Battlefield 1 Review
Confronting action on beautiful and varied online battlegrounds
The Battlefield series has made a dramatic turn this year, venturing back 100 years to cover the First World War. Between 1914 and 1918, this devastating conflict resulted in around 40 million casualties across Europe, the Middle East, and other parts of the globe. WW1 was a pivotal moment in the history of warfare. The first ever tank battles occurred late in the war and they featured rhomboid-shaped units that were capable of crossing over trenches. Biplanes equipped with synchronized machineguns marked the start of aerial combat. And chemical warfare was first deployed to try and break the infantry stalemate. Like their previous games, the developers of Battlefield 1 have not set out to make a simulation; instead they have created an online shooter concerned with balance, variety, and entertainment. Battlefield 1 leverages this fierce setting to produce one of DICE's best games in years.
In Battlefield 1, the blimp rides are free
In multiplayer, WW1 provides many thematic changes that are a good fit for the franchise. Due to the technology available a century ago, the action goes back to basics. Self-guided weapon systems are absent, and apart from placed mines, each death is the direct result of immediate player input. Soldiers no longer appear on the mini-map when shooting, and they can now charge with bayonets and use a gas mask to protect from thick poison clouds. Enemies can still be spotted, and this is more important than ever because flanking is delightfully effective. The relatively primitive action results in more intermingling between warring forces and helps showcase the vicious melee kills.
Soldiers are comprised of four classes, grouped in squads of up to five; Medics revive, Supports occasionally give ammo, Assaults try to destroy tanks, and Scouts perch themselves atop a hill in hopes of a one-in-a-million sniper shot. Player movement is brisk and mantling works nearly flawlessly over high walls. Transport vehicles are scarce, so ground troops will be running often.
Elite classes are an additional type of soldier, equipped by using specific weapon crates found across the maps. The Flame Trooper is one example and he can pierce the fog with streams of liquid fire, a nightmare for those stuck in trenches. With plated armor and a powerful machine gun, the Sentry Trooper has a hefty advantage over normal soldiers. If these special troopers are kept healthy by teammates, they can wreak even more devastation. Elite classes bring fear and can push the frontline, but their impact is usually short-lived.
The unstoppable force meets the immovable object—don't try this at home
Vehicles are formidable but not indestructible. Tanks can be taken down with a multitude of options—grenades, rocket-guns, k-bullets, and dynamite—and the flimsy Aircraft are vulnerable to small-arms fire. Horses are a different kind of vehicle, as they may not go exactly where you desire while you attempt to cut down foes with a sword. When spawning into vehicles, players are given a distinctive loadout, so the expectation is that they will stay until the bitter end. Players that previously used tanks when the situation called for it might find themselves avoiding them altogether. The vehicles and their specific classes will require some adjustment for series veterans.
So the multiplayer foundations are solid and adapted to the setting, but the maps (and modes) will determine the game’s longevity. There are nine maps available, and all can be played across the six game modes—Conquest, Rush, Operations, Team Deathmatch, Domination, and War Pigeons.
Conquest is still one of the most popular modes. Many of the maps are fairly linear this time, yet bottlenecks are minimal due to the width and multi-route structure. Trapping a team into their spawn was rare and temporary. From the sand dunes of the infantry-focused Suez map to the wide open map set in a French country town, the battles are quite freeform. Even the city map, Amiens, with its alleyways and narrow streets, had no persistent stalemates. The variety and open designs of the maps will provide great life for the multiplayer.
New Behemoth units are designed to potentially change the tide of Conquest matches. These massive vehicles are given to the team that is losing, so they can appear early if the sides are particularly uneven. The struggling team will receive an armoured train, an airship, or a battleship depending on the map. Soldiers can enter them and bombard targets, helping their team regain some ground, or just use them as a spawn point. These mega-vehicles also keep the superior team distracted. Although not all maps use the Behemoths equally, they are a clever way to rebalance matches and did produce closer games.
Rush mode is part of the reason why the Conquest maps are more linear, since it features a chain of stages with the attacking team attempting to push the frontline. Charging down the hillside together as one team, while dodging sniper fire and artillery explosions, is thrilling. Objectives are located around points of interest—train stations, bunkers, and trenches—with appropriate cover. Resources are carefully distributed to extend the battle; vehicles favor attackers early and the final stage is highly defensible. Narrow approaches are mostly absent, so getting back into the fray no longer feels like a war of attrition. The Rush mode in Battlefield 1 is one of the best implementations in the series to date.
The graveyard is an apt start for the attackers on Monte Grappa
Operations is a new mode, and it is similar to Rush, only with flags that must be held and more players involved. The attackers have three chances to win over several maps, and, should they fail early, a Behemoth unit will help their cause. Defenders rarely needed assistance. With up to 64 players, the mode is chaotic and lengthy. The action density results in insanity that was previously reserved for those compressed infantry maps like Operation Metro from Battlefield 3, so it might be too hectic for some.
The biggest problem for Operations is actually getting a game because it is not listed in the server browser or quick play. Using the matchmaking could place you in an underpopulated server or a nearly-finished game. Once an Operation is complete, players are kicked back to the menu. This is a horrible setup for a decent mode, and it hurts even more because all other modes are quick and easy to join.
Domination and Team Deathmatch are infantry-only modes that squeeze the action into shorter rounds on smaller maps. As with the last Battlefield games, they use the most detailed parts of the large maps—the peninsular fort in Empire’s Edge, the French chateau in Ballroom Blitz, and the train wreck in Argonne forest. Given the high detail across the large maps, there was an opportunity to use two or three different sections, but there are only nine maps for each mode. Spawn points are usually sensible, placing soldiers behind their captured flags or far away from the action. Elite classes are available in these modes and they can sway the outcome. These constrained modes are good for quick and simple combat.
War Pigeons is another small mode, yet it shares a similar design mantra to Operations—force as many players to go for the same objective at one time. In this case, the objective is a harmless pigeon. Both sides rush towards the randomly-spawned neutral pigeon and try to release it after writing a note. Writing goes faster when standing still. So the mode is basically King of the Hill (or Hardpoint) where the pigeon carrier stumbles into a natural defensive spot. Since the mode is so fast, the defenders often scramble to the edge of the map and try their best to survive the onslaught. After that, the pigeon can be shot out of the air, starting the whole process again. The frantic nature of this mode can be appealing, although like Operations it can get a little crazy.
There are not many bad combinations across all six gameplay modes. While there are differences in intensity, great effort has been made to ensure that every combination works properly. Map layouts, flag positioning, class gadgetry, Behemoth units, Elite classes, spawning locations, and weapon balancing all work together to produce one of the most consistent Battlefield games to date.
And whatever mode you end up playing, there will be no shortage of those jaw-dropping, unscripted moments. You might be laying down suppressing fire on a hillside and see bodies tumble down the slopes while an airship goes up in flames. Or maybe a friendly soldier falls to sniper fire and you utilize the cover of newly-formed craters to revive him. It could be as simple as charging through the dense fog and piercing an enemy’s chest with a bayonet. These electrifying moments are everywhere and help mitigate the pain of a loss.
This is fine
The main disappointment when it comes to multiplayer is that it feels lacking in some areas. The French and Russian armies are disappointingly absent, an insult to both nations given their large casualties during the war. France will appear in its own DLC and it might focus on trench warfare since it is also currently underrepresented. It is barely worth mentioning the naval combat, as there are just two maps with a few torpedo boats on each. The other letdown is the limited number of weapons and paltry customisation options. Connoisseurs of Battlefield’s weaponry (and attachments) will find themselves stuck with maybe half a dozen primary weapons for each class and fixed attachment setups. It makes balancing easier, but players who thrive on weapon variety are going to want more.
DICE’s games always have bugs, and that is not an excuse, just a resignation to the fact. Compared to Battlefield 4’s launch, just about everything is smoother. Most importantly, the online servers were stable and there was none of that horrendous rubber-banding lag. But the minor bugs are varied and ubiquitous. Going prone on the edge of battlements sometimes resulted in a Superman-like launch outwards. Cavalry had trouble with their weapons, swinging a rifle like it was a sword. Players that get revived might find their weapon views locked, unable to fire. Transport vehicles had the tendency to just vanish, leaving you stranded in the scorching desert. And after our team was reinforced by an Airship, it began to rapidly lose health for no reason and killed all occupants within seconds of spawning.
There are more feature problems than technical issues. In-game menus are clumsy, and they lack some functionality that was present in the older Battlelog setup. There is no text-chat between rounds, and the quit button vanishes too quickly after the end of rounds. Class loadouts cannot be adjusted before respawning, unless you skip revives which punishes medics risking life and limb to provide triage. Some of these may be changed in the future, but it could take months given DICE typically take a while to fix issues.
Multiplayer is the core, but single player is still part of the package. As with previous games, it’s more of an appetizer to the online action with many tutorial-like sequences. The developers have taken a different approach with the narrative; the campaign takes place across multiple theatres in different war stories. Each story is self-contained with third-person, pre-rendered cut scenes. The campaign typically looks great, but its content varies from poor to average.
No Man's Land looks great but don't expect too much gameplay
The longest and best war story is about a tank driver. Players will control one of the earliest WWI tanks to smash through buildings, clear trenches, destroy artillery, and combat other armoured units. They must also escort the tank through a hazy forest on foot, trying their best to ignore the invisible walls and restrictive game spaces. Later, they can mow down stupid ground troops and self-repair between tank waves. The highlight of the mission was actually out of the tank, requiring players to infiltrate a German-occupied French town under the cover of darkness.
The war story featuring an ace pilot, who steals a fighter plane by somehow tying another character's legs to a chair, also happens to be the worst. It amounts to little more than shooting targets in the air and occasionally crashing into friendly aircraft. After getting shot down, you must navigate across no man's land to get back into friendly territory. Sneaking through the mud, littered with dead soldiers half-consumed by the earth, is a great visual showcase, but little more. Also, as the third story, it introduces shell-casing lures for stealth, despite them being useful in the previous story. You can also throw lures at the feet of enemies until the cows come home. The tiny game spaces are lazy, forcing players to go directly through enemies even though there appears to be a safer way around. Many problems found in this story are present in some capacity across all missions.
The most straightforward story involves an Italian elite trooper that uses plated armor and a sizable machine gun to decimate mindless enemies on a mountain side. It's a shooting gallery to demonstrate one of the Elite classes. Player objectives are provided by a contrived retelling of events. The AI is a huge detraction here, as groups of soldiers nonchalantly run past you as though you were invisible. Ultimately it’s a brief and empty action sequence that also lacks its intended emotional impact.
The final story is staged across the deserts of the Middle East and it contains the most battlefield-like experience of all, allowing players to snipe, drive a tank, ride a horse, or just sneak through enemy patrols. Unfortunately it takes place on a level that is an exact copy of one of the multiplayer maps. At the very least it ends with a dramatic moment that will become a familiar sight during multiplayer matches.
Play the final war story for the wrist cuff graphics
The war story approach does not work that well in Battlefield 1, as the individual pieces lack substance and are too brief to do justice to such a massive conflict. The five to seven hour campaign does not say much more than what is summarized during the concluding video sequence. While there are some nice visual and atmospheric moments, the majority of the campaign is shallow and sloppy. DICE's perseverance with a single player has yet to pay off, and quality-wise it may be going in the opposite direction of their graphical prowess.
Frostbite has long been an amazing looking engine, so much so that EA are now using it across many other titles. The visual quality remains high in Battlefield 1, with awesome detail across both the multiplayer and campaign. Random weather conditions are present in multiplayer (fog, sandstorms, rain) and this does change the gameplay because view distances and sound propagation alters. Particularly impressive are the forest locales, superseding Endor from Star Wars: Battlefront with unbelievable ground textures and mesmerizing moss-covered rocks. Building destruction and ground deformation continue to play their part, with the former being most obvious under an artillery barrage and the latter providing a useful hiding spot. Consider playing the campaign with no HUD to get the most out of the experience.
Sound quality remains exceptional, with explosions, soldier screams, and ambient audio creating sublime aural sensations. Hearing a plane dive for a strafing run, followed by a train whistle in the distance, is just an example of how the audio telegraphs the action so intricately. Nearby soldiers will also talk during the action, giving praise when enemies perish under fire. Soldiers’ boots make clanking noises when running over spent artillery shells and their uniforms tear when brushing against barbed wire. Hearing the deep grumble of a tank roll in through the mist is something else. When it comes to sound and visuals, Frostbite is still on top.
Argonne forest is almost too beautiful to fight in, almost
The Great War was a horrific event and resulted in a massive loss of life for millions of brave soldiers, but it also happens to be an excellent setting for the Battlefield franchise. Battlefield 1 captures some of the brutality, with powerful melee kills, poison gas clouds, horse riding, and game-changing Behemoth units. It also provides a refreshing change of pace for the series, focusing on the basics and implementing maps that offer great freedom and variety across enjoyable gameplay modes. Battlefield 1 is a brilliant online game with ferocious action and refined mechanics, but some minor issues prevent it from being DICE’s pièce de résistance.