*Minor spoilers ahead.*
Now this is what Battlefield is.
Unless you’ve been living underneath a rock, you’ve probably heard of DICE’s ambitious WWI project. It’s a step away from their previous shooters (BF4, Hardline, Star Wars: Battlefront, etc.), in more than one way. Personally, in my (currently) brief experience, I find it to be a step in the right direction.
First, some background. I’m fairly new to the series, especially compared to some real longtime fans. My first BF game was Battlefield 3 on Xbox 360, and late in its lifespan (if I recall correctly, I bought it after Halo 4 and Black Ops II had come out). I never became quite good at the game; that happened after Battlefield 4 was released, but what Battlefield 3 afforded me was my first glimpse into what a shooter could be. The campaign was forgettable; I can barely remember scenes, let alone the full story (something about a nuke, and shooting your CO, and this really annoying jet segment), but what really struck me (as it probably did most people) was the multiplayer. Earlier, in my KSotR soundtrack analysis, I make a brief comparison and contrast of presented stories and created stories (I distinguish them as “personally driven” and “story-driven”), saying how some games are more conducive to a personally crafted story while others are better suited being presented in a similar way to other media. Battlefield 3, then, with its lackluster campaign and spectacular multiplayer, is a personally driven game, for the most part. If you’ve played any sort of multiplayer game, you’ve got some created stories. For example, I had my first Call of Duty flawless victory in Black Ops II; when one of my opponents left the game in Rocket League, the remaining players had a dance battle; I still accidentally jump off the stage in Worms when I’m trying to use my weapon (and vice versa).
The point is, Battlefield is a personally driven series. More specifically, though, it tries to nudge you in the direction of creating stories with a squad. If you’re playing alone and don’t know anyone in your squad, then perhaps this doesn’t mean much. But if you’re playing with friends and the five (or however many) of you try to optimize your loadouts (or just have everyone run snipers), you get a completely different experience. Maybe you’re screaming at each other because there’s an ATV in one of Shanghai’s skyscrapers. Maybe the five of you manage to clear out and hold an objective. Maybe you just died because your buddy’s a terrible pilot. Whatever the case, Battlefield tries to make a point that the game is about a squad. A central mechanic in Battlefield 4‘s campaign was the ability to give orders to said squad, although personally I didn’t find it to be anything groundbreaking.
At any rate, this is where Battlefield 1 nails it on the head. The campaign is quite possibly the best I have ever seen in the series. Granted, I also played Hardline and 4, so that’s not really a high bar (I have BC2 in my backlog), but it really emphasizes the small squad dynamic that I so enjoy (examples: XCOM, Fire Emblem, Valkyria Chronicles). Instead of taking a gritty, Hollywood-esque stance on combat that it had in the last three titles, it puts you on the front lines with your brothers-in-arms, holding back wave after wave of enemies in helpless situations. Furthermore, it dropped the military epic style of storytelling for small, isolated tales with a single character in a single squad, allowing us as the viewers to get just small glimpses into the horrors of war.
That alone would have put it in my good books for a level of immersion, but this is DICE. Despite the (deserved) flak that they and EA receive for incomplete games, terrible price models, and awful customer service, DICE has always been on the forefront of pushing limits in hardware capabilities. The engine is utterly gorgeous. Never mind the general beauty of the Frostbite engine; I’m talking about specifics. The mud on the guns, the battle damage from tank shells, the foxholes created by explosions…
And the sound. My goodness, the sound. In one stealthy segment in the campaign, I crawled belly-down through mud and ferns. I could hear the foliage rustling against Edwards’ clothes, his labored breathing, and – with a surprising attention to detail – the muffled strike of my MP 18 against the dirt. That last one so (pleasantly) surprised me that I spent a few seconds just crawling around listening to it. Forget explosions and gunshots; these small details are what make a good game great. Not to mention the music. I could go on forever about the music, but let’s just say that the move to a dramatic, tense, orchestra was a good one.
I’m nowhere near done with Battlefield 1. I’ve only played five or six hours of multiplayer (though I put in something close to 20 or 30 for the beta), and I’ve only completed “Through Mud and Blood.” But DICE has managed to steal the first person shooter spotlight for 2016, and I’m excited to explore this game to its fullest.