Feature Article

2021 Is A Huge Year For FPS Games With Call Of Duty, Battlefield, And Halo

Buckle up.

2021 is shaping up to be a momentous year for first-person shooter games. It marks the first year in the history of video games that there will be new mainline games for Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Halo all releasing in the same year. It's an exciting proposition for fans of FPS games, as each franchise is currently sitting at an important stage of their respective legacies. These franchises may be considered the “old guard” of the FPS space, but each has grown and evolved in recent years to the point where all three releasing in one year is a kind of dream come true for fans and they could help the industry propel itself to new heights this year.

Call of Duty

Call of Duty has never been bigger or more popular, and this momentum is expected to continue in 2021. If history and the previous cadence of development schedules tells us anything, it is that this new game is likely coming from Sledgehammer Games. Whatever the new game is, it will be released into a vastly changed Call of Duty landscape, thanks in part to the success of the free-to-play battle royale game Warzone. Activision has said that Warzone will be the connective tissue that ties together the annual premium Call of Duty releases. So you can expect CoD 2021 to have crossover content with Warzone, with the likely bet being that weapons from CoD 2021 will come to Warzone to mix up the flavor and add a new meta. This integration did not go so smoothly with Black Ops Cold War in December, but this was an unprecedented shift, and some teething issues were always expected. Overall, however, Call of Duty is in a great place today with unified progression across Warzone and Black Ops (and later CoD 2021), free multiplayer maps, and near-constant updates and patches that change the meta regularly.

On an earnings call, Activision management said CoD 2021 is not projected to sell as well as the previous premium release, Black Ops Cold War. That makes sense, given Sledgehammer is not known for creating or developing any of the most successful Call of Duty sub-brands, and 2021 will be a difficult comparison year for every annualized franchise because sales in 2020 were bolstered significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic. That being said, CoD 2021 is still expected to be a juggernaut and will likely end the year as one of the best-selling games in the US and other parts of the world.

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What's new and noteworthy about CoD 2021 is that it represents a seismic shift for Call of Duty and Activision overall. Whereas the series once relied upon the annual premium releases, Activision now operates three tentpole Call of Duty pillars, with Warzone, Call of Duty Mobile, and the annual premium release. To support this bigger-than-ever strategy, Activision has ramped up its hiring of game developers and put multiple studios to work on the same game a la Rockstar’s strategy with its major franchises. To support its new initiatives to build games, grow them, and release content faster, Activision plans to hire 2,000 more game developers to meet its production demands, which reflects one of the company’s key business priorities: live services. Activision is trying to make Call of Duty feel alive and breathing, like every time you return to it--whether that be Warzone, CoD Mobile, or the premium game--that there is something new and fun to do--and staffing up is central to that strategy.

It's also exciting to think about how the CoD 2021 campaign might shake things up this year, with rumors of Sledgehammer returning to World War II. 2017's CoD: WWII focused on specific battles and events in the European theatre, including D-Day, with memorable performances turned in by the cast of characters. There are countless more stories to be told from WWII, and it will be intriguing to see what the developers choose to focus on, provided the game does indeed go back to WWII. If the game is indeed set during WWII, and if its guns and other gear come to Warzone as is expected, that could lead to a unique warfare experience as weapons, gear, and other items from across historical periods are blended together.

All told, Call of Duty is in a stronger position in 2021 than ever before, and that's exciting to think about if you’re a fan of the franchise.

Battlefield

A new Battlefield game is coming this holiday season, and it is a very important release for EA and the teams at DICE. The publisher has been frank and honest about how Battlefield V failed to meet sales targets due in part to a marketing campaign that struggled to deliver the message about what the game was all about and why people should care. It was also behind its development schedule and needed to be delayed four weeks from October to November 2018, shifting into an ultra-competitive window that surely did not help the game sell better. Make no mistake, however, Battlefield V was no slouch. It exceeded 7 million copies sold right out of the gate, it’s just that EA had higher expectations and the publisher itself is owning up to the struggles instead of pinning them on developer DICE or any of the choices it made.

With Battlefield 6--or whatever it ends up being called--the teams at DICE took extra time. They purposefully waited an extra year to give the PS5 and Series X more time in the market--and so a lot will be riding on the new game to do well. For what it's worth, EA CFO Blake Jorgensen recently spoke about how Battlefield 6 is progressing well ahead of its development schedule--in fact, no Battlefield game ever has been at this stage of production at this point in its development timeline, Jorgensen said. This bodes well for Battlefield 6 being locked and ready to go come Holiday 2021. We also recently learned that Criterion came aboard to help with Battlefield 6, and this is seemingly good news as the developer has a long history of working with DICE.

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But what of the product itself? A full reveal of Battlefield 6 is pegged for Spring 2021, but EA has said the game will deliver "all-out military warfare" and offer the highest player counts in Battlefield history. That's a very exciting element to consider, as Battlefield has always been the market-leader for large-scale warfare, and now they're going even bigger. With the power of the next-gen consoles, and DICE's consistent and impressive focus on PC, the possibilities for where Battlefield 6 could go and what it could do in terms of systems and features is a thrilling thing to think about.

A very important and unanswered question for Battlefield 6 involves its multiplayer. Its main competitors in the FPS space, Call of Duty and Halo, now offer free-to-play multiplayer experiences, so if Battlefield does not do this--either by making its multiplayer free like Halo or releasing a free spin-off like CoD: Warzone--it runs the risk of sticking out like a sore thumb.

Convincing a big enough pool of people to pay full price for a AAA FPS multiplayer experience may prove difficult in 2021. EA could try, but wth Call of Duty and Halo Infinite going down a different path, this may be a risky move. That being said, EA also operates the massively successful--and microtransaction machine battle royale game Apex Legends, so I could imagine a world where the free Apex Legends makes up the difference for Battlefield 6. If EA wants to get Battlefield back on the right path, lowering the barrier to entry with a free multiplayer experience may be the way to go, however. Clearly, there are many paths forward.

The business opportunity could be substantial as well. One of EA's main directives going forward is building out and expanding upon its live service and microtransaction business, and free Battlefield could become another pillar in this strategy for EA, alongside Apex, the publisher’s various Ultimate Team modes for its sports games, and its rich mobile libraries.

The Battlefield series has also done a capable job of delivering solid story campaigns across its previous historical releases with Battlefield 1 and Battlefield V. But if the rumors of Battlefield 6 bringing the fight back to the modern day are true, that will deliver something fans haven't seen since 2015’s modern-day Battlefield Hardline. There is also the matter to consider that DICE has created an entirely new studio in Los Angeles run by Respawn boss Vince Zampella that we recently learned is working on a new Battlefield experience with "crazy" ideas.

All told, Battlefield feels primed for a big comeback in 2021 with Battlefield 6.

Halo Infinite

Halo Infinite is the wildcard in the FPS space in 2021. Whereas Call of Duty and Battlefield are released at a steadier cadence and more predictable schedule, Halo hasn’t seen a mainline release since 2015’s Halo 5: Guardians. The FPS market has been transformed since then with the advent, rise, and proliferation of free-to-play and battle royale experiences, along with countless other innovations. The last time we got a new Halo game, Fortnite wasn’t even out yet. It’s a different world now when it comes to FPS, and Halo needs to adapt.

Halo 5 multiplayer is still a heck of a lot of fun, but going back to it now in 2021, it has lost some of its shine. Halo was once the true innovator in the FPS space, but it has been out of the game for so long that it will need to deliver something special and meaningful to put Halo back on track and help the franchise appeal to a new audience.

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Microsoft is laying the groundwork for success. For one, the company is making Halo Infinite's multiplayer free-to-play, which instantly sets it up to reach a wider audience and make more of an impact. Another thing is that Microsoft invested the time and resources into creating an entirely new game engine for Halo Infinite, the Slipspace Engine. It cannot be overstated how much of a big deal this is--games often use the same or similar engines for years. Microsoft’s decision to spend time and money on building an entirely new engine for Halo Infinite--one that the company says will set up the Halo franchise for success long into the future--is a reflection in the belief that Microsoft has in Halo Infinite succeeding in the market in the long term.

Because it’s been so long since Halo 5, fans of the series have likely gravitated toward other franchises and invested in other spaces, making it a tougher sell to convince them to come back and pay full price to try Halo Infinite. Going free-to-play eases that friction, and it doesn't necessarily have negative impacts on 343's bottom line (not that corporate revenue should be a concern for fans anyway). Couple this with the fact that Microsoft is dropping the Xbox Live Gold requirement for free-to-play games, and you have the recipe for Halo to truly break out and reclaim some of its former glory on the multiplayer side, provided the game itself is compelling enough. Free-to-play experiences are highly democractic, in that players have the power to decide the fate of a game by voting their time and money, so this incentivizes the developers to not only launch with a solid product but provide people with enough reasons to keep coming back to spend their time and money on the game.

Another major factor for Halo Infinite is that Game Pass subscribers can play it at no extra charge, which opens up the potential audience for it even more. What’s more, it's coming to PC, which is a huge deal because, outside of The Master Chief Collection, Microsoft hasn't released a new mainline Halo game on PC since Halo 2, which released more than a decade ago.

Will Halo: Infinite live up to expectations?
Will Halo: Infinite live up to expectations?

On the campaign front, Halo Infinite's gameplay demo in 2020 left a lot to be desired. Microsoft acknowledged the issues and promised that the graphics would improve over time, and indeed they have. In February, Microsoft released a series of images from Halo Infinite that showcase a dramatic improvement in visual quality. It's also heartening to learn that Halo Infinite’s story will more closely focus on Master Chief after Halo 5 split up time between him and other characters. The Halo series has legions of fans who enjoy the story, however convoluted it can become, and many are excited and eager to see where Chief goes on his next journey. While Halo has a lot of work to do to reclaim its former glory, we've learned over the years that it’s never a good idea to bet against Master Chief and that we should "believe."

All in all, 2021 is shaping up to be a massive year for FPS games the likes of which we've never seen before. No matter what type of FPS experience you're looking for, it seems 2021 will have something for you. And this is to say nothing of the numerous other ongoing and successful FPS games already out there such as Fortnite, Apex Legends, Destiny 2, and many more.

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Eddie Makuch

Eddie Makuch mainly writes news.

Halo Infinite

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