The Battlefield series grew in stature over the last decade, as its brand of wide open modern warfare and large scale battles grew in popularity, but it’s difficult to gauge the interest in Battlefield V. Battlefield 1’s step back to WW1 was a big success, certainly, but between the struggles of Star Wars Battlefront II and the backlash to the inclusion of women in a WW2 setting from certain corners of the internet, I’m not particularly sure that the hype train has managed to pick up much speed for this game.
As we played the Devastation of Rotterdam map at Gamescom last week ahead of its appearance in September’s open beta, one thing’s for certain: this game is bloody pretty. It looks simply fantastic, recreating the city in glorious detail and distilling many of its key attributes. Personally I found it rather reminiscent of the Amiens map from Battlefield 1, though city fighting will always have its similarities and there’s common ground in a lot of European architecture.
The Conquest map spreads in an almost semicircle-like fashion around a central little harbour, featuring little canals that provide chokepoints across bridges – infantry can always dive into the water and find a ladder – a railway system that straddles the roads and provides plenty of verticality, and tons of little alleyways and little squares for tighter street-to-street city warfare. Most of it is relatively intact to start with, but one side of the map features a bombed out building, helping to add variation and more distinctiveness to the two sides of the map.
It plays well, too, retaining much of the feel and pace of Battlefield 1. There were already a lot of automatic weapons in Battlefield 1, as DICE dredged through the most advanced military tech to keep the pace high, but submachineguns and automatic weapons were much more standardised in WW2. Meanwhile, the pace of play is kept high thanks to abilities like being able to throw health and ammo kits.
However, I must admit that some of the innovations and changes that DICE are putting into the game are easy to overlook if you’re picking up the game for the first time. Take the toolbox, for example; I grabbed the Support character, delighting in the new automated animations to pull out the bipod when next to cover and lay down reams of suppressing fire, but it took one of my squadmates to remind me that I could build barricades much faster than others on my team. In the haze of Gamescom, I’d completely forgotten about the ability to do this, and quickly started blocking off and fortifying some of the passages leading to one of our control points.
Similarly, it was only late in the game that our squad leader started to make use of the squad points that we’d accrued to call in an admittedly spectacular looking JB-2 rocket and much less intimidating (and actually quite adorable) little parachute supply drop.
But there were other changes that simply fall into place. DICE are neutering the traditional crutch of spot and mark, so that you can’t effectively scan and digitally mark enemies that you don’t have a real line of sight on. Instead you’re now laying a marker manually, generally a yellow highlight to give a general indication of something you might have spotted. However, if you do have your crosshairs directly over a tank or enemy, you can still directly mark them as a threat.
The pressure of spawning with less ammo did push me, when playing as Support, to throw ammo packs at people left, right and centre, while also making sure that I topped up at the fixed supply crates when I could. Similarly, the changes to Medic class revives mean that they’re always on hand for the class, regardless of loadout, but the longer animation loop meant that doling out fresh leases of life has to be better considered. With squadmates also able to heal you up, you should still have more options for revives (well, more people can choose to ignore you when teamed up with randoms), but the balance still leans toward a more considered style of play.
As always, Battlefield V is by far best experienced with a squad of friends. Dropped into impromptu groups for Gamescom wasn’t ideal, but I was fortunate to be grouped with one or two others who wanted to coordinate and play together. We were spawning on each other, dashing into buildings together to take out encamped enemies, discussing when and where to call in Squad Reinforcements. Yet it will be all to easy to lose this kind of conviviality with a different set of players.
Battlefield V is still Battlefield at the end of the day, but the tweaks and changes that DICE are making to the formula as they attempt to engender more team play and control the flow of battles are yet to really come to the fore. Obviously it’s still early days, and with a beta starting on 6th September and the one month delayed release that was announced today, DICE still have plenty opportunities to tune their game.