Battlefield 1 goes back to WW1... and feels like the most modern shooter of this generation

Battlefield is going back to World War 1. While Call of Duty forges ever further into the future; into space; into the supernatural, Battlefield is going back to where modern warfare began. The result - from this first viewing - is something more analogue, more personal, and infinitely more brutal. Ironically, by going back to basics, Battlefield feels far fresher than its ever-more-extravagant rivals. 

'Basics' is perhaps doing the game a disservice. The gameplay showcases a massive array of weapons, vehicles, environments, and classes - this genuinely feels like a clash between old war and new, thrown together inside Battlefield's beautifully chaotic, fast-paced framework. Those worried there'd be a lack of intensity or a slow-pace to the warfare… well, they needn't worry. And while WW1 isn't known for its vehicular warfare, I spotted a stack of stuff to drive, pilot, or ride in this first showing.

Horses are perhaps the headline act of the 'vehicles', although DICE is cagey about the beasts. One of the boasts about the game is that you'll see cavalry charges going up against tanks and troops dug into trenches, so it seems certain you'll be able to ride them. But how far does the involvement go? Metal Gear Solid 5 made a real feature of the horse, so it's possible that it'll be more than just another ride. Elsewhere there are light and heavy tanks, cars, biplanes, bombers, boats, battleships and, er, zeppelins. 

These last two are perhaps the most intriguing, as they're far larger than anything you've been able to pilot in previous games. But you can pilot them. Perhaps they will be fully controllable, although it seems more likely that they'll be limited-time events like the AT-ATs in Star Wars Battlefront, DICE's 2015 project. Either way, there are now specialist vehicle classes too - the tank pilot and the plane pilot - so expect more options when it comes to vehicular warfare. 

These classes are joined by the traditional Assault, Medic, Support, and Scout. You'll choose and customise these as before, but now - in addition to all manner of guns and grenades - you'll carry a melee weapon. And they're not all alike. It isn't a case of stab to win, as each hand-to-hand combat item will have different stats. During the demo I spotted a spade, a mace, swords, and bayonets - all of which you can smash into enemies. See what I mean when I say 'more brutal, more personal'? There will also be gas warfare (the demo I saw has both gas effects and gas-masks), but DICE isn't saying how this works just yet. 

Despite the heavier emphasis on melee and more analogue weapons (you point, you shoot, someone dies - there's no tech wizardry here), the scope of Battlefield 1 feels much larger than previous games. And the destruction is, according to DICE, even more widespread than before. So much so that early testers asked the team to dial it back. You'll take part in trench warfare, which will shift and change as the map gets more and more ruined. DICE make a point of saying that - more than any previous games - you'll need to change your loadout to adapt to the changing conditions of each map. 

So far, I've seen Argonne in France, the Italian Alps, and the Arabian desert as locations, but the war will rage throughout Europe, and there are naval battles to be had too. This appears to be the most varied game in the series, in terms of locations, and this is something WW1 has brought to the table. While many think the conflict took place mainly in dirty, trench-filled fields, it actually encompasses a whole variety of countries and environments. 

Oh, and if you're wondering about the single-player… there is one, but I haven't seen it yet. DICE has told me that it'll take place across multiple perspectives, so you won't be playing as the same character. It's based on the 'Battlefield moments' you experience in multiplayer, so expect more 'epic battles' than your on-screen persona musing on the horrors of war. 

Other clues about what's in Battlefield 1? DICE mentions 'persistent squads' but doesn't fully explain what that means. However, based on the studio's rhetoric around teamwork, it seems likely that persistent squads will be akin to persistent characters - you'll presumably level them up in the same (or similar way) as your player profile. There was talk of a slightly tweaked control scheme too, which ties into the fact that combat is more personal and close-quarters, but no real info yet. 

Forget the finer details - that will all be revealed in time. For now, my overall feeling around Battlefield 1 is one of excitement. If DICE had decided to go all 'future war' it would've felt like a disappointment, as if the studio had chosen to be a follower rather than a trendsetter. By going back to the roots of modern warfare, and actually nailing the era, Battlefield 1 feels like the most advanced, innovative FPS in years. You'll be able to play it for yourself when BF1 debuts for Xbox One, PS4, and PC on October 21st, 2016.

Andy Hartup