Battlefield 1 marks a distinctive return to the series’ signature atmosphere, even in closed alpha stage.
The hype behind Battlefield 1 has died down somewhat since the trailer’s initial reveal. Thank E3 2016 for that as it showcased the actual gameplay that fans could expect, but it was more “practical showcase” then riveting disappointment. All that’s really left is for people to get their hands on the game and if the craze over the closed alpha is any indication, there’s still plenty of demand for DICE’s brand of shooter.
Here’s the thing though – for its World War I setting, bi-planes, historical authenticity and crazy scale of warfare, Battlefield 1 is still very much a Battlefield game. It’s actually closer to Battlefield 4 than Battlefield: Hardline in that the gameplay feels as comfortable as it does familiar. That being said, Battlefield 1 does have a few tricks up its sleeve as we learned through the closed alpha.
"It’s genuinely enthralling to run through the map. The Frostbite engine is in fine form here and it appears that DICE have finally thrown off the shackles of cross-gen visuals."
Currently, there are two modes available – Conquest and Domination – on one map – St. Quentin Scar. The lush green areas of Northern France are beautifully realized through various brick houses and towers that dot the landscape. Along with open fields and hills to surmount, you’ll be dealing with wrecked properties and small enclosed areas perfect for close quarters combat.
It’s genuinely enthralling to run through the map. The Frostbite engine is in fine form here and it appears that DICE have finally thrown off the shackles of cross-gen visuals. The attention to detail and the breadth of destruction on offer – which allows you to reduce an entire house to rubble, opening up potential sniper nests – feels much more organic than either Battlefield 4 or Hardline. Even on the Xbox One and its 720p resolution, which really became obvious when it started pouring and causing slight shimmers on-screen, the sheer scale and alpha effects are amazing. Despite any reservations I had about the resolution, the game would run at 60 FPS during most Domination matches though this didn’t remain steady during Conquest.
While one doesn’t usually emphasize the sound effects all that much, Battlefield 1 is at the top of its game. Rounds whistle through the air. The deep clunky reloading sound of a tank shell is as real as it gets. The buzzing of bi-planes as their explosives rock the earth makes you feel like you’re actually in World War I. To top it off, the overall presentation just makes the game feel all the more distinct from the World War II shooters of eras past.
"That being said, it’s entirely possible to fall to a melee attacker who’s caught you off guard…even as you pump several bullets into him."
That being said, the gameplay is fairly typical of Battlefield. The closed alpha offers your usual choice of tools based character customization. Normal grenades, anti-tank rifles, mustard gas grenades, gas masks and so on open up as options when you level up. You can choose between various automatic weapons and rifles along with a shotgun for clearing out trenches better. Also, despite the “trench warfare” tagline, many of my deaths were still to campers and long range gunfire.
That being said, it’s entirely possible to fall to a melee attacker who’s caught you off guard…even as you pump several bullets into him. Whether it was the latency or just not hitting all headshots, this hopefully doesn’t become a case where melee attacks are more OP than close-range gun fire. A particular note about the controls thus far on Xbox One – they felt tight and responsive with natural movement. Tradeoffs to using some of the tools in your inventory were also a nice touch. Firing the anti-armour rifle requires you to lay down and deploy its tripod. A mask will save you from mustard gas grenades but you’re unable to aim down sights in the process.
St. Quentin Scar is an incredibly small sample size for judging the game’s map design but it works great in Conquest. Each part of the map feels distinct with plenty of avenue for both vehicles and combat on foot. At times it didn’t feel like aerial combat lent too much to matches and to be honest, I didn’t much like the field of view offered in a bi-plane. Nonetheless, one can definitely see the role that aerial vehicles will play in the future thanks to the Behemoths. These are large zeppelins sent in when your losses begin mounting. Numerous players can board a single Behemoth and take control of its weapons while one player is in charge of steering it around.
"If you’ve been on the fence about Battlefield 1, especially about Hardline, then make no mistake – even in its closed alpha state, that feeling of all-encompassing warfare is very real."
As a driver most times, it felt amazing to guide this beast to different areas of the map and essentially wreck havoc. Don’t think of it as an instant comeback tool though – the Behemoth’s capabilities are still dependent on the players firing from it. It works to thin the hoard around a point but the limited movement and environmental design ensures that close combat will be required at some point. Many of the matches I played didn’t really see the Behemoth involved all that much. Nonetheless, it’s an incredibly potent tool and one that will hopefully highlight the importance of teamwork all the more in Battlefield 1.
While playing Battlefield 1, quick matchmaking on several occasions was incredibly spotty. The words “matchmaking has timed out” appeared a lot but there are several reasons for this including the limited number of players (that too concentrated mostly in Europe and United States) and the fact that it’s still an alpha. When using the server browser, it was incredibly easy to join a match and the high tickrate ensured minimal issues. Once again, this isn’t indicative of the game’s launch day performance, whether it be amazing or abysmal. However, in its current state, it feels robust with some tweaks necessary to quick matchmaking here and there.
If you’ve been on the fence about Battlefield 1, especially after Hardline, then make no mistake – even in its closed alpha state, that feeling of all-encompassing warfare is very real. Bugs, both visual and gameplay related, are to be ironed out and we still need to see more by way of map variety and launch-day connection quality. But as it stands, DICE seems to be heading in the right direction.
This game was previewed on Xbox One.