Impressions: Battlefield 1 Multiplayer Beta

The Battlefield 1 [official site] beta has launched and despite some troubles it is now recruiting strapping young men and women to come and fight. We gave Brendan a shovel and volunteered him for the front lines.

As daft naming conventions go, many thought Microsoft had set the bar after slapping a big ‘One’ on the end of their newest Xbox. That is, until Battlefield 1 was announced, prompting the gaming intelligentsia (journalists on Twitter) to reflect on the silliness of it all. If there were 358 missing Xbox consoles between the ‘zero’ and the ‘360’, then there must also be some dimension containing all 2140 unannounced Battlefield games. In this dimension, nobody eats or sleeps. There are no movie theatres or public parks. There is only churning war, snipers and grenade spam. There is only Battlefield.

Thankfully, in this dimension, we only have a handful. The latest of EA’s gun-’em-ups is taking us all the way back to War 1, the first war humanity ever fought. There’s a lot of familiar ground – you’re still capturing outposts and draining the enemy of points – but the setting does sometimes make it feel like someone at Dice accidentally pressed the reset button during a development meeting and then pretended it was all intentional.

The beta only offers one map – the desert of Sinai – but it’s a good one. A healthy mix of open desert, sand dunes, rocky canyon passes, small hamlets and crooked townships. One capture point is far to the south of all the others, offering isolated vehicle battles and skirmishes on a much smaller scale than the angry and chaotic melees that take place in the town to the north. Every so often a huge dust storm will rise up out of nowhere, obscuring your view and offering some respite from the dozens of Turkish or British snipers encamped amid the rocks.

Anti-air emplacements and howitzers (at least I think they’re howitzers) are also sprinkled around control points in a way that makes them important to use, especially in the Rush mode, which sees one team attack and another defend. The effects of these weapons look pretty swish, you know, in a destructive and violent way. I hopped onto the AA gun for a spot of plane bothering, for example, and the sparks and puffs of the flak almost distracted me from the incoming bi-plane. Later, I was prepping a control point with dynamite when a shell landed right beside me. I survived somehow, but came to my senses at the bottom of a huge crump in the sand. It may simply be the setting but it feels like a war in a way that the modern versions haven’t often felt.

There’s also an enormous armoured train that steams through and blasts everything to pieces. It’s one of the game’s ‘behemoths’ which will include airships and battleships, and which come along when you’re losing so badly that Major Game Design thinks you need a helping hand. Up to six people can clamber inside this train and wreck the desert with its moving cannons and anti-air gun, while the driver can stop at any of the control points along the track to help out with capturing. If that doesn’t make things ridiculous enough for you, there’s a flamethrower and a giant mini-gun-type-thing hiding in crates at a couple of the control points.

While it’s a pity there aren’t other maps for people to try, Sinai does confirm that the sense of scale behind the series remains intact. It doesn’t feel quite as big as previous maps, for some reason, but it does feel well-rounded. Even though my team suffered loss after loss, there was a lot of back and forth as each outpost changed hands over and over, which is fitting, considering the history of War 1, which was famously fought over a single football pitch at Christmas time.

The classes on offer are unsurprising. An assault man, a medic, a sniper and a support. The medic is functionally pointless until he unlocks the medical crate, leaving only bandages for the rare moments when they’re useful. The support has his bag of ammo and a tripwire bomb, useful for doorways and corners. The sniper has his rifle and a flare gun which ‘spots’ enemies close to the landed flare. And the assault is a crazy walking bomb, with anti-tank grenades and dynamite – not to mention the ability to perform a wild bayonet charge. All the classes get a lot more goodies as you go up in rank, according to their speciality. Many guns are still hidden, earmarked “for the final game”, but in the beta the sniper gets a periscope-thing for spotting enemies directly, for instance. And the assault gets an anti-tank mine, as if he should be trusted with any more explosives.

There is a reason the assault man is so fiery, however. In this war, infantry bazookas are rare. There’s only one in the beta – a ‘rocket gun’ that takes some XP hoarding to unlock. This means tanks can often prowl around with impunity, so long as they avoid the bombers overhead and tight corners where assault men hide in corners and lob their little bouquets of death. The tanks themselves are a little different. The most useful one is more like a group transport, fitting five people, with guns on all sides. It’s a monster when fully loaded, bristling with firepower. But it’s also ponderous to drive and if destroyed, a whole squad has gone to hell. You can customise the fittings of these vehicles, albeit to a lesser degree than your human deathman.

I had far more fun on horseback, however. Clamber onto one of these and you get access to a sabre, which you can hold aloft and swing at the plebs still scuffling through the sand. I achieved as many kills in a single life of a cavalry man than I did as a gunner in the Massacre Tank. Although the slashing motion doesn’t exactly feel accurate. It’s like there was a big bubble next to my horse in which any soldier would die if I swung the sword even remotely on time. I only died to a cavalry man once, and I did feel a little robbed, a little cheated. But mostly I just felt dead.

To make up for the return to old-fashioned weaponry, there is a small platter of grenades to unlock. You start out with frags, smoke and gas (every soldier has a gas mask he can wear by tapping ‘T’ which protects from gas but slightly obscures your view and removes the ability to aim down sights). But with ‘warbonds’ you earn from levelling up you can buy grenades that explode on impact, incendiary grenades, or lighter, less-damaging ones that go further when thrown.

All in all, it’s a strange mix of familiar feelings. The setting and atmosphere is one of older shooters, when they were entrenched in the conflicts of the 20th century, but much of the chaos and silliness of the modern era has remained. The map is bristling with prototype weapons, even the presence of so many tanks is something that makes you raise an eyebrow. These industrial killing machines may have been around in War 1, famously triggered by the assassination of indie band Franz Ferdinand, but they wouldn’t have been so numerous.

Of course, fast and loose with history is the way of the blockbuster shooter and, as you may have noticed, I’m not particularly concerned by that (if you want something more “realistic”, I can easily recommend Day of Infamy or Red Orchestra 2). Meanwhile, fans of Battlefields 2 through 2142 will likely be unfazed, happy that the world is still at war and that this war is still as ludicrous as ever.

Battlefield 1 is in open beta now and downloadable via Origin.

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43 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Oakreef says:

    I’m really interested in this game but the grind for shit makes me just want to stick to Overwatch.

    • TeaEarlGreyHot says:

      The “Grind” in this is not bad at all, adding the war bonds makes it so you can unlock whatever you want in the tier you have unlocked for said class. I like it, keeps you having a reason to play and play with other classes at that.

      • Premium User Badge

        Oakreef says:

        My experience with Battlefield 3 is the opposite. Whenever I decide to play again I only ever stick to assault and engineer because I have nothing unlocked for sniper and support and it makes me comparatively useless with them and is just an exercise in frustration. I avoid certain vehicles because I know my lack of gadgets for them makes me a liability for my team when someone who actually has flairs could be using them. It’s super annoying because I think actually playing the games when you have the equipment unlocked is really fun but I find the process of unlocking everything so frustrating.

      • Vandelay says:

        I don’t get this attitude at all. The reason you keep playing a game is because it is a fun game, possibly with some depth that you have to master or just simply because it is satisfying. Continuing to play a game because I know that if I just get an extra 1250xp, so that I can unlock another assault rifle with slightly different stats attached to it is not a sign of a good game.

        It is good to see that we are finally seeing a successful multiplayer game with Overwatch that doesn’t rely on people playing just for game changing unlocks, but it is something I wish would just go away.

        • Premium User Badge

          Nauallis says:

          lol, answered your own question in your complaint – “Continuing to play a game because I know that if I just get an extra 1250xp, so that I can unlock another assault rifle with slightly different stats attached” – may equate to fun for many people. Asserting otherwise is just your own bias and snobbery.

  2. zerosociety says:

    I did not expect to like this, but it’s just wildly different enough from the previous games, that it feels fresh, while still cherry picking some of the best bits from previous incarnations. I may also be overly enamoured of the bullet physics and trajectory modeling. Normally sniper is my hands-down least favourite play style, however here I’m loving it. It “feels” intuitive and satisfying.

    On a similar note, the fact that weapons have optimum ranges, means that roles feel like they “matter” a bit more. An effective squad is going to be working more to their individual strength, simply because everyone in the squad isn’t mostly interchangeable. Though it does make it feel like the army mens are bullet-spongy sometimes, when the weapon range considerations mean you’re unloading your Support MG at point blank range and it’s not doing anything.

    Just writing this up, I have a itch to fire it up again. I’m even trying to resist pre-ordering, because I really would like to get some of that Hellfighter and TE Lawrence kit. (Also, I want to support the decision to feature the Hellfighters so prominently with my $$$. Also x2, the much derided decision to have a woman as the announcer. I *do* wish there were women shooty people in multiplayer, not just in the single player, but I can concede that even for a Bayhem fantasyland funhouse mirror simulacra of WWI that would be a bit of a stretch.)

    One complaint is that the lack of a ticket counter has eliminated all pretense of medics reviving. You can broadcast for a revive with 6 medics standing in the room and nobody will even try. Though another factor in that is that revives do seem to be pretty buggy in the beta.

    • wengart says:

      The Battlefield series is one that I consistently pre-order.

      I bought BF3 on Pre-order and also got Premium a bit later. What I realized was that I played the game extensively for around 6 months and then got bored of it. Which coincides with the main release and the first expansion. I hardly even played the other premium expansions, and their player base was consistently reduced.

      So after playing the Battlefield 4 Beta I pre-ordered. Played the main game and expansion for about 6 months.

      I’ll probably do the same here.

    • Premium User Badge

      Grizzly says:

      I have played a medic almost exclusively on any battlefield I get my hands on (or any derivative that also features medics), but the thought of ticket counters never crosses my mind when I revive somebody.

      … The thought of ticket counters in general never crosses my mind, I just see whatever I do as an essential part of getting to that next objective but I never really think on levels of ticket count, as capturing objectives and getting the “Ticket bleed” going seems more important then the K/D thing anyway.

      • wengart says:

        The actual issue with revives is that they;ve made the incredibly weird decision of having players opt in to being revived.

        Without pressing the “Request Revive” button you will just appear as a corpse to friendly medics. As far as I can tell.

        In previous Battlefields there was a little icon pop up over their body to let you know that they can be revived.

        • DasBilligeAlien says:

          I think I can enlighten you somewhat. I Bad Company 2 there was this Problem that a Medic from your team would revive you in line of fire. That way he could farm you for xp and lock you out of play.

          Dice fixed this with a revive prompt. Not very elegant but it works.

          • vahnn says:

            Yeah, I like that idea. There many times when it’s better not to be revived, like to respawn and get in a waiting transport, or to defend a different objective, or to change kits and take out a vehicle that no one else is doing anything about.

            But a persistent annoyance in the BF games as far back I can remember is being revived against my will constantly in the line of fire or in a large battle, where you die over and over. If it’s a couple times, but then you can get to safety, it’s not so bad. But when it happens a dozen times, and then the medic dies anyway, it’s frustrating.

            And don’t forget the times when you’re playing as a medic, and a newbie with a starter kit takes your beefed up medic kit, then revives you and your stuck with his puny kit.

    • Premium User Badge

      Elusiv3Pastry says:

      All this, I agree with. The Battlefield games have been a staple for me since 1942 (we had to walk uphill both ways to get to the battlefield back then) but I’m still surprised by how much I’m enjoying the beta. I figured I’d play for a couple hours then be content to wait for the full release as I normally hate playing the same map again and again (I blacklist 24/7 Metro and Locker maps) but this is just so much fun! They really did a stellar job with this one.

      I really love the old timey dogfighting too, even though there’s no joystick support yet. The attack planes and bombers can really have an impact on the ground game IF the pilot’s skill is good enough, which is what I missed for a long time in BF4. Forget flares and missiles, just give me some wood, canvas, and a couple machine guns.

  3. aircool says:

    famously triggered by the assassination of indie band Franz Ferdinand

    (awesome)

    • Premium User Badge

      Burges says:

      He brought it on himself, to be honest, with him constantly begging “Take Me Out”.

      • iRaphi says:

        Yes he was the “Dictator’s Son” and while having “Police Encounters” he met “The Man without a Tan”.
        Together they experienced “Darts of Pleasure” until he shouted “This Fire” and “Treason! Animals.”
        That’s how “40”” happened to him…

  4. Talbot says:

    Played a few games last night. Battlefields with the engine they introduced with Bad Company just don’t feel very epic. For all the fancy graphics, over done sound design and gimmicky points system, it all feels claustrophobic… like a bigger version of CoD.

    All the BF’s up to 2142 had something special and it has been lost. Never mind.

    • theirongiant says:

      This. It’s become a very pretty, highly polished clusterfuck. Be nice if they remastered BF2 at some point.

    • syndrome says:

      Why do you think so?

      I had an impression that this was the closest BF to BF2142 yet, in terms of tactics and deliberate compromises to factor in the more casual crowd that poured in from CS and CoD.

      Earlier BF had issues with expecting an etiquette from its players and this has thankfully changed in core design. BF2 was really good only in LAN, and while BF2142 was bearable due to its more “elitistic” fanbase, in BF3 that flaw became so much significant that I had zero intentions to purchase BF4.

      Now it seems more chaotic (to a noob player), but I think it has good individual incentives in place, rewarding goal oriented teamwork in the long run, and maps seem to be well-balanced to allow for different theatres of play, rewarding experimentation.

      I played 1942, 2, 2:FH, 2:PR, 2142, and 3, and 2142 was by far the best, and I mean it mechanistically, regardless of its time setting, but I did enjoy the futurism of it as well.

      I’d like to know which part from pre-BF3 era are you missing?

      • Talbot says:

        As ‘theirongiant’ above me said; it’s a clusterfuck. Nothing seems very well defined. I can’t really describe it very well because I’m not a designer of any sort but ever since the introduction of the new engine and cross platform compatibility, the entire series has felt like a messy LITE version of what has gone before.

        • TheRaptorFence says:

          I’m no game designer either, but I think a lot of it comes down to a focus on individualization rather than teamwork. Personal unlocks became much greater in the Bad Company series than they did for previous iterations, and the plethora of weaponry meant that you relied less on teammates to provide specific counters to situations. In the previous series taking out key objectives to deny the enemy abilities on the map was important (artillery, UAV post, etc.), and meant you were forced to dedicate squads to it. A commander role also meant players were often being led on strategic missions from their NCOs and commander. Squads went from 6 to 4, and classes were consolidated from 7 to 4. Overall, I think Battlefield stopped being about the big picture and more about the little moments, for better and worse.

          • Talbot says:

            An adherence more to the vanity of the gamer rather than creating a focused and cohesive environment where in the full rock, paper, scissors effect can be seen in all its glory. A great shame in my eyes.

      • Talbot says:

        Also yes, 2142 was and is the best BF game. It felt big and things were clearly defined.

        • Hohumm4sh3d says:

          Agree. 2142 was amazing and best in series. There’s a player run server somewhere which you can still connect to.

          Vietnam had the best feeling of being in a warzone (And who didn’t pump out ride of the Valkyries when in a chopper!)

    • Ginga121 says:

      Hardcore mode was the only redeeming feature of the modern battlefields for me and even that seems to be absent from this instalment. 2142 was the last battlefield game I really enjoyed, with BF2 being the king.

      The highly polished clusterfuck that is BattleCOD these days lacks the pull Battlefields, up to 2142, had. In BF1 tanks are way too accurate and overpowered for an infantry soldier who’s only real defence against them is hand held grenades. You can’t use the artillery due to the ever present sniper horde. The Horses are nigh on undefeatable unless you can shoot them from range without them noticing or you have a machinegun.

      Medic semi-auto rifles are pitifully outmatched at close quarters by the assault SMG’s and support MG’s. I had to shoot 1 person twice in the head to kill them and another 6 times in the chest, both from 20-40m away. The revive system is obsolete, 95% of people skip the revive period and if you do wait you will probably get revived once every 50 medic calls unless you are playing with friends. Oh and of course the COD health/armour regen is still in so you don’t really need medics anyway.

      For a war that consisted of 90% bolt action rifles there sure are a lot of semi-automatic and full-auto rifles/SMG’s in the game.

      It’s a step in the right direction for DICE with their new emphasis on team play but they have a loooooooooong way to go before they ditch BattleCOD and return to the Battlefield roots.

      BF2 remaster anyone?

  5. aircool says:

    Can you kill the horses? I couldn’t play it if you can kill horses.

    • phelix says:

      You can, and the game will even reward you for doing so.
      They’re sturdy beasts though – I’ve seen them casually standing still while taking multiple direct hits from tank shells; their rider already blown to meat paste by the first.
      In fact, they’re so tough you will only kill them if you shoot deliberately and relentlessly at the horses rather than the squishy meatbag on top. Which nobody really does. So while PETA will still get angry, you might enjoy.

      • Shadow says:

        Peculiar arbitrary sturdiness. Funny how virtual animals are sacred but nobody spares a thought for the virtual people being killed. PETA be damned.

    • GWOP says:

      It’s WW1. Dead horses are a given.

    • Coming Second says:

      Afraid so, mate. Quite often they break a leg or get hit by shrapnel and then you have to press X to euthanize, being sure to waggle the control stick to wipe your tears away so that your bullet fires true.

    • elanaibaKHG says:

      You can kill horses, they are easier to hit but take much more damage than the guy on top. Also, horses kill you simply by trampling on you, I just ran over some “cruising” guy as i couldn’t figure out how to melee from horse. And on the other end, I shot down a rider, only to be ran down and killed by the inertia-driven horse!

      All in all, good beta. Preordered.

      Dan @ KHG

      • Premium User Badge

        Elusiv3Pastry says:

        My favorite bug so far is when I swing my rifle instead of my sword while on horseback. Longer reach that way.

  6. Monggerel says:

    Incredible felicity

  7. Shadow says:

    If the dieselpunk-ish setting and the passing resemblance to WW1 is well done, this might be fun to play.

  8. TaylanK says:

    Someone above described it as “highly polished clusterfuck” and I agree with that assessment. Level design is progressively getting worse, in my opinion, with each BF game. I found it very difficult to identify any well defined flow to the battle in Sinai. It all feels very random and you are constantly exposed on all sides. Maybe if you had 31 other chums to play with, it would feel more tactical, I don’t know. It is made worse by the fact that enemies no longer appear on your mini-map when they fire, you need actual visual contact.

    With the vehicle design I suspect they try to encourage more team play, particularly with the tanks. If you are driving the tank, you don’t control the main gun anymore like in a modern day tank. There are couple cannon turrets on the thing controlled by the passengers. Again, great if you have a team that understands team-play. Not always a positive experience with passengers who’d rather try and see whether they could indeed cut daisies with explosive rounds.

    Maybe other maps will change the experience but so far it’s not really doing it for me.

  9. racccoon says:

    Went on yesterday for the first time had a great time and loads of fun! its brilliant!

  10. gingerbill says:

    I’ve lost interest in multiplayer FPS games that requires unlocking better stuff , if the game is good and enjoyable to play why do they need all the stuff . It’s never fun with your awful starting stuff against people who play 24/7. That’s one of the things I loved about overwatch that they didn’t feel the need to make you grind for weapons/abilities.

  11. rpenm says:

    *begin pedantry*
    By WWI, cavalry doctrine had long since rejected cutting in favor of thrusting. Troopers were specifically trained not to slash. They used lance-like swords (see the 1908 pattern) not curved sabers. I realize that there are plenty of anachronisms in this game, but that stood out to me.
    *end pedantry*

  12. Shirtninja says:

    I’ve played this and it seems to be inching back to the old ways of emphasis on team play though I don’t if that’s the result of us not having most of the unlocks (giving us tools to handle anything that comes our way as opposed to relying on others).

    I wish they’d get rid of regenerating health and armour in the default mode though, like the old days. Medics seem pointless when you’re essentially Wolverine.

  13. eljueta says:

    I just called to say I lol’d

    • eljueta says:

      These industrial killing machines may have been around in War 1, famously triggered by the assassination of indie band Franz Ferdinand

      about that I lol’d.

  14. Reece82 says:

    I missed the open beta so I’m curious about some of the comments regarding a cluster fuck and feeling exposed from all directions. For Battlefield veterans, is that your impression? I feel like that’s an impression you get if you’re used to playing CS or Overwatch or games that are focused on close quarters and are relatively new to the BF series. There hasn’t been a BF where I haven’t felt that way or had to account for the fact that I could be exposed from angles I don’t immediately see.