REVIEW: Battlefield 1: They Shall Not Pass Expansion

So, after a seemingly-interminable 2-weeks’ wait for those of us without a Battlefield 1 Premium Pass, They Shall Not Pass is finally available for everyone. I would complain more about this, because it’s bullshit, but it’s a sort of old-fashioned bullshit that anyone who plays video games should be accustomed to by now. Considering rich people usually get cooler stuff in video games, giving them the same stuff with a head start on unlocking it is surprisingly meritocratic. This is, after all, a game from the same publisher as Mass Effect, whose entire multiplayer progression mechanic is based on the wiles of the Random Number God and how many times you can afford to pay EA to appease him.

But this isn’t the Mass Effect review anymore; in fact, I actually liked They Shall Not Pass, so let’s save the EA bashing for later!

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I’ve had a few weeks to play the new expansion, now, and I can say it was worth the two weeks’ wait, but not the 5 months before it. For reference, Battlefield 1 released on October 21 last year. Since then, the only extras that have shown up in the game are one decent map that hardly ever showed up on rotation. This expansion couldn’t have come out much later and still had an audience, considering the usual DLC schedule blockbuster games follow these days. 5 months for the first major add-on, with only one tiny injection before it, is scant pickings for the spoiled First Person Shooter crowd used to having a big DLC to buy within 3 months and lots of smaller packages sprinkled in every few weeks. Add a squandered opportunity in Battlefield 1’s ‘custom game’ playlist, which generally cycles between one of a handful of wacky, fun-but-getting-old game modes, and 1 was nearly exhausted. Judging from player numbers, so was its audience.

They Shall Not Pass seems to have helped a bit with lagging server populations, as major DLC releases tend to do, although I don’t know how much this has spilled back over into the non-DLC playlists. This is one of the problems Battlefield has always had with integrating new expansions: keeping enough compatible players around to make the game worth playing at all. I say ‘compatible’ players because, as these games age and new expansions are released, more and more of the game’s audience either stops playing, or just continues playing what they could before and doesn’t bother with the new content, which has a shorter and shorter shelf life as time wears on. Eventually you end up with a few thousand dedicated players, which should be enough to sustain matchmaking, but they’re all gated off from each other based on who has which DLCs. New players are faced with a choice between paying $60 for a 4 year old game and its add-ons and risk not being able to find a game, or just buying the latest thing at the same price risk-free.

But enough about that. The content! The content is good. The content is really good. The new guns are fun and balanced, the maps are gorgeous, and the French character models and uniforms are the best in the game. It’s not all good, but there isn’t really anything bad in the mix, except for the domination maps, which are awful. Don’t play domination on the expansion maps, its awful.

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Some highlights:

– The Chauchat, Lebel, and Ribeyrolles all feel like they fit in perfectly with the stock of weapons we already had, but are just different enough to still alter the way their classes play. The Ribeyrolles gives the assault class an actual, viable mid-range weapon that can still do decent close range damage. The Chauchat is like a souped-up Merci-benet, with an even smaller clip, lower rate of fire, and greater damage. Most people playing Support are still using the MG15 and BAR, which suits me fine because the Chauchat is just straight up better as long as you can aim. I can’t say for sure if the Lebel is better than the other Scout rifles, to be honest, because I can not shoot anything through a scope in this game. Statistically, though, its the same as the Gewehr and it has a funny reload animation, so it is objectively the better weapon.

– The maps are all fantastic. Fort de Vaux especially does a heel-turn, turning the game’s previously-terrible indoor combat into a tense struggle across big, open hallways and around tight corners in a series of bunkers connected by collapsing tunnels. It looks cool, it feels cool, and its very fun. Rupture is beautiful, if not the most innovative map. Verdun has a great height dynamic that feels like the Austrian maps from the base game, except better. Soissons doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but it’s still not as bad as Suez.

-The new game mode, Frontlines, offers a weird and interesting cross between Rush and Conquest, with a little bit of modification. Both sides fight to take over a single point at a time. Whichever side takes it pushes the frontline towards the other team’s base. Once they’ve pushed it all the way back, they have a limited number of tickets to use to attack two telegraphs, a la Rush. It’s hindered by the low player count (32 max) and fast vehicle respawn, which can make the end of a match more akin to pulling teeth than fun gaming, but its mostly fun. Until Dice fully rips off Verdun and adds in a turn-based attack and defend mode, its the closest thing to actual World War I trench warfare in the game.

-The new Behemoth is fucking sweet. Its even more vulnerable to being hogged by some asshole who doesn’t know how to use it effectively, but that doesn’t matter because its cool as hell.

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Some missed opportunities:

-The new Assault Tank isn’t very different from the boxy landships in the game already. It looks cool, and it has two variants with forward-facing machine guns, but there’s not much else to say about it. The Gas Attack variant especially feels like a wasted opportunity, because the gas weapons in the game are necessarily under-powered. Some kind of heavy machine gun tank with heavy armor but low damage versus other tanks would have been interesting, or an anti-tank platform for killing pesky tank campers hiding behind the spawn zones, where infantry can’t get to them.

-The Verdun map does some interesting things, but the bunker and the la Fontaine undercroft are horrible, horrible choke point garbage and represent some of the worst gameplay to be found in Battlefield 1. The undercroft is worse, because its in the middle of the map and also boring as hell, but the bunker is bad too. Soissons has some similar bullshit at the German camp with that indestructible train in front of a hill with a spawn zone that gives the defenders a ridiculous advantage. Sinai Desert had a train, too, which isn’t all that tactically useful but still gets completely trashed every single time, so I’m not sure what the rationale was behind making Soissons’ train indestructible, giving the defenders almost full cover all the way to whatever they’re defending.

-Only two new weapons per class? And all but the assault weapons are just two variants on one weapon? I mean, I’d rather have a fewer number of well-balanced, interesting weapons, but essentially 5 new weapons is pretty slim, especially with how scant the selection is at the beginning compared to other Battlefield games. Considering the timeline of the game I can understand it, but Dice would have been better served cutting some of the weapons and keeping in the customization aspect from other Battlefield games. The slim additions of the DLC really highlight how conservative this game has been so far with weapon variety.

-No new utilities, either? The grenade crossbow for support was cool, but it was also free for everyone, and some other new toys would be great, especially ones that lock down or free up movement for either team. As it is, nothing in the game changes up the dynamic between the teams the way gas grenades and flares do, and it could really use more asymmetric tools like those.

-The Domination versions of the new maps are way too big without a dedicated squad with you to keep the spawning points from completely breaking. If you’re playing with randoms, Domination is mostly going to be running, dying, and waiting to spawn again. Trust me, skip it unless you’re playing with friends who know what they’re doing.

-No new war stories is a bummer. The single-player component in the base game was pretty good, but way too short. Maybe Dice will add something in an update? Please?????

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VERDICT

They Shall Not Pass is a lot of fun, it adds a lot of new stuff for the money, and there’s supposedly more free stuff coming monthly, until In the Name of the Tsar comes out in… uh, eventually. There’s a new map, Nivelle Nights, already on the way, and hopefully other things worth looking forward to. And if that’s not enough hoping for you, you can hope we don’t have to wait another five months for the next DLC, because I’m not sure there would be enough people still playing afterwards for Dice to bother with Turning Tides after that.

If you’re looking for something to transform Battlefield 1, They Shall Not Pass is not your expansion. If you want some new content to freshen things up, this is your expansion. And if you just want more people around, well, sorry, but nobody is playing the original maps anymore! Whoops! Guess you don’t have a choice!

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Battlefield 1: They Shall Not Pass is available now on PS4, Xbox 1, and PC for $15, or free with the next three expansions in the Battlefield 1 Premium Pass, for $50.

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