If you’ve been living under a rock in 2016, you may not have realised that there’s been some significant movement in the FPS world as of late. With everything that has happened in the world in 2016, I can understand if this may have passed you by.
DICE, a little Swedish games company that’s been quietly innovating the FPS genre for the past decade and a half, has released the latest in their battlefield franchise earlier around the middle of last month. Maybe I’m underselling DICE here somewhat…
Regardless, they’ve been the direct competition to Infinity Ward (the makers of the Call of Duty franchise) and have been pumping out quality run-and-gun titles since 2002. Starting off with the first installment of their runaway success line of Battlefield games, namely Battlefield 1942. That opening title receiving a slew of IAA awards and setting DICE on a rather lofty trajectory.
If you’re familiar with the Battlefield line of games, you would be aware of the fact DICE and Infinity Ward have had this constant back-and-forth with titles that have pushed the quality and popularity of both PC and console shooters with titles such as Battlefield 1942, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 1 and 2, Battlefield: Bad Company, Call of duty Black Ops II, and Battlefield 3 and 4.
Now both companies are competing for market dominance with their respective new releases: Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty Infinite Warfare and DICE’s Battlefield 1.
DICE’s offerings definitely piqued my interest, as instead of opting to carry on the ever more futuristic direction, they took a big giant leap back to setting the scene from over 100 years ago to retell a war long past and seemingly escaping modern living memory. Yet it is a war that some may say was the first war we think of as modern. A war where tanks made their debut, where automatic rifles saw their first real test of mass combat, where innovation in the art of killing was a necessity. This is World War 1.
Battlefield 1 is gritty. It’s dirty. It’s confusing and chaotic, and it’s massively engaging. The way DICE have squeezed even more detail and performance out of their current Frostbite 4 engine is impressive to say the least!
From the start even installing the game you can jump into the single player campaigns when only the first 30% of the game has been downloaded and installed, Showing that DICE mean business when it comes to getting people involved with the game as soon as possible—And what a campaign it is!
As is typical of this genre, you’re treated to a multiple perspective view of the war, but each one is handled with grace, maturity and respect to all sides in the conflict. Something that can be easily overlooked. Thankfully the stories aren’t one of nationalism, but very personal stories of fictional characters routed in historical accounts of the war. It brings a humbling human perspective to it all, and to DICE’s credit becomes essential to helping you connect at a personal and emotional level.
For what it is, the campaigns are short, but much like one of the more memorable quotes from Blade Runner: “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned so very very brightly.” Well, these series of campaigns burn very brightly indeed. One can only hope that more single player campaign offerings of the same quality will be winging its way through the DLC that is almost certain to come (if Battlefield 3 and 4 is any indication). I am also reminded of a fair few times telling friends that the approx $50 price tag of the basic PC download version is worth it for the single-player campaigns alone…Something I wouldn’t have thought I’d ever say about a PC game since the ‘freemium’ and microtransaction models have been picked up by the industry so prevalently.
The long term success of a game is never solidified by its single player campaigns unless such single player campaigns are sufficiently massive in scope and scale (I’m thinking of the Half Life franchise here). It is also expected that Battlefield games have a particularly solid and wide ranging multiplayer, and Battlefield 1 does not disappoint here too. There are the usual suspects of infantry-based deathmatches, point capture and defence, as well as some variants on classic modes with a WW1 twist, such as Rush and War Pigeons. Yes, you heard that correctly!
Operations mode really stands out as the most impressive experience from an organised teamplay perspective. Operations pits up to 64 players against each other in a battle consisting of potentially multiple maps where you do get a real sense of battle lines, and trench warfare as an attacking team uses limited numbers against an entrenched foe.
One of the defining positive aspects of the multiplayer experience in Battlefield 1 is the fact that almost the entire map and its contents are, for want of a better word, malleable. Buildings can be destroyed, craters can be carved into the terrain, and the sense of achievement in demolishing that windmill a sniper has been poaching your men from is wondrous. It feels like a living, breathing, interactible world. Barbed wire will tear your clothes, fires will set you ablaze, and mustard gas will choke you to death. Flares may blind and scald you, horses will trample you to death. The list goes on.
However like any multiplayer experience, it can be marred by those wishing to monetise the will of players who have a burning desire to be top dog but without the skill to legitimately be there or to troll all others in the game by purchasing and utilising hacks. It’s a fact of reality that you just have to learn to live with when it comes to most PC games, to DICE’s credit they have redoubled their efforts on detecting and banning people utilising hacks and exploits, and this fact readily apparent in the chat window in game where bans are displayed for all to see. Actually encountering a cheater is rare, and moving to another server is easy.
In terms of criticisms i have against this latest offering from DICE is actually less about DICE and more about EA.
EA’s proprietary game store and community portal Origin has never really gotten out from the shadows of the industry leader Steam, and it’s the one aspect of the multiplayer experience that leaves a lot to be desired when you want to team up with friends or join servers with people you know. Often I’ve had to deal with unexplained errors, some lack of functionality at times, and even missing features when it comes to Origins integration with Battlefield 1. I am fairly confident however that successive patches will fix these issues, especially with the popularity of this title and its inevitable DLC.
From a gameplay perspective, Battlefield 1 is starting to suffer from players understanding the metagame and theorycrafting their way to dominating particular maps and game modes. As a newly released title, it would be nearly impossible to hit the balancing nail on the head and so tweaks, changes and hot fixes are a necessity to making sure certain loadouts and techniques do not end up dominating multiplayer games. This past Tuesday, November 15, saw DICE’s first significant post-release patch to deal with many issues relating to this, and to say it was far reaching and extensive is putting it mildly. It also introduced a much-loved mode of game play that many had requested after realising it wasn’t in the initial release: Hardcore. I found it engaging and rewarding considering the World War 1 setting. Having minimaps, 3d markers on called out hostiles, grenade warnings and 3rd person perspective vehicle views can make you feel you’re playing a WW1 game through the lens of some ultra-modern shooter, and being able to reel all that back in towards practical reality is very welcome. Although if you truly want to customise your game how you want it, you can rent a server from EA with rulesets on exactly how hardcore you want the game play to be, albeit at a price.
All in all, I can say I’m very satisfied with Battlefield 1. I’m a little agitated at EA’s Origin Platform, but very happy that I can ride around on a horse carving people up, or bayonet charge flame troopers, fire salvos of ordinance with coastal guns at battleships, and in general make a whole lot of mess out of a stately home with grenades and the myriad of weapons at my disposal, even if some can seem a little over-represented for a WW1 game!