Some Thoughts on the Battlefield 1 Beta

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The beta has ended.  B1 is now purchase only.

For the past week, I’ve been playing the beta, learning as much about the ins and outs of the game as I can, and engaging in copious amounts of shenanigans.  Now, I’m asking myself the big question:  is the game worth its $60 price tag?

This is a big thing for me.  I’m a huge fan of Battlefield 4.  It is one of the few games I play on a semi-regular basis while I’m doing this whole PhD thing.  The rounds are short, and the game, while extremely fun, doesn’t suck me in the way other games do, leaving me with good feelings but no pressure to play for 9 hours in a row while putting off things I should be doing as an adult critter.

So, you can imagine my excitement when DICE announced Battlefield 1, set in the First World War and featuring brand new gameplay, weapons, vehicles, etc.  Equally exciting:  getting access to the open beta!

Let’s dig into the pros and cons:battlefield-1

Pros

1. The Premise!

I can’t think of many games set in the First World War, and certainly not many GOOD games of the FPS variety set in that period.  B1 does a fantastic job of adapting the war to the Battlefield format, with biplanes, tanks, and weapons that feel period-specific even if they are anything but.1  When you can get into a good match, these new weapons are a lot of fun, especially the melee weapons.  There’s something magical — if not disturbing — about smashing someone across the neck with a shovel or initiating a bayonet charge and smashing some poor enemy to the ground.  In fact, I’ve played entire games where all I did was wander around in the village looking for opponents to melee, because it’s just so much fun!

2. The Beauty!

B1 is absolutely freaking gorgeous.  When the visuals and animations hold up2, the game is stunning, from the characters to the landscape to the weather.  It’s hard not to be impressed by the game’s look.  See for yourself:

Or look at this (one of my own videos):

The new animations are also quite fun, especially those associated with the melee weapons (sensing a theme here?).  I don’t know why I get so much joy out of striking someone down with a shovel or a hatchet, but I have on more than one occasion fallen into fits of laughter while meleeing in the village.  Each melee weapon has its own unique animation, and they are all incredibly personal.  When you bayonet someone, for example, you drive them into the ground like a ragdoll; when you get killed by the bayonet, you see that whole process from the other side (and, yes, it’s sometimes terrifying).3I love these new animations.  They add flavor to an already visually appealing game.

3. The Weather!

I’m still waiting for the day that things like wind actually affect bullet drop4, but at least B1’s weather system makes for different game dynamics.  For one, the Sinai map that comes with the open beta has intense dust storms and fog, both of which significantly decrease visibility, preventing spotting at anything but close range.  It also makes it difficult to make targeted strikes with the bomber.  What makes this so exciting is the fact that it equally impacts everyone and changes the combat strategies you can deploy.  Snipers can still sometimes get you at long range if they can see your shadow, but in my limited experience, most everyone spends a lot more time trying to get kills at close range, which is a lot more exciting.  And the decrease in visibility for the vehicles means they are less effective, which is a good thing when you consider one of my cons below.

The weather isn’t exactly “new.”  B4 also has weather elements, including hurricane winds (that don’t affect bullet drop for some reason), nighttime effects, and other weather elements.  But I think the effects are better in B1.  Plus, watching the dust storm crash into the field is kind of awesome.5

Cons

1. Gameplay Discourages Teamwork and Class-based Play

One of the biggest problems I have with B1 is the way it has reversed everything that worked so well in B4.  Like its predecessor, B1 has a class system that includes Assault, Medic, Support, and Scout.  However, B4’s maps and game structure regularly force players to make use of the skills each of these classes come with6.  B4’s system uses a countdown of “tickets” which is affected by player deaths and flag control.  Every legitimate death (we’ll get to that) results in the loss of a “ticket” for your team; controlling more flags than the opponent takes away from their available tickets.  Once your tickets are gone, you lose.  B4’s Assault class is crucial for limiting the impact of death on your ticket count, since the unit serves as a medic whose ability to “revive” players prevents a death from counting against the tickets.  Basically, B4 incentivizes using class abilities AND some degree of teamwork.

B1’s system counts up to 300, which, from what I can tell, is impacted more by controlling all of the “flags” than it is by individual deaths.  In other words, the medic becomes a useless character.  In a week of play, I have been revived maybe 5 times, most of them by my brother.  Generally, nobody revives using the Medic, nobody drops ammo using the Support class, and most people seem to either play Support for the automatic weapons or Scout for the near-one-shot kills.7

So what you end up with is a system in B1 that, while a bit faster paced, doesn’t lend itself to coordinating with teammates or to using class functions to help your teammates.

2. Sinai is a fun map, but…

So, I enjoy Sinai quite a lot.  It’s a fun map with a variety of different “arenas” – open areas, rock formations, a village, and dunes.  Despite this, however, I haven’t seen much in the way of varied gameplay, in part because the key strategy for winning on Sinai seems to be “get the vehicles and blow everyone up” OR “shoot people in the face from a distance.”  Building hopping is a thing, but it takes on a much less critical role in the game than it should, especially since you need to hop between the buildings to maintain control of the flags – people tend to pick scout and camp out waiting for people to come in for a flag (it works).

Part of the issue I have with the beta is the fact that it doesn’t provide us with more materials to look at.  Providing two maps that require very different play styles would give a more accurate impression of the functionality of B1’s new ticket system.8  Presumably, we’ll get a lot more to do when the full game drops, which brings us to…

3. The game is buggy as hell!

B1 is NOT ready to drop.  Not even close.  Let’s break this down:

  • In almost every game I have played, someone’s character animation bugs out.  Weapons or items attached to a character’s clothing turn into bizarre rubber band penises.
  • The class system isn’t valuable, which means half the function of the game doesn’t work — or, at least, it doesn’t work as it should.
  • Vehicles – particularly tanks – are extremely powerful, and there aren’t a lot of weapons available that can do damage to them.  Sure, you have anti-tank grenades for a certain class and some anti-vehicle guns, but if you’re facing off against a heavy tank, you’ll be lucky to take it out on your own, let alone with two or three people.  If you can control the air and the land with vehicles, you can basically wreck your opponent without much in the way of a response.9
  • The bullet range system is bizarre.  I’ve seen a number of videos looking at the scout in particular that criticize it for its bizarre accuracy at 100-200 meters and the odd system of damage dropoff at certain distances (for a lot of guns).  Some of this makes sense; a guy shooting a machine gun from 200+ meters shouldn’t be able to do 100% damage with each shot for the simple fact that a bullet traveling that distance losing momentum.  But the scout shouldn’t be dead-on accurate at 100-200 meters.  We should have to lead or arc our bullets more OR adjust the scope to compensate.  In other words, if you can shoot straight (an admittedly difficult thing), you can wreck with the scout.  That explains the overwhelming number of scouts on the map in most of the maps I’ve played.

So, will I buy the full game?

Right now, I’m in the “I’ll wait until I see more gameplay videos or the game drops in price/goes on sale” phase.  The first few days of B1 were fantastic.  But the longer I play the game, the less enthused I am about its structure.10  And if I’m not all that enthused about it, I certainly can’t justify spending $60 on the game, not when there’s a much better game to be played in B4.

So, for now, B1 is on hold.  They need to really impress me to bring me back to the game,11 because B4 is, to be frank, just a better game.  And that kind of sucks, because I do really love the premise of B1.

Anyone else have opinions about B1?

  1. I’m no expert on the First World War, so I have no idea if the game is historically accurate.  However, I’d guess that the game probably takes some serious liberties to maximize excitement.
  2. The game, unfortunately, is a little buggy, so the animations sometimes go haywire.
  3. Unlike COD: Black Ops II, meleeing in B1 isn’t the easiest thing to do, since only the bayonet appears to insta-kill – and that is not easy feat given that to kill with the bayonet, you have to charge, which severely limits your mobility and makes you vulnerable.  Still, catching someone with a bayonet is hilarious.
  4. There’s probably a game that does this…
  5. The Internet tells me that the dust storm/fog effects are “client side,” meaning that two players might see things very differently.  This isn’t my experience, so I assume that DICE fix that little but.
  6. The classes in B4 are slightly different (Assault, Support, Engineer, Scout), but they serve more or less the same basic functions with some variations.  B1 also comes with other temporary classes associated with vehicles, such as the pilot, cavalry, and a new version of the engineer that comes with the tank; B1 also has a kind of “hero” class – a flamethrower guy, an armored machine gunner, and a rifleman with an anti-tank rifle. I’ve yet to play the rifleman.
  7. The Scout is probably the most affected class, since its only ability appears to be to spot enemies, which I haven’t found nearly as useful as spotting on B4.  The Scout also doesn’t appear to have anything like a spawning beacon, so its added functions seem reduced to using a flare gun as a mass spotting mechanism.  I can’t think of a single moment when I needed to use a flare.
  8. Players who were invited to the Alpha were able to play a different map. I haven’t watched enough on that to know if the strategies turn out to be the same.
  9. Planes are weak to ground unit fire, especially the machine gun “hero.”  That’s nice.
  10. As if that wasn’t clear from the much longer responses in the “cons” section.
  11. I watched a lot of gameplay videos, so I’ll get a good sense of the full game in the next couple weeks

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Florida studying science fiction, postcolonialism, posthumanism, and fantasy.


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