Welcome to Late to the Party, a series in which I discuss video games that I’ve finally gotten around to playing. Today I’m going to talk about Battlefield 1, a first-person shooter set in World War 1 and a relatively recent entry in the long-running Battlefield series. I played Battlefield 1 on my PlayStation 4 Pro and in an uncharacteristic move for me I’ll be discussing both the game’s singleplayer campaign and multiplayer suite.
For some time now I’ve considered myself a lapsed Battlefield fan. I got started with the Battlefield games all the way back at the beginning with Battlefield: 1942 and reached the peak of my involvement with the series during the Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 3 days, but after that I fell off the bandwagon. Battlefield 4 and Battlefield Hardline didn’t get much attention from me outside a quick playthrough of their respective singleplayer campaigns about a year after each one was released and since then I’ve had a creeping sense that I wasn’t ever going to get back into the Battlefield games in any substantial way. Several weeks ago, however, I saw that Battlefield 1, the next entry in the series after Hardline, was heavily discounted on PSN and I decided to make the purchase. Not long after this EA/DICE were giving away free passes to all of Battlefield 1’s expansion packs, so I ended up getting the entire Battlefield 1 package for a great price. Several days later I sat down and began the game’s singleplayer campaign, figuring that if it held my interest I’d then try dipping my toes into multiplayer.
Historically, singleplayer campaigns in the Battlefield series have run the gambit from forgettable to decent and that’s roughly what I expected from Battlefield 1 but oh boy was I wrong. Battlefield 1 has a legitimately good singleplayer campaign and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a great campaign it’s definitely the best one the Battlefield series has yet produced. Ditching the normal structure of previous games, Battlefield 1 breaks its singleplayer into a series of vignettes telling a collection of smaller stories loosely based on various events in World War 1. These vignettes take you from the beaches of Gallipoli to the skies of war-torn France and do a good job of telling very human stories of regular people who are trying just as hard to survive and keep their friends alive as they are to completing their missions and fighting their enemies. In that regard Battlefield 1 has a lot in common with Valiant Hearts: The Great War, another game that takes place during the First World War. Each of the five main vignettes only last about 1-2 hours each, so you can blow through the singleplayer campaign fairly quickly, but you get a surprising amount of narrative mileage out of Battlefield 1’s singleplayer campaign—at least in comparison to most Battlefield games in the past.
Adding to the experience of the vignettes are some great visuals that really capture the look and feel of World War 1. Each region of the conflict from the scorched earth of the Western Front to the deserts of Arabia is beautifully recreated in Battlefield 1 and I appreciated many of the small details in the game like how the guns in No Man’s Land are covered in mud. The Frostbite Engine, which developer DICE has been steadily iterating upon since it was first debuted in 2008 in Battlefield: Bad Company, really shines in Battlefield 1 with its recreation of the war and the world it ravaged, all while keeping the game running very smoothly. On occasion the game engine did briefly stuttered when I resumed the game after going into the pause menu but otherwise I had zero issues with Battlefield 1’s visuals or framerates.
Battlefield 1’s singleplayer also does a very important thing in that it helps prepare you for the real meat of any Battlefield game—the multiplayer. While it is true that there’s a big difference between fighting computer opponents that don’t respawn and going into all-out battle against human foes that keep coming back, the vignettes of the singleplayer campaign are designed to let you try your hand at most of the things you’ll end of doing in multiplayer, from driving tanks and flying planes to using a wide variety of guns and equipment. By the time you finish the singleplayer you’ll have at least a decent grasp of the basics of the game and this will go a long way to helping you ease into the online chaos that normally characterizes a Battlefield multiplayer experience.
For anyone who has played one of the last few Battlefield games the multiplayer in Battlefield 1 will be familiar but it also has plenty of things to distinguish it from older entries in the series. Once again there are four soldier classes to pick from when you spawn though a few tweaks have been made since I last played a Battlefield game. The Engineer class is gone and its tools have been split between the Assault class that has now taken over demolition duty and the Support class that still hands out ammo but now is also capable of repairing vehicles. Healing responsibilities are handled by the reintroduced Medic class while the Scout class is the only class to remain largely unchanged with its role still being to provide sniper support and battlefield awareness. On top of these, several new specialty classes have been created for when you spawn into a tank or airplane, or onto a horse, and there are even elite classes that you can transform into by finding the appropriate pickup on the battlefield. Of the four main classes I found myself using the Medic the most since I’m a terrible shot and tend to perform much better in support roles. Also, reviving teammates earns you a lot of points and is an easy way to rank up, plus killing an enemy player with your revival syringe is hilarious when you are able to pull it off.
Game modes in Battlefield 1 have been expanded with classic modes like Conquest and Rush making a return alongside new modes like War Pigeons in which two teams fight to secure and utilize messenger pigeons that can call down artillery strikes on the opposing team. Of all the modes in multiplayer, Operations quickly became my favorite. In Operations two teams of up to 32 players each battle it out in a lengthy match across multiple maps. If the attacking team fails to secure victory in their first assault then a Behemoth is called in to assist them in the next round. Behemoths come in the form of armored trains on land, battleships at sea, and massive airships in the sky and also appear in other modes besides Operations. The appearance of a Behemoth on the battlefield is always a thrill regardless of which side you’re on and I particularly like the airship, both as an attacker because you can rain death from the sky and as a defender because the sight of an airship engulfed in flames and crashing to the ground (potentially on top of other players) is especially gratifying.
Even without a crashing airship, however, most of Battlefield 1’s multiplayer maps are visually satisfying and contain an impressive level of detail. Though there are a few maps like Giant’s Shadow that are kind just so-so in appearance there are also a lot of other maps like Passchendaele, Argonne Forest, and Achi Baba that look really good. At times I was guilty of stopping just to look around and take in the sights of the various maps. Apologies to my teammates for those moments when I was distracted by Battlefield 1’s visuals.
Five-minute clip from my first multiplayer match.
Overall, Battlefield 1’s multiplayer is fun, at least most of the time, and that’s high praise coming from someone like me who is notoriously bad at multiplayer shooters and normally doesn’t engage in them. One of the marks of a great game is that it’s enjoyable even if you’re bad at it and Battlefield 1’s multiplayer certainly passes that test. My reflexes are slow, my aim is horrible, and I’m going up against opponents who have been playing the game far longer than me, which all translates to me having an atrociously bad KDR but even though I’m getting murdered all the time I keep coming back to Battlefield 1’s multiplayer. Part of that comes from the gameplay, which is the most polished I’ve experienced in a Battlefield game. Battlefield 1 may be based on a conflict from a hundred years ago and has some issues that I’ll talk about shortly but overall it feels very good. The shooting is great, there’s a good variety of weapons and vehicles, dynamically destructible environments help keep the battlefield is as chaotic as ever, and the introduction of new elements like bayonet charges, horses, and poison gas help distinguish Battlefield 1 from its predecessors, along of course with the whole First World War aesthetic.
Another major reason I’ve been largely enamored with Battlefield 1’s multiplayer is that it’s possible for you to make big contributions to your team even if you’re like me and need an entire magazine to land hits on a moving enemy. Playing the objective, spotting enemies, and fulfilling the role of your soldier class—tasks that I’m actually good at performing—do just as much to push your team to victory as making kills and also net you substantial amounts of experience points as well. Those points go into increasing your overall rank and leveling up each soldier class, which in turn unlocks new weapons and equipment for each class. Cosmetic upgrades are also unlocked via Battlepacks that you earn as you play the game. Microtransactions—currently most hated word in gaming—are present in Battlefield 1 for those who would choose to pay to unlock things but from my experience in playing Battlefield 1’s multiplayer I can say that they are purely optional since the starting weapons of each class are fairly good. At the time that I’m writing this post I’ve not dropped a single cent into Battlefield 1’s microtransactions and I can confidently say they do not compromise the game in any significant way.
For all the thrills of Battlefield 1’s multiplayer, however, there are a number of frustrations to be had with it, with two glaring problems looming large in my mind. First, in certain game modes I’ll sometimes spawn right in an opponent’s sights or in a bad spot out in the open and be killed almost immediately. I remember this was a problem in Battlefield 3 and it’s maddening that this is still an issue after all these years. Second, team balancing is a complete joke on a somewhat regular basis, resulting in one team absolutely steamrolling the other. In fact, Battlefield 1’s auto-balancing feature has a very strange tendency of actually making the winning team even stronger. Roughly 90% of the time that the game drops the notification that the teams are unbalanced and auto-balancing is being activated what will happen next is that the winning team will go from merely dominating the losing team to full-blow annihilating them. It’s almost as if a programmer accidentally coded the auto-balancer to do the exact opposite of what it is supposed to do.
On top of those major problems there are a few smaller issues, such as how bayonet charges do not always connect even if you have perfectly lined up your target and how you can get briefly stuck on objects in the environment, but thankfully these bugs do not occur often. Speaking of the maps, there’s no denying that some are better designed and more fun than others (personally, I love Argonne Forest and hate Suez) though opinions on individual maps will no doubt vary from player to player. There are also some annoyances that are not the game’s fault and just problems to be had with other players, most notably when you have teammates that are not playing the objective or not handing out ammo/med packs. On a more positive note I can say that I’ve not yet run into any preteens shouting racial or sexual slurs through their microphones, but maybe I’ve just been lucky in that regard.
Outside of the singleplayer and multiplayer games of Battlefield 1 there is one last feature that I suspect most players will skip over but I liked quite a bit. As you complete tasks in Battlefield 1 you unlock entries in the game’s codex that give you short history lessons on various aspects of the First World War. Seeing as how World War 1 doesn’t get as much attention as World War 2 or some of the other conflicts from the 20th Century I think its great that developer DICE added in this little teaching tool to the game. As I said before, I’m guessing most players will ignore the codex but people like me who like to read history books will eat it up. My one complaint with the codex is that it doesn’t clearly mark entries that you’ve already read, which is an odd omission.
Battlefield 1 has gotten me back on the Battlefield bandwagon. Its singleplayer campaign is the best I’ve played in a Battlefield game and the multiplayer has reminded me of why the Battlefield games are among the very few whose multiplayer I sink a substantial amounts of time into. Overall, I’m going to score Battlefield 1 at an 8.5 out of 10. Problems with the multiplayer and the fact that the singleplayer is good but not quite great keep me from scoring Battlefield 1 any higher but this is indisputably a very good game and an easy recommendation for anyone who enjoys first-person shooters. I’ll likely be playing Battlefield 1 off-and-on through at least the end of this year and it will likely be joining the list of games for which I hold the Platinum Trophy.