“At eleven o’clock this morning, came to an end the cruellest and most terrible War that has ever scourged mankind. I hope we may say that thus, this fateful morning, came to an end all wars.” —David Lloyd George,
Announced in May, Battlefield 1 is, contrary to its name, the fourteenth installment of the Battlefield franchise. It is named thus for its setting during World War I, a war known for being the first true global conflict and the introduction of new weapons made possible by advances in period technology. While WWI’s European theatre saw trench warfare on the Western Front, numerous other theatres existed. It is this period that Battlefield 1 seeks to explore, and the open beta for the game became available on August 31, ending on September 8. The beta features only a single map, Sinai Desert, and two game modes: rush and conquest. The timing of the open beta couldn’t have been better: it’s the Labour Day long weekend, and although I’ve been out capitalising on the weekend, I’ve also had some time to play through the beta. At the time of writing, I’ve managed to put in around five hours of game time and have reached rank sixteen, which should be sufficient to unlock the beta participation dog tag. I’ve also unlocked some of the weapons for the classes, and have experienced a bit of everything save for the Behemoth, which takes the form of an armoured train on the Sinai Desert map. Over this time frame, I ran into two substantial bugs: once, I spawned in without any weapons or equipment, and in another case, the sound cut-out. Beyond this, the Battlefield 1 beta has been a reasonably smooth experience: I’ve had no trouble with movement or hit detection thus far.
As a Battlefield game set in WWI, Battlefield 1 feels distinct from its predecessors: without high tech gadgets and sophisticated tools, the classes have been reorganised into new categories. These classes appear as hybrids of those seen in older Battlefield games, allowing for some interesting gameplay: the weapons available, although unrealistic, add much to the atmosphere of Battlefield 1. In fact, my initial impressions after seeing the early closed Alpha footage was that Battlefield 1 is, in effect, Strike Witches in the Frostbite Engine. This drove my curiosity for Battlefield 1, and I had been hoping that I would be able to play on the French village map seen in earlier videos. With that being said, the Sinai Desert is itself quite fun, but through the gameplay, it becomes clear that Battlefield 1 still requires some tuning before it can ship. For instance, Conquest handles completely differently now, dispensing with the ticket system of earlier incarnations. This method reduces the length of a match and rewards players who actively play objectives, while denying players who serve support roles (reviving or resupplying team mates, or controlling the sky in aircraft to cover their team), altering the game’s dynamics. As well, the FT-17 light tank is presently over-powered: even I’ve gone on some ridiculous killstreaks I would never pull off in Battlefield 4 against competent players. One suggestion I’m particularly fond of would be to make the light tanks a two-player vehicle, requiring a driver and gunner to operate fully.
Screenshots and Commentary
- As is tradition, I’ll kick off the beta with an image of me obtaining a melee kill using the medic’s Cei-Rigotti, an Italian automatic rifle that never saw widespread usage in WWI: prototypes tested found the high rate of fire caused the weapon to overheat and damage performance. The British decided the weapon was unsuitable for their requirements and never ordered any rifles. The medic class is presently my favourite class, as I am able to heal my teammates on short order.
- Here, I wield a light weight Lewis machine gun as the support class. Its large drum magazine gives it a larger capacity, and it is quite accurate even when firing on full automatic, but its damage and rate of fire limits its usefulness in close quarters. The support class fulfills a similar role in Battlefield 1 as it did in earlier Battlefield games, and I did enjoy tossing resupply boxes here and there to help my team out where possible.
- The assault class takes on a hybrid role of the assault and engineer classes of Battlefield 4, using the MP-18 sub-machine gun as their starting weapon. Armed with anti-tank grenades and later, a rocket-gun for anti-armour roles, the assault class is quite versatile in its roles. The division of automatic weapons and healing mean that there is no longer a single class that will stand head and shoulders above the rest.
- The Elite classes serve a similar role as Battlefield 4‘s battle pick-ups and Battlefront‘s Hero System (quite unrelated to the Hero System seen in Yūki Yūna is a Hero). Although powerful enough to deal some serious damage, the Elite classes can be taken out through teamwork; here, I capture a point as a sentry, an Elite class with a helmet that can shrug off a headshot and a powerful MG 08/15.
- Weather systems in Battlefield 1 add a bit of variety to the game, and here, the skies grow overcast as I defend a point from the opposing team. However, the sandstorm of Sinai Desert can be an absolute pain to play through, dropping visibility down to a few meters and acting more of a hindrance than a cool feature after one sees it for the umpteenth time. However, the cover offered by the sandstorm can easily be used to one’s advantage, allowing players to sneak close to objectives, flank their opponents and then clear a point out for capture.
- The Cavalry class is a thrill to play: armed with the Russian 1895 bolt-action rifle and a sabre, skilled players can run through enemy lines, trampling and cutting down opposition quite effectively. Carelessness can result in death, since horses can be a bit unwieldy to control and being mounted on horseback elevates the player’s visibility. Aside from some relatively minor bugs, I’ve had a reasonably smooth experience, especially in comparison with others who state they’ve encountered more serious bugs with the UI or vehicles.
- At full resolution, these images also reveal a small frame-rate counter in the upper right-hand corner. I was easily averaging 70-90 FPS with everything on ultra settings, and nothing seemed to slow the game down. I recall reading about how some folks (armed with a then cutting edge GTX 780) could not run Battlefield 4 on ultra settings during its beta, and that a two-thousand dollar computer was needed to make the game playable.
- I’m quite curious to see how the Battlefield 1 campaign goes; because WWI has already occurred, the narrative will need to remain somewhat consistent with historical events. Of the conflicts since the twentieth century, I’ve only got limited familiarity with WWI: most of my knowledge comes from my studies during my days as a secondary school student, where the topics primarily dealt with the Canadian contribution to the war effort.
- I’ve heard complaints that too many players pick the scout class so they can fulfill the role of a long distance sniper, which left teams unbalanced and susceptible to defeat. I never ran into this problem, since most games I played, my team picked a variety of classes. In fact, I’ve won more games than I’ve lost; this is why I’ve not had any opportunity to operate the cannons of the armoured train.
- In the air, I’ve shot down a small number of aircraft and contributed to my team’s effort on the ground. One of the more notable features of Battlefield 1 is the fact that different components of an aircraft can sustain damage, affecting its ability to maneuver, and here, I utilise the passenger gunner’s machine gun to destroy an enemy aircraft. As of now, I have more air-to-air kills in the Battlefield 1 beta than I do for Battlefield 4.
- The topic of WWI reminds me most strongly of middle school, where my English instructor had presented us with WWI as a topic during November. I was assigned to read Timothy Findley’s The Wars, which followed a Canadian soldier through the course of the war and how his experiences lead him to shoot his CO. With my level of comprehension at the time, the novel was desperately tricky to understand, but I am rather curious to read it again now.
- I was also drafted to help out with the Remembrance Day assembly presentations on short notice after one of my classmates (ostensibly a technical genius with AV gear) was unable to resolve a computer error where a presentation had frozen midway through. Asked to assist mid-class, I was able to resolve the error quite quickly, and the remainder of the presentation proceeded quite smoothly.
- If something like Battlefield 1 had released back then, I would have likely used it to obtain footage for a presentation that was a class assignment. Nearly a decade since, graphics and computer hardware have come sufficiently far where such a project would be possible, and indeed, the application of video games (and their technologies) have in fact, become an increasingly viable tool for education.
- I personally would have preferred the beta to be set in the Western Front if it featured only one map (the Battlefield: Hardline beta offered three maps, each with one type of game mode), because the maps I’d seen earlier feature a nice combination of European villages, plenty of greenery and fields devastated by non-stop artillery fire. The maps seen in the earlier gameplay footage reminds me of the sort of thing that might be seen in Strike Witches, hence my remarks that Battlefield 1 might be seen as Strike Witches meeting the Frostbite Engine.
- This remark comes out in full knowledge of the fact that Strike Witches happens during their universe’s equivalent of the Second World War, so it’s a bit of a stretch to draw the comparison. However, I do find myself wondering what a full-on Strike Witches game, done in either Frostbite or CryEngine 3, would be like. I imagine that such a game would handle like Ace Combat to some capacity and be plenty of fun.
- While Conquest uses a new scoring system in Battlefield 1, Rush appears to play the same as it has in previous Battlefield games: the goal is to destroy telegraph stations rather than MCOMs, but other than that, the gameplay remains the same. Telegraph stations must be destroyed in pairs, and only then can an attacking team advance forwards. A defending team has unlimited tickets and must deplete the attacking team of their tickets.
- Post-university, I’m a little surprised that I’ve had less time to game than when I was a university student. This long weekend has been surprisingly busy. I spent Friday evening with some friends at a Raclette party: we’ve been doing these since 2013, and after three years, we’ve finally become efficient at cooking the sausages, shrimps, scallop, potatoes, mushrooms and peppers. This time around, my friends and I watched plenty of Rick and Morty while preparing the food and eating it, then played Halo: Reach afterwards in split-screen à la 2011. I then spent Saturday morning with another friend who’s in medical school; we had brunch at Denny’s (I ordered a chicken-fried steak with scrambled eggs) and spent the morning catching up.
- Yesterday, I travelled to the Drumheller area, visiting the Atlas Coal Mine (a historic site famous for its Tipple); the Atlas Coal Mine is, surprisingly enough, featured in Barbara Smith’s Ghost Stories of the Rocky Mountains: a photograph of the Tipple is used in the story about the Mamie R mine, while some derelict coal carts are used in a ghost story concerning the Marshall Pass and its phantom train. After stopping in Drumheller for lunch, we revisited the Royal Tyrell Museum: it’s been some fourteen or so years since I’ve lasted visited, and while the museum still has an impressive collection of fossils and replicas, this time, they also had a skull of the Regaliceratops peterhewsi on display. Later, during the evening, we visited a Chinese restaurant; while crab was shelved after the restaurant ran out, the substituted lobster turned out to be most delicious.
- Back in Battlefield 1, I finally had a chance to use the flamethrower Elite class. I’ve died to this weapon a few times and took out a handful of flamethrower operators, but never had the chance to try it for myself. As it turns out, this flamethrower is a spectacularly lethal weapon that can neutralise opponents in seconds, and it’s a terrifying weapon to fight against. Unlike the flamethrowers I’ve seen in other games (such as Metro 2033: Redux and Alien: Isolation), the Battlefield 1 flamethrower has an incredible range and unlimited ammunition.
- In another match, I spawned into the rear gunner seat of a heavy land-ship and spent much of the round using the twin machine guns to destroy anything that moved. Here, I blew up an enemy vehicle, sending its occupants scrambling for cover, and promptly picked them off, too. The vehicles in Battlefield 1 are much more effective than in other Battlefield games simply because they work very well and there are few anti-armour weapons to properly deal with them.
- The SMLE Mk. III is the starting weapon for the scouts, and like all Battlefield games, I’m terrible with bolt-action rifles, usually levelling up the scout classes last after I become reasonably familiar with game mechanics. I nail an accurate headshot to take out a foe 73 meters away in this screenshot, having spawned into a match already in progress.
- Here, I score a kill with the M1909 Benét–Mercié gas-operated LMG, which I unlocked after figuring out the customisations menu. Reasonably accurate when aiming down sights, this weapon probably inspired Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light‘s Bastard carbine, which I found inferior for its lower damage model.
- The FT-17 light tank was a French light tank fielded in 1918; with a total of around 3000 produced, these tanks had a mobile turret and is the forerunner for all modern tanks. The default version of the FT-17 in Battlefield 1 features a 37mm cannon and canister ammunition: because it can be handled by a single operator, it is the most lethal ground vehicle in the game, able to decimate enemy armour and infantry with near-impunity.
- The absence of effective medium to long range counters for the FT-17, save another tank, means that even novice players, such as myself, are able to go on impossible killstreaks. During one match of conquest, I drove the FT-17 from the Turkish spawn point to capture point E, and went on a 15-killstreak (a rampage in Halo 2). Despite the opposing team’s players making use of their anti-tank grenades, I merely backed away and one-shotted them with the canister shells. Eventually, three players converged on my tank while I was reloading and used three anti-tank grenades to finally end my streak.
- I’ve hopped into several aircraft during the course of the beta, although it was primarily as a gunner for another pilot. On some occasions where I chose to spawn into another aircraft, I typically died during bailing after sustaining heavy damage when my parachute failed to deploy, but here, I managed to destroy another aircraft, then parachuted successfully and helped my team capture point B on the map. The large, chaotic nature of conquest means that some crazy stuff can happen during the course of a match, far exceeding my own experiences in terms of scale.
- After figuring out the war bonds system, I purchased all of the available weapons and tried them out; as a medic, I’m wielding an artillery variant of the Cei-Rigotti here. It has a sight that yields a similar effect as the holographic sights on modern weapons, and having the sights makes it a little easier to shoot down distant targets. I typically dislike iron sights, but Battlefield 1‘s iron sights have been much easier to use than their counterparts in Bad Company 2, Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4. At this point, weapon customisations still seem unavailable, but I’m curious to see what kind of attachments and accessories will be available for the weapons of Battlefield 1.
- During one memorable rush match, I spawned in as a Cavalry soldier, snuck past the defenders, and managed to arm one of the telegraph stations. I subsequently died, respawned in as an assault class, took out three enemy soldiers attempting to defuse the bomb, died again, and respawned into a light tank. From there, the match became a rather one-sided affair.
- Having finally reached rank 15, this means that I’ll be eligible to obtain the Battlefield 1 open beta dogtag at some point in the future. I’m glad I was able to make it to this far: between the busy schedule of a long weekend and work, I did not think I would have time to play the Battlefield 1 beta at all, and compared to most players, five hours is comparatively paltry (I’ve seen some players ranked 30 and higher).
- Making use of the FT-17’s 37mm cannon, I snipe an enemy light tank here and destroy it. Compared to the tanks seen in Girls und Panzer, the FT-17 is primitive, but it is a devastating force in Battlefield 1. In the last match I played through, I went on a 21-killstreak with nothing but light tank, singlehandedly causing enough destruction against the enemy team such that it bought my team enough time for arming the objectives and a resulting victory.
- While quite fun, the FT-17 is clearly overpowered if even a novice can go on a 21-killstreak: this marks the first time I’ve gotten more than twenty kills in a row without dying since the days of Halo 2 (where it’s counted as “untouchable”). The first time I boarded a light tank, I went on a 12-killstreak and wound up with a KD ratio of 6, having joined mid-game. The Battlefield 1 beta is set to end on September 8, unless I’m mistaken, but I feel that I’ve experienced the beta to a satisfactory extent. As such, I may drop by occasionally for another few rounds if time permits, otherwise, it’s safe to say that my time with the beta comes to a close, and for the bugs and issues with the game, it turned out to be surprisingly fun, even if I did end up getting the Witches of Africa rather than 501st experience 😛
Because the Battlefield 1 beta only offers one map and two game modes, I’ve experienced the gameplay and mechanics sufficiently to say that Battlefield 1 could be an entertaining game that complements Battlefield 4 upon release. With that being said, I’m unlikely to pick the game up close to launch: past experiences with Battlefield launches are that the game remains quite unbalanced or even incomplete in some areas, resulting in sub-standard gameplay (the frag rounds in Battlefield 3 and netcode of Battlefield 4 remain prominent examples). However, once some patches and updates are made, Battlefield 1 does seem like it could be a captivating, immersive shooter that brings a novel Battlefield experience to the table. Furthermore, unlike Battlefront, Battlefield 1 will have a campaign, as well: I’ve heard that it’s bigger and more open than the previous Battlefield campaigns, although whether this is indeed the case will remain something that will have to wait for the game’s release on October 21. If past trends are any indicator, I’ll likely buy Battlefield 1 on the first Origin Sale that puts it on discount after having played through a trial version of it. Of course, if the game’s release proves to be a smooth one, this could change quite quickly.