Last week, I spent a few hours in the company of Battlefield 1's new expansion, They Shall Not Pass. As you can see from the video above, there's no let-up from the frenetic and bloody action of the core game.
With close-quarters combat a major component of this DLC, it's an extremely challenging, die-a-lot offering, even for the most accomplished of players.
This multiplayer release introduces a key component missing from the original game: the French Army. When most of us think of World War I, we tend to picture the Western Front, much of which took place on French land.
This addition is entirely satisfying, with French voices, uniforms and weapons adding a sense of authenticity to the often lovely landscape.
Around 1.4 million French soldiers were killed in the war, mostly on home turf, compared to around a million losses for the British and her colonies, which were also involved in heavy fighting in the Middle East and Dardanelles.
According to a spokesperson for developer DICE, the company wanted to do full justice to France by introducing the nation's effort with its own downloadable content. This will likely be small comfort to French players, who perhaps feel their country merited inclusion in the original.
Even so, DICE has gone all-in with the French motif, naming the DLC for a famous war-cry: "They shall not pass," (Ils ne passeront pas!) which is attributed to French general Robert Nivelle. He is said to have raised the cry during the terrible Battle of Verdun. It was later appropriated for propaganda posters.
Verdun plays a big role in They Shall Not Pass. There are two new operations on offer. One is called The Devil's Anvil, based on the German assault on the fortifications of Verdun in 1916. The name derives from the massive artillery bombardment launched by the Germans, setting the countryside ablaze. The battle lasted 10 months and claimed more than 750,000 lives.
The other operation is Beyond the Marne, based on the Second Battle of the Marne, another German offensive, which took place in the last summer of the war.
Each operation offers two maps. Verdun Heights and Fort de Veux cover The Devil's Anvil, while Soissons and Rupture take Beyond the Marne.
The Devil's Anvil's maps feature zero vehicles. It's all on-foot, meaning lots of closely confined spaces. Verdun Heights offers plenty of nasty trench warfare, mud and broken fortifications. Much of Fort de Vaux takes place in murderous tunnels and underground rooms.
This is really aimed at players who want to rely on their own wits, and have no patience for aircraft, tanks, horses and other Battlefield 1 accouterments. New French guns offer extra options, with two firearms for every class of warrior. There are also four new melee weapons, which are, frankly, of brutal design, even by Battlefield 1 standards.
Soissons and Rupture are bigger and more traditionally pretty, with greenery, bridges, houses and trees to hide in. But they also come with vehicles, including a rapid French tank, the St. Chamond (pictured below). Soissons features full tank battles, while Rupture is based on capturing two sides of a river, where broken tanks sit rotting among poppies.
Some weapons must be unlocked by performing tasks, such as achieving a certain number of kills in a specific location. The ability to use pigeons to call in artillery attacks on specific targets has been expanded from single-player to multiplayer.
And there's a new Behemoth, which is player-controlled and can roam pretty much anywhere. I got to play against this beast, and it was a seriously vicious piece of work. A new elite class has been added: The Trench Raider carries a big stick and a big grenade.
French weapons will be available throughout the whole game, but the armies are tied to their specific maps. DICE is also promising lots of tweaks to the full game, including new medals, new dog tags and changes to grenades. Gas grenades, for example, will deliver much less friendly damage.
Finally, there's a new mode called Frontline, in which each Army attacks specific individual locations along a chained route. This plays into DICE's desire to increase its hand-to-hand offering. These locations are extremely busy, with 32 players converging on the same spot over and over again. Losses and gains mean more in this mode than in others, where flags are located around the map, and the location of battles is constantly shifting.
You can get a better idea of the nature of the DLC by watching the video above. They Shall Not Pass is out on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One on March 14 for Premium Pass holders, and on March 28 for everyone else.
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