The genesis of modern warfare is being brought to life by DICE in the form of a grittily realistic, dynamic and destructive, immersive interactive enactment of World War 1.
Since 2002, with the introduction of Battlefield 1942, the Battlefield series has distinguished itself as the ultimate sandbox experience of war raging across land, air and sea. In October, the hugely engaging rock-paper-scissors formula of Battlefield will arrive reimagined with brutal melee tools, hair raising dogfights in rickety biplanes, ground shaking tank battles and, quite possibly, sword-wielding combat from horseback across five diverse locations.
On first impact, Battlefield 1 successfully conveys the stupefying effects of seeing a beautiful landscape transformed into a war ravaged hell hole, in which everything from the blade of a shovel to the wooden propellers of early fighter planes and heft of iconic British WW1 tanks carries an overwhelming, physical presence. Or, as Senior Producer Aleks Grøndal describes it: "The beautiful chaos of all-out war. The most believable world we have ever built."
During the world premiere in London, Grøndal went further to outline the concept of divergent technology in Battlefield 1; how cavalry on horseback shares the same theatre of war as tanks, with biplanes overhead. We are shown concept imagery of riders being thrown off horses as the aircraft swoops low, stirring up the dust as bullets hail. There is such a sense of vulnerability watching scruffily uniformed men dash through the trenches, their fragile cover crushed by the arrival of a squadron of tanks. Out in the fields, soldiers close the distance with crude melee tools, bludgeoning or running through with bayonets.
This is so very far from the Kevlar encased warfare as depicted by Battlefield 3 and 4. A machine gun will tear to shreds and break into pieces a body protected by layers of cloth. Watching a flame thrower pass over screaming victims is wince-inducing, while being up close and personal with a rider on horseback looks hugely exhilarating. Becoming the hero in these situations seems like an almighty task, and the first hurdle is to choke back the fear.
The campaign missions of Battlefield 1 are said to represent the stories of several characters, taking place in diverse locations that include the Italian Alps, Arabian deserts, and the forests and fields of France. It is described as an era of contrast and heroism, in which the intensity of the battles is accentuated by the heavy artillery, with bombardments that transform the landscape. Indeed, the enthusiasm for destruction has apparently been dialled back after early playtests revealed that there was nowhere left to hide as cover simply crumbled.
In both multiplayer scenarios and campaign, a new focus on melee tools entails strategies to close the gap on your opponent. There are various types of melee weapon, each with pros and cons, to further explore the rock-paper-scissor theme, so that players will settle on a favourite to suit their play style. And on a grander scale, there is the choice of light or heavy tanks, biplanes and bomber planes, horses (TBC) and battleships to take under control.
New character classes have been created to govern the battlefield, and so in addition to the familiar roles of Assault and Scout, there are Tank Officers and Pilots with specific rewards for completing objectives. Teamplay, as ever, will be key to success in grand scale 64-player events. However, there is a focus on ensuring that lone wolves feel a sense of contribution. To encourage team-play, however, DICE will introduce a new Persistent Squad feature in which five-man 'fire teams' engage in a variety of scenarios, jumping from one experience to another to achieve agreed goals for a long afternoon or evening.
Throughout the reveal, familiar Battlefield 'beats' such as Battlefield Moments are called out as elements upon which to hang player-choice scenarios. There's a huge emphasis on the advent of mechanised warfare juxtaposed with more traditional, low-fi alternatives, and always that rock-paper-scissor foundation that allows for a sniper bullet to eliminate a pilot.
Although the tools at our disposal will be crude in comparison to what we're used to in Battlefield 4, there will be weapon customisation (more information on this will be revealed in the coming months). To make up for this lack of visibility, we are teased with the prospect of gas warfare, in which even a field smothered in poison can be countered by a team equipped with gas masks. All aspects of combat are nuanced in such a way. Again, the melee combat is a great example of how judging the space between combatants and the effectiveness of every single device that has potential to harm comes into play. DICE has filled in all the gaps, and everything has a strategic element, everything is balanced, weighed, to bring the battlefield closer together.
Aleks Grøndal is promising that Battlefield 1 is a huge game, and that this evening's presentation has only scratched at the surface. Our next opportunity to find out more will be during the EA Play event running through 12-14 June in London and Los Angeles, and there will be early access later this year for players signing up on Battlefield Insider via Battlefield.com. The worldwide release for Battlefield 1 is October 21, but those that purchase the Early Enlister edition can begin playing from October 18, and ahead of all that you'll be able to play Battlefield 1 first on PC and Xbox One via EA/Origin Access .
Until now, we've only had Verdun, the WWI shooter on PC, to capture a sense of this era. But from the evidence of our own eyes, and the passionate words of creative director Lars Gustavsson, there is much to look forward to in this game in which DICE are "depicting the transition of old world to the new world, the end of four different empires".