Preview: Battlefield 1 is Leading The (Bayonet) Charge

Anyone with a passing interest in Battlefield – past or present (that may or may not have dwindled with Battlefield Hardline) – will want to check out Battlefield 1’s Open Beta. Taking modern warfare back to the World War I setting may have had its fair share of doubts and controversy, but this is the most fun that I’ve had with an FPS for a long time.

The first thing you’ll notice is how different Battlefield 1 actually feels. It’s still the same Battlefield formula, but the way it handles feels heavier and more grounded with a nudge towards realism. It’s still got a whiff of Hollywood about it. History-lovers will not be commending it for its historical accuracy, yet its slower pace encourages players to be a little more strategical rather than charging bayonet-first at an objective.

Weapons feel heavier and mechanical. You are not as agile or quick on the battlefield, and most weapons lack the punch that makes enemies far tougher to take down. Vehicles feel slow and clumsy and a bit of a pain to drive, but make up for it in firepower and airplanes feel nimble, but vulnerable to all types of ground fire.

These may seem like issues, but they’re far from it. Rather than charging around and killing everyone in sight, the way Battlefield 1 reshapes its mechanics is all geared towards a more methodical style of playing. It’s still Battlefield, but dialled down a notch. But that’s not to say the fun has been taken down a peg or two; quite the opposite in fact.

There are railroads, tanks, horses, jeeps, planes, explosions – they’re all thrown together to create a nonsensical but undisputedly thrilling Battlefield experience. Yes, it may play fast and loose with the historical context, but where it does pull some of its features back, it vamps up others elsewhere. And DICE have chosen the perfect map to get their fans hyped up for more.

The desert is vast and endless, with both areas that are open and entrapped. The rocky mountains and rust-coloured sand dunes are all beautifully rendered with a frame rate that is flawlessly smooth. The animation feels slick and effortless, flowing from one motion to the next, whether it’s vaulting a wall, charging through a door or climbing into a vehicle.

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Sinai Desert is the perfect map to tease players before Battlefield 1‘s full release. Different areas promote different forms of combat; starting off in the open-spaced ruins where tank warfare is rife, moving next to a narrow path through the mountains which is perfect for snipers, and on to an abandoned village where close quarters combat is complimented.

There’s even the chance of an impromptu sandstorm that can seriously limit your vision, but makes it easier to sneak into enemy camps and claim them for your own. They don’t happen in every game; they hit the map randomly which avoids them feeling scripted, and they can really change the tide of the battle. Tanks are far easier to sneak up on when they can’t see you.

For a beta, it’s not surprisingly thin on the ground; there’s one map (the aforementioned Sinai Desert) with both Rush and Conquest modes available. Conquest does feel more vehicle-centric but boasts the 64 player capacity, while Rush is limited to 24 but feels far more focused and chaotic of the two game modes.

All four classes are made available to you (Assault, Support, Medic and Scout), each with a handful of weapons to be unlocked. However, customisation options are limited which can be a problem when a lot of the weapons feel near identical. It’s not a lot, but it’s more than enough to whet your appetite for the full release.

The Medic class however, one of my personal favourites, does seem to have been neutered to a small degree. When trying to revive a fallen comrade, it seems that the player must first opt to be revived. As a Medic, it was incredibly frustrating to be there furiously trying to revive them to no avail. As a key feature of the Medic class, it did a feel a bit unnecessary. Whether this is just a problem with the Beta, we’ll just have to wait and see, but it’s something that I hope is fixed come release day.

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Tanks similarly can be the real bane on the battlefield. They are big, threatening and terrifying, especially when you are a class without the means of fighting them. In fact, the Assault class is the only one with the tools to defeat them, and even then it requires you to get up close and personal. They can feel a bit overpowered, especially when one side controls the majority. But then again, real tanks are not easy to take down, so neither should they be in Battlefield.

All in all, though the content is unsurprisingly lacking, there is plenty to sink your teeth into in the Battlefield 1 beta. In fact, it feels like a very polished snippet everything we have to look forward to; it looks like its been geared more towards marketing than actual network testing. It may have suffered from server issues, Matchmaking errors and the odd bug here and there, but Battlefield 1 is shaping up to be a promising installment for the franchise.

For now, I’ll have to dig out my old copy of Battlefield 4. It’s going to be a long wait until 21 October.