In the early 2000s, we saw the dawn of the military shooter, as a stream of games focused on the events of World War II rose to popularity. Then, the genre shocked us by throwing us decades ahead into modern times. As time progressed, so has the setting for these games, turning towards the futuristic. Now, however, the Battlefield series is throwing caution to the wind this go-around with Battlefield 1, deviating from what many thought was a set path and taking a step for the first time in the otherdirection.
Set in the time of World War I—which very few games have explored—Battlefield 1’s setting was sold as the game’s alpha and omega since its announcement, and this characteristic is key to the entire experience. Other shooters normally stick to established protocol for weapon types, vehicles, locations, and so on, with gameplay framed around mechanics rather than environments. Employing such a drastic step backward in time forces Battlefield 1 to abandon the luxury of more modern source material, and infuse the historical context into every inch of the game. Weapons are far less manageable and take forever to reload; vehicles lack significant maneuverability and feature crippling blind spots; and the terrain of each battle is far more distinct through its natural design rather than man-made architecture. These differences aren’t the detriments they sound like, but their impact is important to appreciate when discussing what Battlefield 1offers as a new installment. This theme of militaristic devolution is disseminated throughout the entirety of the game, beginning with its new take on a single-player campaign.
The Battlefield series has never been a narrative powerhouse, so Battlefield 1 tries mixing things up with its “War Stories”—five individual campaigns that follow various fighters across different theaters of the Great War. Each story has a particular gameplay and narrative focus, with the intent of depicting a more human side to war that is often overlooked in the high-octane shooters of today. While every story has its moments, the format misses the forest for the trees somewhat by not giving any story enough time for effectual investment (mainly due to their short lengths). Stories differ in gameplay based on the theme of each mission—such as tank driving or sneaking through enemy territory—but this otherwise clever idea is hindered by two general complications.
First, enemy AI leaves much to be desired, so that even on Hard difficulty your foes’ failure to react, flank, or recognize you as a threat syphons some of the fun out of fights. Second, the game adds a focus on stealth with a collection of mechanics like enemy awareness levels and distraction tools. While this isn’t inherently a bad thing, the Battlefield games’ fast pace and stiff controls don’t suit stealth very well, and the enemies’ recurring AI deficiencies makes these sections a slog. Luckily, there is always the option to kick the proverbial door down and blast away, which consistently felt like the better way to go. War Stories is a better idea than limiting the complexity of the war to a single narrative, but the result was brought down by these minor design flaws. While they are certainly not the focus of Battlefield 1, the brevity of each episode makes them worth a look for the sake of the unique tales being told; they also act as good preparation for the series’ iconic multiplayer.
Multiplayer is very much front and center as always, with nine distinct maps on which a variety of modes can be played by four soldier classes and plenty of era-specific vehicles. Most of the modes—such as Conquest and Domination—are returning from previous installments, but two new modes—Operations and War Pigeons—make their debut in here.
Operations is one of the largest Battlefield modes yet in terms of scale, where 64 players use a breadth of vehicles to capture objectives spanning across multiple maps. One team must attack a sequence of objectives while the opposing team must impede their progress in a way that plays out comparably to the fan-favorite Rush mode, but with some notable differences. There are potentially two rounds in each match, and if the attacking team succeeds in the first round, the match transitions to an entirely different map for the next push. Also, unlike Rush, objectives taken by the attacking team can be reclaimed by the defense. For those that appreciate the offense and defense of Rush rather than the directionless chaos of Conquest, Operations brings attacking and defending up to the epic scale that Battlefield is known for.
Meanwhile, War Pigeons is ultimately a Kill The Carrier variant that can be an exciting distraction for those tired of getting crushed by vehicles in other modes. Battlefield 1 is also introducing Fog of War weekly events that put unique spins on contemporary modes. For example, one variation I played during my review time put players in immensely dense fog wielding only pistols and melee weapons, leading to some frantically spontaneous skirmishes. It should be noted that while I was able to put some extensive time into the multiplayer suite via a Battlefield 1 review event we were invited to—and later via EA Access on Xbox One—though I had no connectivity or matchmaking issues to speak of, there obviously weren’t as many people online straining the servers as there will likely be come launch day.
These new modes aren’t the only changes Battlefield 1 has brought to the table. The core gameplay remains very much what series fans will remember, but novel features like Behemoth vehicles, elite classes, and vehicle-focused soldier classes supply the fighting with something fresh. Behemoth vehicles are monstrous machines—coming in zepplin, train, and warship varieties—that are specific to each map and are granted to the match’s losing team. They’re not unbeatable, but they are very capable of turning the tide of the war through some monumental offenses.
Elites are implemented similarly, just on a smaller scale. Three different classes wielding specialized equipment like a flamethrower can be found around every map and picked up by anyone for an instant combative advantage. With 64 players potentially gunning for them, it can be hard to get your hands on one, but they are so satisfying when handled.
Speaking of classes, spawning into vehicles like tanks, planes, and horses now automatically change players into specialized classes with weapons and gear best suited to managing that mode of transport. Some may be discouraged that they can’t spawn in these vehicles using their preferred class, but the incentive for everyone to play their role enforces the principles of Battlefield in a newly effectual manner.
These changes supplement the initial shock value of a new Battlefield title, but it is the subtle nuances generated by the historical setting that remain most prevalent after extended time with the experience. Planes are slower than the jets of past games, but faster than helicopters and support multiple seats, greatly shifting the dynamic of air-to-air combat. Horses act similarly to dirt bikes as a expedient method for individual soldiers to get around, but the sword that comes with the horse’s Cavalry class makes the duo a much more lethal adversary. Most significantly, the lower efficacy of weapons will force players to reassess how they engage enemies, as the range, reload speed, and accuracy of this older arsenal deviates greatly from the combat gamers will likely be used to.
These comparisons are integral because they represent the crux of what is truly new in Battlefield 1. A World War I setting is novel indeed, but this installment in the franchise is fundamentally the Battlefield game we have played before—and returning players may fall into a familiar groove quicker than expected. This isn’t necessarily bad for those in love with Battlefield, however, and while the setting may be the most significant shift, those invested in the series will find Battlefield 1as another terrific reason to load up.
Battlefield 1 does a service to the series’ core fanbase with a unique, yet strangely familiar take on World War I.
M - Mature
|Battlefield 1 is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by EA for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.|
Nick didn’t start gaming until mid-2006. Once his parents finally allowed a console into the house, it was all uphill from there. Starting out with a PS2, he grew an affinity for Sony consoles and moved on to the PS3, and now the PS4. He keeps his gaming palette wide, but, gun to his head, he’d have to say shooters are his genre of choice.