Battlefield V is, to my way of thinking, DICE sticking to what they do best. A long running social media campaign of #BattlefieldMoments emphasises the excess of their depiction of war, the ultra-skillful plays, the brilliance of its team-oriented game style, the sheer bombast of its explosive gameplay and large scale battles. Battlefield V’s reveal looks to amplify all those aspects further than ever before.
While even the announcement trailer makes a mockery of the notion of gritty, down-to-earth battles, it’s fair to say it’s a hyper-sensationalised take on the game, designed to distill every possible moment of action down to a svelte 2:35. It shows off customisation, the co-op gameplay, the new prone animations, the destruction, V1 rockets, and so, so much more. In truth, the game actually tones down some of the unrealistic excesses, the game-like abstractions. For example, Medics will no longer be able to wave their magic healing syringes and all-purpose defibrillators at fallen allies and get them to stand back up, but rather have to drag them to safety and then go through a healing animation.
Battlefield V is, at its heart, all about the squad play. You’re put into a squad by default, there’s more directed perks to being in a squad, all the players in a squad can revive each other (even if the Medic is better at it). It’s a case where DICE are almost saying you have to play in a squad to get the best out of the game, and that’s something that’s been true for a long time. I’ve got fond memories of teaming up with people in Bad Company 2 and all the games since then. When there’s 32 players on the other side, you kind of need a few friends to have your back, or you’ll be spending a long, long time staring at the map and running from the main spawn.
The problem has always been getting players to play in a cohesive unit when they’ve been bundled together. There’s been squad leaders and being able to set commands for a while now, but there’s all too often been one player sat on top of a hill sniping and all your ostensible squad mates running around willy-nilly. So DICE are trying to force the issue. You spawn with less ammo than before, so you want a Support player you can rely on, and you can’t heal to maximum health without a Medic, while there’s squad-based equivalents to Call of Duty’s Kill Streaks, leading to V1 Rockets, special squad vehicles and more. It will probably still fall apart with uncooperative players, but DICE are giving it a damn good shot.
Furthering this need to work together is how far DICE are beefing up the defensive play in the game. Battlefield’s distinctive Conquest mode can often descend into chaos as all the points constantly switch back and forth between teams, but the ability to rebuild buildings, create defensive structures like tank traps, move heavy guns into position, or build a foxhole with a machine gun means that they should be much easier to defend from attackers. Of course, they can blow all of this up again using the game’s more accurate destruction and physics, and it will be interesting to see how DICE keep this feeling appropriate for the setting and less like a semi-restrictive Fortnite. Either way, it’s all about shifting the flow of the game.
After the success of Operations in Battlefield 1, V takes this to the next level, recognising the endless churn and chore that mode could be over the span of well over an hour. It’s now the foundations for a new found variety in game modes and experimentation. Thankfully they’re not bending to the need for Battle Royale here, but rather adding paratroopers for a new twist on attack and defence, switching up the game modes used from one round to the next, and potentially rounding the Grand Operation off with an en masse team elimination mode. As someone that tired of the unchanging slog of Operations, this is great news.
However there was, to my mind, a cautiousness to how they talked about the post-release support and some inevitable confusion around microtransactions. Where Star Wars Battlefront II has foundered with its seasons of content – they’re too few, too light, there’s not enough communications about them – amidst its other struggles, its seasonal, event driven template seems to be roughly the same as what DICE have in store for Battlefield V. It’s been rebranded though, called Tides of War and eschews the standard Seasons label in favour of Chapters.
They’ve not really given anything concrete on the matter, but it sounds encouraging, using the newfound flexibility of Grand Operations to create more engaging scenarios that can be cycled in and out more frequently. There’s the notion of revisiting the existing content and doing so with new thematic twists for some ‘what if?’ scenarios or actually something more historically accurate, restricting the weapons and vehicles you can use.
And so we come to the one of the favoured bugbears of the internet: historical accuracy. DICE talk a good game about it, but again, I feel their message is just a little at odds with or not clear about what they’re actually doing. It’s all about “going back to our roots” to “the preconceptions of WW2”, and when read at face value that means a bombastic WW2 shooter which gets to highlight the women that fought in Norway, in Russia and in so many other theatres of war, whether they were enlisted soldiers or not. In the name of player customisation though, they’re probably taking things a bit too far until they’re unbelievable, even if there is a basis in fact. That’s fine, but they’re going to struggle to have it both ways when marketing the game.
Look past the sensationalised trailer, past the potentially jarring degree of character customisation, and at all of the changes that DICE have made to the core Battlefield game instead. There’s a lot of great and considered changes being made that play to the long held strengths of their game.