Earlier this year, it was revealed that the Battlefield series would be taking a step back in its newest addition to the series. Instead of the glam of the high tech world that most shooters are aiming at, the DICE team had set their sights on a story that, while familiar, hasn’t been explored a lot: World War I. Battlefield 1 would aim to tell the tales of a war that is often overshadowed by its predecessor. For those unaware, WWI was one of the deadliest conflicts in the entirety of human history and impacted not only the lives that it claimed, but also the political landscape for nearly every country involved in it. The primary goal of this title was to break away from what has now become the norm in the world of shooters – futuristic, high-tech warfare – and get back to the roots of the shooter world.
In order to give you the impression of what war is truly like (as well as someone can), upon starting the game, the first thing you see is a message telling you that the War that you’ll be taking part in didn’t really solve anything, and only set the stage for an even more horrific war to come after it. You are one of countless generic American soldiers and immediately are besieged on all sides. Soldiers rush at you from all directions and when you die, a name and lifespan flash on screen before you’re thrust into another soldier’s boots. It’s a stark reminder of just how many people died during the “Great War” and how even today, soldiers may be remembered simply by a name and time of death.
The campaign for Battlefield 1 isn’t told in any conventional way and is instead a compilation of short stories featuring various characters, ranging from a tank driver in Germany to a female warrior fighting side by side with Lawrence of Arabia. Again, this seems like a great choice due to just how massive and all encompassing the war actually was. Each story seems thoughtfully selected and well told, and while some of the moments have certainly been “gamified” (you’ll spend your fair share of time having to stop countless waves of enemies), there’s still a respectful tone throughout.
For a series that’s had trouble keeping up with engaging stories in the past, this was a welcome change of pace, and will probably go down as the most memorable campaign since the days of Bad Company. The constant change of scenery (some of which are truly beautiful, if not for the chaos around you), the small bits of stealth that players can choose to exhibit, and the fact that some of the stories being told could have conceivably happened (if you suspend your belief a bit), only adds to awe of it all.
While some may come to play Battlefield for its campaign, the real draw of it all is in its multiplayer, and Battlefield 1 does not disappoint there either. DICE has always been incredible at setting the stage for some truly great battles, and this game is no different. The giant maps, vehicles of all types (including horses on some stages!), and emphasis on teamwork to complete your objectives all make a return and still remind us that Battlefield might still the king when it comes to shooters.
As far as game modes go, players won’t be at a total loss when they jump into their favorite servers. Rush and Conquest are still around for those who desire it, and War Pigeons, a game mode where each team fights to control a carrier pigeon, is surprisingly intense. The newest game mode titled Operations is a mix of all the things that make the Battlefield series so good.
In Operations, the attacking team must take over two control points in a sector of a map before moving on. As they move on, the map expands, and you’re soon fighting across an entire landscape while also avoiding enemy missile barrages from the newly introduced Zeppelin and armored train. It’s clear that the folks at DICE tried to tweak the combat a bit to feel more like the fighting that took place during WWI, and for the most part, they might have succeeded. Infantry combat is frantic and intense, and the removal of any anti-armor classes make any vehicle you come across seem as scary as ever.
Visually, the world of Battlefield 1 is truly a marvel. Somehow, the team at DICE continue to find a way to improve the look of every game they work on, and this one is no different. Thanks to the various locales of the campaign, we’re treated to some serious eye candy of sun covered valleys, frontlines that are littered with debris and burning wreckage, and even dynamic weather in the form of sandstorms and fog keeping vehicles at bay. Also getting an improvement is the sound design, which DICE has also become known for. You can be sure that you’ll hear all the bullets whizzing by you, the shouts of enemy soldiers, and the buzz of planes flying overhead.
For most people, you’ll know whether or not Battlefield 1 is for you based on your past experiences with the franchise. While the multiplayer battles can often feel like past games, Battlefield 1 has managed to pivot away from feeling like a filler game and is truly worthy of standing on its own. Even if you’re not a fan of multiplayer shooters, the campaign alone is worth venturing into for some of the best (and most respectful) World War I stories ever told in video game form. While it may not join the classics of the Battlefield realm, it still manages to deliver one of the best products to date.
This review was based on a digital review copy of Battlefield 1 for the Xbox One provided by EA.