Battlefield 1 hands-on: a familiar FPS on a grander scale

My initial reaction to Battlefield 1's announcement was one of incredulity. Is a World War 1 shooter really a good idea? Does it even matter when the FPS genre spent so long recreating World War 2? How has the games industry broken numbers so completely that Battlefield 1 is the sequel to Battlefield 4? There was also excitement. Modern military shooters have reigned supreme for over a decade – so long that most FPS series are turning to the near future in order to spice things up. By looking to the past, Battlefield could be doing something new. Having played it, I'm hopeful that, whatever you think about the setting, Battlefield 1 has a good chance to be a return to form for the series.

Not that Battlefield 1 is doing anything wildly different to its predecessors. I play a round in Conquest – Battlefield's flagship zone capture mode. I have 31 teammates, all of us running, driving and flying around the huge map, trying to make more of it blue than the red team can make red. In this sense, it is a Battlefield game. If you have played one before, you know what to expect.

The classes have been tweaked, but only slightly. There is the assault class, who gets anti-vehicle ordinance. The medic, who gets health packs and resuscitating syringes. The support, who gets ammo refills and an LMG. And the scout, who gets a bolt action sniper rifle. This is just one example of the benefits of Battlefield 1's setting. Snipers are slightly inconvenienced by the need to chamber a round between each shot. I spent a few minutes playing one, and enjoyed the tension of the slower rate of fire. Plus, of course, the bolt-action feels great. That's just a universal law of game design, I think.

As for the engineer, it's now possible to select tank officer and pilot classes from the spawn menu. Doing so spawns you directly into the vehicle, and equips you with tools to repair your own vehicle. 

The most notable new feature of Battlefield 1's multiplayer are the 'behemoths'. These are, according to EA, some of the largest vehicles to ever appear in a Battlefield game – big, destructive weapons that function as a call to action for the opposing team. On the map I play, St Quentin's Scar, the behemoth is a giant airship, lined with turrets that players can spawn into.

Unfortunately, I don't get a chance to try it for myself, as it spawns for the opposing team. Instead, I jump in a biplane and join up with some teammates to have a go at bringing it down. I fail, but others persist and, after a few minutes, the thing comes crashing down. I watch from the relative safety of my sniper perch. It crashes into some buildings, levelling them. It's an undeniably impressive sight, but then, so was Battlefield 4's collapsing skyscraper. The question is whether it will still be impressive the 100th time and beyond.

Set in France, the capture points of St Quentin's Scar are surrounded by small buildings. It's an environment that, despite the World War 1 setting, most reminds me of a Bad Company 2 map. For me, that's when Battlefield made the most of the Frostbite's destructive capabilities. Skyscrapers are all well and good, but there's nothing quite like the unpredictable panic of a collapsing townhouse. I get the same feeling here.

I'm excited by Battlefield 1 because being set almost 100 years in the past gives DICE a natural reason to streamline some of the series' baggier edges. And while it's impossible to get a full sense of the game from just one round, that round was some of the most exciting Battlefield I've experienced in some time.

Phil Savage

Phil has been writing for PC Gamer for nearly a decade, starting out as a freelance writer covering everything from free games to MMOs. He eventually joined full-time as a news writer, before moving to the magazine to review immersive sims, RPGs and Hitman games. Now he leads PC Gamer's UK team, but still sometimes finds the time to write about his ongoing obsessions with Destiny 2, GTA Online and Apex Legends. When he's not levelling up battle passes, he's checking out the latest tactics game or dipping back into Guild Wars 2. He's largely responsible for the whole Tub Geralt thing, but still isn't sorry.