Shifting to World War I is Just What Battlefield Needed

Shifting to World War I is Just What Battlefield Needed

Kat explores the franchise's recent history and explains why she's back onboard following last week's reveal of Battlefield 1.

I first discovered Battlefield when Battlefield 1943 launched on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 back in 2009.

Having never had an opportunity to enjoy Battlefield 1942 or its successors (a lack of a good PC will do that), I fell head over heels in love with Battlefield 1943. I loved its scale, its slower pace and more team-oriented combat, and most of all, its vehicles. I soon became an expert at hopping into a plane at the beginning of a match, parachuting out to grab a capture point, and making a beeline directly for the bombing station to launch an air raid on the poor saps just arriving on the other side of the island. Even better was getting on a roll in a tank - I especially loved when I could take out a plane as it tried to take off from a nearby runway. It was grand; and while it sported only three maps and was decidedly smaller than other Battlefield games, it kept me busy for a long time.

Battlefield 1943.

Naturally, when Battlefield Bad Company 2 came out the following year, I quickly snatched it up. I liked it a shade less than Battlefield 1943 - the modern setting was already starting to feel a little tired by 2010 - but it still gave me many hours of entertainment. I loved the different types of tanks, the terrifying power and massive ammo clip of the LMG, and the maps - especially the maps. Bad Company 2's maps were bigger than those of Call of Duty but also intimate in their own way, mixing house to house combat and destructible environments with the vehicle combat I enjoyed so much.

Following on with the trends of the time, Battlefield continued with the modern setting for the next few games. I picked up Battlefield 3 in 2011, but where I had been able to deal with its smaller player counts in the previous games, the console version felt limited compared to the 64-player PC version. The modern warfare was also really starting to wear thin for me. I didn't like the gadgets, the jets, or the fact that I would hop into a vehicle and have 10 different missiles lock onto me almost immediately. Battlefield 4 was more of the same, its chief improvement being that its console editions could match the PC version in terms of size and scope (the weather effects were neat, too). Unfortunately, its online was also a disaster out of the gate, and a sizable portion of its base abandoned its almost immediately.

Battlefield Hardline.

True, Battlefield wasn't exactly dead. DICE eventually ironed out the online problems, and plenty of diehards remained, but it was starting to feel played out. Battlefield Hardline, which followed in 2015, attempted to change things up a bit with cops and robbers police chases and a more urban setting, but it was widely ridiculed for its tone deaf marketing in light of the events in Ferguson and elsewhere. More to the point, it felt like it was trying too hard to be some mix of Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto - it didn't feel enough like Battlefield. Granted, it was mostly just a placeholder - Dead Space developer Visceral Games took on the project while DICE worked on what most presumed would be Battlefield 5 - but it felt like EA was flailing a bit in trying to find an identity for their flagship shooter. It made it hard to get excited for whatever DICE was working on.

But after Battlefield 1's reveal last week, consider me back on board.

Aside from the fact that I've been waiting for a good World War I shooter forever now - I'm a history nerd and I've never really bought into the argument that it would be boring trench warfare - it feels like the time is ripe for Battlefield to go back to its roots. With modern warfare now feeling totally played out, World War II feels fresh again, and World War I feels fresher still. It's a really fascinating period of warfare that has been barely explored in mainstream shooters, and I love how DICE is making a point of highlighting the discord between the old world and the new - the way World War I mixes cavalry and bayonet charges with grinding mechanized warfare.

More importantly, though, Battlefield 1 appears to be an attempt for the series to get back to basics. Gone are the gadgets, missiles, and jets of the past few games. Watching a close-range dogfight during the trailer, I was struck by how much I missed the intense aerial gun battles of Battlefield 1943. And being able to take control of the rear seat turret and go all Henry Jones on my enemies? Perfect.

Aside from the aerial combat, I was also heartened to hear that the medic class is back, which means I can go back to my natural role as a dedicated healer (as for whether there will be a World War I equivalent of the defib, we'll see). And I loved the sight of a classic bolt action rifle - a powerful weapon that rewards accuracy over bullet spray. For those worried that it will be dragged down by ancient weapons and trench warfare, I'd counter that Battlefield 1 appears to be set in the last year of the war - a period in which the Germans made their last ditch push for Paris and tanks were smashing up trenches. It was still bloody, but a far cry from Verdun or the Somme - infamous battles that came close to breaking France and Britain respectively. I've always said that a World War I game would be at its most interesting in either the early or closing phases of the war, and DICE appears to agree. It will be interesting to play around with rifles and mustard gas, not to mention the various experimental weapons and the updated melee system that DICE has been hinting at.

All of this has me more interested in Battlefield than I've been in years. In shifting to World War I, it feels like it's recapturing an important part of its identity, which is strongly associated with the clank of Sherman Tanks and the the whir of prop-driven planes. It also serves to further separate it from Call of Duty, which has opted to shift into the far future with Infinity Warfare - a far cry from when Battlefield 3 went head-to-head with Modern Warfare 3. Despite their obvious differences, Battlefield has long felt joined at the hip with Call of Duty. Their respective time shifts should help to remedy that.

Of course, simply setting Battlefield in World War I won't cure all of the series' ills. If Battlefield 1 is to be a return to form, then DICE will need to do a better job with the single-player campaign, which has typically felt flat and uninspiring. The studio would also do well to ensure that Battlefield 1 isn't beset by the same technical problems as Battlefield 4, which served to kill that game's momentum. Obviously, that's not easy given the game's scope and ambition, but DICE has to know that their poor reputation in that regard will have people feeling wary.

For now I choose to be optimistic. I went into last Friday's event with zero expectations; but watching that trailer, I remembered how much I missed Battlefield 1943 in particular. Every multiplayer shooter fan has the one series they love above all of the others, whether its Halo or Counterstrike or another, and Battlefield is mine. It'll be nice to have it back.

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Kat Bailey

Editor in Chief

Kat Bailey is a former freelance writer and contributor to publications including 1UP, IGN, GameSpot, GamesRadar, and EGM. Her fondest memories as a journalist are at GamePro, where she hosted RolePlayer's Realm and had legal access to the term "Protip." She is USgamer's resident mecha enthusiast, Pokemon Master, and Minnesota Vikings nut (skol).

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