Battlefield 1 Review (Xbox One)
Once they exhausted World War II as a setting, most military shooters were content to look to the modern era, or even the future, as venues for players to explore warfare. Where it worked for some developers, the Battlefield series just seemed off in this updated age. Both Battlefield 3 and 4 were adequate, but they lacked the punch of earlier entries, and Battlefield Hardline was such a drastic departure from the norm, it became the ultimate outlier in the franchise.
After attempts at finding a place in the current climate, DICE has decided instead of forecasting potential futures that looking back at how we got here could be just as exciting. With Battlefield 1, DICE has reinvigorated the franchise with a smart campaign, and invested more into the consistently solid multiplayer with new options that strengthen an already impressive foundation.
Foregoing the typical one-man-army style of narrative that has permeated the shooter landscape, DICE's approach to exploring The Great War takes a broader approach. There are five different views at the various fronts across the globe, each with a different protagonist, storytelling style, and mechanics to explore. All five of the separate stories occur during 1918, which was during the tail end of the first World War, but each shows just how brutal the conflict was for so many countries. Now, these narratives aren't all that strong; they each flirt with conflict in different ways, but never offer much perspective on the events that transpired in Britain, Gallipoli or the Arabian desert. They do however provide some clever storytelling techniques that fit in the anthology-style story DICE is telling, even if all five end up having nothing much beneath the surface.
The campaigns also offer plenty of insight into what makes the mulitplayer of this new Battlefield tick, particularly if this is your first venture or you've been away for a few years. Each of the stories not only focuses on a different area of World War I, but they also each bring a different gameplay aspect to the table. One story is focused entirely on trench warfare, while another puts you in a British tank regiment to get the hang of driving and fixing ground vehicles. The Arabian campaign introduces horses and stealth mechanics, and the Italian mountains give a glimpse at Elite classes like the Sentry. The best story, about an American who lies his way into the RAF, shows off aerial combat, and even tasks you with taking down one of Battlefield 1's new Behemoths, the Zeppelin.
Each of those elements comes into play during multiplayer, which is a smart way to introduce players of all skill sets to the wide range of combat they'll experience in Battlefield 1 online. More than that though, the single-player restores a bit of the personality Battlefield lost when trying to match up with its contemporaries in more fantastical settings. Grounding the game in actual, historical context allowed the writing team to focus more on the way the stories were told rather than having to craft yet another fictional situation in which a global war would seem feasible enough for a game campaign. It is a tiny bit disappointing though that a game which begins telling players "You will not survive" doesn't bring much commentary on the horrors and effects of the first World War in context as they happened.
Multiplayer has always been an area where Battlefield has excelled, and this year's entry certainly puts the franchise back immediate contention for the best online offering once again. The familiar modes like Conquest, Domination and Deathmatch return, and are still strong. Where Battlefield 1 sets itself apart is in the new Operations mode, which brings large-scale conflict to the online portion in fantastic fashion. Battlefield has been a game that's bragged about the battle size, with up to 64 players vying for control at any given time. Operations mode is actually the first time that size actually feels right. This mode puts one side on the offensive in an attempt to seize control of a key area in World War I. It mixes in Conquest elements (big maps with vehicle combat), Deathmatch elements (eliminating as many opposing forces as possible) and Domination elements (holding strategic points) to offer the most comprehensive Battlefield experience possible.
Maps are gigantic, and have fantastic variety in each setting. Most importantly though, they all feel like they are the right size for the number of people vying for control. There are constantly shifting fronts, with the only thing stopping the offensive side from winning being a finite respawn counter. If the defense holds even just one control point at the end of the game, they've won. It's a brilliant way to keep players invested even when the odds are stacked against them in every way, and having been on both sides of an Operation, victory feels sweetest when defending that final point against hundreds of soldiers. Yeah, clean sweeping an Operations map is just as nice, but Operations shines when you're forced to dig in and hold out against all odds.
Again though, none of that would be or feel possible without the absolutely outstanding maps in multiplayer. Whether they're the massive, (mostly) open arenas of Operations, or the more bite-sized versions in Domination or War Pigeons (a clever twist on capture the flag), DICE has built some very, very strong arenas. There's not a lot of verticality, which makes sense given the timeframe and locations in WWI, but there are just as many great open spaces to engage in as there are close-quarters portions. Map design has become so crucial to the multiplayer component as competitive online encounters have become more popular. What DICE does with Battlefield's maps is impressive, and knowing that vehicles have just as much place on the ground (and air) as the footsoldiers is that much more more amazing. The balance for the two elements is incredibly strong, and Battlefield has almost no equal in this element of first-person shooters.
What's more, each of the maps is affected differently and randomly by weather outbreaks over the course of a match. When the fog rolls in off the sea in Italy, it changes the strategy and level dramatically. If you can't see a hundred yards away, you've got to rethink your attack plan. The same thing is true when the rains start pouring in France, or the sands kick up in the desert. At first it can be frustrating to have the tides of battle turn thanks to some random event, but once you grow accustomed to Battlefield's new twists and turns, you'll wish more games made use of the elements in such a fashion. It adds a tiny bit of realism to an otherwise fantasized version of war, and helps ground the idea that these aren't just made-up locations with scripted events. It also lends more credence to the actual events, giving you just a tiny bit more insight into what it may have been like to storm the trenches, only to have visibility wiped as you progressed into enemy territory.
Battlefield 1 puts the franchise back on the path to being one of the best first-person shooters on the market. Its campaign is a tremendous improvement over the past few entries, and the presentation is virtually unrivaled. The Battlefield multiplayer has consistently been one of the better experiences, and with the only real drawback this time around being some lengthy load times, Battlefield is again in a class all its own. This is the best Battlefield has been in a while, and Battlefield 1 has set a new bar for what we should expect from not just this series, but contemporaries as well.
This review was completed using a digital download of Battlefield 1 provided by the publisher for the Xbox One.