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Preview: Battlefield 1

Leaks all but confirmed DICE’s step back in history early this morning, as widespread speculation ran rampant with excitement, and concern of limitations, at news Battlefield 1 is set in World War I. On stage in San Francisco, Lead Game Designer Daniel Berlin allayed fears, by setting the misconception straight: World War I was a lot more than muddy trenches and throwing rocks.

The Great War was the most divergent in history. It saw tanks roam the battlefield in France for the first time, as biplane bombers obliterated victims who never foresaw their impending doom. Contrasting the primitive dogfights and massive naval vessels was a reliance on calvary – and yes, you can bring a much nimbler horse to a tank fight – and hand-to-hand combat, which was much more prevalent than the overpowered knives of war games set in present day.

The jump back in time from BF4 to Battlefield 1 represents the “next big milestone” in the series, in the true dawn of the all-out warfare Battlefield has been celebrated for since revolutionising the landscape in 2002 with Battlefield 1942 – a massive online multiplayer game at a time best remembered for single-player and split-screen arenas. What we now consider modern warfare can be traced back to how World War I was fought.

Battlefield 4

To my surprise, the look back 100 years doesn’t coincide with a reduction in speed of gameplay. Battlefield 1 promises to maintain the series’ current pacing – it’s just as fast and hectic as Battlefield 4 – despite archaic technology. The variety between innovative weapons, and style of warfare on a multitude of fronts, allows for a more physical and personal world than ever before. DICE wants you to feel the action behind the controller.

While it has a reputation for trench foot, jamming rifles and unreliable vehicles, World War I spawned chaotic battles in an era of desperate innovation. Scared of what its enemies would conjure, each side engaged in a deadly arms race to unleash destruction on unprecedented levels; all of which enables the classic land-sea-air gameplay loop in Battlefield 1.

IN WITH THE OLD

Battlefield 4

The iconic bolt-action rifle and shotgun are joined by mounted machine guns and sniper rifles – but firearms are only part of the Great War story. It was a time when hand-to-hand combat was just as prevalent, so DICE has implemented a new melee system to promote rushing an enemy like a man possessed, led by the bayonet charge. It’s not all so calculated; jump on the back of a horse with sabre in-hand, or use a spike club to bludgeon a soldier to death…or improvise with a shovel.

Staying true to the core pillars, the Assault, Medic, Support and Scout classes all return, joined by a couple of newcomers. Vehicle enthusiasts will thrive in the self-explanatory Tank Officer and Pilot roles, offering more variety amongst the 64-players on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

“You need a good team,” was the frank assessment offered by Daniel Berlin. He was quick to add lone wolves will carve-out their own style, but team play is the recipe for victory. Players will be rewarded for fulfilling their role within the unit, and DICE is making it easier for you to stay in-touch with your squad to continue playing together. Battlefield has always been a team-orientated series and Battlefield 1 is taking that a step further. However, aside from the improved Squad system, DICE isn’t ready to discuss how it is doing that.

Behind-closed-doors, we saw the trailer made available earlier today, as well as unpublished pre-alpha gameplay footage that reinforced the brutality of the destruction. Explosions, and frankly death, were rife in the glimpses of gameplay we saw, as a solider ran into trouble between two tanks locked into a fierce battle that wasn’t to end well for either of them.

Dogfights between a fleet of biplanes looked insane in full gameplay. There is a mixture of aircraft, the scout planes and bombers will ideally work together in tandem, with two players in each: a pilot and a rear-gunner. This is the only element where the pacing appeared noticeably slower by virtue of the technology, prior to the advent of the jet engine. However, if anything it makes the action more turbulent. With flashes of the brilliance of wing hopping of 1942 (it’s only a matter of time before we see horses jumping between planes inundate Twitch streams), the slower planes should favour skilful pilots over blind luck.

The skies were a flurry of chaos, and during a fleeting glimpse of concept art, I think I saw a man in a hot air balloon stabbing a passing pilot in the face (I asked Berlin to clarify, but unfortunately he wasn’t unable to comment on anything shown in the presentation he didn’t specifically mention. It was definitely a man leaning out of an airborne basket, so perhaps he was a scout). The massive zeppelin was the highlight of the trailer, dwarfing all that lay in its path. It’s not clear if the airship will be controllable by players, or if it’s merely set dressing, but at this point it doesn’t really matter – I already know I’m going to get in the cockpit of a biplane and attempt to land on the zeppelin, get out of the cockpit, blow it up, and fly away in a ball of fire.

Light and heavy tanks scattered across the battlefield doesn’t look out of the ordinary, but I’ve never seen a lunatic charge one on horseback. He was ambitious, but still a lunatic. We didn’t get to see it, but DICE promised the battleships are mighty, and can anchor deep out at sea to annihilate an entire shoreline. Now, how do I get my horse on one?

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Battlefield 1 promises to remain respectful to the First World War, right down to the authenticity of the vehicles, weapons and uniforms. DICE went into the real world to fly and record biplanes and see tanks in motion. The sound you hear when you fire a bolt-action rifle isn’t computer generation – it’s been recorded by firing an actual gun. This is where the rumours were wrong: there is no alternate universe. It’s all based on the real world.

This virtue of respect extends to the diversity of the conflict zones scattered around the globe. It was a true World War, and the assortment of maps aim to do that justice. From the mountains of the Italian Alps, to the sand dunes of Saudi Arabia and the open fields of France, trenches will make up only a small part of the maps of Battlefield 1. From a design standpoint that allows a massive variety of arenas to play on – if the buzz terms are to be believed, as many as we’ve ever had before. But beyond that, Battlefield 1 could educate a new generation on the scope of War World I. It’s more than the grainy pictures of the dishevelled Western Front. If DICE is truly able to capture the scale of WWI in its entirely, it could be the catalyst to inspire a legion of gamers to learn more about a war that shaped the world.

A HISTORIC CAMPAIGN?

Battlefield 4

Battlefield is first and foremost a multiplayer series, but DICE teased big changes to the campaign this year. It simply said the development team looked at what it had achieved with Battlefield 4 and determined the next campaign needs more “Battlefield”. The story-based experience will be closer to the renowned multiplayer gameplay, with increased vehicles and larger environments that offer more player choice.

We have no idea what the campaign will revolve around, aside from “Battlefield moments”. It will focus on a range of people, rather than a central protagonist, and how they react to those key moments, inspired by what transpired in World War I. Expect more on this at E3 (probably during the Xbox press conference, if the Xbox branding today is anything to go by).

Battlefield 1 will be released worldwide on October 21, 2016. The Early Enlister Edition will be playable three days early, from October 18. It will also be available early to players with EA Access on Xbox One and PC.

Stevivor attended the Battlefield 1 reveal event in San Fransisco. Flights and accomodation were paid for by EA. 

 

Ben Salter
Ben has been writing about games in a professional capacity since 2008. He even did it full-time for a while, but his mum never really understood what that meant. He's been part of the Stevivor team since 2016. You will find his work across all sections of the site (if you look hard enough). Gamertag / PSN ID: Gryllis.