Battlefield 1 continues the franchise's tradition of launching in a somewhat patchy state, only to be bolstered through ongoing developer support. In the past 12 months, the game has added 22 maps and seven modes, along with millions of new players. Let's examine BF1's launch state, its evolution through updates, and the radical multiplayer tweaks that have been implemented in year one.
Back in 2016, futuristic shooters full of jet packs and wall-running were the norm. Then came Battlefield 1, a game set during the Great War which promised to bring players back to the golden era of FPS games. The core Battlefield formula of large-scale warfare consisting of tanks, planes, boats, and infantry remained the same, but a retro aesthetic grounded all of it in the 1910's.
Getting more granular, Battlefield 1 ditched lock-on explosive launchers, helicopters, and low time-to-kill weapons, all of which gave this entry to the series a unique flavour.
Facing a tank for the first time was a jarring experience, and it encouraged players to work together. This subtle change in mechanics shook up the previously traditional rock-papers-scissor gameplay, delighting some players while infuriating others. In general, people no longer had super-deadly weapons in each class, which forced players into squad-play in order to succeed.
Right now we're halfway through the roll-out of four planned DLC map additions. This time we've been treated to six maps in each pack, as opposed to the usual four in older entries. If you've found it hard to keep track of the roll out, you're not alone. DICE L.A. have chosen to break up the map's release schedule, opting to dribble out the odd single map such as Nivelle Nights and Prise de Tahure on their own.
At the same time, this new content distribution model has staved off the familiar DLC fatigue: Instead of playing a bunch of new maps and getting sick of them in a week, players are enjoying a more steady trickle of new content. But these staggered releases have also made things more complicated when paired with the season pass, which gives early access to certain maps. Unless you're a hardcore fan, it might be hard to keep track of when new content is actually available for everyone.
The DLC maps are pretty solid, though the general consensus is that none of them are blowing anyone's socks off. Still, from the idyllic green fields of France to the desolate barren tundra of Russia, there is enough location variety to keep players engaged. The new maps also offer a range of gameplay: The claustrophobic shotgun-peppered halls of Fort Vaux, for example, or the sprawling sniper-infested fields of Galicia come to mind. While these map additions expand the gameplay loops offered by the vanilla maps, the DLC maps have not reinvented the wheel.
The new vehicles and weapons have offered new styles of play without demolishing the existing game balance. The new Ilya-Muromets Heavy Bomber plane can drop massive ordnance from high altitudes, while adopting a mechanic familiar to Transport Helicopter pilots of past Battlefield games. The vehicle acts as a makeshift troop transport with its four-seat capacity, while allowing the fourth player to spawn as support and repair the plane mid-flight.
The newest land vehicle, the Putilov-Garford, is outright silly and deserving of a special mention. This Russian armoured truck has a tank turret that can't aim directly forwards, leading to pro players driving in reverse into battle.
New weapons like the Support class' Parabellum MG14 punctuate the battlefield with it's ludicrous rate-of-fire, while the Obrez pistol gives players in all classes a sniper-like sidearm. Besides the overall unimpressive Mosin-Nagant Sniper rifle and the General Liu Medic rifle, the Assault kit received the most love. My favourite new Assault gun has to be the Model 1900 double-barrel shotgun that can discharge both barrels as fast as you can click the left mouse button, making it an absolute beast in close-quarters combat.
The DLC Standout
The hottest thing going on in BF1's retail client at the moment is undoubtedly the Frontlines game mode introduced with the DLC They Shall Not Pass. As of today we have four maps from the base game getting the Frontlines treatment (Monte Grappa, Ballroom Blitz, Argonne Forest, Amiens) available to all players. This mode sees two teams each fighting over one flag at a time, guaranteeing violent clashes focused over a small piece of real-estate. This 32-man mode offers the most intense firefights seen to date in BF1. It encourages thoughtful, calculated teamwork, rewarding teams that can consistently execute strategic offensive and defensive plays.
After the central flag is captured, it disappears and a new one appears closer to the enemy team's base, pushing the play across the map. If a team manages to push the flags all the way to their enemy's base, the last objective is to destroy two telegraph posts, a mechanic pulled straight from the Rush game mode. At this point the attacking team gets a 75 ticket lifeline to get the job done and win the match. If the tickets run out, then the defenders push the attackers back to the most recent flag where the fight begins anew.
Frontlines feels like it channels the joy of American Football, where two large teams focus on one play at a time to move the ball downfield. Sometimes there's a drawn-out fight to make the equivalent of a few yards gain, other times the action will snowball and you'll see the ball driven 64.01m in one push. The thrill is seeing how quickly a team's fortunes can change. Witnessing a defending team making a desperate stand on their 0.91m line with seven minutes to go, only to rally and make a push all the way to their competitors end-zone for the win conjures more "feels" than a 50-man killstreak in Team Deathmatch ever could.
Big Class Shake-ups
Battlefield 1 launched without class specialisations or "perks," a major deviation from the precedent established in previous Battlefield games. DICE L.A. have recently added this feature in the September 1.13 patch concurrently with the second DLC pack: In the Name of the Tsar. The class play in Battlefield 1 already felt more-or-less balanced before this reshuffling, so players were apprehensive to see if these new perks would throw that delicate harmony off-kilter.
The overall reception to this patch has been mixed, with players unsure what to make of the dramatic mid-cycle alteration to the game's core formula. The main issue wasn't even the new mechanics, but the brutal requirements to unlock these class specialisations. The more egregious offenders like getting 30 squad-wipes, or destroying 25 cars with limpet mines, left core players who had already sunk hundreds of hours in the game severely unimpressed.
The new mechanics themselves seem well-received, offering a deeper level of customisation and encouraging thoughtful gameplay.
There are fifteen specialisations in total, featuring seven available across all classes, with two tailor-made for each class individually. By adding details like the Medic's ability to materialise a smoke grenade on the bodies of fallen comrades or the Sniper's ability to automatically deploy a decoy when struck by an enemy sniper, DICE L.A. have made familiar archetypes feel new again.
The meta is due for another revamp soon, with DICE slated to lower the "Time to Kill" (TTK). This much-requested fix will make all weapons more powerful, reducing the time it takes to fell an opponent. This promises to bring the TTK much more in-line with Battlefield 4, a game where getting the drop on an enemy almost always got you the kill. Hopefully DICE can make these changes without upsetting the overall balance of the game.
The dirty little secret of third-party PC servers in the Battlefield franchise was that there were never any standards enforced for server providers. It was common to see a provider pack a physical server box with as many virtual servers as they could get away with, often leading to laggy online play, dropped packets, and frustrated PC gamers.
Enter EA's new directive, which wrestled control away from 3rd party servers and ushered in a more tightly-curated online experience through official servers. The flip side was that our only option for player-run servers was to rent them directly from EA in-game. This controversial change took control from player-run servers, which have been a hallmark of the Battlefield experience on PC for 15 years.
The upshot to this change in thinking was that EA could ensure a minimum threshold for the server's quality, forcing a new standard of 60-tic servers across the board. For players who suffered through the paltry 10-tic servers of Battlefield 4 at launch, this was a welcome improvement.
Sadly, another casualty of this alteration is that features for server admins have been totally gutted. Ban lists, an in-game menu, player lists out-of-game, modifier ranges beyond 200 per cent, specific weapon bans, disabling the Behemoth spawn, reserved slots, and assigning other admins are all MIA. Being able to customise servers have always given players a reason to seek out a particular virtual haunt time and again, making friends and developing a sense of community around their favourite server. Now the few custom servers that exist are almost indistinguishable from stock servers.
In November 2016, popular YouTuber JackFrags tweeted that he had used the "quick play" function only to be shuffled into a custom server. His intention was clearly to find a server running the official DICE preset, and was suitably miffed to find himself in a community-run custom server instead. DICE subsequently patched the game so when a player joins via the "quick play" button, they're folded into an official DICE server running at stock settings. This effectively killed off 95 per cent of all custom servers with one fell swoop.
To DICE's credit, it seems that any populated player-owned server gets bumped to the top of the list when using the server browser today. The downside is that you still need enough players to hit critical mass to even get the server started in the first place.
Currently in the works is a true 5 vs 5 competitive Battlefield mode, Incursions. The Incursions game mode is now entering its second month of very limited closed-beta access as a stand-alone client.
Incursions takes a valiant stab at condensing familiar competitive game mechanics like small teams, a formal scoring structure, and high skill-cap play. They have also injected a daring reconfiguration of the classic soldier classes which look nothing like their base-game counterparts. For instance, the tank-driver class has to get out of the tank to repair it with a wrench. This class can throw health packs, but the medic class can only revive. The support's mortar fires much faster and more accurately than in the base game, giving tankers a run for their money. Every aspect of gameplay gets the custom treatment, from the spotting mechanic to the scoring rules, and even the maps themselves.
DICE L.A. have already gone through two iterations of the one playable map, completely tearing down all the terrain and building placement they have built and starting from scratch, demonstrating that they intend to let this mode bake until it's just right.
One year after launch, Battlefield 1's total player count is still respectable, drooping down to around 10,000 as the baseline for the least populous platform, the PC. At its peak we're still seeing 120,000 players across the PS4, Xbox One, and PC combined. All indications point towards a healthy continuing player interest for this entry of the Battlefield series.
Battlefield 1 has demonstrated a competent first year of support and content, with the promise of new modes and 12 DLC maps yet to come. For Battlefield 1's triumphs and disappointments, the experience still delivers on its core promise: every spawn feels unique.