If Battlefield 1 was the birth of all out warfare, as EA’s marketing and PR speak told us time and time again, then Battlefield V is the evolution of all out warfare. It’s the next step for the series in a lot of ways, feeling very much like a descendant of that game even as DICE have made some quite significant changes both on the surface and behind the scenes.
The game heads into its ‘Play First Trial’ period tomorrow, 9th November, on Xbox One and PC, we got to sample a wide spread of the game’s multiplayer at a review event this week.* Our full review will come in due time, once we’ve played on live servers and experienced the full single player, but there’s already plenty of conclusions that we can draw.
Grand Operations are a marked improvement over the Operations of the last game, simply through adding more variety. Operations was essentially “Big Rush” mode, descending into long grinding of either attack or defence, but different modes and twists on the action make Grand Operations much more engaging. Set across several Days (AKA rounds), you start with an assault to destroy a handful of objectives, follow it up with a sector-by-sector assault to capture the map, and then continue on to a second map and a variety of different modes for the third and potentially final Operation. If that final round is still too close to call, Final Stand gives all 64 players one life in a last ditch fight to the death.
There’s a tighter focus here, compared to the excesses of scale in Battlefield 1. Where that game’s Operations varied in length thanks to the Battalions system of having multiple attempts to capture a map, here the structure always has a forward momentum. Even if the attackers lose, you still move on to next day and next stage of the story, just with a possible adjustment to respawn counts or time limits.
Of course, there’s still the staple of Conquest, which is sure to remain the main mode that people play, but where Grand Operations has evolved, Conquest has one foot stuck in the past. It’s the same utterly distinctive Battlefield gameplay, with freeform battles over a sprawl of objective points. However, it just feels messy and disorganised in comparison. There’s more scope to outthink the opponent, break past and capture points well away from others, but at the same time, you can end up just tramping from one point to another, almost never seeing an enemy soldier or getting halfway there only to discover that your team got there 30 seconds before you did.
Defensive play often takes a backseat in Conquest, but DICE have tried to amp up the possibilities when holding the line with the toolkit that every player has. It’s simple to pull it out and start putting up sandbag walls, digging foxholes, repairing walls of buildings, and even constructing machine gun nests. You don’t have freedom to choose what goes where, instead having to stick to what DICE have decided is appropriate – Fortnite this is not – but it does work well to give you that extra bit of cover from bullets or even block off entire passageways. Of course, it can all be blown up with a well-placed grenade or tank shell, but can also be an interesting double-edged sword by offering your enemies cover as much as your allies.
Squad play has also been a real focus for DICE, yet again, and just as always, Battlefield V is at its best when playing in a group and coordinating your efforts. Attrition, as they call it, is basically spawning players with fewer bullets and resources than in previous games, meaning that your Support class players need to work overtime throwing ammo pouches to allies, even if you can pick up bullets from fallen enemies, and the Medic let players manually heal up with first aid pouches. It’s not as harsh as it was in the early betas, but can still be felt when you’re on a good streak and realise you’re down to your final clip or foolishly used that one grenade you spawn with.
Whoever is the designated Squad leader is also in charge of handing out objective orders, with points awarded for successfully following them. It’s the same system that you know from before, but with the added incentive of being able to call in reinforcements, whether that’s a supply drop for a few thousand points, one of the more imposing tanks either side has to offer, or a rocket to drop onto a heavily fortified objective. The thing is, unless you’re playing with friends it’s really only an incentive for the squad leader to keep issuing orders so that they themselves get to call in reinforcements.
There’s also not enough mid-battle options, compared to being able to call in a V1 rocket and turn the tide in the closing moments. It’s so awesomely powerful that it almost doesn’t make sense to spend your points earlier. Across the two days, we enjoyed plenty of gruelling, closely fought battles in both Grand Operations and Conquest, with several moments sticking out in my mind. One in particular saw us assaulting the final three objectives in Breakthrough – where you need to capture and hold in order to secure sectors and push on – with a stubborn defence shifting across the battlefield. With just a handful of respawns left, I called in a last ditch V1 rocket on objective C, ran down the hill from B to clear out the survivors and capture the point, before we all sprinted back across to capture objective A through sheer weight of numbers. This was really Battlefield at its best, when defence and attack were equally matched and the actions of both team and individual managed to break the deadlock.
But again, there’s only so much DICE can do to push people to play as a squad. It works well for the more direct modes like Breakthrough, but come to Conquest and it’s easy for a squad to dissolve and people go their separate ways. The only thing left for them to try is to off players for not following orders.
More importantly – and we’ll dig into the more contentious elements of this separately – the game feels tight, the guns responsive and interesting, the player progression adds a good amount of depth, the more sensational customisation options aren’t all that noticeable when actually playing, and DICE seem to have learnt all the right lessons from Battlefront II and rivals like Black Ops 4 and Fortnite in how to handle Tides of War’s drip of activities and content. Despite the months of anguish in the community, of founded and unfounded pushback, our first real impression is that Battlefield V is striking a lot of the right notes.
Stick with us over the next few days as we head into the live game and play through the single player War Stories. We’ve also got more on Battlefield V with regard to the Tides of War seasonal content, and how customisation and player progression looks.
*Our advanced coverage of Battlefield V came from a review event held in Stockholm. Travel and accommodation were provided by EA.