Battlefield 1: Burning Too Bright
Where to begin. I suppose I’ll start by saying this. I do not like Battlefield 1. Sometimes I hate it. And the reasons for that will become apparent. But I’m not going to talk about them until I’ve outlined the successes and failures of the features that set Battlefield 1 apart from it’s predecessors.
These features are Operations, Behemoths, Elite Classes and Graphics. One was executed flawlessly, two were only plagued by minor issues and another was one of the best or worst additions the franchise has ever made depending on who you are. Place your bets now, because we’re going to jump right in.
I find this game about as immersive as a door mouse’s paddling pool but It must be said, it looks incredible. Weather effects, explosions, bullets, guns, vehicles, behemoths, you name it. I’ll be damned if the airship going down isn’t one of the best looking things I’ve seen in all my time gaming. It’s pretty impressive when a game can pull me right out of the action just to watch the flames. What more can I say? It’s perfect. And thats no more apparent in the brutal clashes of armies in Battlefield 1’s new game mode, operations.
By god did DICE get this right. Operations is all about immersion. It’s about giving you a gun and putting you in this fantasised version of WW1, through the history, the mechanics or the genius way of explaining the transition between maps. It’s the chaos in an all out war, and that comes at the sacrifice of a fair, balanced, competitive battlefield experience. But that’s OK, because it doesn’t replace anything. I personally find the historical window dressing incredibly annoying simply because after the hundredth time hearing it, I could recite it backwards. I imagine they did it to appease the reviewers who play a game for only 5 hours. But that doesn’t detract from the impressively thoughtful mechanics of the mode. Attackers and defenders fight over sectors of a full map. Those sectors will have 2 to three capture points within, if attackers take all three, defense is pushed back to the next sector and the cycle begins again until defense is pushed back to the next map. If defenders hold out for long enough to work the attackers through their 200 lives, the match restarts on the last sector with the attackers backed up by a behemoth. This can only happen one more time before defenders win for good. It’s a perfectly balanced set of mechanics that work to immerse you in this setting of WW1 like has never been done before. Aside from the behemoths which we’ll talk about later, and the fact that attackers can’t kill snipers who hide out of bounds, the game mode is executed flawlessly. Noticeable fluctuations in quality come from the map you’re playing on. It seems to me, that it’s consistently the tighter maps like Verdun and Monte grappa that feel far better to play on than the more open ones. That statement may seem subjective, it’s all about type of combat you enjoy the most right? I don’t think so. I think these maps were built specifically for the mode. Operations is about immersing the player into a WW1 setting, and on Monte grappa you can see how the designers wanted the players to be taken through a structured battle. With a beginning in the church, middle in the bunkers, and explosive end in the stone fortress. It’s that almost story like structure combined with the speckless mechanics that make the Iron Wall operation an experience every gamer should get to see. It’s a shame the maps that have this structure are so few and far between, with Argonne forest, Monte grappa, fao fortress, Fort Veux and Verdun heights being the only 5 examples that come to mind. The other 9 or so are far more suited to conquest with the map’s features being spread evenly rather than on a storyboard. But even with those 5 or those 3 if you don’t own They Shall Not Pass, operations is still ones of the franchises greatest features. DICE should be proud of themselves.
I’m now going to talk about the elite classes. They’re done the exact same way as battlefront, as in they’re given to the guy who gets the pick up, but with a few changes that improve that idea greatly. Now, the pick up spawns in the same area every time, and it’s marked with an indestructible box so no one has to memorise the location. I doubt greatly that DICE didn’t consider simply making the classes available from the spawn screen like so many players wished for after battlefront. They chose this option for a reason. Chaos. Having an elite class pick up spawn slap bang in the middle of warzones means there’s a mad dash towards it, even if you die, the enemy team doesn’t get it. And when you manage to dodge and dive your way through the crossfire, get the pick up, and make it back to safety alive, it gives you the biggest rush I’ve felt in a long time. So I’ve said that their implementation was good, but what about the classes themselves? Well, there’s the flame trooper, the sentry and the tank hunter. Flame trooper gets, as you’d expect, a flamethrower and an armour bonus. He ends up being the hardest to use by far of the three, because he’s only viable in close range and he makes himself very obvious, meaning you have to clear out any group of enemies you see as quickly as possible. You’d expect then, that the flame trooper would see less play but that isn’t the case, as you get the same kit from the same box everytime. It’s always the flame trooper or sentry or tank hunter, which allows DICE to try and balance the weight the classes have on the game. They do that not only by controlling their distribution, but also by giving them a massive vulnerability. The main strategy for taking out these classes isn’t actually coordinated fire, it’s melee. One bop to the back or a bayonet charge and it’s game over. This means, in any given situation, any normal class can outplay the elites if they think smart. Which therefore means the elites themselves need to be wary. It’s not an easy mode, just a different gun loadout and a health boost. The sentry has a suit of armour and a big fucking gun. But his armour weighs him down to a comparative crawl. If he makes himself too obvious, some one’s gonna bayonet charge him. Quick thinking and positioning is still required even with what seems like the most bullheaded of the three. Finally, there’s the tank hunter. He’s got a tank gun, which’ll one shot any player and do 20 to 35 damage on any vehicle. He can’t abuse this because you can only use it while prone and the reload animation takes an age, so you have to re-position every time you make a shot at infantry or armour. He’s also got a truck load of grenades and a sawed off shotgun for close range back up. Of course, using it means putting yourself in danger of melees, so once again, you have to be smart. And there we have it. Three, well balanced elite classes designed to mix up the combat and of course, contribute to the chaos in a fun, balanced way. Here, they manage it excellently if only for the fact that they require such a skilled hand unlike heroes in battlefront. Another successful implementation from DICE.
Moving swiftly onto the behemoths. DICE didn’t just add big ass vehicles to show off, again, they did it to create chaos, in more ways than one. It seems to me DICE’s core design philosophy when developing Battlefield 1 was create as much chaos as possible, because chaos = fun. Keeping that in mind, there are two major ways behemoths cause chaos. The first is by being an unstoppable death machine blowing the hell out of everything in it’s path. The second is by making every match as close as possible. And the way they do that is by being granted to teams losing by a significant margin, allowing them to storm a select few objectives, slaughter the enemy team and get a foothold back in the game, all while the opposition spend their time and resources on trying to take the behemoth out. Having played 175 matches of Battlefield 1, I can confidently say the behemoth is successful in closing the match with both teams less than 100 points away from victory about 30% of the time. That might not sound like much, but it’s still very impressive. The other 70% of matches end up with the losing team 300 points at the very most behind the winners, with the majority of games ending with an approximate 150 point difference. I have to reinforce that these numbers are just estimates off of my experience, but regardless of their accuracy, I am 100% certain that the behemoths were a successful game balancing mechanic. There is a problem with them though, aside from the fact that getting nuked by a train or dreadnaught from across the map is slightly questionable, and that is that they conflict with the ideology of a competitive game. In a balanced, fair game, you don’t reward the losing team for losing, you don’t punish the winning team for winning. But that’s exactly what the behemoths do, all in the name of bringing matches closer. The battlefield franchise have never been totally fair, balanced games, such is the nature of having 64 players on giant maps with a low time to kill. They’ve always been chaotic, and a lot of people played them for that. But before, chaos or as some like to call it in it’s worst form; bullshit, could come in the form of getting sniped, killed by a grenade you couldn’t avoid, a tank sitting across the map, a jet. You traded a fair, 100% competitive shooter for the fun of all out chaos. Now it comes from all those things, and so much more, including the behemoths. Not only will they routinely kill you with no way of predicting it, but they will also drag your games out, forcing you to keep fighting in a hopelessly losing match. The matches are closer. But is that a good thing? Let’s find out. There are exactly two possibilities when a team is awarded a behemoth. 1. They turn the game around and win. For the losers: Those who care about winning or losing call bullshit as they lose undeservingly, they get a tenser match, but they don’t want chaos if it takes so much away from the competitive aspect of the game. Those who don’t care about winning or losing call bullshit as they continually get blown sky high by a vehicle they don’t get access to. For the winners: Those who care feel great as they managed to win a losing game. Those who don’t care are unaffected. Chaos seekers be them winners or losers love it. More explosions. Only two of five types of players benefit from scenario 1 happening. Scenario 2. They don’t win, but do make the game a slightly closer call. This will almost always extend the game’s duration significantly, as the losing team take back a few points for a good amount of time meaning the winning team win slower. For the losers: Those who care are pissed off as they have to play a continually losing game for longer. Those who don’t are slightly miffed, certainly not pissed off, because they’re stuck on the same map for far longer with no tension to keep them going. From experience, I’ll say that it’s very obvious when a game’s going into scenario two. For the winners: Those who care are unaffected, because they’ll know that the behemoth won’t win the enemy the game. Those who don’t are annoyed because they get killed to bullshit more often. Chaos seekers are again happy, they just want blood. In this case, only the chaos seekers benefit. Rarely, the game can come down to 10 or 20 points. In this case, the tension can get so high, that no one cares about winning or losing. It’s a mad dash for those final points, and it’s amazing. The behemoths make this happen far more often than it would without, but are these few moments worth it? Is the tension worth the damage it does to the flow of the game? Chaos seekers say yes. Everyone else? I don’t think they’d be as enthusiastic. It depends on how you personally weigh the spectacle against the outcome of the game. Now, I’m fully aware that categorising people is never going to be 100% representative. Players are going to only mildly care about winning or losing. And I think everyone is going to enjoy the chaos at least a bit. But I think the categories I present are perfect for Battlefield 1. Because this game cut gamers in two. Half wanted a fairly competitive 64 player shooter with a high skill cap, just like Battlefield 3 and 4. I think this half represents the majority of the Battlefield community. And then there’s the other half. This half saw the battlefield 1 trailer at E3, listened to 7 nation army backing a bunch of explosions and stuff, and got hyped for a game that would fulfil that lust for chaos that was left unfed after call of duty was losing popularity and infinite warfare was slammed into the dirt, not only by outsiders but by it’s very own community. I’m certain DICE thought about this, because there’s no other reason they’d take such a massive left turn on their previous games unless they were visited by a fucking genie. Battlefield 1 is the most chaotic game I’ve ever played. It’s a 64 player meat grinder and though I do like my explosions, the behemoths are not the only negative effects such a philosophy has had on the game. Whether it be balancing issues, glitches, bad code or greedy publishers. I’ve got a list of all the things that I think are fundamentally bad about Battlefield 1.
Welcome to the shit list.
Number 1. The melee system. The battlefield franchise has never had good melee combat but holy shit. I can only describe close quarters combat in this game as jumping around mashing R3 hoping one of you gets pulled into the kill animation. This is a direct result of the tunnel vision FOV meaning the moment either of you start moving, there’s no way of keeping track of the other. And the bayonet charges? You could have your gun so far up an enemy’s ass that it clips through them, but the game won’t give you the kill because your foot was stuck on a plank or a box or something. This awful system leads to some of the most comical fights you could imagine in a game that’s supposed to immerse you. It pulls you right out of the game, not that the numerous other forms of cataclysmic bullshit won’t have that covered.
Number 2. EA. It’s not in the game, it’s behind a paywall but we won’t fucking tell you that. Oh no. We’re going to make your scummy ass queue up for 6 fucking minutes to get into a premium friends match only for us to tell you to pay up or get lost. By all accounts, this should’ve worked. The party leader had premium. Premium friends was active. I queue up for 6 minutes, when I get a space it fades to black and… premium pass required. (EA CEO laughing) I swear this can’t be a technical fault. There’s something fucking malign going on here.. But what those asshats did to me was trivial compared to what they did to the battlefield community. 15 pounds, 20 dollars, 20 euros for 4. Fuckin. Maps. I bought Dead Cells for that price, for a value comparison. I bought the Ringed City for that. I bought Hollow knight and Dark Souls for that. I bought Titanfall 2, a game better than this one in every conceivable way for 5 pounds more than that. No one other than battlefield vets or people with no sense of value would buy 4 maps, only 2 of which are good by the way, for that money, yet that’s what EA sold the They Shall Not Pass DLC for, splitting the already dwindling player base up the middle and hanging it’s steaming entrails off the roof of EA headquarters. The game came out with I think 9 maps. And of them, apart from St. Qunetin’s Scar and amiens, not one of them was free of some major issue. Argonne Forest had grenade spam out the ass, Suez was one of the worst maps in battlefield history, far too much of Fao Fortress’s conflict was over who get’s the best sniping spot, Empire’s edge had some of the worst explosion mania I ever seen around C,D and B, Monte Grappa is infested by snipers and has the same problem as Empire but on B and D, Sinai Desert is literally pure cancer due to sniper haven around B and A and Ballroom blitz is a sniper fest outside due to the perfect sightlines and an explosion fest inside due to the placement of the points and how easy it is to get grenades in. None of them were awful bar suez, but they were heavily flawed, and with the problems I’ve already highlighted, 9 maps weren’t going to cut it. The logical answer to this is to get more community tested maps out as soon as fucking possible. But no. By charging 15 pounds for They shall not pass, a pack of maps would barely even make the game worth 60 dollars if they were free, EA took battlefield out back and shot It in the head. As of Summer 2017, you can barely ever get a game on They Shall Not Pass maps in operations, and EA continue to release new maps for premium users only.
Number 3: Vehicles. No, I’m not going to call them overpowered, because unlike snipers and hellriegel users, you can hear and see them coming. I’m going to complain about the physics. Controlling one of these bitches is like trying to ride a rocket propelled rhino with both arms strapped behind your back. The motorcycle, like the melee engagements handles so bad it’s beyond slapstick. Seriously. 50% is me taking the wheel, the other 50% is god. You move the stick slightly to the left or right and all of a sudden you’re the on wikipeida as the world’s first fidget spinner. And don’t get me started on the rocks. All maps are littered with rocks and stuff for cover, so you’d expect DICE to account for this in someway, like not having every vehicle come to a grinding halt if you dare to even scrape the environment. Cars are just as bad as bikes in this regard. Tanks avoid this problem, but they still get wedged in trenches and hole way more often than they should.
Number 4: The progression system. Now this isn’t broken like the last 4 points, but in a game sold entirely on it’s multiplayer, an awful progression system is a huge blow. You have your normal rank progression, which is awarded at the end of each match. Every time you level up, you get warbonds which is in game currency for spending on unlocks. Everything other than the starter kits is an unlock. But before you can even spend the warbonds on them, you need to rank up your classes; assault, medic, support and tosser by playing them. There’s 50 ranks total, but unlocks only up to rank 10, which you’ll hit after a good 15 hours of playing with any given class. Problem is, after 15 hours of playing with a class you’ll have so many warbonds that you could buy everything available twice over which completely invalidates the traditional level ups for the rest of the game. Warbonds are only important for the first 10 or so hours, if that because you probably won’t even want to buy everything you can since in reality there’s only about 5 guns to a class. The games displays at least 12, but that’s because it wants you under the Impression that those “variants” mean something more than simply being an attachment. Yeah the only difference between an optical or a marksman or a sweeper is slightly edited stats and maybe a different scope. They literally are attachments. If I got into the nitty gritty of how unbalanced the guns were for each class we’d be here for a decade. We haven’t gotten to the worst part. Guns stop unlocking at rank 3 for each class, but I said 10 eariler. Yeah, there’s a rank 10 gun for each class but between 3 and 10 is radio silence. You’d damn well expect the rank 10s to be excellent right? Given that there’s nothing after them for the rest of the game? Well, the hellriegel and martini henry are rank 10s, so yeah. Wait. No. The medic and support rank 10s are the two worst guns in the game. I’m not joking. I’m not exaggerating. But to make up for it, in february DICE released the Chauchat and the RSC 1917, two unique guns for the support and medic respectively. In the They shall not pass DLC. But, maybe we can forgive DICE. Because there’s loads of beautifully designed and modelled skins for every gun in the game including my frankly awesome looking white Cei Rigotti. Except you get them in RNG based battlepacks that only drop at a reasonable rate if you buy microtransactions. I’m cringing at the moment, but some among you may have noticed when I said we haven’t gotten on to the worst part, I never said that was it. No, that pales in comparison to this. So, we know the gun progression sucks, but what about character customisation? There isn’t any. Haha.
Number 5. Shotguns and Snipers. Shotguns are one shot kills up to a good 10 yards. Why do they exist. Deaths are already unpredictable enough, they shouldn’t be here plain and simple. Snipers have a place if only for the fact you actually need to aim to use them. Though there’s clearly a problem because for a class as specialised as the scout, there sure as shit seems to be a damn lot of them. They are a fun sapping infestation and I hate every single one of them. Oh wow, you just killed 3 people in a building? Co- Sniped. No way of predicting it, no way of responding to the guaranteed 1 body shot instakill in the sweet spot range. Or even up close with the maddeningly overpowered Frommer Stop which somehow manages to be better than shotguns while being a pistol. This happens so often it’s funny. It’s like the moment you pick scout class, you get a call from EA offices offering you a 20 year old crisp packet or whatever they can afford to spare, in exchange for you to only pull the trigger on someone when they start having fun. EA’s deal must having selling your fucking soul in the small print because I can’t imagine the kind of person who would willingly sit in the most awkward scumbag positions they can find for the duration of a game, simply moving their reticule and pulling the trigger. Where’s the fun in that? People who main scout should be put on a government watchlist. I can’t criticise the game for it’s playerbase of course, but it was DICE that enabled them. It’s not like this in any other game like it. I think it’s a combination of how sniper friendly the map design is, with perfect sightlines and excellent hiding spots, with how easy it is to snipe. I don’t snipe in games much, but my impression from those who do is that Battlefield 1 makes it far easier than previous installments. Depth and balance taken away in name of chaos again. Moving on.
Number 6. The fucking Hellriegel. I already hate snipers enough, what kind of gun could I possibly hate more? The hellreigel is unlocked at level ten by assaults and it take the definition of overpowered and elevates it into some weird lovecraftian godhood. Like it’s so OP human minds can’t fully comprehend it. A lot of people genuinely believe this gun is ok which to be honest is just saddening. If this gun isn’t overpowered, then why are at least 85% of my deaths by assault are from a hellreigel. Keep in mind that it requires rank 10 to unlock, so if the proportion of assault deaths is that high, then the number of people who have the hellriegel who use it probably is closer to a hundred percent. Why is this if the gun is “OK”. Maybe because it performs better than some LMGs at LMG engagement distances and better than almost all SMGs at SMG engagement distances. It’s a jack of all trades and a master at all of them as well and I put the hellreigel above and beyond even snipers. DICE continue to leave the gun in this state as of writing this in mid July.
Number 7: The spawning system. “We spawn you further from the objective for your own safety.” Is it, Battlefield? That’s the impression I got when you SPAWNED ME INSIDE OF A FUCKING TANK. And I don’t mean that as in I spawned in a seat, I mean that as in I spawned, clipped into an enemy heavy tank with a gas grenade on the floor and half an army 10 feet in front of me. I’m aware this is a single anecdote, but I don’t mean to imply being effed by the spawning system is a rare occurrence. When objective spawns aren’t putting you a cross country hike away from the objective “for your own safety”, squad spawns are letting people appear on long dead teammates. It doesn’t help that you can’t see how much health vehicles are on from the selection UI or that when a spawn point becomes unavailable just after your countdown ends, the UI freezes for 20 seconds until it finally tells you that you can’t spawn on your selected point. Thanks battlefield.
Number 8: Grenades and explosions in general. It’s not that they exist, it’s that they’re so frequent it looks like you tried inception with micheal fucking bay. I’m about to list off every source an explosion can come from in battlefield 1. You might want grab a snack. Medics get one grenade out of the basic choice of frag, gas, incendiary, mini, impact and a few others that I can’t remember. They also get, if they choose to forfeit the ability to revive, a rifle grenade. It’s basically a grenade launcher with the velocity of an RPG. They get two shots for it. So that’s one to three grenades for medics per life, not including refills from supports. Supports get the usual grenades, and, assuming that no one’s a big enough dickhead to sacrifice the ammo pouch or crate, a choice of either the crossbow grenade, which is the rifle grenade but cooler, a mortar, and finally, the limpet charge, which is a timed C4. The limpet charge requires an incredibly skilled hand though due to dice’s decision to only let the player chuck it two feet in front of them. Damage is underwhelming too. But regardless, the support will have at the very least two major explosions plus infinite refils for both you and your team. DICE made LMGs far weaker than they should be though, so it balances the class even if it breaks the game. Scouts can fuck off, no one cares. So that leaves us with assaults. Oh god. Assaults. The default loadout has one usual grenade, two anti tank grenades, and three shots for their personal RPG or as this game calls it, the rocket gun. That’s 6 massive explosions per life with no refils. The majority of assaults it seems don’t even use them against tanks as they’re meant to, but instead just hail mary into enemy lines and hope for the best. Speaking of tanks, there’s an assault tank, a heavy tank, a landship, a light tank and an artillery truck. Those are just the ones capable of explosions. But that’s not even close to being everything. There’s the attack plane, the bomber, the fighter whose darts still count, field guns, fortress guns, howitzers on premium maps, and of course the 4 behemoths who are all capable of delivering their own flavour of unpredictable, explosive deaths. The only behemoth I consider to be ok is the airship because you can very easily see it coming.. Previous games had it. But not to this extent. Not even close. The last battlefield games were immersive, but I don’t remember being blown sky high every 5 seconds. This is the true extent of DICE’s chaos.
Having said all of that, I honestly can’t think of a reasonable explanation for why Battlefield 1 is such a loved game. Because only those in it for the chaos are having an experience any better than they could get from a different game. People play the game because it looks amazing, because theres bombs going off every five seconds, because it’s got 64 player servers on large maps. People play the game because it makes them feel like they’re in this fantasised version of War. And that doesn’t make the game bad by any means. People want chaos, and DICE delivers a masterpiece. But for anyone who wants anything other than that, who expects something more than that, Battlefield 1 burns in it’s own flames.