I cower in a crater, left in the middle of the Egyptian desert by some recent artillery barage, and drop a medkit by my feet.  Heart pounding, I look left and right to make sure nobody is following me.  My vision is blurred, breathing heavy as the medicine starts to take affect.  Cautiously I peek my head over the lip of the crater, scanning the distance for some sign of the sniper.  I work up just enough courage to sprint to the next crater when out of nowhere, a horse thunders past and it’s sword-wielding rider cuts me down, just as a biplane loops overhead.  This is World War One.  This, is Battlefield 1.

E3 Battlefield 1 screenshot

Cavalry charge into the fray on the beta’s Sinai Desert map. And yes, there are swords…

EA and DICE won the Internet when the debut trailer for Battlefield 1 swiftly jumped to the top of the YouTube charts, totally eclipsing the Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare trailer, which was met with a resounding “meh”.  If the switch from the fast-paced, high-tech warfare of Battlefield 4 to the more basic, grittier combat of the First World War was a gamble, it’s paid off big style.

Not everybody was convinced by the game’s setting, a large part of this due to many misconceptions about warfare during WW1.  Some however, just didn’t want to say goodbye to lock-on missile launchers, attack helicopters, and automatic weapons.  Fortunately, as has become the norm, DICE ran an open beta to let all gamers get hands on and see for themselves.  So here’s my verdict.

Gameplay

No surprises here.  Anyone who’s played Battlefield at any point in its lifespan will know what to expect.  The series’ trademark blend of tense, on-foot gunplay, and “holy shit I’m driving a f**king tank” vehicular combat is ever-present.  Heading back in time has meant that some of the shooting mechanics are a little looser than in the last couple of games.  Weapons don’t always shoot completely true, and recoil can be a killer.  Firing from the hip is completely unpredictable, and pistols seem to dominate in close combat.  Most weapons are now semi-automatic, playing a bit like the DMR’s of recent Battlefield games, which makes accuracy all the more important when you’re not spraying 800 rounds per second in the direction of your foe.  The wide open nature of the beta’s Sinai Desert map lends itself to a slower pace of combat, with players taking pot shots at each other across the map, and some snipers choosing vantage points to pitch their tent and pick unsuspecting people off from range.

Vehicles manage to feel at once massively overpowered yet extremely exposed and vulnerable.  The tanks feel like a dangerous weapon now, especially when in the hands of a squad that are talking to each other and working together to cover their flanks.  Battlefield 4’s tanks felt like holding a big sign above your head saying “please shoot rockets at me” in comparison.  In saying that, everyone can deal damage to vehicles now.  All grenades can damage a tank, and soliders can pot shot vehicles with small arms fire, slowly whittling away at their health.  While you still get that “oh crap” moment when a tank trundles round the corner, you at least feel that you can help deal with it, even if you’re not the anti-vehicle Assault class.

 

Battlefield 1 offical artwork

Large scale warfare is back in Battlefield 1, with Zeppelins, biplanes, tanks, and more

A change to the rules for the Conquest game mode has caused a massive furore among Battlefield traditionalists.  Previously each respawn would cost your team a ticket, meaning the more deaths on your team, the more tickets you lose.  Coupled with “ticket bleed”, a system where your tickets drain away consistently based on how many flags your team holds, this meant players had to carefully weigh the value of each objective.  If an enemy is dug in, is it worth throwing wave after wave of troops at it for that one flag?  This type of gameplay would seem synonymous with WW1.  However, the new system completely removed tickets from the equation.  Success/failure at Conquest is now based purely on Flag captures, and which team holds the most flags the longest.  It seems like this has been done to try and encourage players to PTFO (Play The F**king Objective), but I can’t help but feel that DICE may have been a little too extreme in this approach.

Rush is back on top form, after a disappointing showing in BF4.  Smoke is now a huge asset for attackers, since there were no IRNV goggles in WW1 (right?).  The attacking team can deploy smoke to cover their advance as they head in to blow up the objective while the defenders dig in and try to save their radio points.  The only criticism I have of Rush, is that 24 players feels a little too low, after the 64-player craziness of Conquest.

After the slightly over-hyped Levolution events of BF4, I wasn’t sure how DICE would handle destruction in BF1.  Fortunately, they’ve nailed it.  While there aren’t any massive scale moments to rival the skyscraper falling on Shanghai, or the radar dish on Rogue Transmission, the level of destruction throughout the map is excellent.  Buildings crumble under explosions, and the map takes on a whole different aspect.  It’s even possible to destroy the big rock bridge that snipers use to reach their vantage point overlooking the F and G flags.  While I miss the sheer drama of Levolution, I think DICE have done the right thing here, as it means that the map can take on a different aspect each time you play, and no two games will be the same.

Visuals

Anyone who played Star Wars: Battlefront will know what DICE can do when they’re let loose on the processing power of current-gen consoles and PCs.  Despite any complaints about that game, one of the universally acclaimed points about it was the graphics.  BF1 continues that tradition, and looks absolutely stunning.  I was playing on a 1080P 42″ OLED TV, and it was jaw-droppingly beautiful.

The level of detail in the environment, the weapons, and the particle effects are second to none, and DICE are really continuing to showcase the power of their Frostbite engine.  It sounds really geeky, but I can’t wait until we see a map featuring water.

Battlefield 1 official screenshot

The visuals in Battlefield 1 are on par with the game’s sense of scale

Audio

If there’s one thing that DICE are better at than visuals, it’s audio.  Battlefield has long been recognised as being one of the best quality, most authentic sounding games out there, and BF1 is no exception.  If you don’t have any surround sound speakers, I thoroughly recommend buying some purely for this game.

The announcers can be a little grating after a while, and some of the objective names sound like they were lifted straight out of a Neebs Gaming video (not a bad thing, I just can’t help laughing at them).

Bugs

This being a beta and all, I did encounter a few bugs.  Nothing was completely game-breaking, but there were some annoyances that could do with sorting.

The end of round screen is a total joke, and sometimes takes minutes to come up, during which time you are sitting watching the next round take place but unable to spawn.

There were also a couple of occasions where my squadmate would be standing there in the game world, but he’d be on the spawn screen and completely unable to do anything.  His avatar would remain there until someone killed him.

There was a strange one-off bug (below) where I spawned in and had a greyed out screen, as if I had low health.  This resolved itself after a respawn, but was a little weird.

I also had a few issues joining games, and that DDoS attack was a major pain.  Fingers crossed the launch goes better than BF4’s though.  It took them a good four or five months to really get the best out of BF4, by which time a lot of people had moved on for good.

Given the launch issues of both BF3 and BF4, I’d be tempted to recommend holding off buying BF1 for a while, just to gauge how the servers hold up.

Verdict

The Battlefield 1 Open Beta was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, with plenty of those “only in Battlefield” moments.  The move to a WW1 setting returns the series to a pace more familiar with BF1942/BF1943 than the fast-paced modern day warfare of the last few entries.  This is a great move in my opinion, and makes the game stand out from the current crop of ultra-futuristic shooters.

DICE’s gunplay has been solid for some time now, and it continues to impress, second only to Bungie in terms of how natural it feels, and the audio and visual design of the game is top of the range.

Whether the game will appeal to the CoD crowd is hard to say.  The beta map was a large scale, open environment, with only the C flag being suited for CQC.  However, running an open beta will have allowed lots of other people to try the game on for size and get a feel for it.

Overall, a superb beta, showcasing the game’s key selling points, and without too many serious bugs.  BF1 is looking like it will be a massive hit when it arrives, and rightly so.  DICE have really hit the target with this one, despite it being a 100-year old, rusted bolt-action rifle, with a bloody bandage around the stock.

This is the dawn of all out war, and I bloody love it.