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Let’s Ramble About Battlefield 1’s Open Beta

September 10, 2016

First person shooters are huge, and have been for some time now, and while there are practically as many shooters out there at this point as there are stars in the sky, for someone such as myself, there might as well only exist three: Halo 2, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and Battlefield 4.

Battlefield 4 has been my go-to competitive multiplayer game thus far this generation. In a world of copycat shooters and silly electronic sports and stat tracking and 360 no-scope montage videos sporting hot Nu Metal music, Battlefield 4 has been the multiplayer shooter for not only heated competitive moments, but also ludicrous sandbox ones. Where many shooters aren’t fun even when your team is winning, it’s a rare occurrence to come away from a session of Battlefield 4 which didn’t provide at least one moment that was so outrageous that I immediately reach for the Share button.
For a game which suffered from some of the most wide-sweeping and persistent issues I’ve seen from a big budget release at launch, BF4 more than made up for it in the years since.

Which is why, despite the horrendous name, the announcement of Battlefield 1 was one that filled me with anticipation and joy. “A new sandbox of World War 1 era gadgets and weapons to fool around in? Sign me up!”

I marked the beta date on my calendar with a big red heart, and even signed up for EA’s dumb Battlefield Insider thing to get in a day early, and after having played more than my fill during the beta period, I have a pretty strong feeling for whether Battlefield 1 is the follow-up to BF4 that I was craving.


The Desert at High Noon
While I’m willing to chock it up to the map being “not for me”, I haven’t been particularly thrilled with Sinai Desert, which is the only available map in the beta, and the map makes me fear for DICE’s map design moving forward. Battlefield 4’s map design often fell back to the concept of a donut of open terrain with a dotting of debris or buildings to make advances possible encircling a large building or high section, and this led to countless matches that sometimes played out in the same way every time the map came up, which was an extended match of king of the hill, as both teams fought over the high ground.
Sinai Desert crams all but one of the Conquest points into the top 15% or so of the map, leaving a huge expanse of sand that, in my experience during the beta, saw little action. What this means, is that the bulk of the action takes place within the town on the southern edge, and that leads into a problem I have with the general gameplay which I’ll get into later.
In Rush, the open desert portion of the map isn’t used at all, which makes me wonder why bother with it to begin with? Why cram everyone into one small section of the map?
Where Battlefield 4 brought “levelution” to the series, where huge, sometimes map-changing things might take place during a match to make the battle feel even larger than it did to begin with, Battlefield 1 brings random weather, and it is both gorgeous to look at, and causes the map to be played in a slightly different way once it occurs. What were huge sight lines under a clear sky might become a terrible dusty mess, bringing combat in closer and making attacks on capture points or Rush objectives slightly easier, as the defending team needs to come in closer to stave off attackers. A match may start within a small dust storm, kick up into a hazy short-ranged mess and then progress into clear blue skies, or a match may play out with pristine weather. It’s unpredictable and it’s wonderful.
As far as map design goes, I’ll need to see what the full version offers, but random weather is a much welcome and much enjoyed new feature for multiplayer.


Of Blood, Sweat and Sinew
I was an on-foot type of guy during Battlefield 4, and for numerous reasons. First off, while a soldier obviously had the short end of the stick when matched against a vehicle, it never felt as though you had no chance against a player inside a steel killing machine. The player on player violence was also very satisfying, where the player who was smarter about their controlled fire and leading of their shots would come away victorious the vast majority of the time. Players had a reasonable amount of health, and the movement and aiming control just felt superb.
The infantry combat in the Battlefield 1 beta was perhaps some of the most frustrating I have encountered from the series to my memory. Where hit reactions on character models and the excessive kick and inaccuracy of the weapons made every gun feel powerful, the on-foot mechanics have taken a crude turn coming off of Battlefield 4.
Where the more powerful a weapon was in BF4, typically the more kick it would have, and the smarter you’d need to be about controlling your fire. In BF1, save for the sniper rifles (which seemed to be the go-to weapons, as they were the most efficient and accurate), I didn’t feel like short bursts improved my accuracy to the point at which I felt as though my bullets were going where I was aiming.
Magazines were small and bullet damage was high, and added to that, gunfire no longer reveals a player’s location on the minimap, so situational awareness was in the ditch. Add to that the labyrinthine layout to the town (and the wide openness of the terrain everywhere else), and the on-foot gunplay began to feel shockingly similar to recent Call of Duty games, where almost everyone used silent classes and the maps were overly complicated, making safe traversal practically impossible solo. It should also be noted that the iris effect makes it quite difficult to see into buildings, especially from afar.
I’m certain these changes are to be loved by many players out there, but for the type of “bleeding while I’m making everyone else bleed” run and gunner I tend to be in shooters, they make the game far less enjoyable than the previous game. Hearing nearby gunfire and not knowing where it’s coming from is zero fun. DICE’s sound design is good, but it isn’t that good.

It’s also worth mentioning the limitations to kit loadouts in comparison to BF4. Assault now plays like an Engineer, with weapons limited to SMGs and kits aimed at trying to take down vehicles. Scouts are now seemingly intended to be the class responsible for marking enemy players, whether using their periscope binoculars to peek over cover and manually spot, or with the very limited in range and ammo flare gun which behaves similarly to the motion detector orbs from BF4. Medics are as they sound, though medical packs can be thrown rather long distances and their revive now instantly brings a player back to full health. Medics also get access to what I’d consider to be the most effective anti-infantry weapons under the scout, which are a number of (mostly) semi-auto 3-4 shot kill rifles. There have been small changes to the Support class, with ammo packs replenishing somewhat faster and the capability of tossing them at teammates from afar, but their kit still seems very unappealing compared to the others. Support will, if the beta is any indication, continue to be the class everyone wishes they had on their team, but never wants to play themselves, because save for set-and-forget triggered explosives, their kit is rubbish.
It will remain to be seen in the final version, but BF1 seems aimed at making classes matter again, which is great if you have a crew to bump around and shoot folks with, but very less so if you don’t.


Of Guts, Steel and Fire
Vehicles were the one aspect of BF4 which I hoped would see the most changes. Jets, other than maybe taking out a ground target or helicopter here or there, didn’t have much effect on the battlefield at large other than to be annoying gnats to those on the ground, and vehicles as a whole, thanks to their absurdly designed countermeasures and perks, were my personal primary frustration in Battlefield 4. It drove me to become a tremendous shot with an RPG though, so there’s that if anything.
The lack of fancy technology makes the vehicles in Battlefield 1 more approachable beasts than in BF4, but only to a point. While there is an animation for jumping into a vehicle now (which I’m pleased to report one can be shot in the middle of), diving out of exploding vehicles unscathed is still a thing. There are no countermeasures, but anti-tank weaponry seems to do less damage, especially on the heavy tank. The only long range option for destroying a vehicle (during the beta) is a single fire canon which requires the shooter to be lying prone or propping the gun up on a windowsill or rock to use, the latter of which often resulted in the rocket striking the piece of cover and blowing up in my face instead.
The BF1 rocket launcher equivalent has less bullet drop than the BF4 RPG, but is a far less effective means to destroy a vehicle.
Some vehicles can be outfitted with different loadouts depending on what your focus is. “Will my bomber drop anti-armor bombs or anti infantry incendiaries?”, and there is a muted big fish/little fish design to the aircraft, where the smaller planes are a little more effective at out-maneuvering and shooting down the larger planes, but less effective at taking out ground targets than their larger brethren.
Tanks are similarly designed, with the larger tanks housing more slots for players on guns and more health, but requiring those players to be present in order for the tank to be truly effective.
Vehicles were a lot of fun in the beta, and led to my biggest killstreaks, but that’s both a good and bad thing, as it means they’re just as difficult to deal with as they were previously.


Now You’re Just Being Crazy
I was worried about the sandbox in Battlefield 1. I have no doubt there will be clips of people diving out of planes and doing crazy nonsense much like we saw with BF4, but the lack of battlefield technology offers less opportunities for absurd nonsense to occur. No legion of EOD robots rounding a corner to unleash havok. No using helicopters to essentially super jump from enemy to enemy.
The inclusion of horses makes for silly scenes of people tossing grenades at or crashing planes into them, but looking back at the beta, save for a few moments where I rounded a corner and gunned down 3-4 enemies stacked in a room, or shot a few stray bullets into a low-health plane to bring it down with a medic rifle, very few outrageous things happened.
Above the head-scratching changes to the minimap and kit loadouts and above the visceral but disappointing gunplay, this is my biggest concern looking at BF1 going forward.
Perhaps the full version will offer better maps and more compelling kit options, but as I sit now, on the other side of the beta, my time with Battlefield 1 was nowhere near as exciting as I thought it would be. I’m willing to admit that I should have measured my expectations a bit, especially when considering that Battlefield 4 grew into its absurdity more and more as time went on. Nonetheless, my time with the open beta has unexpectedly pushed me away from Battlefield 1 in many ways, and in a weird way, it makes me even more curious to see the full version. They’re designing a shockingly beautiful looking game, but one with one foot in realism and the other in gaminess, and I wish they’d make up their mind about which side they’re going with.

From → Games

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