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.
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.