Played on: PlayStation 4.
Available on: PC, PlayStation 4 & Xbox One.
Release date: 21st October 2016.
Before sitting down to write about the Battlefield 1 Beta I went back and read through some of the other pieces I’ve written over the years about the Battlefield franchise. It made me realise one key thing; it’s hard to find new things to say about Battlefield. It’s a criticism that can easily be levied at the gameplay in Battlefield games too – it’s hard to find anything new to talk about.
Battlefield 1 attempts to tackle this problem by looking into and taking inspiration from the franchise’s past. Instead of following series rival Call of Duty into the future, DICE have taken Battlefield back in time to World War I.
The basics of Battlefield 1’s gameplay, however, remain largely unchanged in this Beta regardless of the new World War I setting. The only map on offer is Sinai Desert, a large environment suitable for close quarters, long range, and vehicular combat, with two sides facing off against each other in Conquest and Rush game modes – so far, so Battlefield then.
The sprawling Sinai Desert map on offer in the Beta is somewhat dull, with only a small town and a handful of rocky outcrops to break up the monotonous yellow sands. The dynamic weather on offer is, however, cool with the potential for high winds to whip up large scale sandstorms that limit visibility and force a change of tactics. Sinai Desert also provides DICE with the opportunity to show off some of their other new gameplay features too. You can ride across the map on horseback, fly through the skies in Battlefield 1’s lumbering bi-planes, and call in the map’s behemoth, an armoured train, to assist you. Behemoth’s are Battlefield 1’s answer to Levolution, becoming available to the loosing team in order to help change the outcome of the battle, whilst also having the potential to change the shape of the battlefield overall (as was seen with the zeppelin in Battlefield 1’s Alpha map San Quentin Scar). Sinai Desert also shows off Battlefield 1’s new Elite Classes; special soldier pickups, which act as an equivalent to Battlefront’s hero pickups (not that DICE would admit that).
It’s fair to say that the World War I setting works in Battlefield’s favour. Whilst Call of Duty keeps pushing further forward into the future, focusing on faster and more fluid movement, futuristic weapons and bigger set pieces, Battlefield 1 has done the exact opposite. Battlefield 1 feels reminiscent of a simpler time in first-person shooters when a more considered approach to battle was encouraged over the twitchy, blink and you’ll miss it, war zones of today’s modern shooters.
So, is the Battlefield 1 Beta any good? I really enjoyed playing and found the gameplay to be fun and, at times, intense. I spent most of my time in Conquest mode, as I preferred the larger, more open, gameplay it offered, but Rush modes smaller scale was also enjoyable. The shooting and movement mechanics were as tight as I expected, and seasoned veterans of the Battlefield franchise should feel right at home once they’ve adjusted to the more weighty and old-fashioned shooting that comes hand-in-hand with the World War I setting. I also felt like playing as a team was more encouraged in Battlefield 1 than previous entries in the franchise too. I think this is intrinsically linked to the setting – it’s a lot harder to play as a lone wolf without all of the modern technology available in the previous Battlefield games – though it remains to be seen if this will continue once Battlefield 1 releases to everyone in October. The Assault, Medic, Engineer and Recon classes are still present and correct too, though ammo is now much more limited, reloading is slower, and more thought is required in regards to the best way to tackle objectives. Vehicles, in particular, are generally much harder to destroy in Battlefield 1 meaning that they can be very helpful for winning capture points. Conversely, vehicles are slower and less manoeuvrable, leaving them vulnerable once a weakness has been exposed. This translates to the sky as well, where dog fights are slower, more intense affairs, played out over wide turning circles, with each kill feeling much more hard won and rewarding. Make one small error, however, and it’s easy to end up a smoking wreck on the battlefield.
I can’t help but feel, right now at least, that based on the Beta alone Battlefield 1 might be a make or break moment for DICE’s main franchise. The World War I setting makes the gameplay fresh and different, but those feelings quickly begin to fade as familiarity kicks in – and with Battlefield 4, Battlefield Hardline and Battlefront all still regulars in my PlayStation 4 and Xbox One disc trays, this didn’t take very long.
In some ways the new setting and maps of Battlefield 1 feel like they could be released as quality add-on as opposed to a whole new game. This feeling is made even stronger by the fact that a new UI is being introduced (on PC at least) that will allow players to jump between maps in Battlefield 4, Hardline and Battlefield 1 with ease. It seems to me that, in order to fully justify Battlefield 1 as a brand new full priced release, DICE need to finally nail the full package, single-player and all.
Once again only time will reveal how good Battlefield 1 is on release. The new setting certainly works in its favour, but DICE need to ensure the problematic launch of Battlefield 4 remains a thing of the past, whilst simultaneously delivering an interesting single-player mode as well as the now expected multiplayer suite.
It’s clear from the Battlefield 1 Beta that DICE have listened to what fans want and are still the kings of large scale, multiplayer, video game warfare – whether this is still enough or not, is harder to tell.
Images from www.dice.se/games/battlefield-1