Blockbuster shooter franchises like Battlefield often have a "been there, done that" feel. There's only so many times you can storm the beaches of Normandy and it still feels fresh, after all. The same applies to fighting in unnamed Middle Eastern battlegrounds or facing off against nameless Russian supernationalists.

It's precisely for that reason Battlefield 1's World War I setting works so beautifully. Many players, myself included, know little about "The Great War," and even less about the weapons, machines and strategies that were employed during the 100-year-old conflict. The weapons of war in Battlefield I are familiar yet new. They are precursors to the tanks, machine guns and plane shooters gamers know all too well from fighting across virtual World War II battlefields for decades.

That sense of what I'll call "fresh familiarity" in many ways applies to all of Battlefield 1. DICE's shooter doesn't reinvent single-player campaigns or the game's signature multiplayer modes, but it delivers enough new experiences while staying true to the franchise's spirit that every new mode or campaign story feels right at home, even if campaign as a whole never lives up to its full potential.

Prior to release, Battlefield 1's single-player campaign looked to be a significant gamechanger. Battlefield games have never been known for their campaigns. In fact, in an age when numerous multiplayer shooters ship without any kind of single-player content, many questioned if Battlefield even needed to have a campaign in future installments. It seemed so unnecessary when the vast majority of players purchased the game solely for its signature multiplayer.

So when DICE began to release details about Battlefield 1's single-player campaign, it seemed that perhaps the franchise would at long last have the captivating, emotional campaign mode it had long sought after.

Unfortunately, that's not exactly the case, even if the game's "War Stories" format for the campaign works well. Each story stars completely new characters fighting on a different front in "The War to End All Wars," and oftentimes have distinct gameplay mechanics that differ from story to story.

One War Story, "Through Mud and Blood," sees players operating a tank deep into enemy lines, delivering some truly entertaining vehicle combat. Another story takes players to the skies for dogfights, while another set in the Middle East emphasizes a more stealthy approach as opposed to the franchise's usual "blow stuff up, ask questions later" style (even if the game's stealth mechanics can often come off as frustrating). Showing the variety of faces behind the rifles engaged in the world wide conflict fits right in with what Battlefield is all about.

It's a shame then that DICE just can't seem to deliver on the promise it makes. Narration and on-screen text before each story emphasizes the horror of the war and the loss of life, but the game itself is out of sync. Player characters and their allies make light of nearly every situation. Nothing feels as serious or as grim as DICE talks it up to be.

Battlefield 1 tells about the hopelessness of the conflict, but it doesn't show it.

It doesn't help that each story is presented with so little context that the stakes are never all that clear. Also unclear are the various motivations of each character we meet. One is a former driver now thrust into the role of tank pilot. Another a gambler. Another a freedom fighter. But the game never explores how these characters feel about the war, why they're fighting it or how they became involved. They just simply are fighting, and DICE expects that to somehow be enough. There's no way to become attached to any of these characters, and as a result none of the game's single-player stories pack an emotional punch.

Given the War Story format, it also seems like a missed opportunity that none of the missions have players stepping into the shoes of a soldier fighting for the Central Powers. Battlefield 1's story campaign puts players in the boots of exclusively Allied-aligned fighters in the form of an American, a Brit, an Aussie, an Italian and an Arab, but doesn't let players play as one of the millions upon millions of soldiers who fought for Germany or the Ottoman Empire.

Surprisingly, one of the game's new multiplayer modes actually fills in for this shortcoming. Called "Operations," the mode allows players to partake in massive battles based on actual engagements in World War I, combining the attack and defend elements of the franchise's Rush game type with that of Battlefield's popular capture point-focused Conquest mode. One team is looking to advance and capture two points, while the other team is seeking to keep those two capture points out of enemy hands. Should the attackers be victorious, the map expands and two more points are made available for capture. This repeats numerous times, until either the attacking army captures all of the points or the defending team is able to push back the attack.

No matter which side of the battle you find yourself on, the narrator puts the stakes of the historical operation in context before giving a voice to one of the nameless soldiers taking part in the fighting. For example, fighting as a German trying to hold off a particularly nasty offensive later in the war, a German-speaking soldier remarks about how never-ending the war seems. He expresses hope that holding off the attacking American force will allow Germany to force some kind of truce and possibly end the war.

This kind of context goes a long way toward not only educating players who likely know little about World War I, but somehow also makes the stakes of the multiplayer battle even higher. Post-battle, the game's narrator even discusses how the war might have changed had any particular battle gone differently. In some ways, Operations mode does a far better job of humanizing and explaining the war than the single-player does, which is more than a little bizarre.

Operations is by far the most exciting new addition to the franchise's multiplayer, but another new mode does make its debut in Battlefield 1 in the form of War Pigeons. Since World War I didn't see the use of radios, either runners or carrier pigeons were used to deliver messages to and from the frontlines.

War Pigeons takes that idea and turns into a multiplayer battle, as players seeks to capture pigeons, escort them to safety and then relay artillery barrage orders on the enemy team. It's an entertaining new mode, albeit one that is hard to see many players coming back to repeatedly. Curiously missing is a dogfight-focused mode, though that could certainly come down the line in the form of DLC.

As usual, Conquest and Rush are the main attractions here (though Team Deathmatch and Domination are also options), and they are relatively unchanged from how the modes functioned in previous Battlefield installments. It is Conquest that continues to be the the textbook definition of what Battlefield multiplayer is all about, as 64 players run around massive maps filled with horses, tanks, planes and destructible buildings. At launch the variety of maps on display are impressive, ranging from the open deserts of the Middle East to war-torn no man's land, destroyed European villages to dense forests.

Adding to the variety are massive "Behemoth" war machines like the armored train or Zeppelin that appear on certain maps and can help the losing team turn the tide. Players can also find special armor that spawns on the maps periodically in order to wield the deadly flamethrower or become a heavily armored walking tank.

As players rank up in multiplayer they are given Warbonds, which in turn are used to unlock new weapons and gadgets for each of the game's multiplayer classes. Battlepacks, which contain skins for various in-game weapons, have a chance of being awarded to players at the end of a match. If you're awarded with a skin for a weapon you have no interest in, you can destroy that skin for "Scrap," a currency that is then used to purchase more Battlepacks. One gripe relating to equipment is that there is no way for players to customize their loadouts and equipment outside of a match, which seems like a fairly large and annoying omission.

We've come this far without talking about how Battlefield 1 looks and sounds, but that's not because it isn't exceptional: it is. The game's campaign, the feeling of actually fighting in a historical battle in Operations mode, none of it would be as effective if Battlefield 1 looked and sounded anything less than incredible. From the booming echo of artillery being fired to the mud that coats a player's weapon after crawling on the ground, Battlefield 1 is the best looking and sounding shooter of the year, no contest.

This is the best Battlefield has ever been. Even if Battlefield 1's single-player campaign fails to reach its full potential, it's the first campaign in the franchise worth playing since Bad Company 2. Combined with the exceptional new Operations mode, the always stellar Rush and Conquest modes, a top notch presentation and a setting that feels new yet familiar, Battlefield 1 might just be the shooter to beat this holiday season.

This review is based on an Xbox One copy of Battlefield 1 provided by EA for review purposes.

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