Life in the Trenches, Part Two – A retrospective on the Battlefield 1 Beta

In case you missed the first part of this epic feature by Cloakless Hunter, you can find the first part of Life in the Trenches here.

Edward, Butters, Charlie’s, Apples

One of the immediate things I noticed on playing my first Conquest match were the call signs of each of the objectives. A calm lady came over my headset and stated in a pleasant, even tone- “We’ve taken objective Apples”.  This continued on while capturing and losing objectives “We’ve taken objective Freddie”, “We’ve lost objective Duff”.  Which got me thinking- What was there before the NATO phonetic alphabet?

So the NATO phonetic alphabet that we are familiar with today, and most often used to name strategic objectives in games- Alpha through to Zulu –was developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization, ICAO for short, in the 1950’s. But with Battlefield 1 being set in the First World War, they’ve quite rightly adopted an era appropriate spelling alphabet for objective’s call signs.

There is some belief that what’s used in game is the RAF radio alphabet, but that wasn’t fully developed and adopted until after WW1. What is used in game is in fact the British Navy’s spelling alphabet, which unlike the RAF’s at the time, was a full alphabet- Apples through to Zebra –with such individual gems as Butters, Monkey, Pudding and Xerxes.

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What may appear as a beta glitch was actually my Siamese twin, Bravo, covering our 12 o’clock as we combed the desert on our sturdy steed, Steve.

Lone Wolves don’t win wars

With the massive size of Battlefield 1’s maps, squads are an invaluable system that keeps players pressing objectives and pushing the battle lines, but like the Behemoths, if used ineffectively can hand your opposition victory. This system, which I’ve always being a fan of in the Battlefield series, breaks the 32 player teams up into squads of between 1 and 5 players, any of which can be spawned upon by fellow squad mates.

I was glad that BF1 kept the 5 person squad, it’s a good number. Not so large as to dominate a position, and not so small as to be unable to take a position. But the one thing that is imperative to a squad’s effectiveness is communication.

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Each squad is assigned a leader, this leader through the (somewhat clunky) command interface can assign orders to the squad to capture and hold an objective. The squad leader’s orders are the glue that brings it all together and unfortunately was something I rarely saw been used during the Beta when playing with strangers.

One great thing was the ability for squaddies to request orders off of squad leaders, but this was only useful if the leader actually acknowledged your request. The one time I managed to be squad leader with strangers I decided to put my theory to the test.

As a unit, four complete strangers and I moved as one to topple and hold a series of objectives. I didn’t over extend us, just shuffling us between three objectives, Butters, Charlie and Duff, but that was nearly half the objectives on the map and with another twenty odd players to handle the other four we convincingly crushed the enemy and made them openly sob in their lounge rooms around the world.

Least, that’s how I picture it went down.

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Craters pock marked the desert as matches progressed, acting as foxholes for infantry, and hindrances for vehicles.

The Evolution of Levolution

Levolution referred to massive map changing events that players could trigger during multiplayer matches in BF4 and Hardline. While the thought of blowing up a dam to flood a map, or toppling a skyscraper from under your enemy sounds cool, not all were fans of it after the hundredth time it occurred.

One of the main things that draws people back to Battlefield, myself included, is its unpredictability and these events could make at least part of the match feel scripted. So I was not all that upset to find that Levolution, at least in the sense of huge structure collapse, wasn’t in the beta. But that’s not to say map changing events didn’t occur, they just felt more natural and less forced than what they had previously.

While large structures weren’t being blown up in the beta, plenty of small ones were. There was some criticism of BF3’s destructibility after Battlefield: Bad Company 2 which had allowed pretty much any structure in MP to be completely toppled.

I think everyone who played Bad Company remembers the bliss of luring an enemy squad into a building just to detonate a cubic shitload of C4 on the ground floor and collapse an entire building on them. But BF3 onwards saw a shift with a reduction in the amount most buildings could be destroyed. A new balance seems to have being struck with BF1. Most buildings could be near totally destroyed with only small amounts of wall and floors remaining to allow some cover, although severely reduced, for key points on the map.

While not the complete rubble produced in Bad Company, it was more than just walls being destroyed as in BF3 and 4.

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At the start of the match this area had been level sand and shipping crates. Intensive bombing and tank battles changed all that though.

 Not only were buildings more destructible in the beta but so was the very ground beneath your feet! Dynamite, grenades, artillery and bombs all produced varying sized craters in the ground that lasted the duration of the match and on many occasions served as lifesaving improvised fox holes.

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A sandstorm starts blowing in. Soon all visibility of what’s seen in the distance was lost.

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Fog lowered visibility and made for good opportunities to push up on enemies holding a position.

Weather was also a random variable that had to be compensated for during a match. Light rain and fog reduced vision slightly, while a massive sandstorm could blow in at any time severely limiting vision and hearing. It wasn’t uncommon for me to lose all sense of the opposition’s location during these storms and made the chance of wandering into enemy positions a very real possibility.

But that was part of the excitement of the beta’s dynamic weather; did you hunker down and wait the few minutes for a sandstorm to pass? Or try to use the limited visibility to your advantage and press an objective?

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Chitty-chitty-bang-BANG!

Behemoths themselves played a role in affecting the map’s landscape. If enough damage was done to destroy the armoured train its flaming metal carcass could then be used as cover. This of course wasn’t as game changing as the alpha test’s Zeppelin crashing to the ground crushing everything beneath it, but obviously different weather and behemoths will impact each map to varying degrees.

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The more things change, the more they stay the same

Much like warfare itself, the Battlefield 1 beta has shown that while the means of its delivery has advanced, Battlefield’s core remains the same. The same adrenaline that Battlefield fans are familiar with is there, mixed long and short engagements, unpredictability, and the joy of becoming the eye of the storm as you and your squad gel together to wrench victory from the chaos, but  in a new, and yet old setting. 

My friends and I had a lot more fun than we were expecting with the beta and we can’t wait to squad up in the full version. And in that is possibly the key to the fun of Battlefield, getting to experience it with friends. I’ve had an opinion about this console generation for a while now- If last gen was the generation of online multiplayer, then this gen is the generation of online co-op –and Battlefield 1 with its generous 64 player MP and five person squads seems to cater for that.

Come October 21st I hope to see you on the Battlefield. But if you’re on the other team be wary- I bring a lot of bullets.

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