DICE has been changing the first person shooter genre for over a decade with the Battlefield franchise. It went from being a relatively unknown series to one of gaming’s most valuable properties and gone from a World War II shooter to something with modern-day trappings, to even a cops vs. robbers motif. Now, Battlefield 1 takes things back to War War I – an era that hasn’t been showcased much in gaming. This may seem like a minor change for the series, but it’s actually quite drastic because it completely changes the nature of technology being used in combat.
With the more recent entries, you have had every possible type of method to destroy people – from melee weapons to guns to various flying crafts. Now, you have blimps, planes, horses, and tanks to contend with. Rocket launchers aren’t a thing yet – but cannons are, and you’ll be using them to deal out massive damage whenever possible. Blimps lead to some incredible moments as you can shoot them down or command them. Doing so lets you fly overhead and basically stare down on the battlefield as if you are God and just rain down vengeance upon all who oppose you.
Battlefield 1 gets things started off strongly by throwing you into the heat of combat right away. You’re told that as a front line soldier, you aren’t expected to survive – and you won’t. You will be killed many times over and it leads to you caring more about the trappings of war because every character you inhabit is given a name. You can put a name to the loss of life, and that humanizes the characters that you both are and oppose. There isn’t a wholly right or wrong side in this war. You’ll get cinematics on core characters as they recall the horrors of the battlefield to friends and family – who give them time to heal up because just thinking about what happened is traumatic on its own.
The six tales told result in an emotionally-gripping campaign and that’s somewhat rare – you’re used to FPSes that want to be dramatic, but just can’t be. Sometimes, it’s due to the narrative falling flat. Other times, it’s due to bad acting making everything come off as a parody. Here, everything is played straight and you can tell that the events that occurred weigh heavily on everyone in the story – even if they’re just passively hearing the tales. It adds a sense of weight and drama to everything and allows the campaign to work as both a story and a way to get familiar with the game’s mechanics for multiplayer – where most will spend the majority of their time.
Mode selection is about what you would expect for an FPS game. Team deathmatch, domination, capture the flag, and rush modes return. There are some nice variations on these modes mixed in though. War pigeons is all-new and blends a bit of capture the flag with a unique concept. You have to grab a pigeon, then take some time and write a letter for it to send out. The letter-writer is targeted by all enemies, and it’s quite the thrill to get the pigeon and then see how close you are to writing the letter. It seems a bit odd, but it all clicks into place during the battle. The thrill of victory is there when the meter finally counts down and you can send it, while the agony of defeat sinks in when you’re oh so close and then get killed right before.
It becomes a quest to regain control, and something that triggers a survival instinct in you. You’ve seen the summit of the mountain and just need to get there again – but it’s harder to reclaim the throne than it was to get it in the first place. TDM remains all-out insanity and easily the game’s hardest mode – which is why those who start with it are begging to die quickly and frequently. It’s the most appealing option, but also the least casual-friendly since it’s all-out warfare and you just can’t keep track of everything going on – let alone do so without a solid grasp of the game’s core mechanics.
By playing one of the most focused modes first, you can learn the mechanics if you choose to skip out on the campaign and learn things bit by bit. It’s a slower process since every part of the gameplay has its own learning curve. Each class type gives you different weapons and starting as a support class is probably smart. You get high-powered weapons and aren’t expected to carry the load for the team. Other loadouts may give you more power – but will slow you down, so you need to be able to know your way around the battlefield without being able to rely on speed to rest up and heal. There are so many variables at play that a high skill level is needed to excel and that only comes with trial and error mixed with a bit of experience.
Visually, Battlefield 1 is the most-stunning shooter on the Xbox One and one of the best-looking games on the market today. There’s a high level of detail in every part of the world and that only adds to the sense of panic because it leads to so many things happening at once. Explosions are going to happen all around you and because there isn’t a lick of slowdown during all of it, you’re never taken out of the world. You’re always “in”, and it can almost feel claustrophobic. There’s a sense of beauty amid the chaos though because of the high-end texture work on the weapons that is accented by the lighting. You’ll definitely die at least a few times just staring at the metal on your weapon of choice as they gleam and glisten.
The booming sound design adds a sense of terror to everything. You’ll see things blowing up around you, but have the sense of terror intensified thanks to the visceral sound of explosions. Allies will scream as they’re killed by what’s going on and you’ll sense that you’re next no matter how far away you are from the blast. It instill a level of fear into you that needs to be overcome if you want to thrive. Musically, everything keeps in line with the music of the time – so you’ll have some somber jazz mixed in with war anthems that get you pumped up while also reminding you of the human cost of battle.