With November 11, 2018 marking the centennial of World War I (WWI), now seems as good a time as any to finally wish a nostalgic farewell to one of my personal favorite video games of the last two years - “Battlefield 1.” Released by Swedish game developer EA Digital Illusions CE AB (DICE) in October of 2016, “Battlefield 1” immediately captured the world’s attention long before then when it revealed its WWI setting. The setting brought the game to a unique position that no other triple-A developer dared attempt beforehand and likely never will attempt in the future. “Battlefield 1” will forever hold a special place among FPS games (and my heart) because of its daringness to cover a multifaceted setting and conflict that forever changed the world.
The portrayal of WWI in “Battlefield 1” is by no means a realistic one, but it was never meant to be an accurate portrayal. More authentic games and simulators certainly have their place and market in the video game world, but the team at EA DICE instead sought to capture the core nature of the “Battlefield” franchise and bring it to a setting that many of its primary gamers had likely never considered outside of their history classes. So instead, what they launched was a global take on a war that spanned multiple years, continents, and empires in an entertainment package filled to the brim with pieces of historical trivia, homages to both real-life events and individuals, and a core experience that is just as chaotic and bombastic as gamers nowadays demand.
Upon the launch of “Battlefield 1,” the game featured visual representations of a vast array of WWI’s conflicts, from the battles between the British and Ottoman Empires for oil reserves in the Middle East and Africa to the advances of the American Expeditionary Force into the heart of the German Empire near the war’s end. Later downloadable expansions to the game further added to its global perspective of the war by adding the French Army and its desperate defense at Verdun, the Russian Empire (complete with the conflict between the Red and White Armies in the Russian Civil War), the naval battles of the British Royal Marines in the North Sea, and even the invasion of Gallipoli by the British Empire. The portrayals of all of these theaters of war (from the deserts of North Africa and the tundra of the Russian Motherland to the harsh waters of the North Sea) helped to shatter the illusion for many gamers that WWI was entirely fought in European countryside and trench networks; WWI was a truly global war that spanned multiple conflicts and areas of the world.
Going deeper into the conflicts portrayed in the game, the various factions and armies within demonstrate a level of historical attention to detail that is very much appreciated. Virtually every army in the game contains representations of the efforts made by minority and colonial troops, further cementing how WWI was a truly global war. The German and British Empire’s soldiers contain African colonial soldiers, highlighting their forced contributions throughout the war, and the Russian Red Army is the first faction in the franchise’s history to portray playable female soldiers in direct reference to the army’s Women’s Battalions of Death. The “Turning Tides” expansion pack highlighted the service of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) during the failed invasion of Gallipoli.
Even the game’s marketing and promotion prominently featured the 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the “Harlem Hellfighters,” an all-African American infantry regiment that would go on to become the most battle-hardened American unit of the entire war, suffering more than 1,500 casualties by the war’s end. While the treatment of colonial and minority troops in the war is, at best, a moral grey space and rife with inherent implications of discrimination, their portrayal in the game shows a dedication by EA DICE to keep their memories and sacrifices alive in virtual form.
On an individual scale, the historical detail within “Battlefield 1” will also stay with me forever, as the game went out of its way to showcase a wide array of unique weapons and pieces of equipment that, before then, were only known by the most dedicated of historical aficionados. This is the game that introduced many casual players to the Kolibri pistol - an Austrian pistol that fit in one’s palm and fired a 2.7 millimeter cartridge capable of being stopped by most clothing, and this is just a single example out of almost 100 unique weapons in the game. Many of the weapons usable in the game never left their initial testing stages and only exist in historical photographs and schematics, but the team at EA DICE has forever immortalized some of the war’s more striking inventions in a digital format.
“Battlefield 1” will forever hold a special place in my heart for its commitment to exposing gamers to so many different dimensions and interpretations of a conflict that otherwise seems so far away and removed from my daily life. This game taught me the various fronts and armies involved with the way beyond the typical image of muddy European trench networks. This game showed me over 100 different weapons, ranging from standard-issue bolt-action rifles to experimental automatic pistols and failed machine-gun hybrids. This game gave me a newfound appreciation for the millions of lives lost in what was believed to be a “war to end all wars.” This game exposed me to individual tales of heroism from both humans such as the legendary British war hero Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence (of Arabia) and animals such as the beloved canine American war hero Sergeant Stubby.
This game reawakened my innermost passion for historical trivia, and for that I will always be grateful. As I continue to age and my video game library will (hopefully) continue to grow, I hope I will still remember “Battlefield 1” just as much as we all should remember the conflict it so solemnly portrays.
Image courtesy of EA DICE