World War I is awful. It's worse when you don't have a weapon.
I deployed to the Sinai expecting glory for Constantinople and victory over the British. Instead I suffered through blood and fire with a side of mustard gas. When I landed in the desert, I had no weapon and no obvious means of acquiring one.
I rushed through the sands, dodged bullets and looked to my fellow soldiers for solace; I found none. Most of my fellow soldiers were as defenseless as I was. We rushed the nearest outpost and prayed we'd find guns to go along with the shelter.
We didn't. But there was an abandoned A7V tank. The group piled in and I steered us toward the British lines. Soldiers attacked on horses, hid on ridges hurling grenades and fired Maxim guns. None dented the mighty German-engineered landship.
Then an artillery shell upended the tank, and I crawled out of the twisted metal deathbox just before it exploded. I was injured, but alive. Somehow, I'd survived my first fight in the bloody struggle of World War I.
Then a British sniper put an armor-piercing K bullet through my brain. Overkill, but I'm sure the act satisfied my opponent.
This is Battlefield 1.
Battlefield 1 is Electronic Arts' newest installment of the long-running Battlefield franchise. The video games drop players into massive maps where teams of up to 32 players vie for control of a digital battlefield.
The first game, Battlefield 1942, took players to World War II, and subsequent entries in the franchise returned to the fields of Europe, Vietnam, modern wars, and even the far flung future of 2142. This new game is the first to take players to the long neglected battlefields of World War I.
Video games shy away from the epic meat grinder of mustard gas and fire that was the Great War. For many, World War I means boredom, trenches, and confusing geopolitics. For decades, the common logic has been that it doesn't make a good setting for video games, especially when the Nazis of World War II make for such easy villains.
Developer DICE decided to take a chance and set its newest game during the 20th century's horrendous opening act. Fan reaction was overwhelmingly positive and players made the announcement trailer for Battlefield 1 the most liked trailer in YouTube history.
Battlefield 1's open beta started rough. E.A. opened the game to players on August 31, but many weren't able to play. Server issues kept players from logging into the game, and those who could had trouble finding a match. Fans speculated that someone, or a group of someones, had launched a DDoS attack against the company's servers.
But E.A. worked it out and the game was up and running by the end of the day. Sort of.
When I first spawned as a proud warrior for the Ottoman Empire, I didn't have any guns. I jumped in and out of the game, switched classes, and redeployed but nothing seemed to work. No matter what I tried, I never spawned with a weapon to defend myself.
Complaints of the weaponless spawn bug filled the in-game chat—and yet none of us logged out. Just because we didn't come into the world of Battlefield 1 with guns didn't mean we couldn't defend ourselves.
Horses and tanks littered the landscape. Our quivering, terrified, and weaponless team banded together and set about piling into as many of these vehicles as possible.
It was a ton of fun. It's important to note that not every soldier came into the world helpless. Around a quarter of the players on both sides of the Sinai map spawned with their weapons.
The disparity made for a strange but fun dynamic. Weaponless players banded together and rushed vehicles—the surest hope of staying alive—and played together with a level of teamwork I don't often see in competitive online shooters.
After a few deaths, I developed a more satisfying strategy. If I couldn't track down a horse to rush across the desert, I'd track down a teammate with a weapon. When a player dies, he drops his kit and any other play can scoop up his guns and equipment.
Thus, I spent the bulk of my first playthrough as a ghoul, chasing fellow players through the desert, waiting for them to take a British bullet to the guts and drop their weapons so that I could live a few more precious minutes.
Long enough to make the scoreboard, at least.
Video games are often power fantasies, and playing a shooter while unarmed changes a player's perspective of the game in a big way.
I'd often die shortly after picking up the blood-soaked weapon of a fallen comrade, but it didn't matter—it was still a blast. I played Battlefield 1 for two hours when I first got it running, and I barely fired a gun the whole time.
Instead, I outran a Mark V tank on a horse, cowered in a foxhole while train-mounted artillery cut holes in the landscape, and thanked God when a sandstorm ruined the vision of a sniper who pinned me behind a rock.
Spawning without weapons created a strangely harrowing World War I experience. Video games are often power fantasies, and playing a shooter while unarmed changes a player's perspective of the game in a big way.
The weird bug is also a testament to how good Battlefield 1 is. Despite not having weapons, I and the small group of friends had an absolute blast. Every other system in the game worked so well that we adapted to the problem, used our heads, and defended our territory.
Developer DICE sorted out the problem and the next time I logged into the game, I spawned with all the gear I needed to fight the British Empire.
But firing away with the ahistorical Cei-Rigotti rifle somehow never felt as satisfying as dodging shells launched by an armored train while praying my friend would die and drop his rifle.