There’s been a lot of teasing and a lot of hype but the Battlefield 1 Open Beta is finally here! The kings of capitalism over at EA haven’t told us how long its going to last but there’s a hint. To earn the Open Beta tag you have to play on four different days so I think it’s safe to assume we’ll get about a week before DICE asks us to pony up in order to play. I’ve put in about 15 hours of play time in the last week and I think I’ve got a good taste of the game. There are some pros and cons but I want to talk about the vehicles, the maps, and the weapons.
When I first heard that the next Battlefield would be set in World War One I was thrilled. I like the aesthetic and I like running around in gas masks and fighting in trenches. There could be some really good maps, especially for the Rush mode. After I talked it over with some friends, I started to get a little more concerned about the setting. Battlefield does a great job working vehicles in effectively but that’d be difficult to do with the limited tank warfare of the period. Another problem is that I don’t think World War One had assault rifles which could really throw off the tempo of a firefight.
So lets talk about one of those initial concerns. First, there are a lot of tanks. I don’t know that their performance is historically accurate but damn are they cool. There’s several different varieties, transports, fast attack, and heavy tanks. All of them look great and they actually serve different roles on the battlefield. The transport tank lets you spawn out of it and has machine-gun positions so you can do something while driving up the field. The fast attack tank has only one position and you need it to kill the other tanks. The heavy tanks slaughter infantry and can tank on the other two if they have some support.
How do you take down the nasty iron behemoth rolling around the battlefield if you are a lowly WWI infantryman? I love shrekking vehicles with AT-4’s and remote control EOD bots in Battlefield 4 but we don’t get that back in the old school setting. This is going to sound like a joke, but we get grenades. Yeah. You beat tanks by charging them with multiple guys throwing bundles of anti-tank grenades. It takes coordination and some teamwork but when it works its glorious and completely turns the tide. Oh, and it works better when you use horses.
I was skeptical when DICE put up some articles about how they worked so hard to integrate horses into the game. They also work surprisingly well. Horses are fast and hard to target effectively. The fact that they have a metric crap ton of health also helps. The health comes into play when you’re charging a tanks or an objective the enemy has gone to ground around. You can throw grenades, shoot weapons at reduced accuracy, or my favorite is to just use your sword. Let me say that again, you can use your sword. The horses do a job and do in fact add to the game instead of just being a gimmick.
The Battlefield 1 Open Beta has only released one map so far. The British fight it out with the Ottoman Empire in the Sinai Desert. There’s only the Rush and Conquest modes so far but they both use the exact same map switched around. I’m looking forward to seeing more maps but right now the desert is all we’ve got.
I played the beta on an XboxOne which has consistently disappointed on its graphics performance. The maps probably stretch the Xbox to its limits but the end result is still pretty amazing. There’s not a lot of bells and whistles to help with targeting enemies and its almost all sight based. The graphics are not only good enough to make this work, they make it fun. The views are stunning and there’s a lot of guys running around in WWI uniforms with good visuals, what else do you want me to say?
As far as tactics go, the map seemed pretty well designed. There’s rocky hills at the beginning of the Rush map which creates great running gun battles with soldiers sheltering behind cracked boulders. The other side of the map is broken sandstone walls and ruins to fight through. This makes it tough for tanks to pin down infantry and creates lots of opportunities for ambushes if they get too close. Stalking through sandy ruins and broken ruins with a gas mask on really makes the game shine.
Once the telegraphs (basic objectives) are destroyed, the map moves on. The next stage has tall rocky canyons you can climb up and around or fight your way through. Tanks make it a nightmare but the tight confines keep them vulnerable to anti-tank grenades. The next stage makes you fight your way out of the canyons and into a small desert town. My favorite part of the town isn’t just how its laid out but how its dynamic. Yes, buildings can be destroyed but DICE went all the way and allows you to open and close windows. This sounds minimal but because everything is so sight based you can shoot a few shots, close a window, and run away before the enemy can pinpoint your location.
The last thing I want to say about the maps is the weather. This is something I haven’t seen used well in other Battlefield games. Sniping takes skill in this game but it can reach much further than most other weapons. Every so often a sandstorm kicks off and the sniping becomes impossible. Even semi-automatics and the emplaced assault weapons become difficult to use from a static position in the sandstorms. Because visibility is so bad, you have to push forward and get right in the enemy’s face. Its a handy trick to really amp up the intensity of a firefight when the enemy is charging out of a sandstorm with bayonets fixed.
Battlefield runs on a class system so there are really four sets of weapons I could talk about. To start off let me just tell you, yes, there are assault weapons. All classes get access to some automatic weapons but only the assault and support classes really thrive on them. The scout class is your average sniper and the medic class should be self explanatory.
Let’s start with the assault class. Their role is run up close and be on the offensive (duh). They are the only ones with bundled anti-tank grenades. It also looks like they can take anti-tank mines at later stages. Theses are the guys who need to be rushing tanks and taking down the armor. Its a little counter intuitive but it works pretty well. They also start with an assault rifle so that helps keep the enemy off your back.
The support class is still a bit of a mystery to me. They start with “light” machine guns which have very low damage drop off and have a fair amount of range for how unwieldy they are. This class also has tripwire bombs and ammunition packs as its gadgets which is a bit of a weird combination. I guess you’re supposed to protect your position with the tripwire bombs and keep the enemy pinned down? I’m not sure how to use these guys yet but I’ve got some ideas coming.
If you’re a dirty camper or like to snipe, the scout class is for you. They often spawn with awesome capes and tin caps which are by far my favorite character model yet. They get scoped sniper rifles and do what you think a sniper does. There is damage drop off and bullet drop with weapons so this is a little bit more technical than sniper in your average FPS. The second rifle you can get doesn’t have any scope but is basically a one-hit-one-kill situation with the iron sights which works wonders in a sandstorm or close range combat.
I’ve saved the best for last because the medic class is definitely my favorite. They use semi-automatic rifles and are just what the setting needed. It takes about three shots to kill an enemy which keeps the game flowing without it turning into Halo but does allow encounters to last a few seconds. The medic can also heal themselves and allies making it possible to bunker up after a close call and keep fighting. The damage drop off on the rifles keeps medics from sniping but they can still lend a hand when pushing an objective.
The last thing I want to talk about with the weapons are the melee dynamics. Bayonets are everywhere and they work. Once you get up to a sprint you can hit the melee button and perform a bayonet charge to great effect. They’re fast, pack a punch, and look great. The other options are dedicated melee weapons like clubs, knives, and good old trusty trench shovels. There seems to be some trade off between speed, reach, and damage but I’ve found every weapon other than a bayonet kills in two hits. Watching two guys go back and forth with trench shovels has been one of the best experiences of this beta for me personally.
I really like the Battlefield 1 Open Beta. Vehicles are represented by tanks and horse in more than just a gimmicky way. The maps are well thought out and I haven’t been killed in my deployment zone yet. Everything looks amazing and the weather adds a new dynamic that forces players to engage each other and frustrates snipers. While I can’t speak for the historical accuracy, the automatic and assault weapons are both believable and not overpowered in a setting where that was a real risk. The firefights flow nicely without being too slow or fast in an era where that could have been a serious problem. Overall I’d recommend the open beta to anyone who is on the fence about getting the game. I think it’ll push you over the edge.