Battlefield 1 in the test - Dice still has it
At the beginning of October we already had the opportunity to play Battlefield 1 extensively at a test event in Sweden. Then came the Origin Access phase with limited content and, on October 18, the start was finally made for all buyers of the early enlister version. Since then we have been gambling almost continuously. And yet we are itching in our fingers at this moment to let this test be a test, to fire up Origin and to plunge into battle again. But why is that? Let's get to the bottom of the matter in our final test verdict on the multiplayer shooter!
Battlefield, how do you keep your balance?
One of the biggest question marks at the moment of our preliminary test was still about balance. Because Battlefield 1 weaves a complex network of different classes, vehicles, maps and game modes. Accordingly, a lot of systems have to interlock fairly in order to enable a frustration-free gaming experience.
Battlefield 1 does this very well for the most part. All classes make their contribution to the team's success - if you play them correctly. When half a squad is made up of snipers banging around on the edge of the map, that is human error and not a problem of the game. Battlefield 1 even does everything to ensure that the players use the soldier classes correctly by rewarding appropriate actions (resuscitation, uncovering enemies, supplying players with ammunition) with an extremely high number of points. Team play is actively promoted with the same system.
The vehicles also blend in perfectly with the gaming experience. Tanks are strong, but not invincible. The same goes for the mighty Behemoths. In order to dismantle an armored train, a zeppelin or a battleship, the entire team needs a coordinated effort. Then the spook is over very quickly.
Lots of space on the maps
The maps often had an overarching problem in the past battlefields: nasty bottlenecks where the teams rubbed each other with grenades and rockets. The maps in Battlefield 1 have the right answer ready: "Walk around the outside!" Almost every nasty meat grinder (the community nickname for these places) can be bypassed on the large maps.
This expanse generally offers snipers a great field of fire (hence the previously mentioned sniper flood), but the map designers have cleverly created walls, trenches or other structures in whose protection we can sneak into the back of the enemy.
There are still some nasty spots, but mostly they can be defused with a little brainpower. At a flag point in Operation mode on the Monte Grappa map, for example, the defenders like to hide in a bunker system to which there are only two narrow entrances. Instead of storming through the doors over and over again, the attackers can also simply occupy the ridge above the bunker and take the flag point from there.
Most likely the balance is still limping in rush mode. Some telegraph poles are placed very inaccessible and can therefore be defended relatively easily. The only thing that helps is to attack both targets simultaneously if possible so as not to let the defenders calm down.
In Operations, the attacking team also has a tough nut to crack, but that doesn't detract from the fun we have in this great mode at any time. We also experienced almost unhindered marches by the attackers as well as games that got stuck in the first sector. A lot depends on good teamwork.
Before we get to technology, we have to say a few words about sound. In our big battlefield analysis, we and esports professionals confirmed that the Battlefield 1 beta had a surround sound mix that could be improved. Compared to its predecessor, opponents are much more difficult to locate based on their step noises. Little has changed in the release version. Anyone who sits alone in the bunker in order to take a flag point can only guess with great difficulty from noises from which direction an enemy is approaching.
On the other hand, this situation is the exception in Battlefield 1. As a rule, we are on the battlefield, tanks rumble past us, double-deckers rattle in the sky, machine gun fire tears up the air - and we cannot help but be amazed. The general sound quality is great. For e-athletes who are on the move with a few players on smaller maps, the fact that they are difficult to locate may be a problem, but for the average gamer this is hardly of any consequence in Battlefield. That's why we don't devalue Battlefield 1 for sound mixing.
The quantity makes the poison
We could go on with this list for quite a while. Taken alone, none of these bugs significantly affect the gaming experience. However, in terms of frequency and sum, the problems are annoying. So we're downgrading Battlefield 1 by two points until Dice fixes these bugs.
However, we made a conscious decision to give Battlefield 1 no less than 90 points even with the devaluation . Because the intensity, atmosphere and tension of the multiplayer battles marks nothing more and nothing less than a new genre milestone. Anyone who has a thing for multiplayer shooters simply has to experience it.
Now the "how" time has come! How varied and balanced are the nine multiplayer maps? Which game modes can we love? How stable is the technology? And how do we find the single player campaign captivating?
To find out, we've been playing Battlefield 1 almost continuously since the start of the Origin Access pre-release version. With the test samples provided to us and during our visit to Dice, we were able to experience the campaign completely and try out every game mode at least randomly on all cards. That is not enough to really answer all questions finally and to assign a final rating (more on this in the extra box), but it is for a first well-founded and extensive conclusion.
An intense start
Battlefield 1 begins differently than any previous Battlefield. Immediately after the first game start we find ourselves on the western front of the First World War. With a gun in hand and a simple mission: hold the line - at all costs. This is followed by around 15 minutes of desperate slaughter. We mow down rows of opponents who run in front of our guns. Several times we die ourselves and seamlessly switch to the body of another fighter. First a simple soldier, then a machine gunner, later the gunner of a Mark V tank. We see the same carnage everywhere.
This prologue is the beginning of a single player campaign that we have never seen before in a battlefield . Instead of a closed story, we play five war stories between 45 and 120 minutes long in any order and without an overarching story arc. Only the keynote, which is already struck by the introduction, remains the same: Dice wants to show the chaos of the First World War from the perspective of the common soldier. We are not a super fighter sent from theater of war to theater of war. Instead, we experience the individual fates of various people who played their part in this war.
Unfortunately, this exciting idea is only beginning to be implemented. We rarely experience real goosebumps, and always when Battlefield 1 dares to be different. For example, when we are suddenly torn out of the fray in the middle of a mission and guide a carrier pigeon across the battlefield to soothing music to deliver a deadly order. This contrast is so strong that it really touches us. Even in the cutscenes, Battlefield 1 manages to convey emotions again and again thanks to the excellent facial expressions of the characters.
But only play Rambo
But these are only exceptions. Most of the time we shoot our way through clumsy hordes of stupid AI enemies. It makes little difference whether we are driving a tank, an airplane or walking. Hey, we're the all-round World War II Rambo again.
This becomes particularly clear in the Italian episode »Avanti Savoia!«, Which playfully and in its narrative represents the bottom of the quintet. As a member of an elite unit, we shoot down hundreds of Austro-Hungarian soldiers, armored in a kind of knight's armor, only to then man a single anti-aircraft gun and clean a whole squad of Gotha bombers and their escorts from the sky. Oh, and of course we finally single-handedly conquered a well-fortified Alpine fortress. A task on which an entire Italian army unit failed.
How much Dice designed the campaign for the mainstream market , despite all the good intentions, can also be seen from the fact that we do not experience a single mission on the part of the Central Powers. Especially if you want to deal critically and respectfully with the treated epoch, as Dice has fully emphasized, it would be obvious to look at the war from both sides of the front. But this opportunity remains unused.
Instead of really making an impression, the five war stories are just your average fireworks display. Not more but also not less. They don't harm Battlefield 1, so they don't have a negative impact on our test score outside of our scope rating. Because let's be honest: Nobody buys a Battlefield because of their campaign. Battlefield 1 has to score with its multiplayer mode. And - so much in advance - Battlefield 1 scores with its multiplayer mode. Hell yeah!
Battlefield is not Verdun
Dice only changes the recipe for success in the series in nuances. The four soldier classes this time are assault soldiers (assault), medic (medic), supplier (support) and scout (scout). Those in the know may miss the engineer. Its most important tasks (destroying and repairing vehicles) were divided between the storm soldier and the supplier. With its rocket gun and anti-tank grenades, the Assault is well equipped for fighting tanks, and the support team can pack a wrench on request and become a mechanic.
While the skills of the assault soldier, medic and supplier complement each other perfectly, the Scout is aimed more at loners. Only with his flare pistol, which automatically marks enemies, can he really make himself useful in a team. All other gadgets like the trip mine or the sniper shield help him to make himself comfortable with his sniper rifle in a remote corner of the map.
Stay inside if there's a fire!
Some specialists complement the class quartet in Battlefield 1. Players who jump into the game directly in vehicles and airplanes in Battlefield 1 automatically become tank drivers or pilots. This has the advantage that you can repair your vehicle from the comfort of your driver's seat. But if they are forced to leave their wheels behind, they are less armed than the standard classes. This clever system effectively motivates players to man their vehicle to the bitter end and not to leave it on the battlefield at the first opportunity, as in its predecessors.
During the first trial phase, we still often see drivers leaving their slightly damaged tank in a panic, but that should go away when they realize how valuable the tanks have become in Battlefield 1. Anyone who lets one or even several vehicles be looted from the enemy in rush mode can also sign the unconditional surrender.
The tanks have become rarer and more powerful at the same time and therefore have a greater influence on the course of a game. One reason for this is that the tanks can withstand more than they used to. While in Battlefield 4 a single engineer could blow up a tank with just a few rear hits from his rocket launcher, it now takes several assault players who work well together. In addition, we can no longer approach the vehicles so easily to place explosives or mines. The large A7V tanks are defended by their crew of six at the same time in all directions.
Finally, a few words about the new spawn system for vehicles, with which Battlefield 1 has already been compared to the "casual shooter" Star Wars: Battlefront in the community. Tanks and planes are no longer ready on the battlefield. Instead, we select them from the re-entry menu so that we can get in directly at the wheel. This is how Dice prevents annoying spawn camping. In contrast to Battlefront, where we get tie-fighters or AT-STs by collecting randomly appearing items, Battlefield 1 clearly communicates how many vehicles or aircraft are available at a flag point. We think it's a much better system.
Similar to the classes, Dice remains true to its predecessors in terms of game modes. The Battlefield classics Conquest and Rush are on board as well as Domination and Team Deathmatch for fast action in between. The war pigeon mode also takes on the latter notch. Two teams have to get hold of a dovecote, then retreat to a quiet place to compose a message and then drop a carrier pigeon outdoors. The highlight: We have the chance to shoot down the enemy pigeon for a few seconds. So we can turn a lap that we thought was lost at the last second. The mode is a nice addition, but certainly not a new classic.
The Behemoths play an important role in Operations and are also used in Conquest mode. As soon as one team is clearly superior to the other, one of these huge vehicles comes to the aid of the losers. The zeppelin, the battleship and the armored train are all powerful weapons that noticeably change the balance of a game with one blow, but without being overpowering. A well-organized team will crush even the fat behemoths. According to our first impressions, Dice actually seems to have hit the "sweet spot": Both in Conquest mode and in Operations, all of our test games were an equally swaying and exciting struggle with a very close end. Hopefully this good impression will also be confirmed on public servers.
Shooting in the ballroom
A large part of the fascination of the new game mode comes from the nine varied maps. For example, in Operation “To Hell” on the “War in the Ballroom” map, we first fight for a French château and then advance into the “Forest of the Argonne”. While the first map still offers open terrain for our tanks to advance, the fight in the forest turns into a slaughter between infantrymen. And all in just one match!
The other maps lead us to the rugged heights of the Alps, where tanks rumble on narrow trails to the front, sometimes into the muddy trenches of the western front, into the shot-up Amiens or into the vast Arabian desert.
But our favorite remains the Argonne Forest. In contrast to Metro or Operation Locker, pure infantry combat does not degenerate into a peculiar meat grinder. The forest area is spacious enough to bypass nasty bottlenecks. At the same time, we are suddenly faced with an enemy in the winding thicket of trees and bunkers. That's the way it has to be.
Levolution, i.e. the scripted destruction of entire areas , no longer exists in this form. Instead, we are now decomposing large parts of the maps very dynamically. Houses crumble under fire, shells blast deep furrows in the ground and wreckage of a destroyed Behemoth remains on the map. However, there are limits to destruction. Some ruined houses cannot be further demolished. Dice wants to ensure that the basic structure and the balancing of the maps is preserved. For tank drivers or gun crews, it is sometimes a nuisance when an enemy holed up behind the remains of an indestructible wall.
So far, we have not discovered a real total failure in the card selection. However, many extensive, open cards such as "Monte Grappa" or "On the Edge of the Reich" invite you to snip uninhibited. It is all the more important there to know secret routes and trenches.
At this point, we cannot make a final judgment about the balance of the rush mode. Our trial games were all pleasantly close. However, we have also identified some easily controllable bottlenecks. For example the tunnel on “Monte Grappa”, in which the defenders can hide a little too nasty for our taste. It is quite possible that Dice will have to improve this again.
Have you ever seen such a beautiful war?
Where we're pretty sure, however: Battlefield 1 deserves a first in the presentation. The battlefield panoramas that the Frostbite Engine regularly conjures up on the screen take our breath away again and again. In the campaign as well as in the multiplayer mode. It doesn't matter whether we're looking over the muddy trenches of the western front or the sandy dunes, it just looks great.
In addition, there are fine details such as the mud that adheres to our weapon and only disappears again after a bath in the water. Or the new aircraft damage model. If bullets tear our right wing apart, our biplane will tip over by itself. The dynamic weather system suddenly lets rain, fog or a sandstorm come in, which extremely restrict our visibility. A curse for snipers and pilots. Only the explosions sometimes look a bit flat and roughly resolved.
The lessons of the past
Players who played Battlefield 4 shortly after it was first released might shake their heads in disbelief at this point. Didn't we learn anything from the bugged release of the previous one? Yes we do. But apparently Dice has that too.
Yes, we discovered a few minor bugs. An AI tank got stuck in the same spot several times during the campaign. In addition, the cutscenes tend to get stuck for several seconds. But Dice got the really important construction sites under control. Above all, the network code, still a real problem in Battlefield 4, presents itself in the successor without any faults or blame.
However, there is still a big question mark about the stability of the servers, especially shortly after the release on October 21st. Are they really holding up to the onslaught or are the usual problems returning? We're more than excited and keep our fingers crossed so that you too can get an excellent impression of Battlefield 1 as we already have it.