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Battlefield 1 Beta Impressions – Fire in the Hole

It’s no secret to the staff, nor to anyone who knows me, that I’m a huge fan of DICE’s Battlefield franchise. Heck, I even list it down in my staff profile as one of my favorites. So, when it was announced by EA that a Battlefield 1 beta will be released sometime this year, I was eagerly already looking forward to it.

Well, now that the Battlefield 1 beta is playable, does it live up to the series or fall flat on its face? Important to note that what we’ve experienced so far is from an obviously unfinished and early build. While I will tackle some of the nagging issues later on, I won’t dwell on it, since I’m assuming DICE will have those fixed at launch (well, one can hope).

All That Sand!

It’d be hard to talk about the BF1 beta without mentioning the one and only map which we’re allowed to play on. Called “Sinai Desert,” the map is easily one of the most wide open maps in Battlefield history, which represents both the good and bad thing about the beta. First off, let’s get it out of the way: Sinai Desert is a sniper’s paradise. If you’ve played the beta in any capacity, you’ll most likely have seen a lot of players camping at the top of rock formations, structures and even sand dunes all ready to take your head out with a decent sniper shot. There’s a lot of open spaces with little to no cover for people who want to actually play the objective and win for their team. I don’t doubt that there’s bound to be a lot of players annoyed by this map and its sniper-friendly layout, but knowing DICE, a few “grindhouse” maps (think: Operation Metro, Op Locker, etc.) should be in abundance in the final map launch rotation as well.

Another thing noticeable in Sinai Desert is how the new dynamic weather works. At random times, a sandstorm will takeover the entire map, which will make visibility harder for everyone regardless if you’re in a vehicle, hiding inside a structure, or hoofing it to an objective. It might seem like a gimmick now, but it does add a little unpredictability to how matches play out, and can affect gameplay. Couple this dynamic weather with DICE’s photogrammetry tech, destructibility, and 64-player battles, BF1 is nothing short of a technical marvel on the PS4 — even with its little framerate drops (when things get too hectic) and all. 

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Messing With the Core

While the game looks great so far from a technical standpoint, there’s a few gameplay decisions that DICE has made that made me scratch my head a fair bit. In the BF1 beta, roughly most of the people playing are either using the Assault or Sniper class, which is understandable given how DICE has tweaked each class’ loadout and equipment. For now, the Assault class is the only class which can take out vehicles effectively. Yep, you read that right. Other classes don’t have ways to deal with vehicles at all unless you count the Medic class’ grenade launcher which does paltry damage against vehicles. Now, I’m not sure whether the other classes will be given other stuff to deal with tanks, planes and whatnot, but I sure hope so. Either that, or maybe at least give the Support class the dynamite, just so the class can contribute to the team other than resupplying teammates. 

Battlefield fans who like playing the Medic class might be in for a surprise with BF1. as you now won’t see the little “revive” icon when a friendly dies on the battlefield. Sure, the dead player can “request” for a heal and you’ll spot them then, but from my hours of playtime, I’ve rarely seen players request for a revive or be revived myself. It’s a baffling move that DICE might have implemented to prevent “Rambo revives” (a tactic some players use to unintelligently revive someone even if under fire just to get points), If so, wouldn’t a “deny” revive feature be a more efficient way of handling this? 

Aside from the class tweaks, the core Battlefield formula of rock, paper, scissors is very much present in BF1. Expect almost everything to have a counter. I said “almost” since in the beta, tanks are supremely overpowered. It’s not rare to see someone go 30-4 and score a ton of points just by sitting in a tank. Granted that this was the norm in past Battlefield games, but it’s taken up a notch in BF1 since tank drivers can repair the tanks they’re in by themselves, and without even the need to step outside. Once I got the hang of controlling the light tank, I was able to score 50,000 points in a game and just utterly decimate the enemy. Mind, it was fun for me, but for the enemy — especially for the Assaults — who kept on trying to take me down? I gather, not so much.

What a Rush!

In the BF1 beta, the two game modes that are a staple of almost every Battlefield game is present: Conquest and Rush. While most people will flock to Conquest with its 64-player mayhem and wide open map, the Rush mode seemed to play out exactly as Battlefield vets remember it. Attackers plant the two bombs on the MCOMs and when those are destroyed, they move on to the next pair, and so on until the entire level’s MCOMs are no more. Defenders are given unlimited lives to defend the objectives and to drain the attacking team’s tickets. In a rather weird state of events, it’s actually a bit easier to play as the Attackers in Rush in the beta — at least on Sinai Desert. Attackers have a couple of tanks, high perches for their snipers, and a vast open field to attack objectives from a lot of different directions. Every MCOM is a chore to defend since the moment you spawn, there’s not a lot of cover for you for the incoming sniper and tank fire that awaits. Well, at least until the last two MCOMs, which are close together with just two lanes available for the Attackers.

Did I mention that Rush is now capped at 12 vs 12 instead of the more chaotic 16 vs 16? Because it is. I’m not entirely sure why DICE lowered the player count for the mode (most likely for balancing), but it felt the same, though matches will understandably be less “busy” due to the lower player count.

Conquest, just like Rush, plays out exactly like in previous Battlefield games. Each side must control as many of the bases available on the map, with the first team to reach 200 points winning. However, there is one big change to how tickets are drained and work though. In past Battlefield games, whenever a Medic revives a downed teammate, a ticket is “reimbursed” to their team. In BF1, that has been thrown out the window, which leaves less incentive to revive teammates other than to pad your own score and/or maybe to help secure an objective. It’s certainly an odd gameplay change by DICE, but given this is a beta, we might see it and some of the changes revert back to the way they were.

Progress and Development

While a lot of the weapons and equipment in the BF1 beta were locked, a browser exploit allowed players to bypass the class (not rank) level requirements so that players could equip and test the available stuff. Oddly enough, most of the guns were variants of one kind. Gun customization wasn’t available in the beta as well. Let’s hope that there’s more weapons and equipment available in the final version just to placate those who love unlocking one thing after another as they rank up. Speaking of ranks, players must now use “War Bonds” in order to be able to “purchase” and equip class-specific gear and weapons. War Bonds are Battlefield 1’s new form of in-game currency, which is the same unlocking system in Visceral’s Battlefield Hardline. It’s a fairly easy system to get used to, but it’s worth noting nonetheless.

One thing that’s  never easy to get used to are bugs. Now, I know Battlefield 1 is in beta and all that, but there’s a ton of bugs, which is now to be expected from any Battlefield game developed by DICE. Expect to be stuck mantling obstacles, opening/closing doors, crosshairs (or sometimes even weapons) not showing up on your screen and lots more. Unfortunately, the bugs didn’t stop there. I’ve lost count how many times the game froze on my when I tried returning to the main menu; experienced “lag” when navigating the UI and other little annoyances that I really, really hope won’t be present at release. BF1 servers and matchmaking were also broken to some degree, but considering it’s been said that EA has been experiencing DDoS attacks since the beta started, I’m willing to let that one slide (at least for the beta).

War, War Never Changes

After playing an unhealthy amount of hours of the BF1 beta and reaching rank 41 (at the time of this writing), it’s safe to say that Battlefield fans will find a lot to love in BF1 (and maybe a few things to not like as much).  Some might play BF1 and see it as just a re-skinned BF4 with a whole heap of World War I stuff draped all over it, which would be A-OK for some people — especially for longtime Battlefield vets. If you’re one of them, you’ll most likely love the final game when it releases this October 21. If you’re not a fan of DICE’s brand of multiplayer, then there’s a strong possibility that the BF1 beta won’t change your mind. Now for those new to the franchise, BF1 might be a tad too daunting to take all in at first, but play a few games, grab a few buddies and you’ll be reviving, resupplying and sniping (heh) with the best of them in no time.

Will the Battlefield 1 beta be enough to convince people to drop Overwatch, Destiny and overlook this year’s Call of Duty, and Titanfall 2? We’ll know the answer to that later this year.