The first world war is a seldom seen chapter in our military history. While numerous films and television shows have given us World War II accounts, our main resources for the first great war are just grainy black and white photos and silent, almost surreal, scratchy reels of short film footage.
Yet World War I, "the dawn of all-out warfare", is a captivating time to base a shooter around. Back when men on horse-back, armed with a sword, would charge at battalions of tanks; lumbering zeppelins were used for major military operations; and combat was brutal, often desperate and using clumsy “weapons” like shovels.
Battlefield 1 is attempting to capture this enormity, and from first impressions it appears they might be able to pull it off. The Open Beta, which went live last week, gave players an opportunity to try out two of the modes of the upcoming game, while also giving the developers an opportunity to stress test and get feedback on their progress to date.
One mode included in the Beta is Conquest, which has long been Battlefield’s primary mode, with up to 64 players (two teams of 32) on a sprawling map filled with vehicles, buildings and outposts for the two teams to battle over. Not much has changed in the formula, but the setting and the early 20th Century gadgetry give Battlefield 1 a completely different feel from previous games in the franchise.
The vehicles play a big part in this, with every mode of transport taken out of the history books - including an impressive selection of jeeps, transporters, planes, tanks, and gun emplacements. And for the first time in the franchise, players can now ride horses into battle - which are a personal highlight. Horses not only allow quick, nimble transportation to your waypoint, but give you the option of wielding either a gun, or charging at enemies with a sword. You can even trample your targets with your hoofed beast without even needing to pull the trigger.
As expected, pre-1920s fighter planes are slow to manoeuvre and their clunky aiming requires practice, and for me, a decent amount of luck. But they feel historically accurate without being tedious to use. Tanks meanwhile feel a lot more accessible, with both light and heavy tanks available which provide a mix of speed and power depending on the model. The larger tanks offer multiple seating arrangements so that your flanks and rear can be watched and defended. With a talented squad, you can become a moving fortress and dominate the battlefield.
The other mode available in the Beta is Rush, a smaller 24-player mode where an attacking team must find and destroy a defending team’s strategic outposts, in this case - telegram stations which could call in reinforcements or turn the tide of battle. Rush mode is good fun, offering vehicles into the mix, but giving a more linear progression to the map and objective structure. It lacks the epicness of Conquest, but the action is more frantic and with shorter match times, it’s handy when you just want a quick Battlefield fix.
The maps in Battlefield 1 will be based off real places, and historic events and the Beta showcases the Sinai Desert and the battle between the English and the Ottoman Empire. Sandstorms sweep through randomly, causing serious visibility issues and an almost disorientating effect. It also leads to some memorable moments where you’ll be squinting to see what’s up ahead when suddenly a massive tank will roll right past you, or watching a plane come crashing down out of nowhere.
As in previous Battlefield games, the mechanics of classes is still intact, allowing players to select whether they want to be Assault, Medic, Support or Scout class. Each have their own weapon arrays, and obviously special abilities such as anti-vehicle gadgetry, healing capabilities or engineering skills. There are also apparently Elite classes, which are earned through achievements, or picking up items on the battlefield. I’ve yet to find one, but I have seen a flamethrower in action (close up, with the crispy results) and I can only assume this is achieved via an Elite powerup.
Melee combat has been given an overhaul, and allows for more close-quarter action now. There are multiple melee weapons ranging from light, to heavy - including items like shovels, clubs and swords (when riding on horse-back). The amount of destructible terrain and structures, which alter the environment each time you play, feel a lot more natural in Battlefield 1 thanks to the vulnerable buildings of the era. Taking cover inside a building doesn’t mean you’re safe from an artillery shell from a tank.
My concerns over the pacing of the game, considering the old-fashioned technology and historical accuracies, have now been vanquished. The Beta features fast paced action, especially in the heat of combat, but is well balanced with moments of strategic calm where you can find a spot on the outskirts of the map and survey the scene before plunging back in. While movement on foot can be tiresome, Battlefield 1 balances it nicely with long bursts of stamina for running and a bevy of different modes of transportation.
In the wake of future shooters hitting the market, which offer cybernetic enhancements and laser-filled dogfights in space - Battlefield 1 is a refreshing and bold approach to the first-person genre. Personally I love the rich historical character that the game delivers, and helps differentiate it from the generic near-future, or fictional, shooters. It reminds of my fond memories of playing the very first few Call of Duty games.
It also reminds me of Star Wars Battlefront - and while this game certainly had it flaws, it had a fun factor about it. It was easy to learn and never felt bogged down by menus, or complicated gameplay mechanics. Battlefield 1 has a similar feel, it’s simple to pick up and play, and the presentation of the menus are intuitive and inviting. All I can hope is that the final release of Battlefield 1 is still centred around “fun to play”, rather than “make me pay”.
The Battlefield 1 Open Beta began on August 31st, and DICE have not stated how long it will run for. The game is currently slated for release on October 21st.