Battlefield has managed to come a long way over time without really changing. If Dice decided to re-release Battlefield 1942, the game that started it all, it would be instantly recognisable to the millions of younger fans who have only played the newest entries in the series. Conquest is the main game mode, you fight across war-ravaged towns and meadows using a wide variety of weapons, tanks and aircraft to try and defend or assault positions. The actual fun of the game is still the same chaotic sandbox-style multiplayer violence. This isn’t meant as a criticism by the way, Dice have somehow managed to keep this pure and incredibly fun core while constantly updating the rest of the package that surrounds it, to the point where Battlefield 1 is easily one of the most impressive first-person shooters currently played. The graphics are cutting-edge, the multiplayer infrastructure is finally strong enough to cope with the huge numbers of player (most of the time) and a new time period manages to make a familiar game feel fresh again. On top of that Dice have managed to create a compelling (if brief) single player campaign that would be worth paying for alone. That’s not something I expected to write about a Battlefield game that doesn’t have ‘Bad Company’ somewhere in the title.
When Battlefield 1 was announced as being set in World War One, many gamers were appropriately concerned. Most people’s view of World War One was that it was a dull yet horrifically torturous affair that managed to suck the joy out of an entire continent. It had none of the heroism or daring raids of World War Two, none of the might of technology on display that has characterised wars since Vietnam, and none of the honour and chivalry that we romanticise into wars pre-1900. Instead it mostly seemed to involve mud, a lack of movement, and a horrific death toll for very little or no gains. Not exactly the perfect setting for a multiplayer game.
Dice clearly realised this and have instead decided to create a vaguely believable ‘based-on’ version of World War One. All of the weapons, the vehicles, the places and even many of the characters from the campaign are at least based on real things from the war. Perhaps they were hardly used, or only ever tested, perhaps they’ve been slightly exaggerated or modified to make things more exciting, but nothing is completely out of place. This means that rather than a historically accurate battle simulator, we get a game where you can stand on top of a giant zeppelin, throwing grenades hundreds of feet down on to a giant tank that’s charging across trenches bellowing fire from both sides chasing down a heavily armoured man carrying a giant machine gun. No-one’s saying it definitely did happen like that, but technically it could have. Kind of.
Regardless of the accuracy, what we have is an incredibly fun game. The campaign is split up into five hour and a half sections that demonstrate specific mechanics within the game. Each one tells a surprisingly touching story about one person’s experience of the war and the narrative touches are difficult to fault. These are over-the-top stories of bravery, deception, and luck. They don’t truly delve into the horrors of war, but there’s definitely an element of that, and each fo the characters are interesting in their own way, rather than being the two-dimensional ‘soldier’ stereotypes we’re used to in previous campaigns.
The first sees you as a young soldier joining a tank crew Fury-style as they head towards a particularly brutal battle. You fight over tanks, assault a town and even lead the tank through ambushes in a foggy wood and get to do some sniping before that story comes to a close. Another has you essentially stealing a plane and getting involved in some of the most ludicrous air battles I’ve ever seen in a game. The third has you donning heavy armour to plough through the Italian Alps trying to protect your brother. One involves storming a beach as an elite Australian soldier, trying to protect a younger newbie. The final mission involves Lawrence of Arabia and an assault on the intimidating armoured train. You can play through these missions in any order you’d like and the quality is consistent across all of them. They manage to keep you entertained while teaching you every single major mechanic of the game, and none outstay their welcome. In fact we’re rather hoping to see some more stories from the Eastern Front from the upcoming (but still far off) DLC.
The multiplayer is clearly where it’s really at for Battlefield fans, and Battlefield 1 does not disappoint. In squads of up to five you’ll fight through forests, castles, mansions, cities, deserts and more in all of the game modes you’ve come to love from the series. Conquest and Rush are much as they ever have been, but the inclusion of trenches and a distinct lack of helicopters refreshes the series and means new strategies are needed. Poisonous gas forces you to put on a mask and fight without being able to look down the sights, smoke is entirely blinding and forces you into brutal close-quarters combat, heavy bombers can wreak havoc on objectives but are so flimsy they can be brought down by small arms-fire from the ground.
Graphically, the game is absolutely breathtaking. The environments themselves are impressive and completing convincing for the places they are supposed to be, from the whitwashed walls in the desert on the Sinai map to the dense forest of Argonne, but it’s really the weather system that takes your breath away. Within a match you might have fog roll in, reducing visibility to ten feet or so, then you might have a heavy storm, blowing things around and making it difficult to fly, then brilliant sunshine might emerge, revealing the beauty of the maps and the lighting system. The changes are subtle and natural, if a little fast, and it’s amazing how differently you need to play to adapt to the conditions.
Overall, Battlefield 1 is an absolute triumph. There are still bugs and the odd server issues, the menu system still don’t work properly (you can’t edit your loadouts unless you’re in a game and often you can’t leave a game when it’s over) but these are easy to ignore when the actual gameplay is so much fun. This is easily worth your money, even at full price. We’d say wait on the season pass until we know what you get, but the base game is more than worth the money. We just need to find the time to play more of it alongside Titanfall!