The recent Battlefield 1 reveal has been met with an almost overwhelmingly positive reception. In a market currently dominated by modern and future set shooters - a trend Call of Duty is continuing with the recently announced Infinite Warfare - DICE’s plan to take the Battlefield series further back than ever before, to WWI specifically, comes as a breath of fresh air that sets it firmly apart.
Comments such as: “it's cool to take people down with a bayonet charge” - made by DICE producer Aleks Grondal shortly after the reveal event in an interview with Eurogamer - probably don't help the argument for.
I personally think Battlefield 1 could be an opportunity for many to learn a few things about a time in history that has hardly been touched upon by game developers. Verdun and Valiant Hearts: The Great War both featured a WWI setting long before Battlefield 1 was revealed, but in all honesty, they didn't have the same reach as DICE’s franchise.
If it’s handled in the right way, the campaign’s narrative could be a powerful, intriguing and educational experience. DICE have already said it will take players across the various battlefronts on which the war was fought, from the Arabian Desert to the Italian Alps. It could help show people that there was conflict beyond British and German forces battling it out in the trenches, which is the image most will muster at the mention of the First World War.
I’m not saying educating players on the intricacies of the war should be DICE’s main focus, who should of course prioritise making a solid and enjoyable FPS, but seeing as they have picked the era to build a game around, why not take the opportunity to distribute a little knowledge as well? That tank you just took out - here’s when and why it was invented. The map you just played - a real battle was fought there, here are the statistics.
Games these days like to pack themselves with extra lore and backstory for players to uncover should they wish to, but usually it’s all sci-fi or fantasy fluff to help flesh out a fictional universe. Rarely does a developer have the chance to add meaningful historical facts detailing weapons, vehicles, battles, technologies, and most importantly, people.
I find history quite interesting, so when I saw that certain editions of Battlefield 1 came with the Harlem Hellfighter pack, I researched the name further and was surprised by what I discovered. According to Wikipedia (bad source, I know, all the more reason to include this stuff), the Harlem Hellfighter pack refers to a regiment made up of African-American and Puerto Rican soldiers who fought in the American forces sent to France during WWI. This was the first time an African-American regiment had served as part of an American Expeditionary Force, and the nickname “Hell Fighters” was given to them by German soldiers who noted their resoluteness in battle.
Had it not been for Battlefield 1, I may never have heard of the Harlem Hellfighters. EA and DICE have a real platform to bring some lesser known parts of history to a wider audience; parts which may otherwise remain consigned to pages. My own curiosity led me to find out more about them, but it’d certainly be much more accommodating and encouraging to have the information easily accessible from within the game itself. People could pick up a few facts about the time period, and honour a few memories, whilst enjoying what could be an excellent entry in the Battlefield series. That’d be a winning combination in my view.