When you think about Battlefield, you tend to think about its grandiose sense of scale, you think about boots on the ground and wheels in the dirt, you think about long walks to the frontline or being swept away by irresistible enemy attacks. DICE's shooter series has always done things to a degree that makes most other first-person shooters seem almost insignificant in comparison, and even those which can provide comparable or even larger battles can rarely if ever boast better visuals and more atmosphere. Huge sandbox maps, large numbers of players, and a range of hulking vehicles give the game world a chaotic feeling of authenticity that you simply don't get on something smaller, something more infantry-focused.
Although Battlefield 1 carries on that same tradition, with tanks and troops battling across extensive and detailed environments, DICE is now looking to dial things down a bit in terms of scale, with their intention being to focus the action into something more succinct, something with a bit more punch. It's also going to have a competitive angle, with the team at the studio reworking the formula to make this small-scale conflict a good fit for esports and pro players. What stands it in good stead, however, is just what a natural fit esports and Battlefield 1 are, and how well the studio has refined and tweaked the formula to suit this new purpose.
It works in a couple of unexpected ways, the most surprising being the additional focus placed on the role of each player. DICE might have slimmed some things down, but the importance of cohesion and communication is still fundamental. Each team is made up of five players - no more, no less - and this small team can only have one player per role (so no teams of five snipers). Assault, Trench Surgeon and Mortar Support are the more traditional roles, but there's also the Squad Leader who doubles as ranged support, and a Vehicle Operator who alone can drive and repair the team's four-wheeled helper.
These defined team roles make Incursions feel like a cross between Battlefield and something like Lawbreakers or Quake Champions, and the introduction of stronger classes looks like it's going to make a huge difference to the feel of this new mode when viewed through the lens of the larger battles that the series typically offers. It's not a hero shooter set against the backdrop of World War 1, though, and Incursions also brings an in-game progression system to the table, where over the course of a game players will be able to peak at certain times and, hopefully, help their team sweep to victory.
The resized maps are another important tweak. They're still full of buildings to move (or drive) through, but they're much tighter than your typical map, funneling both sides into combat sooner rather than later. The destructive side of the game comes into play to an extent, because another key aspect is the vehicles, which as you can imagine are extremely helpful when used carefully. Not only of use when still running, they can also be used as cover once they've been destroyed. During our Gamescom demo we actually got to try out the Vehicle Operator class, and we were able to choose between vehicles that were on a timer. When we weren't on foot, we were driving either a more mobile, anti-troop option, or a more heavily armed one that was more vulnerable to mortar attacks.
We wouldn't call the vehicles overpowered, though. The five-player teams and the focused roles ensure that everyone is important in battle. Squad leaders need to position themselves with care, medics need to be in the thick of battle if they're going to help, and those mortars need to hit home when the opposing vehicles show up otherwise your team can easily be overrun. It's impossible to say anything with certainty given the brevity of our Gamescom demo, but we feel like the different classes fit nicely together and it doesn't look like there are any weak or overpowered links.
Perhaps the only thing we weren't crazy about was the scoring system. The three capture points are easy enough to grasp, but beyond that it seems a little over-complicated, but again, our limited hands-on time may have ensured this aspect seemed overcooked when actually it works well over many matches played over an extended period of time. Time will tell and we're just going to have to wait and see.
Beyond our one gripe (that may turn out to be nothing worth complaining about), Incursions feels like it's going to be a great addition to Battlefield 1, and the systems that tie this more focused mode together seem like a good blend. The reduced scope of the maps, the increased definition afforded by the playable roles, and the in-game progression system could well make this a go-to place for players looking for something a little different. DICE is proving that sometimes less can be more, even when it comes to Battlefield.