Did EA just ruin Battlefield 3?

I heart Battlefield 3, hard. Not only is it in my opinion the very best multiplayer shooter of this generation, but it also represents the culmination of decades of technological advancement in game design and development. Massive, open battle environments, a variety of vehicles, and a broad selection of weapons, vehicles and gadgets to try out make it one of the most dynamic and interesting video games I’ve ever played.

One thing that does worry me about Battlefield 3 a little, is the way EA seems intent on constantly monetising it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for publishers and developers effectively monetising their products, as long as the value proposition on the table is worthwhile. Regular DLC is a double-edged sword: it keeps things interesting and increases the longevity of a game, as long as you can pay for the updates. Maps and new settings and themes (holding thumbs for Battlefield 3: Vietnam!) are pretty much fair game, but in a patch released yesterday, I think EA crossed a line.

As of today, it is possible to pay to unlock class kits in Battlefield 3. This means that instead of having to spend countless hours mastering each weapon until unlocking the next, you can buy the game, pay an extra fee, and have access to everything off the bat.

We haven’t got confirmation of local pricing yet, but US players are being asked $6.99 (R54) to unlock an entire class kit, or $39.99 (R310) to unlock everything in the game.

There are essentially two problems I have with this.

Firstly, part of Battlefield 3’s appeal is unlocking new weapons and items as you rank up. Earning experience points encourages you to play well, and more importantly, it encourages you to play for the objectives, play as a team, and to try out different aspects of the game, such as reviving, repairing, scouting and so on. It stops Battlefield 3 from being a Call of Duty-style run and gun kill fest because you can earn experience points in various ways, and experience points are desirable because they unlock new stuff. If you start the game out with everything in your arsenal, there is less incentive to play the game as it is meant to be played, and experience points become redundant.

Of course, this is easily solvable. Simply resist the urge to buy the unlocks, and play the game as it was intended; which brings me to my second objection:

Many of the item unlocks provide notable advantages. Longer sniper scopes and more powerful weapons can make things a lot easier for players, and vehicles, particularly jets, can be far more effective with the correct armaments equipped. In fact, as against this whole thing as I am, I’m pretty tempted to pay for some of the jet unlocks just to give myself a fighting chance in the air.

So of course, gamers that have spent countless hours discovering the subtle intricacies of the game, exploring the various weapons and trying out different gameplay styles will suddenly be at a disadvantage to anyone with a credit card. Sure it’s annoying getting picked off by a sniper 700 metres away that you can’t even see, but at least you know that guy put a lot of time in to unlock the required kit to pull off such long-range killing. Now imagine being killed in the same manner by some creep who simply paid for the pleasure of having all the best kit in the game.

So I’m not sure what’s worse: that EA is spoiling the spirit of Battlefield 3 by letting players buy their way to the top of the gear-chain, or the fact that veteran Battlefield 3 players will now be outgunned by anyone willing to pay for the privilege?