Battlefield 1's beta is broken and brilliant in equal measure

The Somme of its parts.

Let's start with the horses, because that's where the magic can really be found in Battlefield 1. That's where you stop and stare and think to yourself oh my how wonderful it is to be playing a video game in 2016, where you can see this noble beast's haunches flex and flow and where you feel that same sense of wonder those first laying their eyes on the work of Eadweard Muybridge must have felt all those years ago, because horses.

Horses really can be amazing things and Battlefield 1's steeds are up there with Agro and Epona as some of this medium's very best. And then, just as you're admiring the way your soldier's pouch bounces up and down by his side and every strap on his perfectly recreated uniform looks and moves like real leather, that's when you get snared on an innocuous looking pile of rubble while some preening edgelord with a sniper rifle kills you for the 16th time.

Battlefield 1's kind of all over the place at the moment, which is totally fine of course. The open beta is, as its name suggests, a beta. This isn't the finished article, designed in part to help stress test those servers - the 900k concurrent players the game's enjoyed at points since it came out last week are making sure they're being properly stressed - and there's plenty of work to be done before its final release towards the end of October. It's broken, but there's time to fix it.

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Horses, in real life, are dicks. Battlefield 1's steeds are okay by me, though.

But good god there's a lot to be fixed, and if anyone burnt by Battlefield 4's shaky early days is coming to this looking for reassurance then there's really not much to be found. Mantling objects seems to work only half the time, I've spent entire matches watching teammates teleport from one point to another while whenever I look towards the driver of an armoured car as we race towards a capture point their face is entirely, disturbingly absent. It's been a while since I've read Sassoon and Owen bringing the horrors of the Great War to melancholic life, but I don't remember anything about that - and I don't think DICE's take on the mind-bending atrocity of battle was ever meant to be quite so literal.

It's a strange brand of authenticity that Battlefield 1 strives for, its combat more chaotic and a little harder to read than immediate predecessor Battlefield 4. Spotting enemies is that little bit harder - whether by design or by accident I'm not quite sure just yet such is the fiddliness of much of this beta - and it's that little bit easier to get caught in a panic when being rushed by an enemy squad while caught in the painfully, brilliantly slow reload animation of a rifle. A more realistic take on warfare than what's gone before? As you respawn mere seconds from falling, rushing back towards capture points in the endless crash of soldiers that constantly lap up against Battlefield 1's maps, perhaps not, but it's a more challenging one for sure.

Battlefield 1 feels different, its more analogue weapons in stark contrast to the digital snap of Battlefield 4. There's a small period of acclimatisation, but even after getting used to this new formula it's clear some areas are more divisive than others. The new Conquest scoring system, whereby you acquire points by capturing and holding flags rather than helping bleed out tickets by killing enemy players, marks a fundamental shift in how Battlefield's signature mode is played, and I'm not entirely convinced it's for the good. Late comebacks now seem more unlikely, and DICE's solution - showstopping vehicles awarded the losing side in the closing matches of a game, such as the blimp seen in the closed alpha or the armoured train in the open beta - feels a little blunt in execution.

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Probably not the Battlefield face-off you were looking for.

There's also the problem of snipers and tanks absolutely dominating play, something pronounced in the open beta's rangey Sinai Desert map. It's unlikely to go down as a classic in the series, unfortunately, with its lack of cover options frustrating players, but it's got some wonderful touches of its own - the capture point in a gloriously rendered ravine, for example, or the one that sits out alone in the desert inviting players to jump in the nearest vehicle and bounce across the sands in pursuit of the many goods that it holds. Once the full toolsets of each class are available the prominence of snipers and tanks - always a bugbear of the series, in fairness - might be calmed, but there's still clearly balancing to be done.

When Battlefield 1 clicks - when you're playing in a squad with friends, working in tandem to take down pesky snipers or tanks and rushing in to capture points - it can be absolutely brilliant, a technically accomplished take on the series' winning formula that wears its period dressing exceptionally well. It might not be the breath of fresh air some were hoping for when its bold premise was announced - there's too much of Battlefield's legacy in there, its slightly creaky sandbox that demands teamplay unlikely to win too many new fans over to the series - but it's got the potential to be a fine Battlefield game. If DICE can overcome some of the issues that have emerged in the beta, that should be more than enough for it to come out on top when it launches next month. Those horses, though - they're for keeps.

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About the author

Martin Robinson

Martin Robinson

Features and Reviews Editor

Martin is Eurogamer's features and reviews editor. He has a Gradius 2 arcade board and likes to play racing games with special boots and gloves on.

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