DICE is finally back to making Battlefield games. After a brief detour with cops and robbers and a trip to a galaxy far, far away, the Battlefield franchise is back with Battlefield 1. Rather than taking us forward in time, or keeping us in modern days, DICE has made a daring choice to take us back in time to World War I. It’s an era barely explored in film or video games thanks to its limited technology and lack of a central villain (i.e. Nazi Germany). With a brand new campaign and the franchise’s signature multiplayer, does the Battlefield franchise successfully gel with the World War I setting?
Battlefield 1’s campaign is a strange beast as it’s not so much a campaign, but a collection of mini-campaigns called War Stories. These War Stories tell the tales of five different characters that take place at various times and places throughout World War I. As a storytelling mechanic, switching between various characters isn’t a new idea. Some first-person shooters have used this mechanic to weave together compelling stories. Unfortunately, Battlefield 1’s campaign lacks any form of cohesion.
War Stories can last two to four chapters, and each can be completed in a sitting, but none of them have anything to do with each other. Players are thrown into a person’s shoes, introduced to characters whose roles have already been pre-determined, and then expected to care about their fates. Battlefield 1 loves to dish out tragedy and heartbreak, but it’s rarely ever earned because none of the characters are developed. Players are given so little time in a character’s shoes that it’s hard to feel anything. This is a real shame as the cinematics are excellent and the writing, for the most part, is good. This is a case of DICE trying to do too much with the material they have. It doesn’t help that some of the mission design is rather uninspired. While there are some truly exciting missions where you fly tanks and planes, there are just as many boring ones. In fact, out of the sixteen missions in the game, eight of them attempt to force you into stealth. It’s just you against whole battalions of men. For a game that was supposed to be about the brutality of World War I, Battlefield 1 sure does enjoy making players feel super powerful. Then there’s ‘Nothing is Written,’ which just comes across as lazy. While all the other War Stories take place on unique maps, ‘Nothing is Written’ takes place entirely on the Sinai Desert multiplayer map. There needed to be some more variety in the War Stories.
This isn’t to say that the campaign doesn’t have its moments. The parts where you fly a plane, drive a tank or hunker down with allies to survive onslaughts of enemies are excellent. It’s just too bad they don’t happen very often. Let’s be honest, though: no one picks up Battlefield for the single player campaign. They pick it up for the multiplayer and Battlefield 1 delivers. Despite the trip back in time, Battlefield 1 feels and plays just like a Battlefield game should. You have your classes, vehicles, maps, modes, weapons and gadgets, but all with a twist.
The classes have been toyed around with to represent the era better. Assault gets SMGs and shotguns and is now in charge of the vast majority of anti-tank weaponry. Medics are given semi-automatic rifles and all the healing tools. Support gets the LMGs and not only resupplies allies but also gets the handy wrench to repair vehicles. Finally, we have the Scout, which is all about sniping. The best part of this arrangement is that each class feels like it has its strength and weaknesses. Unlike previous games, there isn’t one class that seems like it can completely dominate the battlefield That same sentiment translates to Battlefield 1’s vehicles. While tanks and planes are very powerful, they’re also more cumbersome to maneuver and have their weak points. Only a handful of tanks and planes can be on the map at once, but good drivers will be able to soak up a lot of kills before being put down. As for those who prefer infantry, there are plenty of anti-vehicle weapons that will do just the trick.
When it comes to multiplayer games, content is king. It was a major problem for Star Wars Battlefront and DICE learned their lesson. Battlefield 1 comes packed with nine maps, six game modes, and plenty of weapons and gadgets. The maps, in particular, are fantastic. DICE has designed excellent maps for the multiplayer experience. Amiens, in particular, feels like it’s destined to become a Battlefield classic. With clearly-defined lanes, well-positioned objectives and a gorgeous urban setting, Amiens delivers. It’s amazing watching the map crumble around you, forcing players to find new cover. In fact, destruction is something all maps do well; buildings and terrain can be completely leveled, creating new cover and destroying old.
The maps aren’t entirely perfect. A few of them feature wide-open spaces that make spawning players sitting ducks. Maps like St. Quentin’s Scar and Sinai Desert prove to be frustrating as infantry find themselves spawning far away from the chosen objective and right into the sightlines of a sniper. Others, like Amiens and Argonne Forest, do provide enough cover to give new spawns a chance to run to safety before being mowed down.
If there’s one area where the time period is felt the most, it’s with the weapons. World War I may have led to many technological innovations, but there still weren’t a whole lot of weapons. In total, Battlefield 1 has 24 guns, six per class, and eight sidearms. That’s not a lot compared to Battlefield 4, but DICE manages to stretch that 24 pretty well through its variant system. Each weapon has three variants that come equipped with different attachments. An optical variant slaps a prototype red dot sight onto a gun to increase its effectiveness at range. A trench variant will add a foregrip to reduce recoil for up close encounters. It’s an ingenious system that may not replace the feeling of there not being a lot of weapons but does create some additional variety. There are also isn’t a lot of customization options. While guns today can be outfitted with all manner of camos and attachments, customization options in World War I was much more limited.
Battlefield 1 has six game modes; Conquest, Team Deathmatch, Domination and Rush return with the all-new Operations and War Pigeons. While Conquest, Team Deathmatch and Domination remain as fun as they ever have, it’s Operations that steals the show. Operations is a multi-stage mode where attackers attempt to push back the defenders continuously. If successful, the battle moves to the next map where the defenders get a behemoth. Depending on the map it can be a train, blimp or dreadnought battleship. Behemoths are surprisingly well balanced and merely serve as a tool to help the losing team. The cool thing about Operations is that players can see the carnage from their previous battle in the distance. Operations may last for an hour, but it’s time well spent.
Unfortunately, due to Operations, Rush feels like a complete afterthought. Though it plays well on some maps, the limited player count and map size make it feel dull compared to Operations, which includes many of Rush’s mechanics. For a mode that was so beloved by fans back in the Bad Company series, it is a shame to see it get so little attention. Likewise, War Pigeons doesn’t stand out. Essentially, players have to capture a randomly generated pigeon on the map, write out a message without dying and set it loose. It’s an interesting novelty, but not near enough attention was given to the mode.
Battlefield 1 is no Battlefield 4 when it comes to launch performance. All playtime for this review was conducted playing on live servers. While Battlefield 4 may have been a mess when it launched, DICE, DICE LA and Visceral Games have since made huge strides to upgrade the servers so it doesn’t happen again. Battlefield 1 is a beneficiary of these upgrades and should not suffer from a bad launch as Battlefield 4 did.
It goes without saying that Battlefield 1 is stunning. DICE continues to defy expectations by continuously one-upping itself with each new game release. Maps are huge and popping with detail. Watching buildings crumble to the ground is a sight to behold. Even just looking at the fine details of your gun, or how the water reacts to what it hits during the rain is utterly impressive.
Speaking of rain, Battlefield 1’s weather is simply amazing. While fog and sandstorms aren’t ideal to play in, and go on for too long, the effects are astounding. Watching the weather turn from sunny in one instance, and pouring rain the next is truly next-gen, and adds an extra layer of strategy to the gameplay. Finally, DICE has truly done their homework regarding the sound design. The soundtrack is filled with triumphant, somber and haunting melodies that sell the time period. Then there’s the weapon sounds, which are amazing. From the sound of a shotgun blast to the clink of an empty magazine, DICE has carefully recorded real-world audio and it sounds amazing. You’ll want to listen with a good pair of headphones.
Putting to rest any qualms about the World War I setting, Battlefield 1 is a true Battlefield game with everything you’ve come expect from the franchise. The multiplayer experience is top notch thanks to some well-designed maps, a solid amount of weapons and some quality game modes. It’s a pity that Rush feels like such an afterthought, but Operations more than makes up for it. Unfortunately, the single player campaign once again feels tacked on. It’s more like a glorified eight-hour long tutorial, training players for multiplayer by throwing them in tanks and planes rather than telling a cohesive story. In the end, it’s the multiplayer that matters most, and Battlefield 1 excels at giving players the Battlefield experience they love in an era they probably won’t be all that familiar with.