It’s time for Battlefield 1 to move its focus to the Russian front with the huge new In The Name Of The Tsar DLC. The full scope of the new DLC is available now for those with the Premium Pass, and then eventually releasing for other players on September 19th.
First things first: when I say this DLC is massive, I really mean it, topping out at more than 10gb for console gamers, and over 8gb for those playing on PC. EA has said this is the biggest Battlefield add-on ever, and when you tally up the sheer volume of what’s on offer here, it’s tough to argue. But is it all just quantity, or is there sufficient quality on display too?
The heftiest chunk of newness in Tsar is surely the maps, and a generous chunk it is. Six new landscapes are on offer here, and despite there being an apparent trend towards snow-themed vistas, there’s still an admirable amount of variety across the different maps. Lupkow Pass was released in August, so millions of players have already had a chance to experience its treacherously steep slopes and dramatic mountainous backdrop. It’s the verticality that most impressed me here, the sheer rock faces and narrow paths forcing me to rethink my usual strategy of running headlong to my objective. Some routes are utterly impassable, and that pure white snow means I’ve found myself exposed to snipers more often than I’d like.
Staying at the larger end of the scale, Volga River pits two warring Russian factions against each other on a giant map with plenty of tanks, ruined stone buildings, and trench networks. Galicia is the least snowy of the bunch, its barren plains allowing long lines-of-sight between the imposing wooden windmills. Albion harkens back to some of Battlefield’s past successes with a vast archipelago of frozen islands, narrow bridges, and wooden shacks. This map has the biggest weapons of the game yet seen in is stationary coastal gun batteries. These thunderous weapons are utterly devastating and suitably fun to fire.
Brusilov Keep pulls things in a little tighter: it’s an infantry-focused map with the feel of a quaint ski resort, albeit one where you keep getting shot at. A lot. Tsaritsyn is probably the most instantly memorable of the smaller scale maps, keeping the combat tight around a huge ruined church which, in games of Conquest, is home to one of only three capture points, causing some seriously crunchy battles to erupt around its grounds. Each map offers something new to the already comprehensive selection on offer and does an excellent job of making combat in BF1 feel fresh again.
With the new maps come new operations and a brand new game mode. The operations continue to be a great addition to the Battlefield portfolio, adding context to the war you’re fighting in with a really deft, unobtrusive touch that doesn’t detract one bit from the shooting-people-with-guns action that you’re really here for. I totally bought into the attritional conflict between the two Russian factions as I fought with my White Army comrades in the desperate defense of our ruined territory against the Bolsheviks. It all seems just to mean more in an operation. Honestly, I think this may be the best way to play the featured maps of the new DLC, and might just be my new favorite way of playing Battlefield 1, period.
The new game mode, supply drop, is a king-of-the-hill type affair that has you running around infantry-scale maps, taking and holding air-dropped boxes which drop randomly all across the map. The more of these claimed by your team, the quicker your score will increase, with the added treat of an elite class pickup spawning too if you stick around near the drops long enough. My fun in supply drop was stymied a little by players’ tendency to spawn as the support class and pepper each supply drop area with mortar fire, making some encounters feel a little like an exercise in repetitive death. Add to this the fact that spawning is only possible at two designated points for each team, and that each of these can sometimes be miles away from the random drops, and you end up spending a lot of time running to where you need to be. This does an excellent job of promoting cohesive team play but doesn’t stop it being infuriating when things repeatedly don’t go your way.
Each of the existing classes gets a couple of new weapon variants, and in keeping with BF1’s other weapon additions, they’re something of a mixed bag of effectiveness. Something like the Mosin-Nagant M91 rifle, for example, is inarguably iconic, while the Model 1900 can’t help but feel like another generic shotgun. As with the They Shall Not Pass DLC from earlier in the year, DICE have taken the decision to have the new weapons be unlocked by completing small challenges, rather than with the now virtually worthless war bonds. Apparently, the issue then arises of players paying for an add-on only to then have to work to unlock what they've spent money on, but honestly I found it gave me something different to focus on during play. There are a couple of new vehicles, too: a big clumsy Russian armored car called the Putilov-Garford, the utterly humungous Ilya-Murometsbomber, and the Y-Lighter landing craft, a slow boat for beach landings and little else. These, along with a new Hussar horse type, which has you skewered folks with a deadly lance, certainly add a little Russian spice to proceedings, even if they’re not quite the most impressive vehicles on offer.
Not to be forgotten is the fact that Tsar brings BF1 up to the latest version, which adds both the now obligatory slew of new features and some technical upgrades too. As well as class XP (the ceiling for which has now been raised to 120), specializations, BF1’s version of perks, can now be earned by completing new service assignments. The specializations seem a little half-hearted, truth be told, with few having much bearing on your minute to minute experience. What is noticeable is the level of technical stability now demonstrated by the game. On my console, I found this notoriously shaky game to be the most stable it's ever been. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I’m ecstatic that what was always my main criticism of BF1 – its lack of stability – now seems, over the course of many patches, to finally have been addressed. We appear to now be at the point where I’m not reminded of the game’s overall level of jank at least once per round. Yes, there’s still the odd scenery glitch, but I’ve yet to be thrown into a black-screen map since installing Tsar, and with BF1, you call that a victory.
Overall, In The Name Of The Tsar feels like a substantial evolution of the Battlefield formula. It's generous complement of maps not only add visual variety to the rotation, but their intricate nuances require you to adapt your play style to fit. Add to this the new weapons, vehicles, operations and game mode, and you have an uncommonly generous package that will no doubt attract newcomers while also giving long-term players a huge amount of fresh content to get their teeth into.
Andy is a freelance writer for Game With Your Brain. You can follow him on Twitter.