Battlefield 1 Beta Impressions: Trains, Horses and Sandstorms

The Battlefield 1 beta has been on for a few days now, and I was able to get some hands-on time with the game both on PS4 and PC.

The Battlefield 1 beta has been on for a few days now, and I was able to get some hands-on time with the game both on PS4 and PC. If you haven’t had a chance to play it on either platform, I would encourage you to download the 7.5GB beta. In the age of 15 and 20GB beta downloads, this is refreshing, particularly given how impressive Battlefield 1 looks from a graphics standpoint.

So, what do you get to experience in the beta? There are two game modes. The first is Rush, a 24-player mode which splits teams into attack and defense, with the attackers having to plant bombs in a series of objectives as defenders attempt to defuse them, falling back when they fail to do so. The second is Conquest, a 64-player all-out war mode which players of the Battlefield series will be familiar with, requiring both teams to contest strategic points on the map to score points. Both game modes are set in the same map, Sinai Desert, based on the real Sinai and Palestine Campaign of World War I which saw the British and Ottoman empire (supported by the German empire) fight it out for nearly four years, between 1915 and 1918.

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While the map forms the base for both modes, they couldn’t play more differently. Rush is a frantic race against time to the next objective with the attacking team throwing bodies at the enemy while the defenders find sniper perches to pick off the advancing horde. Players are now able to charge bayonet first into battle—this is an addition which feels appropriate for a mode like Rush, whether a coordinated thrust into a group of enemies yields success or your entire battalion is mowed down by a hail of gunfire.

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Changes to the game mode include a timer in addition to the traditional “ticket” system, and while this hasn’t necessarily been well received by long-time fans, developers DICE are open to reverting to the older system based on feedback. Rush has been an integral part of Battlefield since Bad Company 2, and it could be a return to form for the series this year.

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Conquest is exactly what you expect as well: 32-players per team, armored cars, jeeps, aircraft, a train, horses and complete mayhem. The attention to detail and focus on authenticity results in what feels like an accurate representation of early twentieth century warfare — despite the abundance of automatic gunfire and an over-abundance of snipers.

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Expect to combat zero visibility as the map gets hit by a sandstorm during the course of a round, affording players the perfect opportunity to find a horse and wreak melee-damage havoc with sword in hand. The map’s hotspots are also well-broken up, offering varying combat experiences, from the vertical skirmishes of objective Freddie (Point “F”) to the multi-directional chaos of objectives Duff and Charlie. Then there’s the isolation of objective Edward—spawn here if you want to observe the battle from a distance, until an enemy bi-plane spots you at least.

Battlefield 1 succeeds in giving players that World War I feel while still holding up as a modern shooter. The gunplay itself is good overall. However, for me, personally, the authentic-feeling World War I weapons left me wanting the Thompsons and MP-44s of World War II. Even the bolt-action rifles (correctly) feel clunky and unwieldy. So yes, it’s authentic in representing the experience, but could I play a shooter in which I found everything other than the core shooting to be enjoyable? Apparently, I can.

Playing as a squad in Battlefield 1 is as fun as it’s ever been. The importance of role definition and playing the objective are critical. It’s essential to work as a team to co-ordinate spawns (given that Sinai desert is the biggest map yet in a battlefield game, thanks to the location of objective Edward), team-shot tanks with grenades and AT guns, as well as executing that perfect group Bayonet charge.

You tend to forget that Battlefield is as much a game about using abilities and gadgets as it is about gunplay. The roles of Medics and Support players are invaluable (both in terms of resupply, but also to revive teammates and plant booby traps respectively), but the Scout’s ability to spot enemies (using either the flare gun or from behind cover with the periscope binoculars) is extremely useful in large maps such as the one in the beta.

The game looks great on both console and PC. The PS4 version looked impressive and seemed to sport decent frame rates. However, it was apparent that the target of 60fps was achieved only infrequently, with the sheer volume of detail and effects on screen straining the PS4’s nearly-three-year-old hardware. The game was never rendered unplayable on account of the graphics or performance, while DICE has generally provided a multitude of graphics options even for console players—FOV slider and motion blur intensity to name a few.

Play this game on a PC, and it comes to life. Parallels drawn to Star Wars: Battlefront have been made, and this is unsurprising given the topography and the fact that both games run on the same Frostbite 3 graphics engine. The intricately modeled real-world weaponry, particle and depth-of-field effects during the sandstorm, building destruction and geometry alteration as a result of weapons fire and explosions make this the best looking Battlefield yet.

You should be able to get the most out of Battlefield 1’s graphics even on a midrange PC as well. On an i5-6500 and a GTX 970, it never dropped below 60 frames, while on an average, I was getting between 90 and 105fps on “high” settings with some settings turned up.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, however, let’s acknowledge the train-wreck of technical issues and bugs in the beta. There are issues ranging from locked character progression and inability to level up, to missing weapons, agonizing menu load times on console and connection issues. Granted this is a beta, but a lot of these bugs are game-breaking, making last week’s Titanfall 2 Pre-Alpha Tech Test feel like a full retail release. They’re also likely to put off new players to the franchise, assuming the learning curve of its systems and passive gameplay style doesn’t already achieve this.

There’s work to be done before launch, be it ironing out technical problems or of the balancing kind. It might be a little late to say that Battlefield 1 is shaping up nicely given that the release is just over a month away. Let’s just hope the work gets done in time, because I can tell from the beta that the rest of the game is going to do tremendous justice to both its new (or really old, depending on how you look at it) theatre of war and the technology being used, all while delivering an authentic World War I shooter experience.

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