Battlefield 1 is DICE’s bold attempt to take the Battlefield formula all the way back to World War 1. The Great War was a conflict that altered the face of warfare, and immeasurably changed the way wars have been fought since. It was a catastrophic war of attrition that began on horseback and ended under the devastating might of the tank. The creation of such deadly new weapons lead a technological revolution—the real beginning of what we’d consider to be modern warfare.
However, Battlefield 1 clearly isn’t built as a realistic and authentic point of historical reference, as the announcement artwork shows. It has a Bram Stoker’s Battlefield look about it. The main character looks almost like a medieval military vampire slayer. The zeppelin and broom-handled Mauser pistol suggest World War 1, but with a steampunk twist.
It's an unexpected turn for the series, but Battlefield 1 can’t break all the rules. There are key mechanics it will have to keep to ensure it feels like a Battlfield game. How will such mechanics be served in this historical context, and what sacrifices will be made? WW1 tanks didn't have critical damage indicators, and there were no high-tech radio beacons. Defibrillators too are a massive part of Battlefield’s infantry combat, so perhaps we can expect tourniquets and syringes in Battlefield 1, though it’s hard to imagine that the revival process will still be as fast.
Squads of five are confirmed, but it's unclear how many classes there will be. In the footage we've seen so far there's no sign of the engineer's rockets and vehicle repair equipment, suggesting that the destruction of vehicles will lean more heavily on mines and explosives.
Battlefield 1 champions melee combat from the first moment of the reveal trailer. Confirmed so far are medieval-style maces, trench shovels, swords and even bayonets that you can attach to rifles and skewer enemies with. The trailer also teases plumes of coloured gas as well as soldiers clad in gas masks. Gas could change the tactics for attacking objectives completely in multiplayer.
A brief glimpse of a terrified soldier in the video also suggests that shell shock could play an important part in Battlefield 1. Coupled with effects of gas, they could both form part of a suppression system that goes beyond anything we’ve seen before. Artillery batteries and shelling will also play a part, though it’s currently unclear how they will work in multiplayer. The trailer also shows evidence of flak cannons being used as an anti-air device, though without automated lock-on systems it's possible that small arms weaponry will be the primary defense against planes.
The vehicle selection includes jeeps, light tanks, heavy tanks and bi-planes to name but a few, and will be habitable by more than one player at a time, as expected. The trailer clearly shows a Henry Jones style gunner position in the bi-plane. Lets hope there aren’t too many Sean Connerys out there cutting their own tail assemblies to ribbons.
Most excitingly of all, you’ll also be able to play with some of the game’s real monster vehicles. Axis Zeppelins and Allied Battleships will be playable and thoroughly destroyable. Horses are confirmed, promising all sorts of antics. But will gun turret attachments be available for your horse? As tanks come in sizes from light to heavy, do horses similarly graduate from mule through to shire? We can only hope.
At the London preview event DICE showed panoramic footage of some of the magnificent environments that we can expect. The luscious green of the Italian Alps, undulating dunes of the Arabian Desert and the scorched forests of French Argonne were just a few.
Battlefield 4 brought spectacular water effects to the series. Battlefield 1 will bring us raging fires and cinders. Flamethrowers join what promises to be a much smaller and concise arsenal, which is exactly what the game needs. Behind the scenes, Nathalie Ek, Software engineer for BF1, implied that plenty of artistic license was taken to make the game function with antiquated weapons. Thus sniper rifles will still feature, though the rifles we're used to in recent Battlefield games simply didn't exist in BF1's time period. Attachments and gun modifications are in too, hinting at an unlock system similar to previous games.
Encouragingly, members of the community had already played and given feedback on Battlefield 1 before the world saw the trailer, and a beta is due later this year. Nathalie Ek insisted that much has been learnt from rocky launches of BF3 and BF4, and that the much smoother launch of EA's Star Wars Battlefront last year has set the new standard. Hopefully that'll be the case, but let's not forget that Battlefront was a simpler game. If the servers hold on launch week, Battlefield 1 could be the start of a new era for the series.
Preview written by John Strike. For more of John's hopes for the future of Battlefield, check out our Battlefield wishlist.