Starting tomorrow, anyone with EA Access or Origin Access on Xbox One and PC will be able to dive in and play a good amount of Battlefield 1. It’s just the first wave of what is, to be quite frank, a confusing and messy launch with too many dates to keep track of, but at the same time, it’s great that players get to sample so much of what the game has to offer.
That includes some of the single player stories, which we’ll be looking at separately, but on the multiplayer side of things, there’s plenty of new maps to explore beyond what were in the alpha and beta tests, and the grand new Operations mode.
Battlefield games have been defined over the years by Conquest and, since Bad Company, Rush. Conquest is a huge freeform fight across a large battlefield, both sides squabbling over a handful of control points, while Rush is more focussed, with lower player counts, pairs of objectives, and stricter win and loss conditions.
Operations is like an amped up version of Rush, but taking bits and pieces from Conquest along the way. In the moment to moment battles, 64 players are fighting in a particular sector of a battlefield, with one side trying to defend between one and three control points and the other trying to attack. There’s no setting of charges, as with Rush’s destroyable objective, but rather the attacking team has to hold both points fully in order to capture a sector.
It’s a strict rule that can make progressing very challenging, especially when you consider that you have to do this several times on a map in order to win. A nice moment of catharsis – and a sensible one to stop defenders causing havoc in the attackers’ new spawn – is then having all the defenders in that zone told to retreat and marker on every attacker’s screen.
There’s not just a single map to worry about either, as a campaign takes place across two or three maps, telling a loose story of some events from the war. Oil of Empires has the British Empire attacking the Ottoman Empire, trying to secure a foothold at Fao Fortress on the coast. It’s followed with a battle at the Suez Canal in the shadow of the smoke pluming out of a burning warship and, if the attackers get that far, a finale in Sinai Desert. This is actually the largest campaign, with Kaiserschlacht – the Operation included in the Play First Trial – going across The St. Quentin Scar and into the shelled ruins of Amiens in northern France.
Should you falter in your attack, running out of respawns before you can capture and hold a position, it’s not necessarily game over. The attackers get to throw a couple of extra battalions into the fight, picking up exactly where they left off, but now with a behemoth backing them up.
These can be immensely powerful, whether it’s the airship, train or battleship, they’re bombarding parts of the map with heavy fire and helping the attackers to roll over the defence. It actually feels unbalanced, with what few vehicles there are generally being made available to the attackers anyway, and things like AA guns capable of taking down the airship being few in number and taking an awfully long time to do so. How it’s balanced in the final game, we’ll have to wait and see.
There’s also the fact that you’re playing as an attacker or a defender for the length of each campaign, with each lasting roughly an hour, in my experience. When you’re consistently being pushed back and back as the defender, it can feel a lot longer than that, let me tell you!
Even with that minor caveat, operations is a pretty big deal for Battlefield 1. While the last few entries have seen DICE adding smaller scale game modes to the series, this is a large scale mode, that takes what Battlefield does well and pushes it further.