Battlefield is a venerable franchise, its beginnings go way back to 2002. With over a dozen games under their belt, EA DICE, the game’s developer has a lot of experience. And it certainly shows in the slightly confusingly titled Battlefield 1. You can consider it a spoiler for this review, but before going into any further detail let’s state it clear: Battlefield 1 is better than anyone expected it to be.
What makes BF1 unique
Just like its rival franchise Call of Duty, Battlefield started out set back in World War II, and both franchises were steadily moving forward in time when they (and the audiences) were done with the steady stream of WWII games. This year the direction changed drastically for BF. While Call of Duty launched into space-age with gleeful abandon, Battlefield went back in time, to the first conflict to ravage the world on such a scale.
World War I is a time period largely unexplored in first-person shooters. While there were some simulators and strategies, there was but a handful of shooters and none of them gained any lasting recognition. It is overreaching, then, to call Battlefield a pioneer, but EA DICE’s latest game certainly sets a standard and is a breath of fresh air in a genre populated by modern and futuristic settings.
EA DICE approached this era with care and respect, which is clear in the single-player mode. Entitled “War Stories” it is exactly that: a collection of several stories about people engaged in this conflict around the world. They are a diverse bunch, reflective of how many different peoples fought in the war. The stories do not fetishize war, as is often the case in first-person shooters, either. Instead, they aim to convey the horror of the Great War and how it personally affected individual soldiers rather than taking the players by oddly convenient plot points to every major historical battle set-piece. War Stories follow five people and a unit, and the missions can be played in any order.
Stories of people
The single player campaign itself opens with a mission following the fates of a squad of Harlem Hellfighters, a unique American regiment who got their nickname from Germans as a sign of respect. It is a very strong and effective opening, skillfully introducing the player for the game’s mood. Then we have a story of a cocky American pilot Clyde Blackburn, the protagonist giving the story an uncomfortable sense of uncertainty that is so welcome in an otherwise straightforward, if intelligent, storytelling of BF1. One thing is certain, Friends in High Places truly earns its title, as it introduces us to piloting biplanes in combat scenarios.
A certainly fascinating mission lets us play under the command of no other than T.E. Lawrence, better known under his moniker of Lawrence of Arabia. As a Bedouin warrior Zara Ghufran saved by Lawrence we will follow her fate as she infiltrates enemy outposts to aid the resistance against the oppressive Ottoman occupation. Set on a sprawling, open map it gives this part of Battlefield 1 gameplay a certain atmosphere reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid V. These stories are the highlights of the campaign and ones that are the most likely to stick around in gamers’ memories long after BF1 release. The other three are good too, but they lack a memorable feature making them stand out.
The story of an Australian message runner is the classic story about the clash of experience and idealistic naivete. The tale about Italian soldier spearheading Arditi operations in a heavy armor is told well, and prepares players for the heavy elite class in multiplayer, but otherwise isn’t very memorable. Nor is the story of a British chauffer-turned-tank driver, except for some dramatic moments. The campaign is heartfelt and earnest, showing respect to both the soldiers and the period. Even when it plays fast and loose with history, it is always in service to storytelling and gameplay, not a result of ignorance. Moreover, it is an effective tutorial for driving, movement etc. which will be important to player performance in the multiplayer.
Battlefield 1 multiplayer
Having discussed the singleplayer campaign, now we can safely pass to the meat of Battlefield 1. Short version? It’s excellent. Veterans of previous Battlefields will feel both reasonable familiarity and just enough innovation to make the game feel fresh again.
In Battlefield 1 the weapons are in the perfect spot between historical accuracy (let the double meaning sink in) and is playable. They are not the perfect modern weapons, not by far. They have the kind of recoil many players used to modern and futuristic weapons may find off-putting at first, but it has the authenticity to make it work in the game’s favor. They don’t shoot perfectly, either. As a result gunplay in DICE’s new game requires more forethought, preferably leading the target when possible. All that running and gunning is going to get you is empty magazines and a new bullet hole in your helmet.
Speaking of weapons, the variety is staggering, mostly thanks to the inclusion of weapons which were barely above experimental, or otherwise relatively rare. Nonetheless, there are over 50 weapons spread across several categories. The categories are nothing new. There are the assault and sniper rifles, SMGs and LMGs, shotguns, pistols. All are more or less period-accurate, with bolt action rifles, side ammo drums and all, believably affecting gameplay. There is even a surprisingly large number of melee weapons from bayonets to a jambiya knife, recently recreated by AWE me and tested by the Machete himself, Danny Trejo.
The classes in BF1 are an expected selection. The Assault for short distance combat and some anti-vehicle explosives, Support for ammo supply and crowd control. Medics and Scouts do exactly what it says on the tin. Choosing to spawn in or on a vehicle sets a relevant class, and picking up a token on the battlefield grants you an elite class, like the Flame Trooper or Tank Hunter with a 1918 Tankgewehr. Each has access to certain weapon classes and gadgets, and their roles and functionality are clearly defined, and while all can be essential, Assaults remain the most frequently picked class.
Battlefield 1 game modes are a largely a familiar dish, with a decent serving of new options. There is, of course, the traditional massive 64-player Conquest mode, a staple of the Battlefield franchise, with key objectives to capture and hold. Domination is largely the same, only on a smaller scale, with a heavier focus on close quarters and short distance combat. Finally among the classic modes is the Team Deathmatch, requiring no introduction at all.
But it’s the new modes that make Battlefield 1 multiplayer really shine. The most important of the new additions is the Operations mode, simulating the movements of frontlines in a long, multi-stage match fought over several maps. Each map has the players take the roles of either attackers or defenders, fighting over several key strategic points per map. It is as engaging and intense as can be imagined, with amazing reversals of fortune when Behemoth vehicles come in to support the losing side. It has by far the best flow, although Conquest remains the most popular mode by player count.
Rush has players fight over a number of Telegraph Posts, needed to call an artillery strike by the defending team. The attacking team wins if there is no Post left standing, while defenders win if they managed to defend at least one post or the attackers ran out of reinforcements (respawns). It’s decent,
And finally, there is Battlefield 1‘s version of Capture the Flag, namely War Pigeons. Reflective of the birds’ role in maintaining communications throughout the war, the teams fight to stay in possession of a pigeon (bear with me) long enough to write a message and then send it. As a result War Pigeons is a bizarre, if very entertaining, mix of Capture the Flag and playing hide-and-seek.
Planes, tanks, and automobiles
Vehicle combat has always been an essential part of Battlefield multiplayer, and this time is no different. There is a satisfying range of vehicles to choose from.
The biplanes, divided into three classes: Fighter, Attack Plane, and Bomber, are bizarrely maneuverable, but at least they don’t have a lock-on feature, or they’d feel too modern in their handling. As is, they are a lot of fun, and spawning as a Pilot and getting to attack a massive Zeppelin decimating your forces gives an incredible rush.
There is also a decent assortment of land vehicles: armored cars, motorcycles, mobile artillery, even a horse. True to form, Battlefield 1 offers the players a chance to be a cavalry, complete with mounted combat, fancy sabers and anti-tank grenades, to keep things even.
And then there are the Behemoths, massive engines of war spawning for the losing side to even the scales. There are currently three forms: a Zeppelin dwarfing any other unit, a battleship on maps close to water, and an armored train.
The beauty of BF1 presentation
Battlefield 1 is one of the most visually engaging games so far released this year. EA DICE took the Frostbite 3 engine and pushed the boundaries of what can be accomplished with it. While not as photorealistic as Star Wars Battlefront, BF1 remains a stunningly beautiful game. Disturbingly so, given the subject matter.
A part of this is the destructible environment. With just a couple of grenades, you can quite literally level the playing field. Campers should beware because that cozy wall can’t stop a tank. Of course, the engine has its limitations, likely resulting from optimization and preventing bugs, but it goes almost unnoticed from that crater you made with a grenade to have some measure of cover.
Battlefield 1 is an excellent game. EA DICE went full ahead in their efforts to recreate what made the franchise popular in the first place, rather than following Call of Duty’s hectic, twitch shooter playstyle. The touching, well-crafted War Stories help convey the horrors of war, a message only slightly diminished by the incredibly entertaining multiplayer gameplay. The new game modes are a breath of fresh air, and although BF’s signature 64-player Conquest mode remains the most popular, it doesn’t diminish the new arrivals’ value.
To answer the inevitable questions about which game is better, Battlefield 1, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare or Titanfall 2, there is no easy answer. Each of these games does different things and does them well, so it really is down to your preferences.
Battlefield 1 easily earns an 85/100. It is not a breakthrough, other than in its target period, but it’s a damn good Battlefield and a very good game overall.