The Battlefield name has been going through a bit of a rough patch over the last couple of years. Battlefield 4 launched with catastrophic server issues that lasted for months, and Battlefield Hardline was an afterthought trampled by the Star Wars Battlefront hype machine. Therefore, Battlefield 1 has a lot to prove with its unique setting and fresh spin on the formula. Trading out motorcycles and helicopters for horses and zeppelins could prove to be a great new take, and I was hopeful going into my gameplay demo at EA Play.
I played in a match of Conquest, and right from the start I noticed subtle changes to the way Battlefield functions. For one, the game borrows slightly from Battlefront, as vehicles aren't found on the map like in previous games. Instead, you can choose to spawn at specific control points already piloting a tank or biplane. It's slightly better than the vehicle token system that Battlefront used, but I'm not yet convinced that this type of spawning system is necessary. Once I jumped into a tank, I did have the same kind of fun that I normally have on the battlefield. In a tank, I rolled up to a lighthouse to capture a point with one defender, and we spent five minutes circling the point before I mowed him down. Later, I got into a plane and crashed it into a position almost immediately. It's still Battlefield.
Another unique selling point of the game is the epic large scale vehicles. This can be a zeppelin or a war train that can spawn in for a losing team, giving them a chance to turn the tide of battle. These vehicles have great presence, and watching one of them storm in and then later crash into the playable space was a highlight of the entire demo. I was lucky enough to be on the losing team during this particular game, and I had the opportunity to hop into one of the zeppelin's many stationary turrets. If there was a way to drive the giant blimp, I didn't find one, and the entire experience reminded me of hopping into an AT-AT back on Hoth. They're certainly cool to see, and they add to the chaos of any given match, but their actual function in the game I played seemed limited.
Of course, not every moment of action in Battlefield 1 takes place behind the wheel. The gunplay in the game will be familiar to veterans of the series, and there were plenty of options to choose from even in this early build of the game. The one thing that is vastly different on foot is melee combat. Gone are the days of instant knife kills, replaced with a selectable weapon that seems much more vital to the game. In addition, you have a Gears of War-style roadie charge that can end with a bayonet piercing a foe's chest cavity if you aim correctly. Getting the hang of this melee combat was the most fun I had on foot, and I can't wait to see what other options will join the trench shovel and hatchet available here.
Overall, I'm cautiously optimistic about Battlefield 1. The influence of Battlefront when it comes to vehicles is troubling, but the game is still captivating based on its setting alone, and I really want to see what nonsense I can get into on horseback. If you're just looking for the next step in the franchise, Battlefield 1 will satisfy, but I'm hopeful it will bring something different to the table and get EA and DICE out of their little rut and back to the glorious chaos that I love about these games.
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