, Overwatch and even a past Call of Duty (Black Ops 4) skipping campaigns. That decision doesn't appear to have hurt them.

Battlefield 6 releasing without a campaign wouldn't be disappointing. It wouldn't even be a big deal. It would merely be a sign of the times.

FPSs long ago outgrew the need for a story mode. That's not to say campaigns don't serve any purpose or can't be captivating -- but they're not an absolute must when multiplayer is the selling point.

What would make sense in lieu of a full campaign is some type of campaign-tutorial hybrid. Something that serves to show players the ropes, familiarizes them with new features, yet is set in a short story or battle that's immersive, gets the blood pumping and is maybe even replayable on its own merit. It could even be used as more of a technological showcase. Whatever the exact approach, it should be visually impressive and potentially worth revisiting, while also beneficial to the player to complete but without overstaying its welcome.

If the choice is between having a campaign or no campaign at all, though, I, like many FPS fans, am perfectly fine with none when the crux of the game is multiplayer in the first place.

In other words, when campaigns are no longer a selling point, studios would be wise to treat them as extraneous and either offer something bold and original, something short and sweet -- or not bother with one at all.

Lead image credit: Activision Blizzard

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