Editor’s note: Yes, this review is impressively late. And given that this is one of the hottest releases of 2016, that kinda sucks. We’ve been holding off on publishing our thoughts because Michael’s been trying to get to the bottom of the issues surrounding the game’s lack of local servers. It’s a subject that many South African Battlefield fans are rightfully livid about, and we hoped to be able to review the game only after we’d gotten some sort of peaceful resolution on the issue. It doesn’t look like that’ll be coming anytime soon though, so here’s how we feel about the game, server drama and all.
So, this is World War I ‘ey! I can’t say I’ve ever played a WWI game before. I’ve played many WWII games and even enjoyed a little Vietnam action here and there, but never WWI. It’s an exciting proposition: using early 20th-century weapons and tactics to battle through unique environments and get a taste of what combat was like back in The Great War. WWI was the answer to the “what’s next for Battlefield?” question posed by Electronic Arts and DICE – and it’s an answer that’s worked out brilliantly for them.
Quick note: I haven’t played the single-player campaign yet, so Dane and Tarryn will be the ones to discuss the solo portion. That said, I’m looking forward to it based on the small taste I got while fighting through the game’s tutorial. In modern-military shooters you generally rely so much on UAV, night-vision scopes and super-accurate weapons with high rates of fire that it’s easy to forget that wars used to be fought with comparatively archaic technology. It made them a lot more in-your-face, and far less remote. When the death you’re dealing and receiving is this close and personal, it requires a different level of skill and a whole new way of approaching combat.
Of course, the game isn’t drastically different – but it feels fresh and raw, and requires more hard work to get things done. There’s no placing radio beacons to quickly respawn at that great sniping spot you took ages to sneak to; instead, you have to make the long trek back each time, which leaves you exposed. You can’t take a fast jeep or bike behind enemy lines, because the faster things move in this world the easier they are to take down. If you want some extra protection, taking a heavy tank means a long, slow drive. Tanks in those days weren’t as nimble as the ones we have today. Flying is also very different. We’re talking paper-and-matchstick airplanes held together by hope and prayers. DICE has recreated WWI-era weaponry as accurately as they can while still keeping the game fun, so bullet drop-off and accuracy all assist in mimicking what battle must have felt like in the early 1900s. In other words, it’s an accurate period-piece shooter in the Battlefield franchise.
I’m not going to list all the guns, vehicles, maps and locations here. There’s more than enough classes and guns for everyone to find something they’re happy playing with. Unlocking new things for each class is based on time spent playing that particular class, and you spend a currency called War Bonds to unlock new weapons and equipment. War Bonds are awarded each time you rank up, and even though there isn’t much variation when it comes to the weapons in each class, there’s enough to keep most folks happy. There are many different types of guns to qualify that point, but no single weapon offers a huge advantage over any other in the list. Instead, it usually comes down to personal preference in terms of fire rate, clip size, damage and other stats. Depending on the situation, there are only really two or three good weapons for each class, which is a little different when compared to BF4.
You can still spot enemies, blow up tanks with dynamite and even place fake sniper heads (it really is just a head on a stick) to confuse sniper hunters. In BF1 you’ll find no rocket launchers and it often feels impossible to destroy enemy tanks by yourself – C4 is sorely missed because dynamite isn’t sticky. The game modes are pretty standard (team deathmatch, Conquest, Rush, etc.), with the exception being War Pigeons. Here you must grab and defend a messenger pigeon until you can release it to carry bombing coordinates for the enemy position. It’s a fair bit of fun, but the old-favourite Conquest mode seems to be the most popular. Visually, it’s a beautiful game and each map feels muddy, war-torn, broken and dangerous – a stunning recreation of those black-and-white pictures you sometimes see on the History Channel.
It’s definitely Battlefield
Now, here’s the burning question: will Battlefield 1 end up like Hardline (which was fun for a while, but there’s a reason nobody plays it anymore), or will it have a longer lifespan, like BF4? While Hardline felt like something other than a Battlefield game, BF1 definitely feels worthy of the Battlefield name. This is trudging through the mud, taking pot-shots at enemy positions while you watch your teammates cartwheel through the sky after a well-placed enemy grenade. It’s riding your horse and cutting down three bad guys just before a airship crashes on top of you. It’s about parachuting behind enemy lines and disrupting the flow of the fight.
One new addition to help change the fortunes of a team taking a good beating is the introduction of superweapons called “behemoths”. Should the enemy team build up a significant score advantage over your team, your side is awarded a behemoth. This can be a heavily armed train, airship or dreadnought. These things can turn the tide of any game and give the losing side a chance to take things back.
A recent patch has fixed the annoying problems with squad leaders so I’m not going to speak about that here, and the same patch also adjusted a few points so that maps are more balanced. New modes have been added like Fog of War, and new hardcore servers make the fighting that much more deadly. Battlefield 1 is really exactly like BF4 in terms of the way it feels to play, but thanks to its accurate representation of WWI weapons, terrain and vehicles, it’s a clunkier, low-tech version of the Battlefield you know and love.
There’s no real nice way to discuss this aspect of the game. For Battlefield 4 we had local Internet companies hosting local servers. For BF1 there are no local servers, so all games (currently) are made and played in Europe. This means each game sees you connected with a 190+ ping. For casual gamers this will probably go unnoticed, particularly on console. For those gamers who are used to the crispy response time and feel of a locally hosted Battlefield game, you’re going to be annoyed and you’ve probably refused to buy the game because of it.
The lag isn’t something you can use as an excuse for playing badly by saying “yes, this is a high-ping problem” or “no, I just can’t shoot straight”. But there’s still a feeling that something is off. Sniping is one area where this has a larger impact thanks to the higher level of accuracy and timing involved. In close-quarter battles it can sometimes feel like you’re shooting blanks. It also works the other way around, working to your advantage when an enemy player should clearly have killed you, but didn’t.
The reason for this change of plan is so that EA can charge you to rent local servers, but bear in mind that these servers aren’t available in South Africa, and will instead be elsewhere in Africa. I’ve looked around and asked people who should have answers, but nothing is clear at this point. The specifics weren’t available when the game launched, and it’s still unclear what all this means. The simple question of “will the server you rent be based in South Africa?” is something nobody seems able to answer.
It’s a real pity that EA has decided to not support local servers in SA, instead opting for a cash-grab with hosted severs. Is it not enough that the game drip-feeds us paid DLC? Must we also be financially penalised for wanting to play the game with a ping under 50? This isn’t a complain that’s unique to me – the SA community has asked and begged and even set up a petition. This move is a sure-fire way of reducing the local BF1 player base, which is going to make it even harder to justify SA servers for the next game. They’ll say that there aren’t enough people playing Battlefield in our country to warrant setting up servers, ignoring the fact that it’s the lack of local support that resulted in the drop in player count in the first place.
It’s a shame this is the way they’ve decided to treat our territory, and it’s hard to recommend this game to more serious and committed fans of the Battlefield series. It’s the wrong way to treat loyal fans and people who have been buying Battlefield games for many years. Let’s hope they improve their methods for dealing with South African gamers before the next game arrives, because it’s really appalling.
I wasn’t going to buy Battlefield 1. “Tarryn,” I promised myself. “You’re not going to buy Battlefield 1.” And then I bought Battlefield 1 anyway, because I have the enduring conviction and implacable resolve of mouldy cake. Also, I really like Rush mode.
But, much like Titanfall 2, it’s the unexpectedly terrific campaign that’s got me oh-em-jeezing about this game. Who’d have thought it? I didn’t even finish Battlefield 4‘s campaign because it was so relentlessly tedious and derivative, but this time around, DICE has turned out something super special. Instead of the usual first-person shooter ONE GOOD GUY VERSUS THE ENTIRE CONTINGENT OF BAD GUYS IN A SERIES OF INCREASINGLY IMPLAUSIBLE SCENARIOS THAT ALMOST INVARIABLY ENDS WITH A NUKE, Battlefield 1‘s campaign divvies up its presentation of The Great War into an anthology of discrete, much more personal and even sentimental narratives that, almost without precedence, demonstrate immense respect and dignity for historical events. One extraordinary sequence which has you and an injured comrade moving through the scorched, shell-shocked trenches of no man’s land between the German and Allied lines, for example, is a sombre remembrance of the devastation to not only the soldiers who fought, but the very land itself.
Rather than the imperious patriotic bluster of Call of Duty and even previous Battlefield games, Battlefield 1 acknowledges the hopelessness and anguish of war, where its moment to moment victories are, in the end, lost in the context of a wretched conflict that had no real winners. More like this one, please.
Here’s something I never thought I’d say about a core Battlefield game: Battlefield 1‘s single-player campaign is actually, like, good. Cleverly, rather than casting you as a lone wartime superhero upon whose comically muscular shoulders rests the fate of The Entire World, DICE instead opted to split the campaign into a number of neat, bite-sized chunks called War Stories, each one focusing on a unique ensemble of mostly-ordinary characters thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Each of these mini-campaigns serves to highlight the impact that World War I had not just on the globe at large, but on the brave men and women who risked life and limb amidst piercing cries of OMG SHIT TEAM during The Great War.
Okay, so it’s not quite as tastefully affecting and packed with WWI trivia as, say, Valiant Hearts, but Battlefield 1 treats The Great War and everyone who fought in it with the sort of reverence that’s rarely seen in a big ol’ bang-bang-shoot-shoot-EXPLOSION such as this. It covers a lot of ground in the few short hours it’ll take you to barrel your way from the first War Story to the last, placing you in the role of everything from a newbie tank driver, to a cocky American who conned his way into the British Royal Flying Corps, to a freedom fighter battling alongside Lawrence of Arabia. At times it’s genuinely moving, and if it doesn’t give you a greater appreciation for those who served in the war, you’re kind of a dick.
That said, there’s no denying that it’s still pretty much your typical first-person shooter campaign. There are Bad People, you point your gun at them, and you click frantically until all the Bad People stop moving. It’s loads of fun though, and the inclusion of vehicles, large (and well-designed) maps, and a fair amount of variety in how you’re able to tackle objectives makes for a chaotic, entertaining few hours of action, now featuring WWI-era dressing.
As for the multiplayer, it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from Battlefield, except it’s packed full of wonderfully clunky First World War tech and weaponry that helps make the experience feel pleasantly fresh. The change of time period can be viewed as largely a novelty, sure, but it’s every bit the frantic, nigh-overpowering sensory overload that we’ve come to expect from this franchise. Personally, I don’t see what the big deal is with the lack of local servers. I barely notice the high pings, and while I’m sure it must have some sort of effect on my ability to reliably murder people on the Internet, it goes largely unnoticed when I’m having such a good time flamethrower-ing people in the face.
Also, those horses are just the best. There’s a glowing sense of pride that comes with knowing you and your precious Seabiscuit have caused such intense disarray that everyone on the enemy team now identifies you as “arsehole on a horse”.