There’s no doubt about it. Today’s triple-A shooters are growing stale as developers more often than not rely on two periods of time to set their games in, be it the modern era or the future war. As of the mid-2000’s, whether it’s Call of Duty or Halo, if you’ve played one game, you’ve played them all. As we skip forward into the latter half of the 2010’s, gamers are craving something else and it’s about time for a change.
DICE Stockholm, while having delivered some our favorite console and PC shooters of the past decade, is no less responsible for the trend than any other developer. That’s why we were more than intrigued to learn that the studio’s next big project would shift focus to one of the most vicious wars ever, War World I. Aptly named, Battlefield 1 is a gamble, but is it what it’s going to take to freshen up the shooter scene and will it pay off?
It’ll be interesting to see where shooters might head to next and if Battlefield 1 will have any impact, but for now, DICE’s latest project breathes new life into a genre by simply making what was once old feel new again.
Despite taking place in the early 1900’s, Battlefield 1 still finds ways to introduce new ideas while still fitting the theme perfectly. For starters, one of the new game modes “War Pigeons” is an infantry-only game type about as far fetched as it sounds. Players must gun each other down while hunting for a pigeon that will carry a written letter to home base for support. As you hold the pigeon and begin to write, you’ll be highlighted on the map every few seconds, tipping the enemy team off to your location. Even if you manage to finish writing amidst the chaos, the enemy team can still deny you a point by shooting the bird down mid-flight. Escaping safely will land your team support from artillery teams. Why you’re writing to your infantry pals and not home to your mother is beyond me, however.
While War Pigeons is a worthy new addition to the series’ age-old formula, the game also combines the best aspects of modes like Conquest and Rush to make something else entirely new.
It’s called Operations and it is the best thing to happen to Battlefield in a long time. The mode mixes the point capture system of Conquest with the ticket system and progression of Rush and is the closest the series has ever gotten to delivering a true all-encompassing game type full of epic battles every time. Games are massive and span a series of levels or maps that depict actual battles from WWI.
Attackers have three battalions of 150 tickets each to overtake a section of map. Losing a battalion grants the attacking team access to the behemoth vehicles, which are meant to offer a helping hand to struggling teams. They vary in appearance from a massive air ship to a giant battleship or an armored train and offer a ton of fire power, requiring the opposing team to concentrate their resources to take out. They make an appearance in other modes as well and help to provide some variety in gameplay. They are also more-or-less are a replacement for the big fancy Levolution events introduced in Battlefield 4.
Speaking of new vehicles, my favorite one so far is without a doubt the horse. The horse can be used to ride in and out of battle and is more powerful than you might believe, able to withstanding anti-tank rounds at times and allowing you to dice up enemy squadrons with your melee attack. Flying is, of course, also back and better than ever with a more realistic damage model and less lock-on trickery from some of the more recent games.
In addition to the two new game modes, Battlefield 1 also delivers tried-and-true classics like TDM and Domination, alongside Conquest and Rush. While veterans will know what to expect from them, the drastically different atmospheres of the era that have been remarkably captured in DICE’s Frostbite engine will open your eyes to a whole new war. All nine vanilla maps look fantastic.
Argonne Forest is a real stand-out with its lush forest and sections that have been torn apart by the war. One of my personal favorites is Ballroom Blitz where both opposing forces fight over a beautiful French Chateau. It may also be the game’s very own Operation Metro, if you catch my drift, as there’s never a dull moment. The ballroom quickly fills with empty bullet casings and deadly gas from the frequent battles that partake here.
Overall, Battlefield’s 1 map selection may very well be some one of the best to-date. I don’t find the urge to skip any maps in a rotation, aside from Sinai Desert, perhaps. Personally, I feel that the map’s layout is a bit dull and originally put me off on playing the beta.
As mentioned earlier, Levolution is gone and, instead, structures can be destroyed much more realistically and the terrain can even be deformed with high-explosives. It harkens back to the golden age of Battlefield: Bad Company 2 when maps ended up looking drastically different at the end of a match versus the start of one.
Despite Battlefield 1’s focus on such an early setting, the choice of weapons and customization options can be a bit limiting and skins only unlock randomly through crates. (There’s also no character customization, so players looking to really personalize their soldier will be disappointed.) Weapon loadout choices also stray from the familiar path as players select from different loadout packages instead of individual attachments.
For instance, the Medic class only has five different guns, but each one comes in a different variant that alters the way the weapons is used. The Autoloading 8 is a semi-auto rifle that packs a punch, but the extended variant of the gun trades power for more bullets, tailoring it towards more close quarters engagements.
While the actual weapon count is much more focused than previous titles, each one demands a slightly higher learning curve as their recoil can be much harder to tame while aiming down sight. The majority of iron sights tend to get in your way and the lack of different optics doesn’t help much either. It may take some time for you to find your preferred firearm, too, as some of the starting guns aren’t exactly beginner-friendly like in past titles. But once you get used to it, things really starts to come together and kills are that much more rewarding because of it.
Breaking the curse of rough launches, Battlefield 1’s first few days out in the wild has been a pretty smooth ride when it comes to server issues and bugs. A few bugs here and there could be looked at, but I think DICE would do well to implement a few quality-of-life fixes.
One issue that sticks out is a no-brainer like Battlepacks being tied to progress instead of RNG. As it stands, the current system awards Battlepacks randomly at the end of a match to a select few players, regardless of how well they did. It means everyone has an equal chance, but it’d be nice to feel rewarded for your prowess.
I also think DICE desperately needs to add a firing range or some sort of practice modes into the game so players can get accustomed to different weapons and vehicles. It can be intimidating for newcomers who might be reluctant to try something new in fear of hindering the team. Vehicles aren’t plentiful, so I think everyone would feel a lot better if there were a chance to practice using them outside of combat. Even better: provide a tutorial for the Squad Leader mechanic as, currently, it doesn’t look like many people realize how many extra points can be earned by giving out commands in-game.
4.5 / 5
In my eyes, Battlefield 1 is definitely what the shooter genre needed right now. I think fans were looking for an out from the mundane and DICE’s latest project delivers just that while still crafting an experience that’s even more “Battlefield” than every before.
There may be a lack of diversity in weapon selection and customization options, but Battlefield 1 makes up for it in fun factor thanks to game modes like Operations, or even the ability to run around rampantly slicing and dicing through enemies while on a horse. It also doesn’t hurt that Battlefield 1 is easily the best looking multiplayer shooter to-date that still runs at 60FPS, or more on PC.
While the setting may not be as relatable, it delivers a level of immersion the series has yet to reach. If anything, a trip to the World War One era is more a chance for the team to focus the Battlefield experience to a more analog and skill-based affair than it is a lesson in history, which is fine by me.
Even if you’re not a fan of the series, Battlefield 1 is worth a try as it’s not quite like anything else out there at the moment.
This review is based on an Xbox One version of Battlefield 1 provided by EA.