Welcome to the Great War.
Contains loot boxes called Battle Packs which can be obtained with real money.
I’d start this off with a quote or something from World War One, but I’m not going to get into cliched stuff for once. Besides, I feel like a history lesson – no matter how much I absolutely LOVE history – would bore most of you to tears and send you running for the hills. So no, I’m not going to gush much about how I love that Battlefield 1 focuses on a long forgotten war.
I do remember reading articles about Battlefield 1 when it was first announced and wondering to myself, “How in the hell is DICE going to make WWI entertaining?”
Then they did.
Battlefield 1 holds true to the tradition of other Battlefield titles by focusing on tight mechanics, both on foot and in vehicles, and I love that. Storming across a field under fire is awesome, and the way it feels to drive a Landship across No Man’s Land feels dangerous despite being a relatively safe set piece in the campaign. The multiplayer captures this feeling quite well too, even though you don’t get the same plot armor that the characters in the story get.
You just move so fluidly… It’s all just so satisfying, and I think the Frostbite engine is responsible for that flawlessness. Sure, it isn’t perfect, but I can’t get over how in control you feel when holding the gamepad or sitting behind a mouse and keyboard. It’s clear to me that DICE has this part of gaming locked down more tightly than… something held down tightly… Like a pressure cooker? I don’t know. I had to ask Jennifer for help on that one.
She’s right though. Those pressure cooker lids are held on tight, otherwise they explode and destroy half of your kitchen.
Still, I can’t conjure up anything else to say than to praise Battlefield 1 for having wonderfully tight controls that leave nothing to chance.
Except when you’re a panicky dumbass like me, and you lob gas grenades instead of dropping your health packs for your teammates. There’s something to be said about a doctor that accidentally kills his own patients.
There are some wonky bits that don’t serve the gameplay very well though. Multiple areas in the campaign almost force you to handle things silently, because you’re going to be on your own quite a lot. It’s a shame that the stealth mechanics are so broken though. Following the footsteps with Battlefield: Hardline, you can distract enemies by tossing an infinite reservoir of empty shell casings about.
As a side note, if you aren’t familiar with how ludicrous this is, go to a Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shop sometime, head to the reloading equipment section, and pick up a bag of new shells. You’ll quickly notice three things:
- A large amount of shells is pretty heavy
- A ton of shells are really noisy if you move them about
- They take up a ton of space
What’s even worse is that not only can you somehow find an never-ending supply of shell casings to use to distract bad guys, but they can somehow hear a tiny shell landing in a field over 20 feet away in the middle of a battlefield wracked with gunfire and explosions, and you can lure them around indefinitely. As a practice, just to test how broken it is, I lured one enemy from his buddy for about the length of a football field before burying the hatchet in his collarbone. It felt like a much less palatable version of Hansel and Gretel.
All of this is in place to mask what is essentially a broken stealth system, which is only included because of the direction DICE took with the campaign. Because you’re on your own for the most of the story, the odds are stacked against you, making stealth the only viable option in most cases. Don’t worry though; stealth is essentially pointless in multiplayer.
The only part which Battlefield 1 excels more than in the gameplay, is in the visual and audio presentation. It’s a phenomenal looking game, even on consoles. At no point did I notice muddy textures (except of course… mud textures), and pop-in was non-existent. I noticed one instance of framerate issues, but only when recording gameplay on the Xbox One, as saving a video file after slaughtering four unaware soldiers with my axe.
There’s a obvious World War color palette used, as most areas in the game consist of browns and greys, with the rare green used. Everything is gloomy in the western locations, though I imagine that might be just how it looks over there. Be sure to let me know if I’m mistaken!
As I said earlier, the audio is amazing, which is to be expected from DICE. The sound of weapons, explosives, vehicles, and voice work is top notch. At one point, Jennifer asked me to turn down the TV even, which just goes to show that it can be suitably loud even at lower volumes; something that evokes the feeling of generally loudness present in areas of intense fighting.
I don’t have much else to say outside of praise for DICE’s excellence here. It’s remarkably polished.
While the Battlefield formula isn’t revolutionized in Battlefield 1, there’s enough done here to make the experience notable on its own. Instead of going with the same singleplayer structure as many other war games, and keeping the flow of combat in multiplayer the same, DICE managed to freshen things up a bit.
Rather than keeping the traditional structure of a singleplayer campaign, Battlefield 1 follows the stories of multiple individuals during the war, which gives a little more credence to having players take control of various roles. You’ll play as a rifleman in one mission, then a tank driver in another. You’ll then take to the skies as a pilot in another before experiencing life as a heavy soldier, and lastly a guerrilla fighter. Each mission structure is different, and gives more of a reason for why you’re adopting a different role, rather than just giving you the same, tired “You’re part of a special operations unit, so that’s why you know how to do everything!”
Multiplayer is innovated by including new game modes in addition to including frontlines to a few of said modes. The slower pace of the combat is a bit of a factor as well, since semiautomatic and bolt-action weapons take precedence over automatic ones. Vehicles are slower, though far sturdier in many cases, with tanks in particular being a major change. The larger tanks, landships, require multiple players to operate at full capacity for instance, placing greater emphasis on teamwork.
It’s safe to say that DICE wasn’t content with just remaking Battlefield 4 with a WWI skin. Then went all out, and it works.
STORY AND MULTIPLAYER
I hold a special place in my heart for games that cover parts of history that are rarely featured. WWI often evokes the image of soaked trenches, wide swaths of landscape absolutely destroyed by gunfire and bombardments, and charges across No Man’s Land; and that’s where Battlefield 1‘s story begins. You’re catapulted into the shoes of a soldier on the frontline, as the enemy advances. Unlike many other first-person shooters though, death here isn’t the end for you as a player.
When you inevitably become overwhelmed, you’re met with an epitaph marking your soldier’s death. Then you’re slung into control over the next one, then the next one. It’s memorable to me, because it shows both how those individuals were both human beings, yet also disposable, and gives more of an accurate depiction of large-scale combat than what is often shown in Battlefield titles.
Then as soon as you complete the introductory sequence, that ends in favor of individual stories more common among shooters today. Instead of taking part in large operations and functioning as a component of a larger team, you operate as a lone wolf for half of the game. Considering that Battlefield 1‘s campaign (like in every other Battlefield campaign) serves as a tutorial of sorts for the multiplayer, I feel like DICE missed a great opportunity.
Don’t get me wrong. I felt that the campaign, and the manner in which it is told, is borderline masterful. The individual stories themselves are wonderful, but the experience is far too brief. There are only four stories beyond the introduction, each of which showcases a different aspect of the game’s mechanics. Still, these missions, though impactful, are brief. Regardless, I feel that DICE managed to introduce the game mechanics to players in a unique way, by combining storytelling and traditional gameplay.
But I would’ve loved to have more.
Still, story isn’t the reason people buy a Battlefield title, as evidenced by the fact that completing the game on Normal difficulty is actually a rare Achievement on the Xbox One. Seriously? Actually, I’m not surprised. I know I’ve seen the metrics on how many people actually play a campaign on games like Call of Duty and Battlefield. There’s a reason why those games tend to have throwaway stories (with the notable exception of Battlefield 1).
Battlefield 1‘s multiplayer is just as wonderful as you’d expect it to be, with just as many issues as any other Battlefield title. Getting involved this late in the game will pit you against all of the veterans, forcing you to contend with extremely well-equipped opponents. Still, it’s fun to delve into the chaos of WWI combat.
Still present is a class system, where you choose from Assault, Medic, Support, and Scout loadouts. Assault gives you powerful SMGs, shotguns, and rifles along with anti-tank weaponry. Medics get lighter weapons but can do what medics do best: heal. Support troops get machine guns, ammo replenishing kits, and area of effect explosives. Lastly, Scouts are given long range rifles… They’re snipers, basically.
The standard fare of game modes exist, along with some new ideas. There’s Conquest, Domination, Team Deathmatch, and Rush. If you’re looking for a simpler experience, this is where you’ll find it. However, There’s the option to take part in Air Assault, Frontlines, Supply Drop, War Pigeons, and Operations.
Air Assault is exactly what it sounds like, pitting you against other players in the air, allowing you to get into dogfights with one another. Frontlines behaves similarly to the way it sounds, with the ebb and flow of combat being simulated as you try to capture points in order to advance the frontline towards your enemy’s base. Supply Drop tasks your team with capturing supplies for your war effort. War Pigeons does something similar, except with pigeons I guess…
The star of the show however, is Operations. In Operations, you have a much bigger mission in store. Like with Frontline, each individual map has an attacking and defending side (that seems obvious, now that I mention it), with the players on the offense having only a limited number of reinforcements available. The defending side has unlimited reinforcements, but the odds are definitely stacked against them. If they lose all locations in the battle to the enemy, the frontline moves back to the next section and a retreat is ordered. If too many locations are lost, then the defenders are forced to move back to a secondary location. I feel like this mode is probably the pinnacle of what Battlefield 1 has to offer, since it captures the general feel of WWI combat quite well.
It’s unfortunate that balance is a concern however, but that’s often the case in multiplayer games. If teams are evenly matched, it can be extremely fun to play. Still, it’s likely that you’ll be on the weaker side of a match, and can be forced to sit through defeat after defeat. Granted, I’m not a pro at this sort of game, nor much of a multiplayer gamer at all. However, it sucks when you jump into a match only to be forced to contend with entire teams of players using machine guns and grenades constantly. The number of times I’ve been gassed or burned alive, or had a opponent wearing heavy armor stalking me and my teammates across the battlefield while wiping us out, became common enough for me to just accept that as how the game plays.
That in itself is rather disconcerting since I’ve found the teamwork aspect of Battlefield 1 to be its greatest strength. When my team and I were able to function as a unit, with myself acting as the Medic, I felt powerful and useful. It’s when that quickly devolved as half a dozen players using the Support class storming into our location, lobbing incendiaries and anti-tank grenades as they unloaded their machine guns into us with zero care.
To be fair, the tactic worked for the most part. They took massive casualties from the suicide approach. It didn’t make the game fun or engaging though. Regardless, when things go right (and not just with me winning), it’s a rewarding and entertaining experience.
Of course, other players aren’t the only frustration, EA saw fit to implement loot boxes in the form of Battle Packs. Said Battle Packs usually contain cosmetic items, though you’ll occasionally come across an odd melee weapon or two; maybe even an xp booster. It isn’t a pay-to-win system, but it’s regrettable that it has been included in the first place.
WILDCARD: A FORGOTTEN WAR
You may remember the news a while back that Electronic Arts had concerns that players wouldn’t know about WWI. Their concerns weren’t completely unfounded though, and that’s kinda sad. I won’t get up on a soapbox to talk about “kids these days” not knowing their history, because I feel like every generation has that problem. If anything, I’m just happy that another developer has taken the opportunity to dive into a lesser known part of humankind’s history.
I love that they show that WWI wasn’t all about the Western Front, trenches, machine guns, and Europe. It was a truly World War, and in many ways it involved more of the world than the war it would eventually result in. I can also appreciate that like with Valiant Hearts, DICE tried to humanize people from that time. History has a tendency to erase the truth about people in our past, making us forget that those back then were just as normal as you and I.
At least when it comes to the campaign…
DICE struck gold with Battlefield 1. They avoided the mess of sticking with a tired setting, unlike Call of Duty (which followed Battlefield 1 back into the past), and made an interesting game that’s set in a time period which few thought would work. They succeeded in making a competitive shooter that shook up the formula, all while introducing new ideas and merging them with the old.
Battlefield 1 is a fantastic game, and deserves the attention of the gaming community. Not only because it’s something different, but because it’s a damn fine entry in the Battlefield franchise.
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Fantastic review! I took a similar approach where I did a full review of the game alongside it’s expansions, I’m really surprised that DICE struck gold with World War I. I do wonder if they’ll take a similar approach to World War II this year, considering the leak is true.