Battlefield 1’s concept, combined with DICE’s credentials, means that the game has the potential to deliver a memorable single-player experience. Heading back to World War I is not something that gamers have been able to do for a while, what with the modern FPS typically being future/military focused. As proven in Star Wars Battlefront, DICE can be excruciatingly faithful to their source material, so chances are the game will do a good job of getting us as close to being a soldier in the Great War as we can without actually being one.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that everything has to be historically accurate; for the sake of fun it’s probably best if that’s not the case. What’s more, I am actually quite interested in the different protagonists who have been shown off so far, particularly the male soldier seen in the trailers who suffers from shell-shock. This kind of human element of war is not something that is commonly delved into in modern shooters, but games like Valiant Hearts prove that – when done well – it can be very impactful.
The fact that soldiers weren’t really allowed to talk about it, or that they would be seen as weak if they were to admit their mental sufferings leaves much of that aspect unexplored. It’s something that will be interesting to see how DICE handles, and I hope the story spends a lot of time focusing on that aspect. Even with such intrigue, there is still reason to be skeptical.
In short, it’s because of DICE’s experience with single-player campaigns. Whilst I am optimistic that Battlefield 1’s story has the potential to exceed what the series has achieved in that regard, the developers have not been able to put together a decent single-player campaign since Battlefield Bad Company 2. Battlefield 3’s campaign is as bland, modern-day-military-fps-esque as they can get, save for some impressive set pieces. All of its characters are entirely forgettable. I decided to replay Battlefield 4 for the purpose of this feature, and can safely say it’s largely the same situation.
The story is so boring that it is difficult to even pay attention. And the fact that Battlefield 4 goes down the road of politics does not help. Likewise, once again the characters are barely developed as emotional human beings, instead forced to run around, following commands with the personality of a cardboard box. The single-player campaign in Battlefield 4 actually opens with promise. The first mission is fairly grand, offering up a large playground to roam around in – spotting enemies from afar for your allies to take care of, before cleaning them up for yourself. But the game is unfortunately let down by the string of linear levels that follow, all the color seemingly removed from the world for no reason.
It’s this that gives me cause for concern leading up to Battlefield 1. I want it to be great, and because the concept is so sound, if DICE get it right and there are no technical issues at launch, rest assured it will be great. Of course, the multiplayer mode has always been the core focus of Battlefield games anyway, and is very rarely not a well fine-tuned, polished experience. But DICE still pays a lot of attention to it’s single player game modes and so they deserve critique.
No matter how spectacular the new Frostbite engine may allow set-pieces to be; no matter how breathtaking the game will be visually, Battlefield 1’s single-player campaign will fall short of its objective if it fails to immerse players in its World War I setting. It will be a turn-off if its characters are a chore to spend time with. Bad Company proved that DICE can create interesting, funny characters, so fingers crossed that the serious nature of World War I doesn’t restrict the developers from giving their soldiers a bit of personality to remember them by.
Regardless of what DICE might say in the build up to Battlefield 1, keep caution. Prior to the launch of Battlefield 4, the studio told us that they placed an importance on “the emotional core of the story”. Stefan Strandberg, who was the game’s director at the time, even said himself that “all the explosions are made useless if you don’t care about the characters” – it’s fair to say they were fairly wide of the mark in their execution of that idea then.
Don’t get me wrong, there is every likelihood that Battlefield 1 will be a great game and it’s refreshing to see an FPS going back to a World War setting. I just hope that, this time more than ever, DICE can bank on the potential of it’s single-player campaign’s concept. Because if the studio does, we will have a fantastic FPS package on our hands as opposed to the usual result – a fantastic multiplayer option with single player acting as an afterthought.