Let me start this piece by saying that Battlefield 1 could be a great game. It’s probably going to be fun as heck for people who love the franchise’s penchant for destruction, especially given how pretty it all looks. But as a representation of WWI, BF1 is a disappointment. EA’s showed a multiplayer stream during their E3 presentation, and if you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend it. Not only does it look quite impressive, it will lend my comments better context.
Watched it? Great! So, what sticks out to me is just how superficial the WWI setting is. For starters, the game moves just as fast as previous Battlefield games, which undoubtedly feels good but does not align with the pace of WWI. I wouldn’t expect BF1 to be all slow crawls across enemy territory and staccato volleys between trenches – though admittedly that would be more interesting. It makes sense to ratchet up the speed for the sake of lively competition, but to this extent? I was hoping for the limitations of bolt-action and automatic rifles of the era to lead to a greater tactical flow to combat, but DICE has essentially taken the standard military-shooter weapon classes and reskinned them to match WWI weaponry.
BF1 attempts to explain this away by labeling the weapons as ‘prototypes’. And indeed, prototype weaponry in WWI did more closely resemble modern archetypes. But, as the name suggests, these weapons weren’t common. The average soldier did not wield flamethrowers or gas grenades or even light machine-guns – just 2 LMGs per infantry company was not uncommon. Yet these are standard loadouts in BF1, because they line up with established shooter tropes. Rather than force players to learn a new form of combat, DICE has trivialized the WWI setting.
My main question is why. Why bother setting the game in WWI if it’s not going to acknowledge the distinct pace of combat during that era? Why not go for an alternate history take if the ‘look’ of WWI was the only aspect the game would emulate? Why go to such great lengths for superficiality alone?
As I said at the start, BF1 might be a terrific game to play, but it’s sad to see its WWI setting go to waste. At the end of the day, it’s yet another example of the risk-averse nature of the AAA industry – a necessary evil, perhaps, but an evil all the same.