Early Impressions: BATTLEFIELD 1
I’ll admit it: I went into BATTLEFIELD 1’s beta fully expecting a shitshow. The Battlefield brand, once one of the hallmarks of online gaming, has been dragged through the mud for a good while now. Annual releases that fail to innovate, overpriced DLC, and tacked-on single-player campaigns that divert resources from the historically multiplayer-centric franchise are all black marks in their own right, but form something truly hideous when combined. Throw in a ridiculously inauthentic interpretation (even by Battlefield standards) of the First World War, a marketing campaign spearheaded by dubstep remixes of The White Stripes and Johnny Cash, and quite possibly the worst title that could have been attributed to it, and it’s easy to see why starting up BATTLEFIELD 1 for the first time triggers a similar response to being served Chef’s Surprise at a high school cafeteria.
So why am I enjoying BATTLEFIELD 1’s beta, despite myself? Honestly, it’s thanks to the fact that BATTLEFIELD 1 feels like the first original addition to the franchise in over five years. Though BATTLEFIELD 4 was essentially a premium priced expansion pack for BATTLEFIELD 3, and even though HARDLINE and BATTLEFRONT were simply themed reskins of the same formula, BATTLEFIELD 1 plays and feels like a markedly different game. The tweaks made to how soldier classes and vehicles function are fantastic, retaining the same familiar roles while (for the most part) radically altering how each handle.
BATTLEFIELD 1’s most immediately noticeable change is the arsenal. Without assault rifles, reliable, long range automatic weapons are relegated to a handful of machine gun emplacements dotting the map. They’re pretty similar to real life rifles and if you don’t know much about them check this out! Instead, soldiers are relegated to wildly inaccurate (but brutal when close range) submachine guns and weak but reliable rifles. Likewise, tanks are slow and unwieldy, lacking rotatable turrets and long range cannons. Instead, these early armored vehicles sport multiple firing ports for gunners to deliver unstoppable torrents of firepower at point blank range. With no convenient missile launchers or airstrikes to call upon, infantry are forced to march directly at tanks with grenades and demolition charges to take them out, meaning the days of nuking vehicles from miles away with a well placed rocket are over. Though each of these items still serves the purpose that hundreds of other games have led you to expect, the method in which the player uses them is wholly unique.
I claim this mound of sand for king and country!
The only notable exception to this dynamic is sniping, as sniper rifles function precisely the same as they have since BAD COMPANY 2. While there are admittedly few ways video games can interpret a long range bolt action rifle, the fact that snipers are just as deadly as ever despite the overall shift in focus to close range combat means that the only effective way to kill a sniper is with another sniper. While it’s true that scopes now produce a distinct lens flare when targeting the player, it doesn’t help much when most firearms in the game have an effective range of about the distance you can throw a toddler. This leads to a maddening arms race for snipers, with both teams stocking up on sharpshooters to counter the other’s.
Despite the incongruity of traditional sniping in BATTLEFIELD 1’s setting, there are plenty of excellent new additions to make up for it. Melee fighting has a much more prominent place here, leading to all sorts of silly, chaotic fun. Many guns come with bayonets, which can be used in charges that leave players exposed, but promise an instant kill if they connect with an enemy. Maces, clubs, knives, and swords can be equipped by all classes, with each weapon specializing in functions ranging from quick and stealthy assassinations to the ability to damage tank treads. And, of course, cutting down fools from atop a horse is incredibly awesome.
The open beta features just one map, Sinai Desert, and is only playable in the classic Rush and Conquest game modes. This being said, this single map rates very high in the replayability department. Randomized weather, which includes rain and sandstorms, dramatically affects visibility, and the landscape features a nice blend of open desert, rocky mountains, and tight clusters of trenches and buildings. It also helps that terrain destructibility has been reverted from the flashy gimmick it was in recent Battlefields to the more practical purpose it served in BAD COMPANY. Blasts now form craters in the ground that footsoldiers can hide in, and entire buildings can once more be razed to flush out defenders.
Prostate exams weren’t any more fun a century ago than they are now
Sinai shines in Rush mode, with each unique location seamlessly transitioning to the next, but the same cannot be said for Conquest. This larger mode is just as confusing and aimless as ever, and without the structure of Rush, these same areas feel haphazardly slapped together. It doesn’t help that Conquest mode’s aircraft, much like those from BATTLEFRONT, feel totally irrelevant, existing only destroy each other. Conquest mode also now features “Behemoths,” manifesting as an armored train on Sinai, but this too feels inconsequential within the greater conflict, as it cannot capture points or even access half the sectors of the map.
This is looking like a year of surprises from EA. TITANFALL 2, which seemed to be full of promise, recently disappointed us with its beta. BATTLEFIELD 1, on the other hand, seemed doomed to mediocrity, but if the beta is anything to go by, it might just end up being one of the best online shooters of 2016. It’s far from perfect, but at least BATTLEFIELD 1 brings something new to the table, which is something I never thought I’d write about an EA DICE endeavor. Fingers crossed.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4, also available on Xbox One and PC