Why WWI is a great setting for Battlefield

While some Call of Duty fans rage at Infinite Warfare for hopping into spaceships, Battlefield is going further back in time than it ever has. We found out today that Battlefield 1, as it’s terribly named, is skipping all the way past Battlefield 1942 and into World War I. I’m excited.

I don’t know if Battlefield 1 will realize all my dreams of what a WWI Battlefield could be, but I’m happy it isn’t being sold on the merits of another skyscraper falling over. Battlefield 3 and 4 are fine, but I fear yet another modern era Battlefield would have come with more sleepy spiels about ‘new maps’ and the consequences of a US war with China. I mean, can you imagine if China levolutioned the United States? What a disaster that’d be.

I miss the richness you get from investigating wars of the past. They’ve been analyzed from every angle—how gun manufacturers tilted the balance, how tactics were invented to cope with technology, what the rats were like in the trenches—and already won or lost so there’s no tedious ‘ripped from the headlines’ fear to market. 

There’s so much to pull from in WWI that would have to be invented for a fictional war, but probably wouldn’t be (let’s just add some more holographic sights and say North Korea did it, shall we?). As a light example, imagine the echoing crack of a Maschinengewehr 08 and how frightening the machine gun must have been to a British army that owned hardly any of them at the start of the war. Maybe Battlefield 1 will make machine guns fairly rare, defensive weapons, or require multiple players to operate them. I doubt it, but I’m still looking forward to seeing how DICE interprets WWI, with all its slow-firing Mausers, artillery strikes, biplanes, and long, exhausting battles. It may not be how I’d interpret it, but I’ll be happy if the limitations imposed by the past inspire creativity beyond what we’ve seen since Battlefield escaped history.

I’ll be happy if the limitations imposed by the past inspire creativity beyond what we’ve seen since Battlefield escaped history.

Granted, the announcement trailer doesn’t exactly suggest a delicate take on the war. It’s all horses and dogfights, battleships and a lot of running and not so much lying in mud and rat feces. I don’t think there’s any bugle in Seven Nation Army, either. Battlefield hasn’t kept it low-key for a while (the days of ominous strings and slowly converging vehicles are perhaps over).

But setting vehicles aside (and I do look forward to steering a battleship), WWI infantry combat should suit Battlefield well. WWI infiltration tactics are about as Battlefield as you can get, really: bombard the frontlines, send small teams of light infantry through weak points to attack the rear and isolate front defenses, send in heavier infantry... and then lose the territory in a counter-attack and try again. You have both ranged assaults—artillery to soften targets, and some marksmanship to terrify entrenched enemies—as well as trench-to-trench and door-to-door fighting. If Battlefield 1 is designed accordingly, there will be roles for players who want to mess with artillery or camp out in defensive positions, and those who want to be mobile alone or in small groups. It should, I hope, require lots of teamwork to capture a few heavily-defended points, rather than a scattering of troops to lots of poorly-defended positions, as can happen in BF3 and BF4.

What I want most—aside from everything in our Battlefield wishlist—is for Battlefield 1 to at least not get too wacky with the setting. Battlefield has never been much for historical accuracy—I’d play Verdun for something further in that direction—but Battlefield 1942 did attempt to model real weapons and battles. It was goofy but somber, as if we’d all invaded a giant WWII museum diorama to hop on the wings of planes and shoot paintballs while absorbing information plaques in our peripheries. I hope Battlefield 1 captures some of the atmosphere and despair of Verdun and Ypres and Somme in the same way, so that I feel like I’m running amok on a historical field trip, not flying around in Assassin’s Creed’s Animus with knives taped to my arms. 

The costumes are looking good, though, and it doesn't seem to be going for Tarantino-like badassery in its soldiers. I like that the soldiers in BF1942 aren’t special. They just look like hapless guys with guns, and in World War I especially, I’m keen to see a similar take.

Whether or not Battlefield 1 ends up being all the fun I hope for, setting it in WWI was a great idea. It’s a reaction to players who are tiring of ever more futuristic settings (I'm getting there, though I think I like sci-fi too much to ever say no to spaceships). It avoids trying to recapture, or remake, what made Battlefield 1942 special by tip-toeing around it to an earlier war. And it helps that WWI is rarely represented in videogames, making expectations fuzzy and perhaps giving DICE more freedom to experiment and surprise. I hope they run with it.

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.