As grenades exploded around me and friends and foes fell in battle, I was struck by Battlefield 1's presentation. The sharp crack of rifle shots in still air, the awe-inspiring sight of one of the new behemoth airships blotting out the sun overhead, and subsequently crashing to the earth and erupting in a blaze of fire and dirt, pulled me into the experience.
My session with Battlefield 1 took place in a multiplayer match against roughly two dozen other players. The game mode of choice was Conquest, where the goal is for opposing teams to control specific points on sprawling maps. Get within range of a neutral or enemy territory, and you'll begin to capture it. More allies in the vicinity results in a quicker capture, and the revamped spawn screen does a great job of facilitating teams toward contested ground.
You can choose between assault, support, medic, and scout classes, each suited to a different style of play. The scout can snipe with a bolt-action rifle, while the support class is a heavy-weapons guy effective at clearing out clumps of enemies. Assault characters carry a balanced suite of weapons good for most encounters, and players who choose to suit up as medics can revive fallen allies who call for help, letting them get back into the action instead of waiting to respawn.
Watch the spawn screen and you'll see a real-time view of the action as it plays out. Getting a bird's-eye view of what points your team holds and what points you need to push toward will help you make better tactical decisions such as where to rejoin the fray.
As you vie for territory, various actions change up the terrain around you. Weather shifts dynamically from sunny and clear, to foggy, to rainy and muddy, and back again depending on how long you play. Grenades and other explosive weaponry razes the earth, creating makeshift pockets that can be used in a number of strategic ways. Hunker down and snipe as the scout, or crawl into one and signal a medic to make haste and heal your wounds. More impressive yet, hop into a tank and smash through fences laced with barbed wire and stone walls.
Naturally, DICE took some creative liberties with representations of weapons and combat. Battlefield 1's biplanes are more dextrous than their real-life counterparts, and tanks stampede rather than lumber forward. These and other changes have been made in the name of creating an action-packed and immersive multiplayer experience while striving to do justice to the time, place, and implements of WWI.
Which brings me to what I really want to see from Battlefield 1: the campaign. The game's World War I setting is a touchy subject, and understandably so. It represents the first time in history where time-tested weapons and strategies collided against modern technology: horses shared battlefields with tanks, flamethrowers melted infantry faster than trench raiding clubs could swat them down, and mustard gas proved so deadly it got poison gases banned from future warfare.
Don't worry: I'm not here to waggle my finger. All periods of history are fair game for media, and from what I've played so far, Battlefield 1 does a tremendous job distilling the visceral carnage of the Great War into the series' trademark frenetic gameplay. But that's not unexpected, giving the series' pedigree.
What I really want to know is whether or not the game's story will do justice to one of the most pivotal periods in the world's history. Video games make excellent teaching tools, and WWII-themed campaigns did an admirable job conveying the gravity of famous battles while still letting them have fun playing a game. Battlefield 1 has the technical pedigree and mechanical depth to follow suit.