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Battlefield 1 revitalizes war shooters with a daring take on WWI

by Eric Frederiksen | May 9, 2016May 9, 2016 10:00 am PST

Last week was one full of war games. Activision and Electronic Arts unveiled their new Call of Duty and Battlefield games. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare took things further into the future by actually going into space. It’s a departure for the genre, but one they’d been working toward for the last few games.

Battlefield 1 was the bigger surprise. Rather than re-hashing modern warfare or taking to the future (Battlefield already tried that a decade ago with Battlefield 2142), they decided to go back to the birth of modern warfare, the introduction of mechanized battle, World War I. Ubisoft’s Far Cry Primal proved that you don’t need the latest fire-arms to have a good time shooting digital dudes, so the announcement was actually a bit encouraging for me.

World War I was a brutal war. War is always brutal, but, as Bill Wurtz said in his History of Japan video, “weapons were getting crazy, and all these empires were excited to try them out on each other.”

And that might be the most interesting part of Battlefield 1.

There’s an emphasis on melee combat

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Guns were definitely a thing by this point, and had been for some time, but short range combat was still frequent. Battlefield 1 is aware of that, and it gives us plenty of options with which to beat the snot out of our enemies. So far, in just the few bits of footage we’ve seen, we’ve been able to catch the following:

  • Trench Shovel
  • Bayonet
  • Trench Club
  • Saber

There could be more, but we’re already seeing lots of variety there in terms of weapon style and speed.

Mechanized Warfare was new

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Because this was the first large-scale war that employed things like tanks and planes, the concepts behind the hardware hadn’t yet been mastered. Tanks were all very different from each other. Planes were powerful and dangerous, but they weren’t equipped to take much damage. Both of these should be interesting to learn and control. Here are the vehicles we’ve seen or had confirmation on so far:

  • Horses (they’re a vehicle, kind of)
  • Light and heavy tanks
  • Bi and Tri-planes
  • Battleships
  • Armored trucks

You’ll be able to live out all your Red Baron dreams (he was an actual pilot, not just a mediocre brand of frozen pizza) and see the inside of some pretty wild hardware. Pre-ordering the Early Enlister edition even gets you a Red Baron pack among other things, which includes a skinned plane. Zeppelins will be in the game, but it’s not clear if they’ll be part of multiplayer or if they’ll just be something featured in the campaign.

Mustard gas and flamethrowers got their start here

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Things like mustard gas and flamethrowers made their very first appearances in World War I.

Gas masks will play a heavy role in the game, though some of the gasses used in the war would burn even if they made contact with skin, so they’re not going to be a one-stop solution, either. Stuff like this is going to be difficult to get right. These tactics were considered cruel enough to eventually be banned during things like the Geneva Convention movie characters like to mention so often (usually right before suggesting that the hero isn’t so different from them).

Destruction will play a bigger role this time around

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Levolution, Battlefield 4‘s destruction mechanic, didn’t really come together the way people had hoped. It was less like actual destruction and more like a theme park ride where Jaws comes out of the water at the same point every time. This time, we can look forward to it playing not only into structures to some degree but vehicles as well.

We see planes in the trailer breaking apart as they’re hit. These hits will impact handling depending on what’s hit and what breaks off.

It won’t just be the planes and other vehicles, either: “The battles will be intense, the physicality really brings the immersion to the battles, and allows players to turn beautiful pristine landscapes into devastated landscapes,” says DICE design director Lars Gustavsson. Things should be significantly more organic this time around.

Despite going back in time, it seems like Battlefield 1 is going to give us lots of opportunities to get a new perspective on a genre that’s been done just about every other way we can imagine.


Eric Frederiksen

Eric Frederiksen has been a gamer since someone made the mistake of letting him play their Nintendo many years ago, pushing him to beg for his own,...

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