Battlefield 1 is stunning. The depiction of World War I in a video game has never felt more real, both graphically and emotionally. Battlefield 1 strikes a chord that has been absent in recent war first person shooters. Though the single-player campaign is forgettable, the mood that is set here, as well as in the game’s phenomenal multiplayer, leads to a greater understanding of the scale and the violence of The Great War.
In the tradition of Battlefield’s large-scale warfare, Battlefield 1’s multiplayer knocks it out of the park. The formula has been basically the same ever since the franchise’s first installment, “Battlefield 1942,” released over 10 years ago. Class-based infantry battles combined with weighty vehicles and intelligently designed maps have been a common theme throughout the franchise and they can be found again here in full force. The charm of the scenarios that play out when 64 players are thrown together can be summed up in the game’s tagline, “Only in Battlefield.”
Battlefield 1’s multiplayer comes with nine orgiastic maps, new game modes, intuitively re-balanced classes, a new vehicle mechanic and larger-than-life behemoths that devastate the playing field.
The nine maps that are available at launch feature a good sample of deserts, mountains, cities, planes and a lot of trenches. They are unique, with their castles and forts right down to the placement of their field guns and anti-air turrets. It feels like everything was placed with definite purpose as opposed to past installments. Gone are the days of “level-ution,” where one event would happen on a map that would slightly change the way the map played. In its place is a dynamic weather system that changes everything going on in the map. On “Sinai Desert,” for instance, the moment the sandstorm picks up players lose visibility beyond 20 meters in front of their faces. Snipers become aimless and bi-planes need to fly high above the ground in order to see. I even had one instance where I was flying in a fog on the map “Monte Grappa,” where I had no idea what was up or down. I ended up slamming into the ground, taking my two squad mates with me. It feels like players need to adapt on the fly to weather conditions, and a perfectly timed storm in the last few minutes of a match could completely change the outcome.
Additionally the third iteration of the Frostbite engine is hard at work. Almost everything is destructible. See a sniper in a windmill? Blow it up. An anti-air gun on a castle wall giving your pilots trouble? Blow it up. Enemy team hiding in the house of a village? Blow it all up!
Sure, it’s a mark of the next generation of gaming to be able to destroy things in the game at your leisure, but the most important aspect of this level of destruction is the sensation you get when you compare the way a map looks at the beginning of a round, with the way it looks after 30 minutes of all-out warfare. In other games you play a match and in the post-game scoreboard you see the map, the same way it was before you got there almost as if nothing you did mattered. In Battlefield 1, where farmhouses and windmills and entire towns once stood, there are instead flat plains filled with rubble and dead bodies. This feeling not only works to signify the passage of time but also to have players glean what World War I was like: a war where technology altered much of Europe’s landscape.
The game’s newest game mode “Operations” is just what this franchise needed. It symbolizes an important middle ground between the often referred to as “running-simulator” of conquest and the small-scale objective-based “Rush.” In Operations, teams with between 20-32 players face off in campaign-style combat that carries over from map to map. The attackers have three attempts to push through all of the defenders flag-like objectives until they win. What follows can simply be described as attackers throwing themselves over and over again at capture points until they run out of tickets, or the defender’s line breaks.
This game mode is important for two reasons: for one, it fills a specific role as a game mode for players who have time for more than one 10 minute match and want to do something that feels more meaningful, and two, it accurately embodies the idea of unreasonable amounts of casualties just to capture a single position. This is the theme that runs throughout the history of World War I, and players can feel that grim tone as they watch the number of lives their team has trickle down from 130 to 15 in two minutes. These deaths became a number and it speaks to the nature of the war.
The classes this time around have been re-balanced and given new purpose.
The assault class now fills the role of previous game’s “engineer” in that it is the best at destroying vehicles and has powerful close-range submachine guns.
The medic class is once again granted the ability to resurrect soldiers from the beyond, this time with a syringe filled with adrenaline. The medic class also wields “self-loading” rifles that allow them to defend themselves but are not exceptional at killing more than two enemies at a time.
The support class remains largely unchanged, wielding large machine guns and toting ammo reserves for allies.
The scout class once again is the sniper class but the focus –– because UAV technology wasn’t invented yet –– is on spotting enemies for your team through use of flares or the long-range telescopic sights.
These classes may not sound so different from past Battlefields but the difference lies in the necessity for all four in a squad. In previous games, the assault class had powerful assault rifles and access to health packs and revives, making it almost always the go-to class. In Battlefield 1, when your squad doesn’t have a support, you will run out of bullets. When there is a tank ravaging your team, you need a player on the assault class to destroy it quickly. Each class has purpose that cannot be fulfilled by the others, and that leads to teams with class variety.
Up next is the game’s tank and pilot class mechanic. Now, when you spawn in a tank or a plane you are granted the ability to repair the vehicle, without having to get out. The trade-off is that you are given a weaker weapon and no helpful equipment outside of driving. So far the most emotional roller-coaster ride I’ve been on in Battlefield 1 has involved my plane being shot down behind enemy lines and trying to find my way back to my team. Crawling back to my team was terrifying knowing that if I had to engage more than one player, I was going to die because of my pistol-like primary weapon. This change is a welcomed one and it spices up gameplay for sure.
Last but not least for the game’s multiplayer is the introduction of Behemoths. These three vehicles, A destroyer-class ship, an armored train mounted with cannons and a zeppelin each devastate the maps they fight on, and they are usually given to the losing team. This allows what would once be one-sided steam-rolls into surprisingly even games narrated by these vehicles that make or break a team. Used correctly, they can destroy entire towns and siege castles. When used incorrectly, they can leave your team without a chance.
The beauty in these behemoths lies in proper teamwork, both when piloting them or destroying them. When every gun on the armored train is firing and is plowing through enemies, you grin knowing that it is on your side. Similarly when your team is focusing down the gondolas of the zeppelin to destroy all of its turrets and the whole thing slams into the ground in a fiery inferno leaving a metal corpse on the battlefield, you might freeze in a moment of triumph. These vehicles make the already jaw-dropping action of Battlefield even more cinematic.
There are a few glitches, however, and they need to be fixed. The loading times for operations often exceed a minute, and in many game modes, the option to quit in-between games is absent and requires the player to instead close out of the game all together.
And then there’s the single-player campaign.
The heart of the problem for the single player campaign is not that it’s trying to re-invent the wheel in terms of a one-character-driven story line, but that the game kicks off with this morose depiction of death in war, and jumps to a forgettable, and sometimes comedic narrative that winds up being a glorified tutorial for things like flying a plane or driving a tank.
The prologue mission “Storm of Steel” follows the lives, and the inevitable deaths, of some of the Harlem Hellfighters as they struggle to hold the line against infinite German forces. You fight and fight but eventually you die, no matter what, and you are left with a cut scene between a German and a Hellfighter where the two of you, beholding the death around you, decide to lower your weapons. This intro was so good, that I really felt let down with the rest of the campaign. There are good moments, such as the storming of a castle by yourself, or sneaking through enemy camps under the cover of darkness, but these don’t make up for the flat characters. The gravity of the prologue created dissonance when it came to the story missions because the theme wasn’t clear. Was the single-player supposed to focus on the horror of war, or was it supposed to shine light on individuals in said war? The stories, as I said, are forgettable, and in the end serve as something to do when the online services are down.
On the whole, Battlefield 1’s single-player provides a break from the humdrum campaigns of other First Person Shooters but doesn’t hold up to the large-scale adrenaline rush that is this game’s multiplayer.