Battlefield 1 Review: Oh Look, Buildings Fall Down Again!

I’d kind of forgotten what destruction looked like in a Battlefield game. Since Battlefield: Bad Company 2, it seemed like the developers of the series have been dialing back the free-form destruction in favor of activated set pieces. Collapsing buildings, falling radio towers, etc as a certain point was reached in the match.

Battlefield 1 is a return to form in that regard, because you can blow the fuck out of a windmill for absolutely no reason other than global warming is a liberal conspiracy and fossil fuels should power everything.

The game is set during World War I, and I’ll admit that I was a bit worried when I heard this. From what little my public school education taught me, World War I was three things: trench stalemates, creepy gas masks, and barb wire.

But I was pleasantly surprised that Battlefield 1 an excellent multiplayer shooter, making enough use of period-relevant weaponry, locations and themes to keep the atmosphere alive, without making the gameplay frustrating. Players have a choice of class-specific weapons: shotguns and SMGs for assault, self-loading (it means semi-auto) rifles for medics, big doofy light machine guns with weird-ass systems for reloading, and of course sniper rifles for those assholes who hide in the hills like Tusken Raiders, calling themselves “scouts”.

I hate scouts. I hate Scout too, that little girl from To Kill A Mockingbird? I just thought of that and I’m suddenly really angry that her name is Scout.

Combat feels hectic and stressful, especially with craters forming, buildings getting blown apart, and the occasional bayonet charge. It plays similar to the the last few Battlefield entries, with the exception that range is supremely important. SMGs struggle at mid-to-far range, light machine guns aren’t great up close, self-loading rifles suffer at long distance, and well, the sniper rifles are bolt action, so unless you can 360 no-scope, you’re screwed if someone gets in your face. Melee has been greatly improved, so it is often more effective to skewer an enemy rather than shoot them, something that Battlefield has struggled with in recent games; Battlefield 3’s melee was clunky and it was far easier to just reload and shoot rather than deal with the unresponsive dog-tag stealing sequence.

Where I feel Battlefield 1 shines particularly well is in the map design. Urban centers with palaces and castle walls to defend or assault, tight city streets with shelled out buildings, tangled jungles with flanking paths… it all feels appropriate, and the feeling of being on a “map” fades away. It feels less like an arena and more like an actual place. Granted, it is supposed to feel like a real place, but that leads me to my next point.

Context! The game does a great job of giving you the illusion that there is a reason to be fighting. I’m particularly fond of the Operations; a series of linked battles with increasing stakes with each assault or defense, with historical input after each battle. In the Operations and Rush, the maps show off their diversity; you may start in an open area, being shot by Tuskens, but as you push forward, the flat desert turns into a small village, and so on and so forth. It makes the games far more interesting.

There are a few things to be critical of. It takes a long time to unlock stuff; you get “War Bonds” to purchase weapons, but it is a slog to get them; you have to level up to get more. There is a medal system in which you can complete challenges to get more experience points, however you cannot track multiple medals at a time. Meaning if you get ten headshots with a medic rifle but you have an assault medal tracked, your stats won’t count toward the medic medal.

The campaign is surprisingly good, allowing you to play through the stories of multiple perspectives in the war: a tank crew, an ace pilot, a messenger, a foot soldier, however the stories are far too short. They introduce characters, but by the time you form an attachment to them, they catch a bullet because the commander told them to fix the tank. There’s only a few hours of gameplay between all six War Stories, which is a shame because I really enjoyed them.

There are also micro-transactions, but so far they are purely cosmetic skins for weapons, squad experience boosts (shoutout to the dude I piggybacked a bunch of points from) and shortcuts to unlock stuff.

These complaints aren’t huge, and they aren’t a reason to not play the game. The big issue I noticed is that there are some glitches; I tried to climb a low wall and ended up glitching so I kept repeating the animation over and over. Another infuriating issue is that quitting a game seems to make the application freeze; you’ll spend a while staring at a loading screen while a white circle spins in the corner. This happened to me and a friend nearly a dozen times.

My closing thoughts are that it’s a great game, and hopefully a patch comes out addressing the glitches. It feels like the Battlefield of old, where stuff blew up and I died a lot. The historical context is handled in a way that is entertaining but also respectful; the game tries to evoke empathy with what these soldiers went through. Which is good, because I kind of feel like I’ve been murdering my great grandfather over and over.

 

–Alex, 12/9/2016

 

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