Battlefield has always been about scale. While other shooters chose to focus on close infantry combat, the franchise has always aimed to create the atmosphere of its namesake. With the title comes expectations, and Battlefield 1 more than delivers here. Set amidst the great war, the surprisingly personal war stories and swathe of multiplayer modes really paint an engaging experience of World War I.
World War I is an underexplored conflict in shooter games. While many an RTS has put you in command of warring nations, Battlefield opts for a more ‘in the trenches’ approach. As the game begins you can see the respect and research with which the subject matter was treated, giving you an overview of the horrors and loss faced in this war to end all wars.
Where other Battlefields recently have fallen short, DICE have gone out on a limb for their single player experience. It’s a risk that pays off, swapping the standard protagonist lead revenge narrative for small vignettes that encompass the breadth of World War I. Each takes a really personal look at the conflicts that shaped the early 1900’s, ranging from Harlem Hellfighters to the ANZACs and Bedouin rebels.Each war story had quite a different feel to it too, but all had their merits. As an Australian, the Gallipoli campaign in particular resonated with me. I’ve heard about it all my life in school but powerfully enough I actually found a new appreciation of our part in history after battling my way up the Turkish beachfront. It’s still very much an action shooter campaign, with plenty of stylised set pieces, but the respect our world history was treated with here is quite impressive.
Other highlights include the female led campaign that tells a snippet of the Lawrence of Arabia tale and the tank campaign, feeling like a playable miniseries of the movie Fury. Each offered something quite different in terms of gameplay, with aspects of Far Cry outpost scouting/capture and air combat mixed throughout. It’s worth noting that while excellent, the war stories campaign is fairly short. The longest story had 4 sections, with the introductory and side stories only having one or two. I’d be very interested in seeing stories from the other side of the conflict too, not just the ‘victors’, if DICE ever felt like adding more in the future.Thanks to this short solo experience and the franchise’s long held multiplayer following, the online modes are where most people will spend the majority of their time. The new – or old – weapons provide a nice mix up of the standard formula, changing the pace of the combat retaining that classic feel. Bolt action rifles, lewis guns and early SMGs replace the repetitive weapons of the previous titles, simplifying your combat experience whilst keeping the core customisations open to you.
Along with the stellar new arsenal, Battlefield 1 adds a new multiplayer mode that puts you right into history. Operations lets you play an interconnected series of maps that plays out as a grand campaign, punctuated with historical cutscenes between rounds and pushes. Basically, it’s rush but huge, tasking two teams in a tug of war that extends over multiple maps. It’s a fantastic evolution of conquest and rush, mixing the rich history into excellent effect. You feel like you’re a part of something much bigger than a single multiplayer match, and it makes for quite the memorable experience.
Before I get into the rest of the multiplayer, I need to highlight the maps and set pieces of Battlefield 1. Put simply, the maps in the game are some of the most immersive and life-like I’ve ever come across. From the torn up trenches of St Quentin’s Scar to the Sinai Desert and a german fortress, each map in conquest shows off a theatre of war in an impressive way. Watching the battle train roll out and rain death on small towns or taking down a blimp barrage, biplanes flying everywhere, is honestly breathtaking.The rest of the multiplayer experience is fairly stock standard, offering fan favorite modes like Team Deathmatch and Conquest alongside new offerings that have you releasing messenger pigeons and capturing flags. It’s plenty to do for now, and even with this wealth of content most of my time was dedicated to the rush and conquest modes – easily the most engaging ways to play.
As for classes, the traditional titles carry over but have new importances on the battlefield. Given how fast you can die, a medic is a vital part of your squad. Be it the assault class with SMGs, the support’s LMG covering fire options and the scout’s excellent long range capabilities, every class feels authentic and useful on the field. Personally I fell into playing the medic class thanks to their semi auto rifles on smaller maps, while opting for scout on rush and conquest. There’s not much more satisfying than the ding of a helmet headshot as the enemy surges through your trenches.
The vehicles also play a huge role in Battlefield 1, with tanks and planes doing the heavy lifting on the field. Despite it feeling a little overpowered at times, the tanks are time accurate – death machines capable of tearing through infantry and becoming high priority targets to destroy. I found the flight controls to be rather painful on PC when using a mouse, but as always, with time and tweaks this becomes much more manageable. More importantly though, the power vehicles like the war train and blimp are absolutely insane advantages to the side that wields them. Thankfully there’s often enough time in most matches to come back from any devastation, but they should always be a priority for teams to make use of.Outside of actual combat, customisation is fairly limited, but it’s the drip feed of battlepacks giving you new skins and a chance at legendary melee weapons that keep you going. You also earn war bonds as you level to access higher weapons within each class, but I couldn’t help missing the levelling to unlock more guns rather than getting the opportunity to buy them. That said, there’s more than enough here to keep players invested till the next content drop DICE has planned.
Battlefield 1 is a stunning game, and easily the best Battlefield title since Bad Company and Battlefield 3. The ingenious War Stories campaign is a really meaningful and immersive look at a complex war, and the mutiplayer fomula perfectly lends itself to the new setting. Be it flying high above the battle or being pinned down in the muddy trenches, Battlefield 1 is an immersive and exhilirating shooter experience.
Developer: EA DICE
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, Playstation 4
Review copy provided by the publisher