EA returns the franchise to the roots of modern war.
Like a sizable portion of the gaming community, I had my reservations when EA and DICE announced that the next Battlefield game would take place during World War 1. Though the idea of playing through a war over 100 years old was interesting, it raised a lot of questions as to the actual meat of a primarily multiplayer game, especially considering the relative lack of diverse weapons and vehicles when compared to more modern shooters. Thankfully, Battlefield 1 manages to retain the classic gameplay that made other chapters in the series so great, while introducing just enough freshness to draw in new or returning fans.
As could be expected by such a large title, the graphics of Battlefield 1 are stunning, detailing European mansions and towns, rolling countryside, and expansive desert. Each map is detailed with tons of hiding spaces, secrets, and tactical points. Despite the sheer size of the multiplayer playing areas, there are no clear ‘cheat points’ where every players attempts to hold an unfair advantage. Every position can be countered, every sniper found, and every choke point circumnavigated. This allows the games to avoid any sort of unnatural stalling or turtling techniques, keeping the multiplayer fast and deadly. That isn’t to say that the terrain can’t be used effectively, however; as with other Battlefield games, a squad utilizing communication and tactics can very much change the outcome of a round. This departure from twitch-based shooting has always been the big distinction between Battlefield and the Call of Duty series, and Battlefield 1 upholds that tradition.
For those not ready to dive into the multiplayer, or looking for a more story-based approach, the campaign mode offers up a series of short stories about WW1, each told from a different survivors perspective. Though some of the moments can get a little ‘Hollywood’ in their lack of realism, for the most part each story is grounded and engaging. Each one also features a different style of Battlefield gameplay, from planes to tanks to stealth, giving a good example of the different roles multiplayer can take on. Surprisingly, from the brutal opening sequence to the final explosion, the war and the people in it are treated with respect and reverence, and the writing doesn’t attempt to glorify the horrible conditions and sickening violence of the first Great War. Chances are, many players won’t touch the story mode over the multiplayer, but it’s a welcome and well done diversion.
Though the mechanics of the multiplayer are exactly what players would expect, certain new functions and modes stand out. For one, weapon customization is basically non-existent except for colors and sights, the former being unlocked randomly by dropped battlepacks. While this places a lot more emphasis on the skill of the player, over a fine-tuned custom loadout, the end result is that each category of gun has a ‘best’ option, which player’s will see time and time again in every match. Loadouts for grenades and special items offer a little more variety, but don’t expect the insane customization of games like Call of Duty or previous Battlefield titles here. Game modes are the standard fare, but include a new Operations mode, where players must attempt to push and hold territory over several maps in a narrated campaign. Each Operation mode can last up to an hour, with multiple locations and objectives, usually culminating in a pulse pounding final push or stand. Finally, every multiplayer map now features a Behemoth; a gigantic war machine like an armored train that is only accessible to a losing team once they have fallen severely behind. While these Behemoths help with making sure a map isn’t entirely one sided, the airborne versions tend to be extremely powerful, and can often throw the match far into the other direction.
Unbalanced bonuses lead into the next part: Battlefield 1 is still very much in flux. Several large issues, such as being unable to quit a match once the scoreboard is shown, UI elements that hide or become impossible to select, and an overall clunky menu system (with actual, honest-to-god lag) give off the impression of a work in progress, not a five star title. Though DICE has acknowledged the issues and has promised to fix them in a series of patches, it might be worth giving the game another month to settle. However, the multiplayer still provides a unique experience, with each pitched battle producing countless moments that will have players utilizing the video record function of their consoles. For fans of the series looking for the next fix, Battlefield 1 is a well done, if still buggy, solution. For more casual fans, waiting until the first large expansion hits may provide a more polished game.