We’re in kind of an in-between week right now. Loads of games are going to start coming out soon, but there isn’t much that came out recently I feel comfortable reviewing. So we’re going to do a slightly smaller review covering a slightly smaller topic: the Battlefield 1 beta.
True, the open beta only had two game modes and one map. Only a small percentage of items and weapons were unlocked. But I still feel it’s a good indicator of what the game could be like, and after pouring nearly a dozen hours into it, I figured it’s worth talking about it.
To clear up confusion for those who don’t know, Battlefield 1 is not a rerelease of the first title in the series. Battliefield’s history is a touch convoluted. The original title was Battlefield 1942, released back 2002. It was followed by Battlefield 2: Modern Combat, Battlefield 2142, Battlefield: Bad Company, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Battlefield 3, Battlefield 4, Battlefield: Hardline, and now finally Battlefield 1. The series started in World War II before jumping to be predominantly a modern shooter. Battlefield 1 is taking the series back farther than it’s ever been, dropping us into World War I.
The series has a long and complex history of titles behind. It’s so extensive I’m honestly not sure why fatigue for them hasn’t set in the same way it has for Call of Duty. Perhaps it’s the constant change in tone. The original game was about large, sprawling fights mixing vehicles and infantry. While that component has stayed consistent through the games, various entries have tried to make the series light hearted, dark and gritty, destruction based, and so on. The focus of the games have shifted dramatically from game to game.
Battlefield 1 looks like it’s trying to put the focus back on tight gameplay with massive maps and the delicate dance of archaic weaponry. It certainly has it’s fair share of hiccups, but for the most part it succeeds at this. The titles main game mode, conquest, throws dozens of bodies into the fray to smash against each other over and over again. It’s fun, and addicting in a way few games manage to capture.
First off the controls are solid. It cannot be overstated how important good controls are to an FPS, particularly an online one. A game can make or break it based on the position of a single button. Battlefield 1 does a pretty good job here. Things are always perfectly clear, but that’s more because it’s a beta than anything. It’s not perfect, certainly. Like every Battlefield game I’ve played, everything has a strange weight and momentum that doesn’t quite feel real. The movement and turning doesn’t quite feel smooth the way it should. It makes you feel sluggish. While you eventually get used to it, it’s jarring when you return to another game.
The game modes (of the two that were present) were serviceable. Rush had a host of issues that kept me from ever wanting to play it. The map felt poorly laid out and there were far too many vehicles relative to the number of players. Conquest, however, was a home run. Seven objectives spread out over a massive map required both teams to capture and hold them. It was basically a sprawling variant of the classic domination game mode.
Conquest felt good because there was always something to do. The fight was never focused around one particular spot. Instead, it was big enough to focus around two or three spots, with lots of little skirmishes going on around it. If you were frustrated by a lack of success, you could always respawn and go somewhere else.
You could even get in vehicles if you wanted. The beta had a bevy of them, including several kinds of tanks and trucks and three different kinds of planes. Which brings me to my first real complaint. Now, I know this is going to be an uncommon opinion, but I think the vehicles were utilized poorly. I very rarely felt the need to get in one unless I needed to zip across the map. But aside from one interesting fight where I drove an armored truck with two excellent turret gunners, I never actually got anything done inside a vehicle.
For tanks this could probably be forgiven. They might not do much but when they do do something it’s hard to counter. Planes, however, felt like they served no actual purpose. People definitely died to strafing and bombing runs, that I won’t argue. But the consistency of that happening was shotty at best. It often felt like the only reason your team had planes was to fight the other team’s planes. At which point, why bother having any at all?
Which is not to say the vehicles weren’t fun. I had a lot of fun running around on a horse (technically a vehicles) and a buddy and I actually managed to capture one of the points in the air by flying a plane in a circle low to the ground. It was definitely cool, but I never felt like my contribution the team was meaningful while I was in a vehicle.
The gear you had while playing as infantry was more on course. The guns all felt pretty good and dealing with distance to target was an engaging little mini-game. It took a strangely large number of bullets to deal with people sometimes, however, made worse by the previously mentioned weightiness of the movement. Still, actual gunplay was extremely satisfying. The guns sounded great (if a little tinny) when they fired, and every kill indicator made you feel very good. This was especially true for sniping, which was practically a game unto it’s own because of bullet drop.
A big addition to the game is the behemoth. We’ve only seen two so far and only one in the beta, but they do impress. In conquest, at a certain point the losing team gets access to a massive vehicle, the behemoth. In the beta’s single map, Sinai Desert, the behemoth was an armored train resplendent with cannons. It ran along a track through the center of the map, bringing it in capture range of three objectives.
The behemoth feels somewhat like the “leveloutions” of Battlefield 4. They don’t really make sense in the context of the game, and they don’t honestly matter a whole lot, but they’re definitely very cool. They definitely give something fun to do for the losing team. Being in a massive, heavily armed and armored vehicle is certainly cool. But I’m not sure how much it actually contributes. The behemoth always goes to the losing team, and never in a single game did I see it actually allow them to pull it back and win. Still, it’s not a negative addition to the game. All told, I’m happy with them, and curious what others will get.
And that was pretty much the beta. There were a handful of bugs but it feels unfair to talk about them here, since the game hasn’t officially been released. The game looked and sounded good. It didn’t do anything to blow me away aesthetically, but in the modern age it’s hard for games to do that.
It’s easy to look at this review and think I didn’t enjoy my time playing the beta, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I wasn’t going to get Battlefield 1, and the beta actually changed my mind on it. There’s something strangely enticing that keeps dragging you back for more. The complaints I had speak more to what good make the game spectacular rather than what brings it down. I’m certainly looking forward to its release later this year.