“As a Battlefield game, this is perhaps the strongest and daring entry in some time.”
The First World War is a period rarely touched upon by the video games industry. It is one of the darkest periods of our modern history, making it something of a taboo setting for most developers. Enter Battlefield 1; the most recent release in the first person shooter franchise from the minds at DICE and EA. Having dabbled with present day and near future settings in their more recent titles, the gaming giants have taken it upon themselves to bring the war to end all wars to our screens. The hype from gamers has been massive in the build-up, and on almost every level DICE have managed to deliver.
At the very core of a game based in World War I is the need for the developers to ensure they show respect for the true events that passed. Millions of brave soldiers died on the field of battle during the war’s many conflicts, and this fact cannot and should not be ignored. Recognising this fact, DICE make sure that showing this level of respect is the first thing their game does. As much as they have created a piece of entertainment software, they have also acknowledged the cost of the events that they have chosen to portray. A number of simple, black and white slides remind the gamer of the real events of history, before proceeding to make them a part of it.
The opening level of the game, which you enter into before you even first hit the menus, is intense, deep and functional. Whilst it serves the purposes of reminding you of Battlefield’s complicated controls and showing off the newest game’s remarkable visuals, its content holds much deeper meaning. It begins with the words “you are not expected to survive”, before unveiling a major battle at Ribecourt, France, in 1918. You are foot soldier, right in the midst of the dark, muddy, incredibly loud battlefield. Your goal isn’t anything logical; it is simply to fight for as long as you can, until you inevitably fall. When you do, the map zooms out, a quote being read by another soldier about their experiences of the war. Then you are put into their shoes, at another point in the battle, but the end result is always the same. You are quickly reminded that there are no true winners in war.
Despite the intensity of the ideas that DICE portray in this initial scene, the game isn’t all serious all of the time. It is still wildly engaging and exciting both to play and behold, even when emotions are running high with the story. The single player campaign continues on from this first mission, branching out into five very unique stories of the war. You can play these in any order you like, the suggestion being that each would have happened almost simultaneously in a different part of the world. The storylines each follow very different individuals and involve different elements of gameplay, giving you genuinely varied views on the war from that character’s perspective and opening your eyes to how the various people involved both fought and fell. One story follows an American pilot posing as a Brit, following the story of how he got involved in the war and how he as a person changed because of it. Another throws you into the battles fought by Lawrence of Arabia; a side of the war less touched upon in Western culture than the events that took place in Eastern Europe. For a Battlefield game, the level of detail and draw that every individual story offers is unprecedented. DICE have truly outdone themselves in this part of their game, remembering to show respect as they go but making the experience thrilling for the player all the while.
The real draw of the Battlefield series of course in its multiplayer. In Battlefield 1, maximum effort has gone into making this the best version of this feature yet. The staple aspects of massive maps and widespread destruction combined with a delicate balance remain, but several new features change the game significantly too. Dynamic weather can change the state of play at any moment, making some classed flourish and others less effective. A sandstorm on a desert map like Suez for example can throw the sniper meta game off at a moment’s notice, as well as significantly reducing visibility for all players on the battlefield. More than the weather though, the game’s new Behemoth feature can truly turn the tide of a battle.
Behemoths in Battlefield 1 are exactly what they say on the tin; gigantic war machines designed to create widespread destruction. When one side falls behind on the battlefield, they can be rewarded with either an airship, dreadnaught or war train, depending on the map. Each is armed to the teeth with deadly weaponry, and if used correctly they can be utilised by the losing side to get themselves back in the game. Although this might sound unbalanced at first, it is in fact rare that the winning side becomes overwhelmed by the behemoth’s appearance. They are designed to offer a helping hand, but not to win the battle for you, and the result of any game still relies purely on the skills of players over the weaponry they use. DICE have done well to include these gargantuan features of World War I in their game without making it an unfair fight and throwing off its overall balance.
Small arms can be just as game changing as enormous behemoths when in the right hands, and Battlefield 1’s weapon cache is very nice indeed. The genuine articles have been replaced in many places with more experimental weaponry from the period, allowing players to grasp the experience of the war without the slog of its relatively new and underdeveloped arsenals. Nevertheless, the guns feel period appropriate for the most part, with none feeling explicitly out of place. As is usual in Battlefield, different classes are armed with different weapons, which helps to increase the variety and provide something suited to every kind of player to use. From rifles to revolvers, Battlefield 1’s arsenal feels legitimate, well thought out and is a pleasure to play with. Perhaps the most game changing new addition however is gas. Gassing out the enemy team or even your own when attacking an objective can be a very fruitful strategy. This forces players to don their gas masks and relinquish their ability to aim down sights, making savvy play a hugely important element. They can be a great way to flush out elite classes too, who are often unable to wear a mask and must evacuate promptly. The new weapon’s implementation is something to be feared, just like the real thing, and it allows for entirely new strategies to play out in Battlefield 1.
The class system remains pretty similar in Battlefield 1 to what it has been before. Assault class is armed with equipment designed for taking down tanks, which are more threatening and frightening in this game than ever. Vehicular warfare with truly alarming mechanical juggernauts is one of Battlefield 1’s true highlights, whether you are on land or in the air. Medics have the ability to heal allies and revive fallen soldiers if they reach them within a reasonable period of time. Support have a similar role, but instead are tasked with replenishing the ammunition of their fellow soldiers. The weapons of the period have small magazines on the whole, and so Supports are more crucial than ever. Scouts are the other main class in the game, and take on the role of deadly snipers with their awesome and deadly bolt action rifles. Aside from the standard classes however, there are several other specialist roles to play.
Vehicular classes such as the Tanker or Pilot attempt to immerse you fully in the action when you deploy onto the battlefield. The idea is that if you are driving a tank or a plane then that is an extension of your unit; essentially it is their primary weapon. This means that there is a focus on aspects such as repairing to ensure that you stay in the game as long as possible, just like the other standard classes. The exception is coming into the fight as a mounted unit, the most exciting aspect of which is almost certainly your sword. Playing cavalry in new to Battlefield and it blends with the more traditional elements perfectly. The satisfaction of getting mounted kills is almost as good as hitting that crack headshot with the scout, but more importantly the inclusion of horses doesn’t break the overall meta. The animals themselves however are often as hard wearing as a light tank unit, which can be a little frustrating.
Elite classes are also introduced in Battlefield 1, appearing on the map as random drops that can be picked up by any player. There are currently 3 elite classes in the game, each with unique uses and equipment. The Flame Trooper class is perhaps the most fun you can have as an elite in multiplayer. You can essentially walk into a crowded room of enemies and either flush them out or send them to their doom. He isn’t the hardest wearing elite, so keeping a medic close can help you last a little longer, but he can certainly take a spray or two as he wreaks havoc. Awesome as it is however, if you are on the opposing side you can quickly see how such adversaries would have been the stuff of nightmares as they approached in the real war. The Sentry Elite class puts you in a suit of armour and arms you with a massive machine gun to tear the enemy apart. You are the epitome of a tank, and move like one too, so staying close to the target is your greatest strength. At a distance, you can quickly become vulnerable to sniper fire. Finally, the Tank Hunter class is exactly what it says on the tin. With greater durability and damage than the standard assault class, you are ready made to tackle tanks, planes or behemoths alike. Playing as an elite class is a great way to get you Battlefield K/D up in a pinch, but in terms of tackling objectives they are only truly useful at the point at which they spawn. Getting these juggernauts around is a challenge in itself, and in some ways they do mess with the game’s purpose and meta. On the up side though, they are a fun feature and not impossible for a dedicated and learned squad to take down.
How you play and what you play with is only half the battle in this multiplayer shooter as it is in any other. Most important perhaps is the maps that the action is played out on. Battlefield 1 kicks off with a great mix of varied and true-to-setting maps to play, with the promise of more to come in future updates down the line. None of the maps are inherently bad, and the rotation tends to give you a good variety as you play. Naturally, individual players will find their favourites, but as a whole the selection is well designed, developed and detailed. You get the chance to battle in the deserts, forests, cities and mountains that truly played host to the Great War, and the action is as believable on each as it is on the next. Amiens for example places you in the heart of a French city, with destruction and domination on all sides. Monte Grappa on the other hand is set in the Italian Alps, where air vehicle are a clear asset, but naval defences in the mountain sides make for a deadly weapon as well.
All of the maps in Battlefield 1 have various features of note which are best discovered by spending time playing them, and like the game as a whole they each benefit from dedicated, careful design. Battlefield 1 is a stunningly beautiful game, even when played on lesser settings. Whether you are in a dark, muddy field or on a glorious mountain side, there is plenty to marvel at from textures to lighting to dynamic effects. There is no need to up-play the action, with visuals such as shells and grenades exploding being kept realistic rather than overdramatic. It is all very believable, which makes the horror of a comrade being taken out in front of you feel very shocking and real, but equally the god rays from the blistering sun staggeringly beautiful. DICE have always done well; this time they surpass themselves.
Across these impressive maps, a number of game modes can be chosen from. Some are classics, like fan favourite Conquest. A couple of the new modes really stand out from the pack though, doing some very different things indeed. War Pigeons is a very unusual mode which involves finding and releasing pigeons on the battlefield. This attempt to blend a gameplay element with a genuine historical action falls short however, losing much sense and meaning early on in each fight. Some dedicated fans will probably enjoy the novelty, but for me it felt like a gimmick. Operations on the other hand are a whole different ball park, and much better thought out. This mode attempts to add background stories to the various maps, giving you clear strategic goals to complete as you move across the battlefield. DICE do a good job of adding purposeful motives to conquest gameplay in this way, but the problem here lies in balance. If the attacking team loses the first attempt at the mission, they get another chance from the checkpoint they last reached but this time with a behemoth. This means that even if they reached the last stage and fell, they come back again at that stage but with a significant advantage behind them. Operations need a little tidy up work, but have great potential as a meaningful, story-driven multiplayer mode in the game.
Outside of the gameplay elements of the game, there are Battlefield’s classic aesthetical features, allowing you to make your soldier, their weapons and your profile unique from others. In this game, these features feel less unique, albeit necessary, but they don’t hurt it as a whole. You can customise your own logo to go on your character’s sleeve, choose from a selection of obtainable dog tags to spice up your profile, and obtain various skins via battle packs to make your guns stand out. Whilst the first two of these aspects are nice options to have, the latter is a bit of a let-down in that the skins aren’t all that dramatic, being a World War I game and all. Some stand out for sure, but these are the rarer few, and so even the aesthetical options aren’t all that inspiring. Perhaps this is for the best though. It means hardcore fans who want to spend on battle packs can, but those looking for a straight up immersive experience won’t find it disturbed by aesthetical novelties.
Battlefield 1 constitutes a massive effort on DICE’s part to create a genuine and engaging World War I shooter. Thankfully for fans and general onlookers alike, they treat the events with respect and create an equally entertaining video game experience to represent them. The move from present day settings to events which occurred 100 years ago couldn’t have been more natural for the developers. They have taken much of what has made their series flourish and a hefty handful of new features too, creating something new and special informed by what they already know gamers love. As a World War I game, this is about as big, immersive and impressive as they come. As a Battlefield game, this is perhaps the strongest and daring entry in some time. Whether you are a fan of the series prior to now or not, this game is easy to recommend to all.