Internet jokesters, myself included, initially scoffed at Battlefield 1’s World War I setting. Why would we want to fly rickety canvas biplanes and spend entire rounds in trenches waiting for our enemies to gas us to death? Leave it to DICE to prove us wrong. Battlefield 1 is an excellent addition to the franchise, leaning into the uniqueness of its relatively untouched period, and tweaking the gameplay just enough to align with the antique tech.
Battlefield 1‘s single player campaign, known as War Stories, is its most surprising success. A series of five mini campaigns taking place on several different fronts of WWI, players encounter the war from radically different perspectives and angles. While the stories occasionally dip into hoary war movie tropes, they still feel impactful. They preserve the somber tone of the Lost Generation while reveling in the romantic adventure of it all. Cresting a blue, moonlit dune on horseback waving a saber at Ottomans isn’t something I thought I’d find in the Battlefield series. Now I can’t imagine the game without it.
Out of the Trenches
The War Stories are a welcome (brief) surprise, but the bulk of the game is in the multiplayer. Battlefield 1‘s multiplayer features multiple modes, but most players will settle on the classic capture the flag based Conquest mode, or its new variant, Operations.
Operations plays as a series of Conquest matches based on historical battles. These are smartly strung together with some narrative transitions. The mode implements rubberbanding, with the losing team gaining access to massively powerful vehicles like zeppelins and armored trains. It’s extremely cool visually, but getting bombed with impunity in your spawn point by a blimp can be frustrating.
War Pigeons is an interesting concept. In the mode, teams must capture a pigeon and hold it long enough to write a message to HQ. However, in practice, it becomes a chaotic fracas.
Battlefield 1‘s huge maps, squad classes, and vehicles may look different, but mechanically they’re extremely loyal to the Battlefield template. Players looking for radically different gameplay will probably be let down. However, those tweaks change the feel of the game in some interesting ways. Obviously, infrared, drones and the high-tech lot are gone, replaced by bayonet charges and gas grenades.
Appropriately, gas grenades are quite powerful. They obscure vision and damage any players caught in them unless they equip their gas mask. This constricts vision and forces you to hip fire. Being trapped in a narrow bunker hallway surrounded by toxic air, hearing your character’s panicked breath echo in their gas mask as a screaming enemy soldier charges at you with a bayonet is one of the more striking moments I’ve had playing games this year.
A Real Looker
Put plainly, Battlefield 1 is gorgeous. Sand waves skitter across dunes, ancient churches collapse into rubble under mortar fire, tank shells punch craters into the ground. I played on PC and was wowed by the game’s stable performance even in the most hectic, explosion-filled scenes.
Technical qualifications aside, the game’s graphic design is equally excellent. The bizarre looking weapons and gear are all straight out of the history books. The steampunky vision of men in suits of armor with machine guns under massive zeppelins is a breath of fresh air for the genre.
Should You Play Battlefield 1?
Absolutely. DICE has knocked it out of the park with Battlefield 1, creating a triple-A shooter that feels legitimately different from the pack, but familiar enough to not alienate the series’ fans. It also manages to be a surprisingly respectful and educational look at the less accessible World War I.
What if I don’t play multiplayer: Battlefield 1 is, at its core, a multiplayer game. While the single player War Stories are excellent and reward replays, at ~six hours, they’re too brief for someone looking to skip the multiplayer entirely.
What if I just want to pilot planes and tanks? As with prior Battlefield games, vehicle spawning is inconsistent. Players who want a plane or a tank have to uselessly lurk around with other players and mash ‘E’ as soon as one shows up.
Anything else you didn’t like? The menus are an unintuitive hodge-podge of this and that. Getting into matches is easy, but anything else will have you scratching your head.