Between the controversy surrounding Battlefield V’s red haired cockney cover star and EA and DICE forgetting how to talk about their games in a clear and concise manner, it’s been easy to get distracted from all the ways that the game is growing the series’ brand of online shooter. Having run over the weekend, we got to go hands on with the game’s PC closed alpha, to see how all of this has come together. Is it as bombastic and fast paced as the reveal trailer?
Here’s the thing: as much as DICE are trying to push squad play as the main way to take on Battlefield 1, and as much as playing with friends has always been the way to get the best out of these games, it still doesn’t feel truly essential here. Perhaps this is by virtue of not having buddies to play alongside during the alpha, but the core feeling of a Battlefield game hasn’t changed all that much and the willingness of players that have been shoved into a squad by the game is minimal. I think I saw squad orders used a grand total of 5 times across a few hours of play.
I was able to effectively lone wolf here and still be moderately successful. You get a lot out of being a canny combatant instead of rushing headlong into the fray, and so spotting where enemies were coming from and the various flanking opportunities led to some tasty moments where I got a string of quick kills before the next wave of enemies appeared.
Tempering the ability to go it alone is the paucity of ammunition that you spawn with. You barely have two clips of ammo when you spawn, making it important to know when and how to engage so that you don’t run out mid-firefight and die. Simply running over fallen enemies will see an animation play to signify that you’ve picked up some more ammo, and if you maintain a style of play that keeps you on the front foot and not hunkered down in a corner, running out of ammo shouldn’t be too big a worry. There’s also more than a few ammo and health resupply points dotted around the map.
However, if you are all out of ammo, then the last thing you’ll want is to be revived by a Medic or a squadmate, with the slow and painstaking animation that this brings. Again, there’s a push from DICE to be all about squads and team play, but reviving is still something that will work best when playing with those you know. Thankfully, DICE are doing away with the players that will leap around with defibrillators or magical healing syringes in hand by making a player revive play an animation that lasts a few seconds. Reckless medics may still rush in, but they’re liable to get themselves killed before the animation is over. Thankfully this will only reward enemies with one kill instead of two.
There’s further changes here with the game modes, and while the traditional Conquest has obviously returned and will be a mainstay of the game, the Grand Operations mode does a good job of expanding on the Operations from Battlefield 1. No longer just a “Big Rush mode”, you’re shifting between new and interesting game modes. The Battle of Narvik, for example, carries across two days, first with paratroopers dropping onto the map, leaping from planes at a point of their choosing to try and combine efforts and destroy artillery for the second day of the operation, where it’s a more traditional Breakthrough mode, which is quite a lot like Rush but with capture points to be held simultaneously. Considering how Operations started to feel very one note after a while, with the multi-day battles dragging on for far too long, I’m eager to see how DICE can experiment with different modes in further operations.
The game looks simply fantastic throughout. Frostbite is an incredible game engine when wielded by its masters and Battlefield V builds upon the excellence of Battlefield 1. The Norwegian map in the alpha adds something new with the snow that blankets the map and the consistent flurry of snowflakes as you play. DICE have also ramped up the destruction, which returns to the direction that Bad Company 2 took in 2009. Buildings fall apart much more dynamically and can be practically levelled instead of being semi-destructible as in more recent games. That said, DICE will no doubt be wary of the issues that this did cause for Bad Company 2, where the game’s Rush mode was all too often determined by simply collapsing buildings.
It’s great to see this emphasised once more, but there’s now a counter to a completely levelled map in the toolbox that every player carries with them. Building is actually quite subtle in game, with the construction only able to take place in certain prescribed locations – Fortnite, this is not – but it can be quite effective in bolstering some defences. You could, for example, create sandbag barriers to help you defend a control point on a bridge, simply replace some of the cover that an obliterated building once had or strengthen it with sandbags, or simply shovel together a little ridge of snow and earth to peak over. The animations here are context sensitive, which is a rather nice touch.
While it’s still early days with plenty more optimisation to be done, performance on my PC – pairing an ageing overclocked Core i5-3570K with a Radeon Vega 56 – ranged from OK to great, despite the CPU being three generations older than the alpha test’s minimum spec. I’d expect the final requirements to be roughly equivalent to what they are here, when looking back at the minimum spec for Battlefield 1, which also played pretty well on my older PC, but there’s an inherent maturity to the technology and it’s very scalable thanks to having to still cater to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
The Battlefield V alpha was just a brief taster of what’s to come from the full game. At this point, the changes DICE are making feel more like subtle pushes in a particular direction, whether it’s the enhanced destruction and the way the Support can counter this, or the pushes toward squad play from the lack of resources. That’s probably what Battlefield V needs to be though, as it evolves and builds upon the foundations that have made this series one of the most popular multiplayer shooters around.