The Battlefield 1 beta launched recently, giving us a sneak peak of the most anticipated first person shooter of the year. As expected, the beta was a very watered down version of what’s to come, bringing with it only a single multiplayer map and two multiplayer game modes. The beta didn’t skip, however, on a sample of the varying player classes, something that has become a staple of the Battlefield franchises. With the beta also came a sampling of the various weapons and vehicles available to players during multiplayer play. While there was no single player mode available, let’s face it, that’s not why anyone is getting this game. It showed us what we wanted to see, and continued to flash the middle finger towards Call of Duty that the franchise was always intended to be.
I noticed immediately the variation in classes available to players. Call of Duty has never boasted that to the level that Battlefield does. While customization in weapons and miscellaneous equipment is available to Call of Duty players, it’s something that you have to continually build toward. There really isn’t anything but the foot soldier or sometimes grenadier classes that is worth playing in the early going. In that franchise, you may be able to choose between a foot soldier with an assault rifle or a sniper with a sniper rifle, it has never been as diverse as the classes in Battlefield. The beta version of Battlefield 1 immediately made available foot soldier, scout/sniper, medic, and a few other classes, and immediately it became clear that players were gravitating towards the sniper style of play. Whenever I logged into games, the ratio of scouts to moving foot soldiers was somewhere around 2 to 1. And there’s a good reason for that. The realism in the scout class was astounding. Ranged shots would drop over a distance, leading your shot was an absolute necessity. My favorite part was probably the scope flare. When you shoulder a scoped weapon, light glints off the scope, alerting surrounding players to your presence. It was truly terrifying to run into an open area trying to blow up an enemy telegraph, see six glints appear out of nowhere, and know that you were about to get lit up like a Christmas tree. It also made dealing with enemy snipers a bit more manageable, a lesson I learned after punching a lethal shot of my own into the glinting scope of an otherwise-invisible enemy. It’s a subtle touch that makes the game feel more real, and more even, and the type of attention to detail I have come to expect from Battlefield.
The environment was also something to behold. The map that was available to beta players in my area was the desert homeland of the Ottoman Empire, and it did not disappoint. Players were able to take shelter among rocky outcroppings, the remains of a ruined village, and the rooftops of its replacement settlement. A well-planted path winds up the mountainside, leading to a rickety bridge that in turn leads to a vantage point that makes nearly the entire map visible to snipers. It wasn’t long before players learned to use that outcropping, and counter snipers learned to keep an eye out for enemies foolish enough to remain stationary from it. The environment also featured the destructibility that no Call of Duty game that I have ever played has even been able to mimic. Once, as I crossed that rickety bridge to that terrific sniper spot, I saw a plane crash itself into the bridge and completely destroy it. I managed to get across first, but the bridge was gone, and it wasn’t coming back. After my death, that vantage point was closed for business. It adds another level of strategy to the game; there are smarter ways to do it than running and gunning. Destruction is also not the only way the environment interacts. The map will also kick up random sandstorms that make camping from a spot with a good view completely impossible; visibility is cut down to none, and you need to change your approach. It is truly unheard of for a first person shooter to make you think, but this one is going to make you do it. It’s highly intriguing.
Vehicles are back, and some of them are alive. In addition to tanks and planes, players can also take control of horses to speed up their assault on the enemy. And they are angry. Horses allow you to act as a dragoon, cutting down enemies as you go by. They’re also extremely difficult to kill, meaning that even if you are skilled enough to put a shot into one’s head as it moves, it’s probably still coming at you. If it impacts you, you’re done. A player lucky enough to saddle up in one is going to cause some serious mayhem. The horses are cool, and new, but the returning vehicles also play an important role. Armored vehicles can camp on enemy objectives, making them completely unreachable until someone comes by with a piece of artillery that can forcibly move them. I haven’t yet seen planes feature prominently, but I can guess that, as in editions past, they’re something of a specialty vehicle that only skilled players are able to truly utilize to the fullest. Which is good. Vehicles are especially powerful, and to temper the damage they can cause, it is necessary to keep every putz from being able to use one. Developing that skill is a reward for diligent playing, and honestly, peeling back the layers and developing your niche as a player is the thing that makes Battlefield great; getting together a good squad that gels in a cohesive way makes team play all the more fun. I’ve already started assembling my squad from some work friends, and I’m really looking forward to developing how we all play together.
I once wrote that Battlefield got me back into online play. The attention to detail, the variation in available play styles, and the way the game fosters camaraderie by allowing players to build cohesive squads with differing and equally valuable components makes it the best first person shooter franchise on the market. Battlefield 1 looks like it won’t be any different. I played the beta for hours on end, despite only having one map, and was bitterly disappointed when I got home from work on the closing day of the beta and realized it had ended before I’d managed to squeak in a few more hours. There is no better commercial that this game could have broadcast for itself, and based on what I’ve seen, I’ll be right there in line on opening day. The beta showed us some terrific gameplay, an awesome environment, and some really cool new features. After playing it, I can’t wait for launch.