Oh, what a time when we were inundated with World War II games, and we clamored for modern military shooters. Setting a massive first-person shooter during the Great War seemed unthinkable not even five years ago, yet here we are, with an AAA publisher and developer producing such a game. Battlefield 1 is a stark contrast from the previous Battlefield titles, but does it soar with technological abandon, or does it flounder in the trenches?
The answer, much like many of the battlefields seen in the Great War, is a bit muddier than one might expect. Following a pair of beta periods, Battlefield 1 saw somewhat of an early release via the EA Access program, and is now available to the wider audience. I’ve been hacking my way through the trenches for about the past week or so, and have emerged a changed, world-weary man.
Much noise has been made about the campaign and its improvements over previous entries in the Battlefield franchise, Hardline notwithstanding. Undeniably, Battlefield 1 boasts the best campaign of any of the Battlefield games, though based on the series’ pedigree, that isn’t terribly hard to do. Beginning with a sobering final stand against the endless onslaught of German soldiers not unlike the final sequence in Halo: Reach, you then have the option of selecting from one of five stories to play.
These five stories cover the air war, a British tank crew, the insurgency against the Ottomans, the landings at Gallipoli, and an Italian shock trooper regiment. Five different nations, all with their own war, though there’s a surprising lack of mention of either the French or the Canadian forces. Regardless, there is no enforced playing order, and you can stop playing one story to switch to another at any time. Each of the “war stories” take anywhere from a half-hour to two hours to fully complete, and they can all collectively be played through in a solid six-hour evening.
Though this may mean your time spent is brief, there’s plenty to see and be done within each tale. Brief bursts of action are punctuated by sequences of stealth and silence, much like the war itself. Unfortunately, the myriad of stealth sequences showcases the absolutely dismal AI, even as the mechanics themselves are serviceable. It’s arguably worse in open combat, where enemy infantry run at you in a straight line, tanks drive perpendicular to you, exposing weak spots, and enemy aircraft stay on your tail for no more than five seconds, before peeling off for no apparent reason. Even on the hardest difficulty, I died no more than a handful of times across all five stories, simply by virtue of the AI’s failings.
Yet despite these faults, the single player portion is still excellent. While the nations and content of the stories may change, they all have a concurrent theme of a loss of innocence, not unlike how the world itself changed following the war. Characters of a variety of ages all take part, whether to impart or partake in wisdom, but they all have much to learn from their elders. While not exactly an uncommon theme for the genre, the storytelling is at least competent, and thus elevated far beyond the predecessors’.
Certainly, Battlefield 1 does play into many war movie archetypes: there’s the grizzled asshole veteran with a heart of gold; the underaged naïve kid who bought into the tales of romanticism and war heroism; the daring rogue who fights against the rules and regulations; the affable sidekick, again; none of it is particularly groundbreaking, but it’s still competent nonetheless. The facial animations are astounding, as though the tech was ripped out of BioWare’s latest space opera RPG, and the voice acting too is believable, and well-delivered. A bastion of originality Battlefield 1’s campaign isn’t, but it’s a coherent, engaging package, more than can be said of the previous Battlefield entries.
Enough about the solo play, what about playing with friends, foes, and alike? The Battlefield series has quite the pedigree to live up to, what with Battlefield 4’s extremely long lifecycle and its player count far surpassing Hardline and Battlefront, even years after release. It’s been a long three years since the last official Battlefield release, so how is DICE getting along with a new set of consoles, and a new engine?
As it turns out, the answer to that question is – swimmingly. Marked improvements over the engine from Battlefront mean that while the visual fidelity is still outstanding, many more actors and effects are able to be layered on the screen, and it all blends in this combat cacophony that’s both authentic and overwhelming. Moving from 4 to 1 reveals the depth and length to which DICE went to both improve and capture the visuals, and improve the sound design of just about everything.
Of course, nothing is perfect, and with the visual accuracy comes a “brown filter” placed over just about everything in the game. Colors are muted, factions are near indistinguishable, and the entire game world blends in this soupy, swampy color palette. Trench warfare is brutal, to be sure, but a fortress on the Mediterranean shouldn’t look like everything was covered in an inch of dirt, or more. Similarly, the UI is difficult to navigate, reading phantom inputs and generally requiring a few too many clicks to get anything to stick.
Persistent and pervasive destruction is found in almost every map, and by the end of a 30-minute Conquest match, win or lose, you’re left battered and broken atop a countryside cratered with hundreds of grenades, stray tank rounds, airburst mortars, and more. Castle battlements crumble under the sheer force of 105mm dreadnought shells, and biplane bombers cruise sand dunes, leveling years of nature’s forces.
The turn of technological warfare and the advancements made in such a rapid space are well on display, too. Some may decry that there are far too many automatic weapons, and that certain spaces feel ripped out of a scrapped World War II game, and they’re accurate. At some point, you have to balance historical accuracy with fun, and to this end, DICE has navigated the 1910s with ease.
A rightful complaint should also be lodged that the Americans play a larger role in fighting the Germans than either the non-existent Canadians or French, but this should be rectified in the future. Another curious point of contention is that every side uses the same vehicles, aircraft, and weaponry, when reality is far from it. History would tell us otherwise, and these design choices smack of laziness rather than a focus on fun.
A couple of new modes make their appearance as well, and one in particular, “Operations,” stands above the rest. An Operation sets you in a campaign across a series of two or three maps, trying to continue your offensive. In a way, it’s a modern rendition of the Conquest Assault mode found in earlier titles, while giving people ample reinforcements, and a neat historical primer as well. I can easily see Operations, Conquest and Rush being the primary game modes for multiplayer fanatics.
The selection of maps shows some improvements in map design, though not much. The map found in the beta, Sinai Desert, is one of the worst ones, being a near-carbon copy of Golmud Railway from 4, with all of the fun removed. Suez is little more than Operation Metro 2014, now outside and with an awful lot more sand, and Argonne Forest is roughly the same as Operation Locker, but now in the French countryside instead of in a Chinese prison. Fao Fortress as well is a nightmare for any non-sniper class, with its long sightlines and largely open fields, but the rest of the map selection is at least decent. It is worth noting that an update in December will bring Giant’s Shadow, rumored to be a snow-covered map, to all players for free.
Despite some maps of questionable quality, the sense of scale and overall size is much bigger, and with the new massive powerups, they have to be. Borrowing the time-based powers from Battlefront, Battlefield 1 now awards either a giant zeppelin, a powerful dreadnought, or an armored train, depending on the map and if you’ve fallen behind in tickets by a certain amount. Each is an incredibly armored vehicle, packing powerful weaponry and nigh impossible to take down.
Complementing these are the World War I version of Battlefront’s heroes, a specialized kit that takes the place of your regular weapons. These are: the sentry, a heavily armed and armored beast that protects against headshots and bayonets; the flame trooper, armed with a gas mask and an extended napalm thrower; and the tank hunter, an agile kit that hauls around a high-caliber anti-materiel rifle.
Besides this, your four standard classes return: the assault, an anti-vehicle kit armed with shotguns and fast-firing SMGs; the medic with deployable health, armed with semi-automatic midrange rifles and assault rifles; the support, who can now repair vehicles in addition to gifting ammunition, still toting an array of light machine guns; and the sniper, who can now wield a localized spotting flare and packing high-caliber semiautomatics. Aside from a few new gadgets and a new set of armaments, these classes are largely unchanged from their earlier counterparts.
What is unique to 1 over other Battlefield titles is that gun customization has been eschewed in favor of a “package” system. These packages offer different stats, fire modes, optics, and fill different roles, but picking and choosing attachments is a way of the future, apparently. Vehicles are similarly limited to various “packages,” though with vehicles they have clearly defined names and roles. Players can choose various levels of magnification and whether or not to tote a bayonet, but now, upon leveling up, you get a small stipend of “war bonds,” which can be used to purchase new guns, melee weapons, and vehicle kits.
Gunplay itself is largely unchanged from the more recent entries in the Battlefield franchise. There’s the addition of the “bayonet charge” mechanic, which is a neat way to cross terrain quickly, but I’m never quite able to activate it when I need to spear some poor sap crossing the map. Gas and incendiary grenades make an appearance as well, the former requiring use of the gas mask to avoid, which limits your field of vision and also removes the ability to aim down your sights.
There is, of course, a “loot crate” system, because if the runaway success of Overwatch can tell us anything, people like loot crates, and they love opening them. These special battlepacks are handed out at the end of rounds, and contain only skins for various guns, and “puzzle pieces,” assembling which earns you a special melee weapon. They are also not purchasable with real-world currency for now, but you can purchase them with “scraps,” earned by discarding various skins.
Despite all these changes, when everything is working in a Battlefield game, the matches are a sight to behold, and Battlefield 1 is no different. Waves of infantry and armor crash into each other, dancing around capture flags and fortifications, daring one side to stick their neck out first. Aircraft shred one another, before being torn asunder by wary men manning anti-aircraft guns.
There’s unfortunately nothing particularly memorable about the multiplayer so far, but nothing terrible sticks out either. Few bugs or server issues to speak of, and only a handful of crashes in my multitude of hours spent playing. Time will tell if this changes, but so far, this seems to be the most stable Battlefield release yet.
There’s a lot of lifespan left in Battlefield 1, so it’s hard to say if it’s going to have the same lasting appeal that 4 did, yet so far it seems to be doing just fine. Sure, the campaign isn’t much to be astounded by, and some of the maps in multiplayer are real stinkers, but the fresh setting and gorgeous battlefields leave me feeling hopeful for the future of the game. After spending so much time with Battlefield 4, I have a hard time on selling myself on the game, but I can at least recognize it for what it is: a great addition to a long-running series.
A New Era of Warfare: Beautiful battlefields and technology are a blast to play in.
Sound of the Guns: Battlefield has never sounded so good.
Neverending War: Crates and gameplay keep you coming back for more.
Keep It Simple, Stupid: Attachments have been simplified for accessibility.
Rewriting History: Glaring omissions and inaccuracies left to DLC.
Trench Foot: Single player is far too short, unoriginal.
Stuck in the Mud: Some multiplayer maps are downright terrible.
For the latest main game in the series, DICE decided to go 100 years back in time to the Great War. That said, Battlefield 1 does not aim to be an authentic World War I experience. It uses some of the iconic and experimental gear from the end of the war to make things more exciting and keep gameplay close to the classic Battlefield formula. Story missions also trade realism and historical accuracy for the awesome set pieces. The campaign, consisting of multiple independent war stories is better than in previous Battlefield titles, offering some degree of freedom and a better taste of multiplayer mechanics. It is a bit disappointing that a game about WWI, we’re missing France and Russia on the release and there are no story missions from the Central Powers perspective. The new format might allow the easy addition of new war stories with DLCs, but it remains to be seen if DICE wants to expand the single player mode.
When it comes to the game’s main focus, multiplayer is done very well in BF1. The near total building destructibility, last seen in Bad Company 2, returns in full force, now looking considerably better. Maps are designed with that in mind, while also containing more varied buildings, properly placed field cannons and machine guns. Classic game modes, such as Conquest, Domination, Rush and TDM are present with minimal changes. The new War Pigeons mode is an interesting addition, offering some variety with more dynamic objective. Operations mode is the best new mode added in Battlefield 1. Combining elements from both Conquest and Rush, an attacking team must capture all capture points in a sector before advancing to the next. The large scale of this game mode and the ability of defenders to capture points back as long as the whole sector is not overrun make it a very intense and dynamic experience.
Finally, as we can always expect from DICE, BF1 is a graphical powerhouse. If your hardware can handle it on Ultra, the improvement over still good looking previous games is apparent. It still looks decent on lower settings if your GPU is not up to task and ability to lower just the rendering resolution is very good for people with very weak GPUs. On the more annoying side, the Battlepack system went the full gambling rote of TF2 and Overwatch. Battlepacks are assigned randomly and give random rewards. The new medal system only allows you to earn five randomly chosen medals each week and you have to select a single medal to earn at a time. Overall, Battlefield 1 is an amazing game, offering a lot of fun with only minor issues at launch.
While most of the shooting genre is moving forward in time, DICE decided to take two steps back and tried the “boring” old World War I scenario with Battlefield 1. The good news is that DICE managed to pull it all off with the latest installment, not only was it done quite well, but it was very dramatic too. Battlefield 1 is probably the first game where I felt the need to stop and actually think about the horrors of war. This is particularly achieved due to the brilliant tutorial/intro level where you will just die no matter how good you are, it’s handled in a tastefully dramatic manner. While the campaign is split into 5 small storylines, only the intro managed to invoke such feelings. The entire campaign was at least on par with Bad Company 2, or even better, which leaves it sit as one of the best ever BF games. The only thing wrong with the single player experience is the length, which will be over too soon.
This lands on the meat of Battlefield series – the multiplayer. The worry was that with bolt action rifles dominating the field the game would be too slow but that is just not the case. The weapons are no what you’ve seen in history books or the Discovery Channel but they do fit in pretty well and make the gameplay smooth, fast and enjoyable. A couple new multiplayer modes, also make the game shine, especially the Operations mode. The only criticism that I would give is that the maps are just too open and too tempting to pass on camping with a sniper rifle.
The most wonderful thing however was the games launch and performance. Apparently DICE/EA learned the lesson from Battlefield 4 and made sure the fiasco didn’t happen here. Battlefield 1 runs like a charm and had no issues at all when it launched, though that might have more to do with different release times for different regions. Whatever the reason though, it was smooth sailing, but that was just the icing on a very delicious cake.
Battlefield 1 is a slightly more casual approach to the series. The experience feels more streamlined than before and the single player is better than in previous installments. All in all, it’s a great experience and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for this game with future content and patches.
There’s not much to say that hasn’t been said countless times before. Runs flawless, comfortable controls on foot and in vehicles, out of this world audio/visuals, campaign was fantastic, although lacking in length. Hours upon hours of fun with outstanding online multiplayer. Had a couple CTD though. All in all, Battlefield is the cream of the crop for a reason.