Review: Battlefield 1
Battlefield 1 was revealed this year to much fanfare, and it’s been building hype for a while. Rather than go with the WW2 shooter many people were expecting, DICE and EA controversially decided to go for WW1, a conflict that has almost never appeared in videogames (at least nowhere near as often as its more bombastic sequel). But gamers went bananas for the thumping remix of Seven Nation Army, and we were given a chance to see WW1 as a much bigger conflict than the one our history lessons have portrayed it as. So, did it live up to the hype?
Well, I’d like to say that Battlefield 1 is definitely a step up in terms of UI and gameplay. EA had some great ideas with Star Wars Battlefront, and it’s taken that clean, minimal UI and adapted it to Battlefield 1. The result is a much more elegant game that seems more like what you’d expect in a AAA shooter.
In terms of gameplay, I was skeptical of Battlefield 1’s ability to deliver a compelling singleplayer campaign, as the series’ previous entries have been forgettable at best and bad at worst. However, this time around they’ve taken a real stab at it, and while it’s not GOTY material, it’s definitely a marked improvement over the series’ previous singleplayer instalments.
First off, Battlefield 1 chooses to tell its story in a series of narratives known as War Stories instead of one big campaign. This is a much smarter move, as they freed themselves up to focus on shorter, tighter narratives rather than a story they’d have to pad out. It’s also really smart because you can play them in any order you want. It gives you a chance to see the war from different perspectives, and it really balances things out. One of the great things about WW1 is that we don’t feel as politically charged when discussing it, so you can present the tale from different sides without that much controversy.
Most of the men, like the rogueish Clyde Blackburn, are really just trying to do their best to survive. Battlefield 1’s war stories really shine a light on the brutality of WW1, and show how many of these men were pretty much trying to steer clear of death. In fact, WW1 was essentially the first major conflict which used conscripts rather than professional military men, so most of the soldiers were taken whether they liked it or not. Having said that, the intense nationalism of the time did mean that many young men were more than happy to take up arms for their country
But you get to witness the dark side of that commitment, as the young men march into some of WW1’s most brutal conflict zones. One of the stories, “Through the Mud and Blood”, gives you a look at the beginnings of tank warfare, and it even shows how unwieldy and shoddy early tanks were
On the whole, the single-player is still playing second fiddle to the multiplayer, but it’s a much more robust and memorable experience on the whole. I understand that they could only do so much, but I hope they keep up this trend.
A different setting obviously affected the multiplayer, which is the real core of the title after all. The first novelty is a redesign of the class system, and while at first you’ll notice the typical quartet of assault, support, medic and scout, they were intensely reviewed for an approach reminiscent of the old Battlefield: Bad Company 2. The Assault loses some of its features in favor of an anti-tank arsenal while its main armament consists of SMGs and shotguns. The medic becomes a separate class with semi-automatic assault rifles (DMR), while the Scout is moving much more towards the bolt action rifles. Finally, the Support is pretty much the same, except for no mortar and more weight in the redistribution of explosives to counter vehicles.
The combat philosophy behind Battlefield 1’s changes is to create successive squads with different classes, which can be arranged depending on the engagement. The Assaults are the kings of DPS at close range, and Supports as well as Medics are here to fill the middle to long range encounters, while the Scouts have optimal efficiency long distance (don’t count on aggressive recon style like it used to be case in Battlefield 4 though). There’s also the Elite Classes, which are special kits that appear on the map and can turn the side of battle, including the Italian Sentry Kit, Flame Trooper and Tank Hunter, the latter equipped by 1918 Tankgewehr Sniper Rifle (a gun capable of penetrating the shields of armored vehicles).
The few accessories inherited from Battlefield Hardline, which obviously were used during the great War (mustard bombs, dynamites, etc…) spice up the action in hotspots (such as bunkers), while the disappearance of rocket launchers and more generally of any guided projectile focuses more on skills than sheer ballistic power. Weapons in general also gained more velocity especially on the front of snipers, where I felt this like the Battlefield 4 “airsoft effect” is gone, making it more challenging and punishing if you miss.
From the perspective of the vehicles, the approach is close to the original Battlefield 194. Obviously don’t expect jets and helicopters, replaced by the 1910s biplanes and slow tanks. For that, it almost feels like a driver is becoming a class of its own and it is almost mandatory to learn to master their way, since most of the waypoints on the maps are far from each other’s, which gives them much more importance and permanently eliminates the way I used to hop on planes for a quick ride to the other side of the map, and ditch it there. The balance struck between armor and infantry will also push real teamwork as they require intense firepower to get destroyed.
Finally, on the front of armored vehicles, the developers have included a great system which balances the fighting in mid-game. If a gap is getting too big between team’s score, the weaker one will get access to “behemoths” to give it a little push. These monsters from the WWI are great and powerful war machines, including Zeppelins, armored train or Dreadnoughts which will appear depending on the map. While the firepower of these Behemoth may seem imposing, they are slow with limited movement areas, and are meant to create a fire support, as well as additional spawn point. While people might consider them overpowered, they are not, and are only activated to five a chance for the losing team to balance the odds.
These changes obviously would be nothing without the great maps. Sadly, the quality of Battlefield 1 maps are a bit disproportionate (which was the case with Battlefield 4 as well), but you’ll understand why as it works for a newly introduced mode: Operations. A total of nine at launch (and probably 12-16 later on with DLCs), all these maps are themed after key battle locations of the war, and their boundaries change depending on the game modes, with clever use of the flow of players and occupation of spaces. There is though something for everyone: valleys in the Italian-Austrian Alps, the urban settings of Amiens, forest of Argonne, or the dunes of the Arab Peninsula. Every setting is a success, offering both variety in form and substance, which compliment every playstyle.
Now to jump on the main multiplayer novelty, and that is the Operations mode. The concept is simple: live what a real front war combined of assaulting and defending trench lines. The maps are split basically into sectors, which attackers need to control points on it and lower opposing force spawn tickets, which upon reaching zero give the sector to that winning team. The idea is to chain attacks, while maintaining a level of pressure on the players throughout the game.
There’s of course other game modes including the classics like Conquest, Rush, Team Deathmatch and Domination and another new addition called “War Pigeons. While it might sound weird at first, it’s only a capture-the-flag in disguise, in which two teams of twelve players compete for. A pigeon appears randomly on the map and it is then necessary to seize and keep it long enough in hand to finally release it when it’s time to send artillery coordinates to your HQ. Of course, these pigeons can be shot down by opponents during their flight, which can cancel the success of the operation.
All in all, Battlefield 1 represents a major step forward for the Battlefield series, and EA really showed that it learned a lot from its success with Battlefront. Unfortunately, it hasn’t learned that we don’t like buying half a game, and it once again overdid it with the DLC. I’m not one of those critics that demonize DLC indiscriminately, but excluding the French was just silly.
Battlefield 1 was reviewed using a PC downloadable code of the game provided by EA Games and an Xbox One digital retail code purchased by the reviewer. The main game was tested by Mazen Abdallah on a PC running Windows 7 Pro, with a 4GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 970 fitted on a 4th Generation Intel i7 4790 3.6Ghz CPU and topped with 8GB of RAM, and the multiplayer part by Nazih Fares on Xbox One. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 in digital and retail releases. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• Smooth new UI
• Tons of attention to detail with historical information
• Lots of weapons to choose from
• New style of storytelling
• That soundtrack
• Lots of features are being sold off as DLC
• WW1 setting might not be everyone’s cup of tea
• Matchmaking can be wonky
• Campaign is somewhat short