Battlefield 1 is one of the best-looking and most dynamic shooters ever made, and appropriately honors its World War I themes and setting.
In 2011 Battlefield 3 brought developer DICE’s epic multiplayer shooter series back in a big way, quickly becoming the fastest-selling game ever for publisher Electronic Arts. The franchise was never really gone, but BF3 served as a semi-relaunch of the core series and an introduction to the impressively upgraded Frostbite game engine. It didn’t take long for a sequel to rush out the gates in Battlefield 4 which suffered from stability issues at launch, and even less time for EA to assign another developer in Visceral Games to rush out a forgettable spinoff in Battlefield: Hardline.
With modern and future-set shooters dominating the market, the Battlefield series losing some its luster over some negative buzz on its last two releases, and a lack of period-set “triple-A” games on current-generation consoles, EA and DICE made the brilliantly timed move to unveil Battlefield 1 – its title reflective of its World War I setting. And it’s one of the best games of the year and of the franchise.
DICE went back to basics with Battlefield 1 in several ways and for the better. Gone is the Battlelog browser system PC users had to endure for the last three franchise installments, replaced with a console-like in-game client for jumping into multiplayer sessions. Also gone are the grind-heavy progression systems and awkward Battlepacks and microtransactions (at least, so far), which hid some content behind a gambling machine. In fact, the majority of the 18 features and changes we listed as must-haves for the fifth ‘core’ Battlefield game (back when it was referred to as Battlefield 5) DICE actually implemented and the product is much better for it compared to its predecessors.
Back to Basics Approach Works to Battlefield 1’s Benefit
On its surface, Battlefield 1 is largely similar to its predecessors, simply set a century in the past. There’s a single-player campaign like the last few games alongside the real focus of the game, multiplayer. At launch, there are significantly less modes and options than dedicated players may remember from BF3 and BF4, and things like Hardcore mode (which removes HUD elements and makes bullets far more effective) are not yet available.
There are only four returning modes (Conquest, Domination, Rush, Team Deathmatch) in addition to the new War Pigeons mode in the standard multiplayer which players can filter by, and that’s enough for now, helping ensure the player base isn’t too splintered. The notable addition however, comes in the all-new Operations mode, a game type entirely separate from the standard multiplayer. This is where DICE takes full advantage of Battlefield 1’s WW1 setting and its large-scale, highly destructible maps.
Unlike standard singular multiplayer matches, Operations are best described as ongoing battles across multiple locations. It’s an attack and defend scenario utilizing everything the game has to offer where the attackers must capture and hold certain locations in order to advance to the next territory. If one side is dominating another later in the game, a gigantic Behemoth comes into play – bringing a player controlled war blimp, battleship, or heavily armed train into the arena.
Operations mode is the next generation of Battlefield style gameplay and fits perfectly into the well-established franchise formula, adding more context, purpose, and dynamics to the conquest and rush mode styles of gameplay. And it’s all made better by the industry-leading graphical prowess of the game itself which runs smoothly on consoles as well as spec-appropriate PCs. Battlefield 1 is a desktop wallpaper maker. In any session, taking screenshots and browsing them afterwards is smile-inducing. There’s nothing like it on that front, and it’s partly thanks to the dynamic weather effects which completely change the game mid-match and are different depending on the location. Sniping doesn’t work too well during a sandstorm.
The nitty gritty layers of Battlefield 1 are simplified as well. Weapon attachments for instance, don’t have to be unlocked by getting a certain amount of points or kills per weapon, and they aren’t hidden away in battlepacks. Instead, the game’s four playable multiplayer classes are back (along with sub-classes for tank operators and pilots) and can be leveled up simply with experience. And with each class tier achieved, a few more weapons become purchasable with the in-game warbucks currency. When customizating a loadout in-game, the skins and attachments can be adjusted without having to unlock them piece by piece, helping keep the game simple and more balanced and period-appropriate.
A Campaign That Matters
Battlefield 1 gives the core BF series its first memorable and exciting campaign, a notable step up from the last three game, and it gives it some authentic meaning. War doesn’t end well. It’s gruesome at times, depressing in others, and always dirty and muddy. And there was nothing pretty about trench warfare or any of the various World War I campaigns which are explored in five separate War Stories – and similar to the multiplayer Operations – choosing missions is visualized though a view of the planet, reinforcing the themes of the game.
Each War Story highlights different core gameplay features and mechanics, beginning with British tanks and aerial combat, and concluding with playing as a heavily armored Italian sentry before riding horseback in the desert. The campaign is short and can be completed in just over four hours, but its memorable set piece gameplay allows for replayability and serves as a worthy tutorial for the varied multiplayer gameplay mechanics and learning the various weapons and tools, which – as expected from DICE – all look, animate, sound, and play well and authentically.
There’s Still Work To Be Done
Battlefield 1 offers a little less content than some of its predecessors and certainly less than its chief competitor in the Call of Duty franchise but it trades that for more polish at launch and a sense of quality over quantity. Battlefield 1’s maps may be larger, but multiplayer is still capped at 64 players on all platforms even after 14 years of iterations; its campaign is shorter and there are no co-op modes to speak of. BF1 simply iterates on previous installments and keeps that familiar feeling without really pushing the envelope outside of adding Operations.
Other details are noticeably absent as well. Players cannot customize their soldier (but can customize their emblem with the mobile companion app) and there are no female characters in multiplayer. The medals system is almost not even worth paying attention to, and their are still interface issues when it comes to unlocking weapons and customizing classes – which inexplicably cannot be done in the game’s main menu. And despite using an EA Origin account on all platforms, progress isn’t shared between them meaning if you happen to play on consoles and PC, progression does not transfer.
There are also still some hurdles to the team-based gameplay where squads are frequently all locked when joining an Operation or larger multiplayer match or you can be stuck with a squad leader who doesn’t give orders with no way to replace them, which defeats the purpose of team play and the bonus experienced earned for playing the objective. And yes, EA and DICE still have yet to address profanity and inappropriate racial slurs in chat on the PC version:
Along with upcoming new content, including the ‘coming soon’ custom modes appearing in Battlefield 1’s main menu, some of these things will be addressed as Battlefield 1 evolves. Make no mistake, despite these issues, Battlefield 1 is an impressive game that plays better than its predecessors at launch.
Battlefield 1 is a remarkable achievement in gameplay and map design, and is easily one of the best and most refreshing shooters and multiplayer games of 2016, raising the bar on what to expect from future EA action games. And from the get-go, DICE is involving the community, as best exemplified from gameplay tutorial videos from popular Battlefield YouTubers built right into the main menu.
If you like shooters or have ever had an interest in the series, Battlefield 1 is a must-play.
Battlefield 1 is available for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.