Tim mows down a trench full of soldiers from a zeppelin gunner’s nest. I blow up a plane mid-air using a tank shell. A horse gallops by at full trot, both it and its rider aflame.
These are just a handful of the “holy shit” moments Tim and I experienced within our first few hours of Battlefield 1. With the Civilization VI launch last Friday, I didn’t expect to touch a new AAA title anytime soon. Thankfully, Tim is a die hard Battlefield fan and picked it up for the XBox One, and I’m still coming down from our last game’s adrenaline rush.
In my previous review of Valiant Hearts, I mentioned that there were almost no good WWI games available. I theorized, almost ironically at this point, that trench warfare just doesn’t make for good action. I was wrong: Trench warfare fucking rocks.
I’ve only had a few hours to play with Battlefield 1, so this article will be little more than a first impression. However, Battlefield‘s unexpectedly pleasant changes compelled me do a quick write-up.
For much of the late nineties and early aughts, we dealt with an endless supply of WWII shooters. Modern warfare changed all that, but even by now I’ve pretty much had my fill of them. Bringing the Battlefield series to WWI finally makes things feel unfamiliar again. I got to fire the cannons of a landship as my driver tore through the wall of a fortress. I manned the machine gun of a biplane as we dropped bombs atop a capture point. I even piloted a zeppelin briefly, before we fell from the sky faster than the Hindenburg.
It all sounds gimmicky at first, but it feels visceral compared to modern warfare games where every gun is an automatic rifle, and a jet plane can drop a bomb on your head with pinpoint accuracy. Landing a well-placed mortar shell right in the middle of a crowded trench is a satisfying rush, as is taking out a ridge full of gunners with some field artillery.
The game also feels more chaotic thanks to the multiplayer rules, which mimics Star Wars Battlefront‘s Walker Assault mode. Each map has a defending team holding off an assault from the opposing side. The attacking team’s goal is to progressively capture each sector of the battlefield by simultaneously holding all of the control points within each sector.
If they succeed in doing this, that sector is locked in their control, and the defenders must retreat back to their next line of defense. The action continues until the defenders have lost all of their sectors, or the attackers run out of reinforcements. The attackers also get three attempts at taking the map, with zeppelins, battleships, and armored trains joining the fight on the second and third tries.
Narrowing down the conflict into specific sectors like this turns the game into an absolute bloodbath. I watched as Tim defended a palace courtyard with a mortar while his nearby allies took potshots from the roof. Enemy troops and tanks poured in from every side. Above, a zeppelin rained fire on them as friendly planes fought to take it down. By the time the sector had been taken, the building was nothing but rubble.
Capturing sectors like this is also compromise on retaining Battlefield‘s old-school king of the hill gameplay, while keeping the action contained to a focused area. One of the problems I’ve always had with the Battlefield series is that you often wind up hiking two miles to find the nearest action, only to be shot down a sniper you never even saw.
Old Battlefield matches also tended to drift from capture point to capture point, your only real goal being to hold them for as long as possible. Advancing through sectors ratchets up the intensity as you push towards your final goal. Holding off the final assault at your last line of defense feels the climax to an action movie.
If I could name a drawback at this point, its that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of maps available yet (just 10 by my count). It’s possible Tim and I have only been playing the assault mode so far (like I said, I haven’t explored the game much yet). There will probably be more maps added later in a DLC cash grab. I also think I’m enjoying the game more just by being able to play it with Tim, so consider whether you liked the previous Battlefields before you rush out and buy this one.
The Bottom Line: Battlefield 1 is by no means revolutionary, but its a nice change for the series and is damn fun to play with a friend.