If you had asked someone last year if they thought DICE would return to classic combat, let alone World War 1 specifically, you would have been laughed out of the room. As every other shooter franchise pushes towards the future, with more outlandish mechanics every year, DICE went in the opposite direction. As other developers included new super abilities and incredible movement options, DICE went to basics and completely stripped your garden variety mod-cons from your arsenal. It was a bold and risky move to take, but it has resulted in one of the most engaging first person shooters of recent years.
While so many interactive mediums look to glorify war to make it ever gratifying and engaging, DICE has taken the opposite tack in its campaign mode, instead focusing on the realities of war. The initial tutorial is one of the most striking I have encountered, beginning with no cutscenes and just simple text on a black screen. It tells you that war is not glorious, that it is truly horrible and that you are not expected to survive the tutorial mission. Wave after wave of enemy soldiers crash against you as you futilely fight them off until you run out of ammo and die helplessly in the mud. As you die, a name and the years of birth and death of your character flash on the screen. It humanises the soldiers you play as in a way that other shooters and games completely disregard. This isn’t meant to be happy, this isn’t meant to be fun, this was and is a black spot in our history and it should be viewed as such.
Another way Battlefield 1’s campaign differs from that of other shooters is that it isn’t a single overarching story. Instead, to show the scope and size of World War 1, the campaign is instead of series of War Stories, each telling a personal story from different perspectives and locations. We have the story of a young engineer, as he deals with his first experience on the front line and the deaths of those around him. We follow a young Italian soldier fighting to protect his twin brother from harm, and the tale of an experienced Australian soldier fighting to protect his young protégé the day after the initial assault on Gallipoli. Each of the War Stories tells a deeply personal and incredibly engaging story, going far beyond what I believed DICE were capable of. Each story is nuanced, showing both the good and bad of reactions and interactions during war. The real strength comes from the story never trying to pass judgement, instead striving to show how trying war is for everyone involved. DICE and Steven Hall need to be commended for what is a gloriously representation of the horrific nature of war and how they play on the psyche of all involved.
The immersion within these stories is helped immensely by the gritty art design and gunplay, the amazing graphics and destruction system, and the wonderfully well-crafted soundtrack. The muck and grime of trench warfare is there for all to see in Battlefield 1, but so are the beautiful vistas, weather effects and explosions. DICE balanced the dirtiness and desolation of war perfectly with sweeping tracts of land and incredibly detailed textures and effects. The destruction system is nothing short of incredible, as buildings fall apart around you in real time as they are hit by artillery fire and cover falls apart under enemy fire. This is supported by responsive controls hampered by heavy recoil, sometimes long reload times and limited munitions. That may sound like a negative, rather than a positive, but in this case, it feels right and never brings the experience down. Cars and tanks feel appropriately weighty when driving and planes feel incredibly light and agile. These elements are tied together by a wonderful musical score that rise and falls as you progress, never feeling out of place and leading me to leave the menus open more than once just to listen a bit more.
This all comes to a head in multiplayer, where the responsive controls and weighty vehicles are put to work for hours and hours. Unlike Battlefield 4 before it, Battlefield 1’s online system has worked perfectly for me from day one, with no drop outs and no problems finding matches. Latency hasn’t been an issue either, with no deaths being caused by lag. At a system level, Battlefield 1’s online systems are near perfect, which is a feat in itself after their previous troubles. Combined with a range of fun and interesting multiplayer modes, I see many coming back to Battlefield 1 for a long time to come.
While there is the standard Team Death Match mode, where many will spend most of their time, my favourite multiplayer mode in Battlefield 1 was one called Rush. In Rush the attackers need to destroy the enemy telegraph points, while the defenders need to protect them and can use them to call in artillery strikes. It’s a constant push and pull, as attackers overrun the defending forces, only to become the defenders themselves as they try to hold off the enemy until their planted explosives destroy the telegraph pole. War Pigeons is another interesting mode, in which a pigeon coop is randomly placed in the map. You then need to locate the coop, take the pigeon to open ground and release it, calling in artillery support. The ever-popular and ever-familiar Conquest returns as well, as you fight in large scale battles while attempting to take over and hold key objectives. Conquest truly is massive, with vehicles regularly being needed to easily traverse the map and Behemoth class vehicles spawning to help turn the tide of the battle. If that feels too big, there is always Domination, which takes Conquest onto a smaller map and focuses on infantry, as opposed to vehicles.
Elements from these standalone modes are combined to create the real meat of Battlefield 1’s multiplayer modes, Operations. Operations go beyond a single battle, instead spanning multiple maps, as you progress from battle to battle. These are all based on actual battles from World War 1 and bring an epic feel to the multiplayer in Battlefield 1. There is nothing quite like being defeated on a map, progressing to the next one and being able to see the previous map in the distance. Operations also allows DICE to hand craft several experiences for you to enjoy, leading to some incredibly well balanced and interesting encounters. The only negatives with Battlefield 1’s multiplayer comes from an inability to quit between games, instead forcing you to endure long load times waiting for the next game to start before you can quit. At present, DICE is patching the ability to quit games into Battlefield 1, but it boggles the mind that this wasn’t introduced before release.
Overall, Battlefield 1 is an incredible experience, both in the remarkably varied and excellent multiplayer modes, and the meticulously well-crafted and fantastically written War Stories for you to experience. Combine these with excellent shooting mechanics, gorgeous graphics and a wonderful soundtrack and it’s hard to see DICE being surpassed for quality. No matter your preference for single player or multiplayer experiences, Battlefield 1 has something for you and is well worth your money.
-War Stories are incredible experiences
-Graphics are nothing short of amazing
-Varied and engaging multiplayer modes
-Soundtrack is incredible
-Lack of ability to quit between multiplayer matches