Battlefield 1 delivers tide-turning behemoth vehicles, procedural weather

Losing side gets an endgame, massive vehicle

Battlefield 1 will span the full length of World War I, from 1914 to 1918, with a robust campaign designed to deliver myriad perspectives through a collection of shorter stories that take place in different times and locations around the world.

The game's multiplayer reworks how vehicles are used and assigned, and includes a multitude of nations, the danger of changing weather and the introduction of tide-turning, endgame behemoth vehicles.

"It provides interesting perspective into how the old way of war was and what it turned into," said Aleksandar Grøndal, senior producer on the game. "This is kind of where the old way of war was destroyed and a new sort of war was created.

"It's an interesting perspective that we haven't explored much in popular culture like movies and books. This is a cool opportunity to bring some of these stories and maybe start some interest in an area that hasn't been explored much."

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Grøndal says he believes World War I doesn't get the same attention in pop culture that World War II gets because it hasn't had its major moment yet.

"There hasn't been a Saving Private Ryan for this setting," he said. "I think many games are inspired by other pop culture and draw from it. There have been some good movies and good books, but I don't think it's gotten a breakthrough yet.

"There is a potential to tell some interesting stories from this era."

The image World War I most often brings to mind is one of the Western Front, the main theater of the war, which started with Germany's march through Luxembourg, Belgium and into France, and came to a bloody gridlock of fortified trenches and muddy, open fields.

It was the Western Front where many of the concepts of an honorable war died, replaced by terrible new inventions like poison gas, more precise artillery and the use of machine gun nests and barbed wire.

But the reality of World War I includes a much broader, global series of fronts and battles. While the Western Front was likely the most important in the war, there was also the Eastern Front and important battles in Asia, Africa, India, the Balkans, the Middle East, Italy and Romania.

The developers behind Battlefield 1 hope to broaden the perspective of what World War I involved, both in its global nature and its historic impact on the nature of war and the instruments of death.

Fun first

Battlefield 4 launched in 2013 with a whimper. Based in a modern setting with a spirited, graphically intense campaign, the game's multiplayer component was lousy with major, game-breaking bugs. The problems were so bad that developer DICE halted work on all of its other projects to fix the game. It took nearly a year for DICE to properly fix the game, and the studio said it understood the blow that situation delivered to the long-running Battlefield franchise. DICE also promised to be more careful and do more pre-release testing moving forward with the franchise.

Last year's Battlefield Hardline seemed to show the results of this new approach. The studio held a public beta for the game, and later delayed Hardline's release to implement some of the feedback it received during the beta.

While the game finally launched to middle-of-the-road reviews, it wasn't because of technical issues.

Grøndal said DICE hasn't forgotten the lessons learned with Battlefield 4.

"We are taking care," he said. "We are doing several tests now to make sure we secure the launch as best we can."

Battlefield 1 will also have an open beta sometime later this year for PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One.

With the technical challenges under scrutiny internally, the team turned to what it should do next with the franchise. Battlefield 4 competed directly with Call of Duty: Ghosts' modern setting, and Hardline put you in the shoes of militarized police.


"First of all we knew that after coming out with the previous game we wanted to do something new and exciting," Grøndal said. "We knew we needed to do some investigation into what would allow us to do that.

"This old idea had been flying around for, like, 10 years. It emerged again, this idea was that we should make a Battlefield game in World War I."

And it turned out that a World War I setting fit perfectly with some of the gameplay ideas and mechanics that DICE was hoping to explore in a new project.

"These things fit together perfectly," Grøndal said. "It allows us to create an all-new gameplay experience that we don't think has been portrayed in any game before. It was the right idea at the right time."

Battlefield 1 design director Lars Gustavsson calls the concept a longtime dream.

"It was clear that the more we started to dig into the history of World War I, and get an understanding of it, that it was a perfect fit," he said. "It was an all-out war; there were all different types of hardware, and so much was invented during this time period.

"It's clear based on what people first think of when they hear World War I, compared to what actually took place there, that there is much to portray and base gameplay around."

Operations Mode

Battlefield 1 screenshots

Operations is just one of the new modes being introduced to Battlefield 1.

The new mode will have gamers play a series of interconnected battles across multiple fronts. Those battles, the developers say, will have direct consequences on the larger war.

"This is where the players get to be a part of the front line as it rolls forward," Gustavsson said. "It's part of the dynamic battlefield that we talked about. We want this to be a journey with consequences in how you perform.

"Attackers should never feel secure and defenders should always feel hope."

Gustavsson said that in the campaign, DICE tried to span all of the years of the conflict.

"We tried to portray different sides and really the variety of how war was fought from the Italian Alps to the Arabian desert," he said.

He said the team working on the game spent a lot of time researching World War I and its impact on both society and the way wars are fought.

"The more we dig the more we realized how this changed from how old wars were fought, with chivalry and marching in columns and wearing bright colors, to modern mechanized warfare. It affects so much more too," Gustavsson said. "It's been an epiphany and a history lesson, how big an impact this has had."

While Battlefield 1 will be based on the conflicts of World War I, Grøndal was careful to say that the game will always put fun first.

"We're not trying to make a documentary-style game where all things are as they were," he said. "This is our fresh look at it, where we provide an interesting flavor to this setting.

"We want to tell a story about this time period while being fun first and authentic second."

The fog of war

This year, Electronic Arts forgoes the E3 show floor for something the company is calling EA Play, an event taking place across the street from the convention center that will house both the company's livestream and a multitude of games for the press, media influencers and some members of the public to check out firsthand.

For Battlefield 1, DICE will be showing off a 64-player map called The Scar of Saint-Quentin. The multiplayer map appears that it might be at least loosely based on the Battle of Mont Saint-Quentin, which was part of the Allied counteroffensive on the Western Front in the summer of 1918. In that real-world battle, battalions of the Australian Second Division charged up a hill into hunkered-down German forces.

In general, Battlefield 1's multiplayer is designed to "portray diversity across the board," Grøndal said. So that means players will be able to take up arms in a variety of armies, including German, British, Italian and Austrian forces.


The multiplayer mode will also be the first time we catch a glimpse of another new concept that Battlefield 1 is bringing to the franchise: dynamic weather.

"It makes a big difference," said Gustavsson. "One moment the world is beautiful and there is sunshine, and then the fog rolls in and you can't see anything but you can hear the screams and gunfire and you're not sure where it is coming from."

The map playable on EA Play's show floor will feature that dynamic weather, Grøndal said.

"It might be fog, raining, all of these things you need to address as you have to deal with these situations," he said. "Along with the destruction we believe there will be a really strong feeling that no battle is ever the same."

The behemoth

And of course, there are the vehicles, long a staple of the Battlefield franchise.

In this game in particular, they seem to play a pivotal role.

The two developers declined to list out all of the vehicles in the game, but said there would be planes, tanks and, of course, the ability to ride a horse into battle.

The playable E3 demo will include three types of planes: a smaller, faster scout plane; a fighter with a pilot seat and tail gunner good for dogfights and taking out ground units; and a three-seater bomber.

There will also be three types of tanks: a heavy tank that fits six or so people and has guns mounted all around it, a medium tank for three people, and a nimble light tank that holds a single person.

"It's really cool," Grøndal said. "Depending on what sort of game you want to have, you can choose what type of plane or tank."

The fact that air combat changed so much during World War I, and that mechanized units were created during that war, gives the developers a lot of choices and the ability to deliver a wide variety of vehicles.

Where previous Battlefield games had vehicles that could offset one another, designed with a sort of rock-paper-scissors tactics in mind, in Battlefield 1 each vehicle type has that tactical balance.

bf1 Image: EA DICE/Electronic Arts

"Previously, we talked about tanks versus other vehicles," Gustavsson said. "Now we have rock, paper, scissors within each vehicle type. Now it's all about outsmarting each other, who can utilize their tools best. That creates new types of games."

Grøndal declined to discuss how horses would be used in the game, and added that there were more vehicles and vehicle types to announce still.

"Horses are really cool and unique and add a new dimension to the game," he said. "We've never really had an animal of that sort in a Battlefield game. We'll be unveiling more in the coming months, after E3."

A big and likely welcome change coming to Battlefield's multiplayer is how players will get their hands on vehicles. Often in previous Battlefield games, grabbing a vehicle meant rushing toward one right as it spawned, or standing patiently in line waiting for the next.

In Battlefield 1, players will be able to select the vehicle they want to deploy into.

"If you see the match is being dominated by bombers, you can choose to spawn in, in a fighter," Grøndal said. "You choose from the spawn menu and it puts you directly into the plane."

And once you're in your vehicle, you don't have to worry about someone trying to grab it before you leave.

"You can go in and customize it without anyone being able to steal it," Gustavsson said. "We want to streamline how you get into the plane."

Another major addition to the game is the inclusion of what the developers call behemoths. These are huge, unique vehicles that will reinforce the losing side in a multiplayer match's endgame.

While there will be a mix of different behemoths, the developers only discussed the airship.

"It flies on top of the map and it takes control of the map," said Grøndal. "Defenders really need to focus on trying to take down this behemoth. If they manage to take it down, it comes crashing down, and you don't want to be in the way when this airship lands on top of your face.

"It creates a cool dynamic."

Gustavsson said the collection of different, playable behemoths are meant to be able to change the tide of war when they enter a battle.

"We always want these nail-biting endings," he said.

A collection of short stories

Grøndal and Gustavsson were light on information about Battlefield 1's campaign, instead choosing to focus on multiplayer, which will also be the focus at E3. But they did tell Polygon a few things.

"Basically, what we wanted to do was tell different stories that took place inside this time and portray different perspectives of what happened," said Grøndal. "This isn't one-sided, good versus evil. You'll be following multiple perspectives, different characters and different time periods."

Despite that, Grøndal said that "in some way these are all connected in a way that ties the whole thing together."

The developers also declined to say who the character on the box cover and featured in the special edition statue is. Retail listings simply identify him as a member of the Harlem Hellfighter infantry regiment.

While we don't know which armies will be included in the campaign or how long the single-player portion of the title is (the developers said it was substantial), we do have a sense of the weapons that will be in both the single- and multiplayer versions of the game.

Battlefield 1 screenshots

There will be the more traditional weapons found during World War I, like bolt-action, automatic and semi-automatic rifles. But there will also be an increased emphasis on melee weapons with trench clubs, shovels and sabers.

"With this era we wanted to provide a combat experience with a shorter engagement distance," Gustavsson said. "It's a clash between the old world and the new. The hand-to-hand melee combat was still a valid final resource. They actually sharpened the shovels, so it was a valid tactic.

"We wanted to take that as we portrayed this era."

Battlefield 1 will also feature things like the gas used to kill soldiers in the trenches during World War I.

"We will have gas in the game," Gustavsson said. "It will be part of a defining gameplay loop.

"We tried to depict many of the different types of battles that occurred during World War I."