The conventional wisdom said that military first-person shooters avoided World War I because it wasn't a "fun" war. EA DICE set out to prove the conventional wisdom wrong with Battlefield 1, and the initial wave of reviews suggests they succeeded.
As Polygon's Arthur Gies noted in his 9 out of 10 review of the game, one of the ways DICE accomplished that was by using its single-player War Stories mode as a way to convey just how horrific the war really was.
"Battlefield 1 navigates the tonal challenges of the awful human cost of WWI well, in part by not ignoring them," Gies said. "There's a consistent acknowledgment of the abject terror and hopelessness that sat atop the people involved in the conflict on all sides, in part thanks to a grimly effective prologue. There's also less explicit demonization of the 'enemy' - something that feels like a real relief in the military shooter space, which seems hell-bent on giving players something they can feel good about shooting at."
"From tank pilot to fighter ace, from Italian shock trooper to Bedouin horse-back resistance fighter, I was never bored, because I was never doing the same thing for long."
War Stories is a mostly unconnected series of short campaigns that total about six hours of playtime in total. The anthology puts players in the roles of different individuals in different combat zones, each one with their own distinct motivations and skill sets.
"Battlefield 1 feels like a move away from military shooter doctrine in plenty of ways," Gies said. "But the biggest departure is in how little shooting there can be, at least compared to the game's contemporaries. From tank pilot to fighter ace, from Italian shock trooper to Bedouin horse-back resistance fighter, I was never bored, because I was never doing the same thing for long."
The change in setting also impacted the multiplayer portion of the game, which Gies appreciated. While DICE made some changes in player classes that Gies seemed to think unnecessary but "mostly fine," he was particularly taken with the way the series' signature physics-driven chaos and destruction felt fresh in a new (old) setting.
"Small issues aside, Battlefield 1 marks an impressive, risk-taking reinvention for the series," Gies said. "That the multiplayer is as good and distinctive as it is is less surprising than a campaign that takes a difficult setting and navigates it with skill and invention. The end result is a shooter than succeeded far beyond my expectations, and one that exists as the best, most complete Battlefield package since 2010."
Like Gies, GameSpot's Miguel Concepcion gave the game a 9 out of 10. Also like Gies, Concepcion labelled the game as the best Battlefield since Bad Company 2, praising the War Stories single-player mode and its novel approach to entertaining while also attempting to inform players as to the horrors of the war.
"Beyond these heartfelt tales of brotherhood and solemn reflection, War Stories gracefully complements the multiplayer scenarios as a glorified yet effective training mode," Concepcion said. "Along with practice time commanding vehicles and heavy artillery, it provides an opportunity to learn melee combat, as well as how to survive against high concentrations of enemy forces."
Concepcion was also taken with the audiovisual impact of the game, long a selling point for the Battlefield franchise.
"With Battlefield 1, EA and DICE have proven the viability of World War 1 as a time period worth revisiting in first-person shooters."
"However accurate or inaccurate Battlefield 1 is--lite J.J. Abrams lens effects notwithstanding--the immersive production values superbly amplify the sights and sounds that have previously existed in other war shooters," Concepcion said. "Examples include the distinct clatter of empty shells dropping on the metal floor of a tank and the delayed sound of an exploding balloon from far away. The brushed metal on a specific part of a revolver is the kind of eye-catching distraction that can get you killed. Beyond the usual cacophony of a 64-player match, salvos from tanks and artillery guns add bombast and bass to the large map match. And many vistas are accentuated with weather-affected lighting with dramatic results, like the blinding white sunlight that reflects off a lake after a rainstorm.
"With Battlefield 1, EA and DICE have proven the viability of World War 1 as a time period worth revisiting in first-person shooters. It brings into focus countries and nationalities that do not exist today while also shedding light on how the outcome of that war has shaped our lives."
In giving the game four stars out of five, Games Radar's David Roberts also lauded the way DICE balanced a fun shooter with the horror of war.
"Even though Battlefield 1 skews toward fun rather than realism whenever it gets the chance, it's as much about the reflection on the real history of these battles and the people who fought in them as it is about the gleeful embrace of ridiculous virtual combat," Roberts said.
Like his peers, Roberts was impressed by the game's War Stories single-player mode, but found the anthology format slightly restricting.
"As much as I enjoyed the narratives these missions tell, I wished each one had a little more time to breathe," Roberts said. "Each chapter is about an hour long, and just when you get invested, they're over. Battlefield 1's War Stories barely skim the surface of the history, but - to be fair - this is in-line with the game's focus on fun over fastidious accuracy."
"The crappier weaponry actually makes Battlefield 1's large-scale combat feel much more personal and aggressive, and makes playing it far less frustrating than the absolute chaos of prior games."
As for the multiplayer, Roberts said its "as good here as it's ever been" for the Battlefield franchise. Even though the setting meant trading in the modern assault rifles of previous Battlefield games for more antiquated rifles and iron sights, Roberts said the overall impact has been an improvement on the game's online modes.
"The crappier weaponry actually makes Battlefield 1's large-scale combat feel much more personal and aggressive, and makes playing it far less frustrating than the absolute chaos of prior games," Roberts said.
He also found the franchise focus on destruction was given new meaning by its fresh context.
"When all's said and done, when the matches end and the dust settles, you'll see that large portions of the maps have transformed, their buildings pockmarked by blasts, their fortifications turned into piles of rubble," Roberts said. "Even though bloody entertainment is at Battlefield 1's heart, the post-game wasteland is a reminder of the toll that conflict takes on the people it consumes. Whether in single or multiplayer Battlefield 1 absolutely nails the historical sense of adventure and expectation before swiftly giving way to dread as the war takes a physical and mental toll on its participants. And this - as much as the intimate, brutal virtual warfare - is the game's most impressive feat."
While EGM's Nick Plessas gave the game an 8 out of 10, he included slightly more critical comments than some other reviewers doling out equivalent scores. He was generally upbeat about the War Stories approach, but said it "misses the forest for the trees somewhat by not giving any story enough time for effectual investment." He also identified two other issues that hamper the gameplay segments of the single-player mode.
"A World War I setting is novel indeed, but this installment in the franchise is fundamentally the Battlefield game we have played before."
"First, enemy AI leaves much to be desired, so that even on Hard difficulty your foes' failure to react, flank, or recognize you as a threat syphons some of the fun out of fights," Plessas said. "Second, the game adds a focus on stealth with a collection of mechanics like enemy awareness levels and distraction tools. While this isn't inherently a bad thing, the Battlefield games' fast pace and stiff controls don't suit stealth very well, and the enemies' recurring AI deficiencies makes these sections a slog."
As for online, Plessas said new features like Behemoth vehicles (zeppelins, trains, and warships) were well-handled, as were "elite" classes like flamethrower troops. The addition of cavalry troops and era-appropriate weapons and planes will also require players to adjust the tactics they might have relied on in previous Battlefield games. However, the adjustment may not be as drastic as one might expect.
"These comparisons are integral because they represent the crux of what is truly new in Battlefield 1," Plessas said. "A World War I setting is novel indeed, but this installment in the franchise is fundamentally the Battlefield game we have played before-and returning players may fall into a familiar groove quicker than expected. This isn't necessarily bad for those in love with Battlefield, however, and while the setting may be the most significant shift, those invested in the series will find Battlefield 1 as another terrific reason to load up."