When EA announced that Battlefield 1 would take place during the First World War, it seemed like it was going to be a less than enjoyable endeavor. After all, most people know of WWI as this horrific conflict where hundreds of thousands of soldiers died thanks to the rise of trench warfare, and no one really wants to play a multiplayer game where you get killed by a thick cloud of gas five seconds after spawning in. This may have been the case if the game were to take place exclusively on the Western Front, but thankfully DICE did their research and expanded the game’s setting far beyond the fields of France.
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As a result, Battlefield 1 has a diverse array of maps that range from muddy, cratered fields to dense forests, to wide open deserts that spell death to anyone who is caught in the open. In addition, the game featured a reasonably long campaign that let players see the war as it engulfed the world. From a younger British tank driver, to a seasoned Austrailian trooper, to a female Bedouin rebel, and even a pigeon as it soars above the pockmarked and ruined French countryside, giving a glimpse as to how utterly devastating the Great War was, there were plenty of perspectives that you could choose from. While it is rare that a game’s campaign gave you the opportunity to play as multiple characters, there is no doubt that such a feature greatly enhanced Battlefield 1’s campaign to the point that it is a bit unfortunate that there is no single-player DLC.
Of course, Battlefield 1 isn’t the only game to ever let you play as multiple characters during a singleplayer campaign. For instance, Halo 2 introduced the Arbiter with his own set of levels that gave substantially greater insight into the Covenant, and Call of Duty 2 was known for bringing players from the beaches of Normandy to the winter-swept city of Stalingrad and the sand dunes of North Africa. As you can see, being able to play as multiple characters in the same campaign is a rare feature in games, but if done correctly, it can greatly enhance the experience by exposing the player to wildly different locations and narratives that would be impossible or nonsensical to experience with a single character otherwise.
However, Battlefield 1 did do something that Call of Duty never really did with their multiple character campaigns in that DICE gave the player character a personality. Call of Duty: World at War, which exposed players to the incredible brutality of the Pacific and Eastern Fronts of World War II, still featured mute protagonists who never spoke out about the horrors of the war that was raging around them. By comparison, you got to see the faces of the people you were playing as in Battlefield 1, you got to see their personality, glimpses of their past lives, the ways that they reacted to everything that was going on around them, even their birth years. That your characters’ birth year is displayed when you die in the campaign seems like such a small and inconsequential detail in the grand scheme of gaming, but it has a profound, rather morbid effect in that your character is no longer just a pair of arms and a gun.
As an example, take a look at Battlefield 1’s first mission where the player inevitably dies multiple times, taking control of a new soldier every time. Every time you die, you get to see that person’s name and their age, giving a shred of humanity to the otherwise anonymous soldier that you played as. Inevitably, you might find someone who is roughly the same age as you, which is particularly eye opening because it practically screams “In another era, this could have been you.” As the game’s campaign goes on and you meet all these different characters of varying personalities, you start to get a sense that these were just normal people who were caught in one of the most devastating wars in human history.
You’ve got someone in their early 20s who has apparently done everything by the book, which presumably landed him a not-so-terrible job as a chauffeur, but it also led to him being stuck in a tank that breaks down constantly, contributing to the deaths of half the crew by the end of the day. You’ve got someone who just turned 21, dreaming of victory until things took a turn for the worst and he ends up desperately trying to find his brother in the midst of an assault that went awry. Perhaps most notably, you got to play as a Bedouin woman in her mid 30s who, if she had found herself in the following decade or another country, could have enjoyed a relatively peaceful life, perhaps as a mother or merely someone who got to reap the benefits of a new era of industrialization but instead had to fight terrifying new machines that spawned from said era of industrialization for the sake of her people. None of Battlefield 1’s characters come close to giving a sense that they are these elite, emotionless killing machines that many other games let you play as because they have a face and a voice, and in doing so, there is a greater connection between the narrative and the player.
Needless to say, Battlefield 1’s method of storytelling isn’t going to work well with every game, even if it works well for Battlefield. However, it does go to show that mass-appeal shooters like Battlefield and Call of Duty that are otherwise not known for having particularly engaging single-player campaigns can have just that if the developers and publishers are willing to go that extra mile to make the protagonist an actual person rather than a faceless no-name. Having multiple playable characters is just icing on the cake, but in this case it presents a dramatic rise in the quality of storytelling that would benefit many modern games from Overwatch to Call of Duty to Halo and beyond.More About This Game