Battlefield 1 Review
The "1" in Battlefield 1 may be a little confusing at first, given the longevity of the game series. It's not a starting over point, a reboot, or anything like that, though. The "1" refers to the First World War, the setting for Battlefield 1. There haven't been a lot of games set during World War I, and with good reason; it's hard to turn the experience of sitting in a trench with artillery pounding the ground and machine gun bullets whizzing overhead into an enjoyable experience from a gameplay perspective. As such, I was really skeptical about Battlefield 1 when I heard about its setting. Outside of piloting a biplane above No Man's Land, what kind of gameplay fun could a game about World War I provide? The answer to that question is "plenty". The developers really nailed this one, hitting that sweet spot between driving home the carnage and futility of World War I and making a game that's exciting and a lot of fun to play.
I'm going to start by looking at the single player side of the game. Yes, I am one of those gamers who actually enjoys making his way through a good single player mode before hitting up the multiplayer side of the equation. In the past, Battlefield games have left me somewhat underwhelmed with their single player campaigns, but Battlefield 1 has delivered a single player game that's both compelling and challenging. You will know that you're not in for a typical experience right from the start when you play the game's opening introductory mission. This mission is in effect unbeatable - every time it switches you to a new character, be it a soldier or tanker, you will inevitably be overwhelmed and become a casualty of war. Each time you lose a life, the screen will turn black and you will see the soldier's name and his dates of birth and death. It's a poignant statement on the war and hits home harder than it ever would if you lost a life or two while blowing through a generic opening mission.
From there the campaign opens up to something that the game dubs "War Stories". These are a series of five mini campaigns that run from three to five missions each that all lend themselves to replay the exploits of a few combatants on different fronts of the war. The missions are more than recycled multiplayer modes played against AI bots - they are original levels that let you experience the war as a soldier, tanker, and pilot. There is a good variety of gameplay to the single player missions - you'll face a diverse set of objectives that can be accomplished in a number of different ways. I'm not sure if this has happened in a prior Battlefield game or not, but at least I can't remember ever taking a stealth approach to eliminating an enemy position in any prior Battlefield game that I've played. While the mission structure in the game is certainly linear, I felt that it gave me enough freedom in accomplishing the objectives that the missions all lend themselves to replay. Plus, the missions are inherently interesting to play, and put you into situations such as guiding a tank trapped behind enemy lines through woods shrouded in fog, assaulting a mountain fortress as an armored Italian heavy gunner, and riding across the sands of Arabia with T. E. Lawrence while fighting the Ottoman Empire.
While the War Stories levels will give you exposure to many of the mechanics of play of the multiplayer game such as flying a plane or manning the gun on a tank, they're not at all training levels for online play. They are a separate experience from the multiplayer modes, and an enjoyable way to spend time with the game when you need a break from the chaos of a multiplayer match.
When you're ready to go online, you'll find a number of the familiar Battlefield game modes as well as a couple of new ones. The multiplayer game is class-based, so you'll need to select from one of the game's four player classes each time that you spawn (or respawn) into the game. The Assault class is your front line infantry soldier, the Medic class provides health packs to other players and can revive downed soldiers in the field, the Support class can dole out ammunition to players and repair equipment like tanks, and lastly the Scout is the sniper class. Each class has its own set of available weapons, preventing players from creating hybrids such as a healing sniper. These class weapons must be unlocked before use, and unlocking each one requires a combination of class level and game currency earned while playing in matches. The game tracks your level in each class in addition to your overall player level, so to get to a class' better weapons you're going to need to put in some time with that class first. The weapons themselves are a far cry from the assault rifles of modern armies, and you'll have to deal with slower fire rates and longer reload times with the ones in this game. Some liberties have been taken with historical accuracy for the sake of playability, though, and the weapons in the game have a greater range and accuracy than their real-life counterparts from 100 years ago.
Poison gas played a major role in the First World War, and it makes an appearance in Battlefield 1 as well. Players can equip and use gas grenades in battle. When a gas grenade explodes, a cloud of noxious gas is released. Players caught in the cloud will begin to cough and lose health unless they quickly don a gas mask. Fighting while wearing a gas mask makes things more difficult as you can't see much through the mask's small round lenses and are prevented from aiming down your weapon's sights while wearing a mask.
There are a few secondary classes in addition to the four primary soldier classes. If you spawn into the game in a tank or plane, you'll be a tanker or a pilot if you abandon your vehicle - both of which only carry small weapons and are devoid of special abilities. There are also specialist kits which spawn into the game at random which instantly transform you into a more powerful soldier such as an armored chain gun carrying soldier or a flamethrower wielding trooper. These kits are relatively rare, though, and when they appear everyone nearby rushes to pick them up, so you won't have the chance to play as one of these specialist classes often.
Speaking of things that are rare, those of you used to Battlefield games filled with vehicles just waiting for you to jump into and ride into battle may be surprised by the scarcity of vehicles in Battlefield 1. It is appropriate for the setting in that vehicles did not play nearly as large a role in World War I as they do in modern combat, but vehicle jockeys may feel a little frustrated at times. When you are at the spawn screen you will see the locations at which tanks and planes can enter the game. If one is available, and most of the time one is not, then you need to claim the vehicle and then select its type - for example, if you claim a plane, you can choose whether it is a fighter, attack plane, or bomber. Most vehicles have gunner positions, though, and you can spawn into one of those directly by selecting the vehicle from the spawn screen's map.
A new "vehicle" in Battlefield 1 is the horse, and you can spawn into the game as a cavalry soldier in the same way that you do as a pilot or tanker. While you can fire a rifle from horseback, it's far more satisfying to equip your saber, rush into battle at full gallop, and strike a surprised soldier down with a quick swing of your blade.
Battlefield's signature game mode returns in Battlefield 1, Conquest, in which two teams of up to 32 players each fight to capture and hold objectives in an attempt to deplete the other side's supply of respawn tickets. Battlefield 1 takes Conquest mode a step further with Operations, a mode that essentially strings together four Conquest maps to recreate a historical battle.
While still an objective-based mode, Operations has teams battle over a handful of objectives, and if the attackers can take them within a set time limit the defenders must fall back to the next set of objective points. The attacking team must win a round on a map to advance the battle to the next one, and if they fail the battle will be replayed on the current map. If that happens, the attacking team will receive a boost from the entry of a 'behemoth' on their side for the next round, a massive vehicle such as a battleship or zeppelin with multiple gunner positions. The attacking team is allowed up to three failures in total, and if they fail to win the battle on the last map by then the defending team wins. If you've played Conquest mode, then you know it can take a little time to complete a match and can probably guess that it takes a time commitment that is quite long for a multiplayer game to play to the end of an Operations match. If you have the time, the mode is a lot of fun and certainly recommended. The historical context and voice over narrative between matches really make you feel like you are taking part in a battle more than simply playing an isolated multiplayer match.
Other game modes include Domination, a smaller version of Conquest with an emphasis on close quarters infantry battles, and Team Deathmatch, which is self-explanatory. Rush mode challenges the attacking team to place charges on the defending team's telegraph posts and the defenders to stop them. The defending tam can use its functioning posts to call in artillery strikes on the attackers. War Pigeons is a keep away style mode in which both teams fight to take and hold on to a carrier pigeon. When one team holds the pigeon long enough to "write a message" the pigeon is released and the other team has a few seconds to shoot it out of the air. If the pigeon makes it out alive, the team releasing it wins the round. The modes provide for some diverse gameplay options, but it's hard to top Conquest and Operations for their scale and excitement.
Battlefield 1's multiplayer modes feature some standout maps set in locations across the theater of conflict. There are maps set in the French countryside crisscrossed with trenches and dotted with clusters of small farm buildings, as well as a city battle set in Amiens. Monte Grappa is a mountain map set in the Italian Alps - a map that will challenge pilots with it's narrow valley and high peaks. Ballroom Blitz is set on a French estate with a large palace and its surrounding lands. The Fao Fortress map is a battle in the desert along the shores of the sea, with an imposing fortress situated on a spit of land at one end of the map. My favorite, though, is probably Argonne Forest which features twisting paths through thick a thick forest shrouded in fog. It's a map that constantly keeps you on edge with the fear that danger lurks just beyond each twist in the trail.
In spite of my initial reservations, Battlefield 1 quickly won me over. It captures some of the brutality of World War I combat without getting bogged down in the trenches. The result is an exciting game that doesn't feel like all of the other modern shooter games out there.
Author's Note: I spent extensive time with both the PC and Xbox One versions of Titanfall 2, and there are not enough differences in the versions to warrant separate reviews.
Final Rating: 90% - Battlefield 1 pulls off the difficult challenge of making an enjoyable World War I game.