There is basically one word that sums up Battlefield 1: oppressive.
Which, considering the war DICE is simulating, is pretty impressive.
“Impressive” might actually be selling BF1 short. There is a rather sublime confluence of game design and tone and setting going on. I mean, this is a Battlefield game and one that largely plays like BF4, BF3, and BF2 before it. I’ve played this series for over a decade, right? But let me tell you, when you’re playing the Operations game mode and hear that whistle and the yelling from a bayonet charge… well, you find yourself jumping out of the trenches and joining your brethren rushing the front line just the same.
Part of what makes this possible are the extremely limited and almost universally bad weapons. Which is a rather weird thing to say, I realize. The Assault and Support classes have automatic guns, but they are largely inaccurate without going prone or bracing against cover. The Medic class has a semi-auto rifle that hits like a truck, but is terrible at hip fire. The Scout class has all the sniper rifles, which are more infuriating than normal due to needing to spend most of your time in cover.
What this ends up doing is encouraging the exact tactics I described before: charging the front lines. There is no “slow and steady” here – there is melee range shooting or being sniped from 200 yards.
The map design absolutely influences things as well. Only the Scout has the ability to create temporary “radar” to find enemies, which means there could be enemies hiding out in every corner of every ruined structure. There are ruins everywhere though, and craters, and trenches, and bunkers. This leads to a rather manic, room-to-room searching every time you try to cap an area, or perhaps huddling down and hoping no one pops around the corner and stabs you in the throat.
Oh, and have I mentioned the grenades? The normal complement of grenades are back, plus the Incendiary and Gas variety. The former is pretty self-explanatory area denial, but the latter? Very interesting, conceptually. The Gas grenades release Mustard gas in the area, which causes blurred vision, your character to choke and cough, and rapid HP loss. Pressing T will have your character put on a Gas Mask, nullifying the damage completely. At the same time, the Gas Mask obscures your vision (also preventing aiming down sights) and hearing, and doesn’t do anything about the actual gas blocking your vision. Thus, tossing Gas grenades still affects the given area rather dramatically even if it deals no direct damage.
All of the game elements above mix into a dirty miasma of oppression while playing. You are surrounded by comrades, but you are also terribly, terribly alone in the smoke and death. You are constantly forced to make the decision to blindly rush towards the enemy or suffer constant sniper fire from every corner of the map. Biplanes and tanks are virtually indestructible killing machines. Even if you happen to pick the Assault class, your two options are rushing tanks with dynamite or plinking them with dumbfire AT rockets while prone, which makes you easy picking for snipers.
For a game to evoke such emotion so well regarding the subject matter via inherent gameplay is a triumph of game design. This is pure Show, and little Tell.
At the same time… well, I’m not sure how much WWI I can really stomach. A squad of soldiers could grab a helicopter in Battlefield 4 and go point-to-point capping areas and dodging missile fire and feel good about things. Or they could die in the gas-saturated muck in BF1, accomplishing nothing. I’d say 80% of my deaths show the killer dying himself seconds after I hit the ground. It’s hard to feel good about that, or watching a flag getting turned after you spent several lives just getting to the capture point in the first place.
I dunno. It is hard to put into words what is going on and how I end up feeling after a match is over. If Titanfall 2 is like cotton candy, then Battlefield 1 is a greasy Big Mac – there is more sustenance there, but that doesn’t particularly make you feel any better.