When EA and DICE first lifted the lid on Battlefield 1, we were equal parts sceptical and excited. To be fair, that's probably a more emotional response than you'd normally get from us regarding a new Battlefield game - either positive or negative - as the series is usually a safe bet. Simply put, for better and worse you know what you're going to get when DICE puts out a new shooter: big battles and a somewhat paper thin narrative.
The expansive battlefield of Sinai is, however, a great showcase for what BF1 offers. Anyone expecting to go over the top in a muddy European battlefield riddled with trenches would have been pleasantly surprised to discover DICE exploring another theatre of war. The campaign fought by the forces of the British and Ottoman empires was a key one in the wider context of the war, and it's often overlooked due to our more European focus on events. It suggests a sensible decision by the developers to look at the war from multiple perspectives, not just the war of attrition between Germany and its enemies in central Europe.
Back to Sinai. This desert-themed map is undoubtedly reminiscent of Jakku in Star Wars Battlefront, at least in terms of general look and feel, but beyond the obvious there's plenty of distinct differences between them. Sinai is full of points of interest, and in the 64-player Conquest mode the two teams will contest them all. There's sand dunes and open expanses that leave you vulnerable, battered villages full of crumbling (and destructible) walls ideal for infantry to use as cover, and rocky outcrops that offer surprising verticality. When all these features are combined it feels cohesive thanks to the overall design, this despite the differentiation between the various areas.
The battle for capture points in the 64-player Conquest mode is obviously the centrepiece of any Battlefield game, and it was here too, but the 24-player Rush mode offered a good alternative. Teams skirmish around two telegraphs which the defensive team uses to call in mortar strikes on the attackers. The attackers need to blow them up, two at a time, before advancing to the next pair of objectives (there's ten in all).
Across both modes we played plenty of matches, trying out the four different classes available (Assault, Medic, Support and Scout) and getting behind the wheel of a few different vehicles (though, admittedly, not a single biplane). After sacrificing our K/D ration in the name of experimentation, we've come to the conclusion, based on the beta at least, that Battlefield absolutely works in the World War 1 setting. We're not experts in the period, so we're not entirely sure how many liberties have been taken with historical accuracy, but we suspect that there's been one or two subtle adjustments made in the name of improving balance. And you know what, we're totally fine with that.
Out of the four classes the Medic was probably our favourite. We liked the punchy bolt action rifle, which offered a nice mid-range option against opponents at distance, while still being able to fire off enough quickfire shots to take down an opponent at close range. Given the ability to drop medical pouches for allies, it's going to be an essential role in each team, and once again, it looks like teamwork is going to be hugely important.
The standard Assault class is probably going to be many people's first port of call, although it's also fair to say that there's enough synergy between BF1 and previous Battlefield games that acclimatisation is going to be really quick for most. This is still very much a shooter that carries its old identity into the new setting, and you could arguably say that it's a much more effective transition than we saw in Battlefield Hardline.
Scout is the typical long range option for those that prefer to sit on the periphery of the action, and the Support class is, although perhaps to a lesser extent than the Medic, essential oil in the machine and important for providing able assistance to the vanguard of any attack. It could be argued that DICE needs to do more to bring the Support class into the battle more and give it more purpose, thus it'll be interesting to see how this role changes in the finished game.
But looking beyond classes - and this is Battlefield so we most certainly should - there's vehicles in play that change the dynamic of any and every match. We got behind the wheel of jeeps with mounted (and very vulnerable) turrets, and sat inside armoured vehicles. There are even tanks with multiple turrets that can be particularly effective when it comes to taking capture points. We didn't fly any planes, and watched on as the armoured trains rolled through the action, but overall the various vehicular options certainly contributed to the overall Battlefield-feel.
Perhaps the thing that surprised us the most was how quickly we got to grips with riding a horse into battle, and we were even more surprised by how much of a natural fit it is to the formula. Players are effectively shooting from the hip when they're riding, but the shots are powerful and if you time it right or aim with unerring accuracy you can be extremely effective. We look forward to playing battles when there's a heavier emphasis on the horse-back combat, more than anything just to see what it's like.
And that sentiment really covers our overall impression of the Battlefield 1 beta. We liked what we played and we're intrigued to see how the new setting fits around the rest of the game as more maps and modes are introduced. As we said at the beginning of this preview, we were equal parts intrigued and unsure about whether the WW1 setting would be a natural fit, but it turns out that it absolutely is. Whether that alone is going to be enough to sway new shooter fans into going with Battlefield this winter remains to be seen, but after a few hours spent playing the beta at least we know that existing players are going to feel right at home come October 21.