Battlefield has been around long enough that you could ask half a dozen people for their favourite game and get as many different answers. It’s a series that’s been through its ups and down, but despite the rolling controversies and uncertainty from fans, Battlefield V and its return to WW2 is definitely one of the ups.
Battlefield 1 left quite a lot of people feeling a little indifferent, especially in comparison to the evergreen modern day Battlefield 4, but Battlefield V nails its the fundamentals. The gunplay in particular feels great, thanks in part to how it’s shifted from random spread to tracking weapon recoil, and when that’s good a lot of other elements can easily fall into place around it. DICE also talk about ‘attrition’, but this effectively amounts to spawning you with less ammo and limiting the number of grenades and gadgets you have. It’s not as harsh as it once was in the betas, which keeps things accessible, but if you’re alive for minutes at a time and on a good streak, you might find yourself running out of ammo and scrounging around for more.
The answer to that problem is, of course, to place as a team and in a squad. Sticking near allies means that you’ll likely have medics chucking health packs for you to use manually, while support players ought to be throwing ammo bags left, right and centre – importantly this no longer tops up grenades and gadgets, for which you’ll need to head to supply stations at objectives and spawn points. However, even without a medic in your squad, any of your squad mates can now revive you, helping to keep a more cohesive unit together. There’s really not that much more DICE can do to engender team play, but it still falls down without people you know.
The real aim of squad play isn’t just to get the most points and bragging rights at the end screen, but to follow orders and complete objectives until such a time as your squad leader can call in reinforcements. Ranging from a supply drop through special tanks, the ultimate goal really is the V1 or JB-2 rocket, even if this is geared as an end of round weapon to call upon. The tank destroyers or Sturmtiger tanks are great, but ideally this aspect could use some more options for players to choose between, especially for the faster modes.
You’ll bump into some of these modes across a match of Grand Operations, a multi-round battle that builds upon the rather one-note Operations of the first game by mixing up the game type you play through the narrative of a military campaign. You always progress through the first three rounds across two maps – the fourth is an elimination style Final Stand in case of a draw – but the result can increase or decrease the number of respawns or time the attacking team has. It also has the advantage of managing to bring modes like Obliteration to more players, when Conquest remains the series’ bread and butter.
The maps are paired up thematically, so Narvik is followed in Grand Operations by a troop-based mountain assault, catering to different types of play. Thankfully the smaller infantry-focussed maps manage to avoid being meat grinders in the vein of Operation Locker, whether it’s Rotterdam’s many tight alleyways or the snowy mountaintops of Fjell 652 having airplanes harassing the soldiers. Whatever the map, the destruction is countered by all soldiers being able to pull out a toolkit and construct sandbags walls and barricades, initially strengthening and then rebuilding vital cover. Defensive play isn’t particularly strong in Conquest, admittedly, but for Grand Operations it’s vital.
Many a modern gamer likes to look pretty fly when sprinting into battle and you have quite the selection of visual customisations – and yes, female soldiers are a part of that – around a dozen gun to choose between for each class, and then a number of perks. Each class has two subclasses at launch, so the support initially specialises in vehicle repairs, but can switch to machine gun specialisation. Then there’s the guns, which can all be levelled up to choose between four pairs of perks, though thankfully you have a choice of sights right away.
Where Battlefield 1’s War Stories were a highlight for me, from the emotionally charged prologue through the different forms of storytelling of the four short stories that followed, DICE’s follow up in Battlefield V isn’t as strong. The stories are fewer in number – the fourth and perhaps most interesting, as it shows a German perspective, is only due out in December – and don’t hit the same high notes. Billy “F-ing” Bridger is annoying as the common as muck thief turned utterly implausible SBS operative, while the Nordlys campaign to destroy German Hard Water manufacturing comes off as being misappropriated when the last survivor of the raid, Joachim Ronnenberg, died just weeks ago – I’m perfectly happy with women soldiers in other parts of the game, but it does feel out of place in this context. The story of French Colonial soldiers being drafted in to retake France and their misguided attempts to gain recognition comes closest, but across the board, the level design and gameplay don’t hang together as well as I’d like.
On several occasions, you’re presented with a wide open map and several objectives to tackle, and there is a great deal of freedom here. However, you feel like you’re fighting alone on these occasions (because you almost always are and any friendly AI struggles to keep up), and even on Medium difficulty, you’re forced into playing stealthily or constantly crouching behind cover to heal thanks to dimwitted but accurate AI.
You could level the same criticisms at Battlefield 1 – I did – but it’s still worth applauding DICE once more for selecting a wide range of settings, of being bold with the characters and fictionalised stories they want to tell. It’s just that, in an effort to be all “Battlefield”, they lose out on the tight pacing that typically leads to a great FPS campaign.
Of course, there’s an understandable angst surrounding the launch stability of a DICE game these days. Thankfully, in my experience, Battlefield V is relatively steady and bugs lean toward being more cosmetic and amusing hiccups, some of which have been acknowledged and are due to be fixed by the time of the game’s truer launches this week and next. I’m talking the amusement of a tank’s top machine gun not tracking your viewpoint, but still letting you fire, of squad leaders shouting to destroy objectives you’re trying to defend, of being revived and finding yourself sliding 10 metres away from where your body was, of animation glitches. It’s a bit rough. More fundamentally, there are reports of majorly unbalanced servers, and the Medic class and their SMGs are definitely in need of rebalancing.
There are a few that bugs can be annoying, but they don’t really intrude much on my enjoyment. It’s in the downtime between games, where I have to interact with clunky, poorly thought out menus for character customisation, weapon swapping and tweaking, and the ridiculous need to return to the main menu in order to swap out Special Assignments that I find myself more annoyed.
Speaking of which, there’s more to come to try and keep you engaged in Battlefield with the Tides of War – a huge source of anxiety for the community. Yes, some of the features coming in the early chapters of Tides of War make it feel like Battlefield V has been rushed out of the door, but there’s enough in the game for this to still feel like a “full” game. There’s enough maps and modes here, and the gameplay is good enough that it could be fun for months to come. If you’re still not convinced, the game will be bigger and more varied in just a few months.
Battlefield V scratches an itch that many will have had since Battlefield 4. DICE have found a great feel for the gunplay, the tweaks to classes and additions like fortifications largely work as intended, and the way that Grand Operations have evolved brings a refreshing variety to the game. Sure, it’s around the edges at launch and with some largely forgettable single play War Stories, Battlefield V is a diamond in the rough.
Versions tested: PC, Xbox One – Also available on PS4