Battlefield 1 Review

More than the sum of all its parts.

There was a moment playing Conquest in Battlefield 1 that my frustration nearly made me quit. Everything that could go wrong had gone wrong in the preceding hour of multiplayer: random bugs were popping up, my team was getting destroyed; it was a real war of attrition.

Then, at the height of my rage, my squad and I experienced one of those only in Battlefield moments that turned things around.

After being sniped and suppressed from a hilltop nowhere near an objective, my squad mates and I went on a little mission. We snuck up behind our tormentors, chose our moment and went in with a full bayonet charge that ended in our favor, instantly relieving the stress of the past few games. It was a moment that made it all feel worthwhile and reminded me why I play these games.

The aforementioned hill-taking bayonet charge.
The aforementioned hill-taking bayonet charge.

Let’s back it up just a bit. Battlefield 1 is a first-person shooter set during World War I and is inspired by historic events. It features a single-player campaign told as War Stories, but most gamers will spend much of their time in the multiplayer modes that feature objective-based gameplay and huge, destructible maps. This is the core Battlefield experience, and Battlefield 1 does it with netcode that works, and far more beautifully than ever before.

DICE has ditched the Battlefield 4 Levolution gimmick to give players more control over what can be blown up as the round progresses. Expect to find craters in the ground from artillery, buildings that have been torn to pieces, and the occasional zeppelin burning on the field of battle. Instead of a scripted building falling into the ocean and stealing all your frames, what gets destroyed and how the environment is shaped is left up to the players. It’s incredible to see how the maps are altered through battle, but it’s also worth noting that, unlike Battlefield 4, the maps complement the game modes.

This is a barn we took cover in moments before a huge battle.
This is a barn we took cover in moments before a huge battle.
This is the same barn after the battle ended. It looks nothing like it did.
This is the same barn after the battle ended. It looks nothing like it did.

Take Rush for example. It’s an iconic game mode, but most players don’t feel it’s been done right the past few games. Well, it works in Battlefield 1, although we must admit we haven’t been able to play every mode on every map, so our sample size might not be perfect here. It was a hell of a lot of fun on Monte Grappa when we were storming bunkers to arm objectives and stabbing Scouts who were prone in the mountains, but I can’t say whether it’ll hold up when we’re playing it on Amiens two days from now.

As fun as my time with it was, Rush is not the best game mode in Battlefield 1. No, it’s not Conquest either. The best multiplayer game mode in Battlefield 1 is Operations, which features the progression of Rush with the objective capturing of Conquest, and each map comes with a story that’s told between rounds and varies depending on the outcome of the battle.

A game of Operations has the map split into several sectors, with the attackers getting three chances to take key locations before their tickets run out. If the attackers manage to take all the sectors on the first map before they run out of opportunities, the game will enter a second phase on a new map. When the attackers have conquered all the sectors, or the defenders have held them off three times, the game will end with some historical insight on what just transpired. It’s a fight for territory, and you feel like you have something to fight for, instead of just the usual generic flags.

A look at how territory is broken up when fighting in Operations.
A look at how territory is broken up when fighting in Operations.

What stuck with me about Operations is that after several hours in the game mode and maybe a dozen battles, I never felt like a definitive winner or loser. I only experienced each battle. When the round ended, and even if my team attacked and took several sectors before falling, it was all grey area. I was pleased that we captured land and pushed the enemy back, but in the end, we failed. Alternatively, I was happy that we stopped the attackers from taking all the territory, but we still gave some up. As someone who has absolutely no clue what real combat is like, especially during World War I, I’d like to think that Operations is as close as any online multiplayer game has ever gotten to giving gamers even a sliver of insight.

Rush, Conquest and Operations are the big three. The game modes that best reflect Battlefield 1. Players who like Team Deathmatch and Domination shouldn’t fear though - those are back and do a fine job of ticking off the boxes to make sure there’s variety. There’s also War Pigeon, a mode where teams must locate and obtain a pigeon, then hold it long enough that they can write a note and release it to call in an artillery strike. You can’t say it isn’t a valiant effort at introducing an original game mode, but I seriously doubt that it will be more than an afterthought in a few months, if that. Should be good for memes though, because pigeon.

I wish I could say I loaded into multiplayer without expectations; that the slate was clean. I tried to be in that mindset, but I would be lying to you if I said part of me wasn’t afraid we were in for a repeat of the rocky launch of Battlefield 4. That game wasn’t just buggy; it was flawed at its core, and it took two years of a community test environment to get it to the somewhat passable state it’s in today.

You can see the destruction from the spawn screen as the battle moves across the map.
You can see the destruction from the spawn screen as the battle moves across the map.

There was concern on my part that Battlefield 1 would suffer from the same core problems that haunted Battlefield 4, so I'm pleased to say those issues have been mostly squashed. The netcode, as the kids are calling it, is far superior. In approximately 16 hours of multiplayer, I have had zero crashes back to the desktop of my PC, and I can’t recall any unexplained deaths, big drops in frame rate, or situations where the experience became laggy. For context, I played with the graphic settings on high, using a GeForce GTX 970, Intel Core i7-4790K CPU @ 4.00GHz and 16 GB of RAM.

That’s not to say Battlefield 1 didn’t come with a laundry list of bugs that can kill your buzz faster than a Call of Duty quick-scoping try-hard. There are plenty, such as the when you take off your gas mask and can’t reload, or take off your gas mask and can’t stop reloading. There’s also about a 50 percent chance that throwing down a medical crate will work, as the game often decides that the ground you’re lying on in your final moments of virtual life is too wonky to accept the gadget that could save you. The crap factor here is that it’s in exactly these moments, when you’re prone in some rubble and the whole world is exploding around you, that you need a medical crate that’s unlikely to deploy. If you’ve played as a Medic for more than a single round you’ve probably had that happen, which makes me wonder how such a bug makes it through QA.

The medical bag, a gadget that saves countless lives/tickets, only works about half the time.
The medical bag, a gadget that saves countless lives/tickets, only works about half the time.

We all expected bugs, though, even if we shouldn’t accept them. What game, especially on PC, doesn’t come with bugs in 2016? Bugs can be patched, and most of them will be. The point is that Battlefield 1 is in a much better state than Battlefield 4, and will hopefully rebuild your confidence in DICE's work.

As much as I enjoyed Battlefield 1 multiplayer, my time with it actually began with the single-player War Stories. There are six if you include the prologue. These bite-sized episodes are told from the perspective of various characters who represent different sides of a conflict that was said to be the war to end all wars. Each one can be completed in about an hour and takes the player on a ride that is both charming and heartbreaking in places. The gameplay will remind you of Battlefield - large maps, vehicle and infantry combat with stunning visuals and jaw-dropping destruction - but it’s the emotional rollercoaster that I won’t soon forget.

Right from the prologue it’s like a baseball bat to the head (too soon?) that reminds you of just how helpless it was on the front lines of World War I. It’s a system shock that sticks with you for the next several hours of War Stories, constantly making you fall in love with characters, only to dread playing forward in case they’ll be stolen from you. And when one of the characters you’re trying to guide through the chaos is taken, their name, date of birth and date of death are displayed on the screen to clearly illustrate that a life has been lost. Yes, it’s still a video game and you will spawn again, but somehow it feels more poignant.

Don't worry, you'll just feel a tiny prick and then all your bullet wounds will be magically healed.
FYI - As good as it looks, a capturing snafu with Shadowplay forced our screens to 1280x720.

Most of the War Stories didn’t live up to the impact that the prologue had on me, but the overall experience added up to a massive win, especially when you compare this campaign to Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4. War Stories are the best of the bunch, plagued only by laggy cut-scenes and excessive load times, both of which carried over to the game’s multiplayer. Expect War Stories to take between four and eight hours - four if you’re a run-and-gun player, and eight if you’re stealthy like me.

Of course, my time with Battlefield 1 going forward, and there will be a lot of it, will be spent playing Operations and Rush, with a bit of Conquest when I need to tone it down a notch. I’ll certainly revisit the War Stories after a few months have passed and I’ve forgotten how it made me just a little sad for several days, but like most players, multiplayer is where you’ll usually find me.

Even when the world is exploding around you, you can't help but take a minute to enjoy the chaotic view.
Even when the world is exploding around you, you can't help but take a minute to enjoy the chaotic view.

As I wrapped up about 24 hours of time with Battlefield 1, I struggled to figure out what I wanted to say about the game. Part of me wanted to scream that it was a triumph, but I worried that I was only holding it up against Battlefield 4. I also knew that I was putting in an honest effort to judge Battlefield 1 without the baggage I carried from Battlefield 4, even if I don’t believe any review is truly objective. In the end, I think I landed somewhere in the middle. Battlefield 1 is certainly better than Battlefield 4, but even if Battlefield 4 had never existed, Battlefield 1 is a fantastic game.

I say that knowing full well that no round of Battlefield 1 is free from the possibility of a nagging bug, or the likelihood that a fit of rage will consume me when I die for the fifth straight time before running more than 20 feet. But, no round of Battlefield 1 is free of the possibility that something amazing will happen, like a 30-kill streak in the awesome Dreadnought, or a well-executed bayonet charge to take back a hill from the enemy. And truthfully, as much as those moments of rage, often brought on by a silly bug, can overwhelm me, it’s those unique little multiplayer war stories that I create with my squad that will stick with me. No map, mode or mechanic is perfect, but when you’re finished adding it all up, the sum of Battlefield 1 is greater than all its parts.

Battlefield 1 Review

914
/ 1000
The Good
  • PC version runs like a dream
  • Operations game mode steals the show
  • War Stories will get you in the feels
The Bad
  • Long load times and laggy cut scenes
  • Bugs that shouldn't get by QA
  • Smaller game modes don't deliver the goods

Bill Lavoy

If I'm not playing or writing about video games, I'm probably watching hockey. Stereotypical Canadian who loves his poutine.

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