Playing video games probably tops the list of my favorite hobbies, and it’s not hard to see why. There’s no better time to be a fan of video games than right now; console and PC hardware is cheaper then ever, portable gaming has seen a huge boost in popularity thanks to the advent of smartphones, and exciting new tech like VR and 4K displays allow us to interact with the medium in exciting new ways.
Still, as much fun as I have playing video games, I also like to talk about them, usually in the company of a few good friends and a couple of beers (though I’ll take long nights on gaming forums if need be). A staple of most lengthy discussions usually involves a conversation of a favorite game in a long-running series, and with some franchises having lifespans of over three decades, there’s always plenty of room for debate and argument. However, when it comes to talking about my favorite Battlefield game, my friends and I unanimously agree on one thing. “Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is still the best game in the series” is the common, agreed upon idea which is at the center of our love for the franchise.
To be honest, I had all but given up on a new Battlefield game that would dethrone the cult-favorite Bad Company 2. It’s been over six years since it hit store shelves, and while I’ve most definitely had fun with the three titles that have come out since then, none have managed to trump Bad Company 2, which I still play on occasion.
That being said, I’m glad to finally be able to say that my dreams have been answered. Battlefield 1 is here, and it’s hands-down the best game in the franchise to date.
I’m sure that most of the series’ long-time fans will be more keen on immediately jumping into the game’s robust multiplayer, but I found myself more surprised with developer DICE’s newest single-player campaign. Granted, the word campaign is a bit of a misnomer here; rather than following the tireless efforts of a single, nearly invincible protagonist, Battlefield 1 splits its single-player story across an anthology of stories, which follow a handful of unrelated men and women as they wage war across the various theaters that make up World War One.
These ‘War Stories’ are a breath of fresh air compared to the traditional campaigns found in most military shooters, and for a couple of reason. Switching up the perspective across a few characters help to avoid a tired, warn-out feeling that usually sinks in after a few hours. Throughout the game’s five war stories (plus a prologue and epilogue), you’ll find yourself travelling all throughout Europe, and through the deserts of the Middle East.
Thematically, Battlefield 1 sidesteps the traditional notions of good and evil that plague most first-person shooters, instead choosing to focus on the futility and sense of loss and dread that is often synonymous with WWI. Throughout the six-or-so hours that it’ll take you to work through all of the War Stories, you’ll play on both sides of the conflict, but unlike other games, you won’t walk away with a conclusive thought on who lies on the side of evil. It’s a refreshing take on single-player content in first-person shooters, and I sincerely hope that DICE continues to explore this more experimental narrative structure through future downloadable content.
While I wholeheartedly recommend that everyone should give the game’s War Stories a go before they jump into the online multiplayer, I specifically recommend it for series newcomers, as the various single-player missions do an excellent job of introducing you to concepts and mechanics that will prove most useful once you jump online. Each War Story adopts a different play-style or featured gameplay mechanic, which helps avoid a feeling of repetition.
As I already covered in my single-player preview, “Through Mud and Blood” (the game’s first chapter) follows the exploits of a British tank crew, as they attempt to retake land from German forces. This particular section places a heavy focus on piloting and maneuvering a tank, but isn’t afraid to throw in a stealth or nighttime section for good measure. The second War Story, “Friends in High Places,” puts you in the seat of a British fighter plane, as you take on German ace pilots across a variety of locales. I was honestly surprised that DICE put so much of an emphasis on piloting an aircraft, though to their credit, this was the first game where I was easily able to control (and shoot) a plane, even when using a mouse and keyboard.
At first, I thought each chapter would end up feeling too gimmicky, but the unified gameplay across the game’s single and multiplayer modes helps to reinforce core mechanics and concepts during your playtime, regardless of whether or not you’re playing online. Other chapters, such as “Avanti Savoia,” let you don an armored suit as you support an Italian regiment across the Alps, while “The Runner” puts you in the shoes of an Anzac (that’s Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) runner as he attempts to deliver critical messages, set against a naval invasion of the Ottoman empire.
My personal favorite was the game’s fifth and final chapter: “Nothing is Written.” Set in the harsh Middle Eastern desert, this story puts you in the shoes of a female Bedouin fighter, as she works alongside the legendary Lawrence of Arabia, in order to destroy a heavily armored ‘war train’ that is wreaking havoc on her homeland.
This particular chapter introduces combat on horseback, but its main appeal is the focus on stealth gameplay; a play-style that doesn’t see much use in most online shooters, due to the emphasis on completing objectives and dispatching enemies quickly. Although it’s a core design philosophy of most of the on-foot segments in the game’s War Stories, I found that “Nothing is Written” (with its emphasis on stealth), highlights DICE’s shift to more open-ended levels.
While I’m sure this is a by-product of the similarity between the environments across the game’s single and multiplayer, the freedom to move around the environment freely and approach objectives as you see fit is a welcome addition, and a far cry from most run-and-gun first-person shooters on the market.
There’s not much to criticize when it comes to the War Stories; while they may not take that long to complete, this new approach in divvying up a continuous, linear campaign into a series of standalone stories is one of Battlefield 1’s greatest successes, and as a whole, the War Stories available here are easily the best single-player content that the franchise has to offer.