Battlefield 1 is DICE’s latest entry into their beloved Battlefield series. You wouldn’t be able to tell by first glance, as Battlefield 1 goes a hundred years back in time to World War 1. Most popular first person shooters (Halo, Call of Duty) have cemented themselves in futuristic warfare. Battlefield 1 throws that to the wind and embraces an era of warfare gone by. It’s a bold move that is commendable on its own. Somehow, despite the radical change, DICE has managed to make the best Battlefield game in years. As always, I’ll dissect the game into it’s pieces, and story is up first.
The narrative of Battlefield 1 is unlike any of it’s predecessors. In fact, it’s unlike any other first person shooters out there. Rather than follow a singular protagonist through a story-line, the game breaks up its single player content into a mode called “War Stories”. This mode is broken up into six different chapters, all focusing on a different person in a different location. There’s a huge variety in the stories being told here, and it pays off in big ways for the gameplay. More importantly, this focus on characters and individual stories enables Battlefield to tell some truly emotional tales. Right out of the gate, the game embraces the horror of war. Long gone are the ideals of gleeful run-and-spray; this Battlefield embraces the ugly side of combat. The first text you see indicates that the upcoming level is “frontline combat. You are not expected to survive.” This harrowing words set up the most entertaining single player experience I’ve had with a modern war shooter.
The anthology storytelling allows for some awesome points of view. We follow a group of men in a tank storming enemy lines, as well as a pilot who steals a plane. There’s also an entire story set in beautiful Arabia, and a story-line that follows a high-risk operative unit. It provides for some content that doesn’t make the war the focus. This reinforces the gameplay motivation, and so much more. Having a good narrative drive is essential in first person shooters, and Battlefield 1 nails it.
Next up is gameplay. Battlefield 1 has always been a sort of love or hate affair. It’s a series that favors vehicle combat and the entire scope of the battlefield, rather than the moment to moment combat of Call of Duty. This is pushed even harder in Battlefield 1. As I noted earlier, entire stories follow a tank crew and a pilot. These chapters are almost entirely spent behind the controls of a vehicle. The game has plenty of first person shooting to balance it out, but my point stands nonetheless. Gamers looking for nonstop gun-play action might be a little let down. I often found myself conserving ammunition and planning my route of attacks when on the ground. Battlefield 1 is more about intelligent use of the combat field and communication. Simply being a good shot won’t get you very far on Normal difficulty.
Beyond the vehicle sections, there are some other very unique scenarios that I won’t spoil, but these perspective changes are done well to keep the immersion established. If there’s one thing the game succeeds at, it’s at playing with your perspective. Throughout the entire campaign, I always felt like I was a small part of a bigger battle. Whether I was single handedly assaulting a fort, running through No Man’s Land, or taking cover in a ruined house, I always felt like a part of something bigger. Battlefield truly captures the feeling of being in an all out war. I give a lot of credit to the sound design, and I’ll detail that later. It’s simply worth pointing out how well the game handles immersing the player. My biggest gripe is the length of “War Stories”. There are field manuals to collect to bring you back, but a simple play-through will only take about six to seven hours.
For fans of the more tech side of the gun-play, you’ll be happy to find that there’s a vast selection of weaponry and vehicles to man. Additionally, the console version has a plethora of options to tweak in the controls menu. The ability to change things like POV and hit marker colors was refreshing and welcome. I hope to see more developers implementing options we commonly see on PC in the future. Overall, the game controls fantastically. The options are widely customizable, and the combat feels good.
On the graphical side, I have no complaints. Battlefield 1 is a gorgeous game, and I often found myself marveling at the vistas I found myself gazing upon. The game has a built in dynamic resolution system, favoring frames per second over graphical fidelity. This works well, ensuring that you always have a smooth gameplay experience. It also helps make all the visual set-pieces look the best they can, with minimal slowdown. There’s some nice weather effects, with a noticeable fog effect in the tank mission being a highlight. Most of the locations you’ll visit throughout the campaign are far from beautiful. The hellscape of No Man’s Land, covered in burnt bodies and spent shells, is definitely not “pretty”. However, the game’s pure visual prowess makes even this nightmare fuel look good. You won’t have to feel bad about appreciating some other beautiful moments of the game, though. The pilot story in specific has some jaw-dropping beautiful vistas. This amplifies the destruction that much more.
There’s something to be said about the destruction of the environment, too. The Battlefield series has always been known for its destructible environments, and this entry is no exception. Firing a huge tank shell at a nearby house will almost surely make it come crumbling down. This effects the gameplay as well, ensuring that no cover is safe forever. I found it more effective as a visual treat, though. Nonetheless, the destruction systems here are top notch.
On the audio side, I have to congratulate DICE. The audio in Battlefield 1 is some of the best I’ve heard ever. Every bullet, gun, and vehicle has a distinctive sound. Every sound is crisp, clear, and perfectly mastered. Large shells have that guttural chunk when being loaded, and ricochet’s wiz and ding off in the distance. Layer these sounds on top of each other combined with the overall chaos of the warscape, and there’s little need for music. The sound design is so good, the bullets and screams make a sort of orchestra of war. This assault on your ears makes it that much more effect when the music roars into play. The score will lean in on epic moments in battle, as well as touching emotional moments in the narrative. The music design is also top tier, and fits in well with the large amount of sound effects cluttering the audioscape.
Multiplayer is a large staple of the Battlefield series, and this one will be a bit tricky to judge. I don’t doubt that people will be playing it until the next Battlefield releases, but it’s hard to say if they will ever see the success they saw with games like Bad Company 2. For those who stick with the game, there’s an assortment of fan favorite modes with a few new ones peppered in. Genre staples like Team Deathmatch are represented, along with long time classics like Conquest. There’s also new more inventive modes, like one where you focus on delivering message pigeons across the battlefield. I enjoyed playing matches like this, but I feel like these modes but dry up after a few weeks, as the player base migrates towards the more classic modes. Progression systems are all in play here as well, ensuring that you’ll have customization and challenges to complete as time goes on. DICE and EA have been good about updating their online offerings throughout the year, so hopefully the multiplayer offerings will keep expanding.
Overall, Battlefield 1 is a refreshing and badly needed switch in first person war titles. The focus on anthology storytelling and heartfelt narrative really paid off, as I felt more invested in this single player mode than I have in years. Battlefield usually struggles with their single player offerings, so I was glad to see them hit it out of the park. The campaign isn’t as long as I’d like it to be, but hopefully we will see more of it in the future. The game looks fantastic and sounds even better, as DICE manages to nail the presentation once again. Multiplayer hasn’t seen any huge changes, but still remains fun for those who enjoy large scale combat. Fans of run-and-gun might find Battlefield’s combat a bit too strategic for them, but most should find it fun and exciting. For those looking for an intelligent shooter with some long term multiplayer to rely on, Battlefield 1 is a great choice. Fans of quicker shooters like Call of Duty or Halo might not enjoy it, but that’s a toss up. For fans of the series, I recommend purchasing it at full price. Those who are unsure, I recommend waiting for a small discount or renting it first.