Surprisingly, WWI is exactly where Battlefield belongs

I love that Battlefield 1’s medic carries crutches. It goes completely against my understanding of What Battlefield Is: a big, loud war game where you accumulate ever-cooler tactical gear. The crutches are purely decorative, but the fact that anyone’s carrying a symbol of weakness around on their back in this series could say something about what Battlefield is becoming.

This week’s open beta only offers one map, two modes, and a handful of guns to judge, but I think Battlefield’s 1’s setting is doing wonders for its spirit. It’s making the game more grounded. It starts with the guns: clunky, bulky piles of brass, iron, and wood that generally shoot like shit. Here, watch me completely fail to kill this guy who’s ignoring me:

Wonderful. I mean, that situation would’ve been just another assault rifle kill in BF4. I like the struggle that arises from the greater horizontal bullet spread, and from how terrible my pistol is: it makes a greater portion of my kills and assists feel earned. Besides, it’s not like BF1’s guns are random—I can still pull off fun triple-kills too. It’s just that they have interesting limitations. It’s a game where the technology of the period is both an asset and an obstacle to your ability to shoot dudes. 

To give you a sense of how aggressive the damage and accuracy dropoff is for some weapons, the default sniper rifle, the SMLE MkIII, can be dialed to a maximum of 300 meters, a far cry from the kilometer-plus frags you might see in BF4. Guns like Madsen MG, which we saw in the alpha, eat up big chunks of screen space. When I hop on a static MG, I have a comically narrow window to spot enemies through. Piloting the bomber plane is like flying a fragile hippo.

In previous Battlefields, I could barely tell the difference between an AK-12 and an M4 (BF4 has 19 assault rifles!), especially after all the lasers and custom gadgetry were attached. Maybe I’ll feel underwhelmed by the weapon set once I can tinker with BF1’s weapon mods (they aren’t in the beta), but right now, this is the most personality BF’s weapons have had in a long time, and it’s in large part due to their flaws.

The technology of the period is both an asset and an obstacle to your ability to shoot dudes.

This scrappier shooting combines well with the BF1’s more restrained visual direction. Yes, this is a fantastical, 'Greatest Hits' version of WWI—you only need to hop aboard the enormous, many-gunned war train in the beta’s Sinai Desert map to know that. But where BF4 threw artificial hurricanes at you or dropped a skyscraper on your squad, BF1 benefits from its relative restraint. The dust clouds and breezes that appear dynamically do hinder visibility—on a couple occasions, I couldn’t finish someone off because I couldn’t track them anymore. But this weather doesn’t feel like some kind of distracting, centerpiece ‘event,’ it’s atmospheric, it feels sort of in-line with what a soldier might’ve experienced in this era.

More generally, the map is gorgeous, clearly benefiting from the improvements made to Frostbite on Star Wars Battlefront. I also think it flows well, considering how much of it is open sand. I love the first section of Sinai Desert on Rush, Battlefield’s 12-on-12 attack-and-defend map. There’s a ridge along the northern side that overlooks both objectives, a rock nest for snipers that itself usually becomes a silent side-objective: if you want to cap A and B, you’ve got to root out or pin down the long guns on this high ground.

I and a lot of other people were skeptical about what this take on WW1 would mean for the series, especially after hearing that the French (who did a lot more fighting than the Americans) would be relegated to DLC. I shouldn’t draw too strong of a conclusion off a single map, but I’m starting to wonder whether this is where Battlefield always belonged, nearer to 1942, not 20XX. 

Evan Lahti
Global Editor-in-Chief

Evan's a hardcore FPS enthusiast who joined PC Gamer in 2008. After an era spent publishing reviews, news, and cover features, he now oversees editorial operations for PC Gamer worldwide, including setting policy, training, and editing stories written by the wider team. His most-played FPSes are CS:GO, Team Fortress 2, Team Fortress Classic, Rainbow Six Siege, and Arma 2. His first multiplayer FPS was Quake 2, played on serial LAN in his uncle's basement, the ideal conditions for instilling a lifelong fondness for fragging. Evan also leads production of the PC Gaming Show, the annual E3 showcase event dedicated to PC gaming.