Battlefield 1 Review: Here comes the cavalry

Battlefield 1's brief single player campaign shines just as brightly as its chaotic multiplayer.


When one thinks of a Battlefield game, visions of large maps come to mind, with 64-players running around like headless chickens; majority of whom are either getting mowed down by machine gun fire or run over by tanks.

One possibly also envisions skyscrapers collapsing into a city river, frigates crashing into an island, tanks, helicopters and lethal gadgets being deployed to eliminate even the most stubborn foe, all while squads of soldiers attempt to co-ordinate a push amidst the chaos of battle.

Battlefield is the series that encouraged players to “play the objective” — despite how confusing or daunting the prospect.

Battlefield 1 retains that fundamental philosophy of DICE’s beloved series, while transporting players to World War I, a period long forgotten; and one which quite literally birthed modern warfare as we know it. Unexpectedly, however, its brief single player campaign shines just as brightly as its chaotic multiplayer.

Dubbed “War Stories”, Battlefield 1’s campaign employs a similar tactic as Call of Duty (and subsequently, EA’s own Medal of Honor) to tell its story. As players step into the shoes of various servicemen and women, they get to experience the first World War from different perspectives—from the member of a British tank crew, a volunteer American pilot, an experienced Aussie rifleman in Gallipoli, to Lawrence of Arabia’s most trusted soldier. Rather than tie these individual stories together (as is often the practice), the only closure we get is knowing that the war eventually came to an end.

There are several high points in the campaign. The pre-rendered cutscenes are wonderfully directed, while the Frostbite engine shows its capability here — character models look fantastic, while good voice acting and writing results in a product that is more emotionally engaging than I expected. Spoiler alert: not all war heroes survived until the end of the war, and Battlefield 1 manages to give each of them a fitting send-off.

Battlefield 1’s storytelling extends far beyond its single player campaign, however. Each multiplayer scenario is given historical context no matter which side’s uniform your soldier is wearing. The “Operations” game mode comes with an introductory cinematic describing the state of the war, and a debrief at the end informing if you if you managed to change the course of history. Set across multiple maps, Operations is an attack-and-defense type game mode. Based on the outcome of a single “sector”, both teams regroup on another map — the match ends when either team has managed to take control of all the sectors in which the battle has taken place.

 Battlefield 1 Review: Here comes the cavalry

Multiplayer comes packed with the usual salvo of modes, ranging from staples such as Conquest and Rush to regular Team Deathmatch. The suite of game modes on offer is expectedly solid, and all of them offer slightly different experiences even if their fundamentals remain the same.

The core of any Battlefield game is the gunplay, and I’m happy to report that despite my initial apprehensions, the early twentieth century weapons on offer here aren’t dramatically different from what you’ve used in Call of Duty 2 or World at War. Yes, DICE has clearly taken some creative liberties, putting in an abundant set of “experimental” fully automatic weapons into the game, but they are anything but incongruous in the grander scheme of things.

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Squad play remains critical to success, as with any Battlefield game of old. It certainly helps when a squad has a good composition, comprising of at least one assault, medic, support and scout class, but players shouldn’t be afraid to switch it up. For instance, when an enemy tank is running riot, you might want to switch to the assault class and try to get an angle on its rear armour with your anti-tank gun. Each of the classes comes with its own set of weapons and gadgets — none of them feel overpowered or imbalanced right now, but I would say that the medic class is a good place to start (if you intend to be a team player, that is).

Progression is well paced and I found myself leveling up and earning war bonds (the currency used to unlock weapons and upgrades) at a swift pace. The game also features a system of obtaining random skins and cosmetic items via Battlepacks (earned in-game by leveling up or purchased using real world money). The microtransactions are not particularly intrusive, and the game is not pay-to-win as previous games in the series were accused of being.

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The star of Battlefield 1 is its graphics, with the newest iteration of DICE’s proprietary Frostbite engine allowing the developers to dial everything up to eleven. Even though the entire time I spent with Battlefield 1 has been with the “diet” (read: console) version of the game, the sheer visual fidelity of its battlegrounds never ceases to amaze me. From Battlefield 1’s fog effects that make you ready your bayonet, to wielding mud-covered bolt-action rifles in a trench thanks to inopportune rain, sandstorms in the middle of the Arabian desert, and idyllic seaside vistas along the Adriatic coast, every frame in the game is postcard-worthy.

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It isn’t without its issues, however. In-game bugs are expected for a game of this scope and scale, and there are a lot of them. Players are more than likely to put up with hilarious physics based glitches in-game — one could even argue that this drives social media traffic and ultimately is a free marketing tool for the publishers. It wasn’t these which annoyed me — it was the way you played with friends.

DICE seems to have abandoned its older party system which let players “squad up”, instead relying on the clunky method of joining friends’ matches previously seen in Star Wars Battlefront. The rationale for allowing a limited squad system in Battlefront made sense since a large part of its target audience were casual players (bigger Star Wars fans than Battlefield veterans), but it feels counterintuitive in Battlefield 1 — a game in which squad-based gameplay is emphasized. It’s more of an annoyance than a fatal flaw in the game, however.

SCORE: 9/10

The good

  • Immersive campaign with historical context
  • Makes great use of World War I setting
  • One of the best-looking games you will play this year
  • Wonderfully chaotic gameplay with a focus on teamwork

The bad

  • Brief campaign
  • Matchmaking and party system
  • Graphics and mechanical glitches need ironing out

 


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