Battlefield V is a Good Game™, let’s be clear about that from the off. It made a lot of good changes to the Battlefield formula, accentuating the differences between classes, pushing players to work more together, and it often just feels good to play, but it’s also going through some growing pains. As we’re between chapters of its Tides of War live service, it’s time to look at where the game currently is and how DICE can work to improve it.
But first, a little context, because Battlefield V’s launch wasn’t exactly ideal. The game was doubtless rushed to hit a release date in 2018 instead of slipping into 2019. Originally set for a mid-October release, that was then pushed back to 20th November and the jaws of Black Friday and dozens of AAA games at half its price. To be fair, its relatively muted chart positions at launch might not really have improved with an October release that stacked it up against Black Ops 4 and Red Dead Redemption 2, but DICE would have had more time with the game in players’ hands and more breathing room to consider the feedback they were getting.
Battlefield V has been developed to support a live service, with regular content drops and cycling activities to keep people engaged, and with DICE theoretically being able to react and make changes more quickly. Instead, the game’s staggered release through November led straight into a first major update at the start of December that was delayed at the last moment. Off the back of that relatively minor hiccup, DICE looked to address the much complained about disconnect between the ‘time to kill’ and a player’s feeling of ‘time to death’ by making poorly communicated changes that were roundly criticised and quickly rolled back by a server update.
In some ways DICE found themselves back at square one just before Christmas holidays. When the game should have been ready and waiting for people under Christmas trees and players enjoying a game with the rougher edges from launch rounded off, instead the biggest known issues still remain and the community have had weeks without communication on key issues.
It’s been a cascade of unfortunate timing, but with DICE now back at work and soon to start talking about a second wave of content, we can also expect to see them properly address glaring issues. The gameplay itself is fairly robust (the TTD issues aside), but it’s soured by in-game Assignments often not tracking properly, with Company Coin currency not being earnt after hitting Rank 50, and myriad smaller bugs. A large patch is due in the near future, but beyond bug fixing, DICE also need to address some more fundamental weaknesses that could affect the game’s longevity in an increasingly competitive market of huge multiplayer time sinks.
Each chapter in the Tides of War is intended to come as part of a grand narrative retelling of World War 2. It won’t always be historically accurate – the game sees British soldiers defending Rotterdam from German invasion, for example – but as each chapter rolls out, new weapons will come to the game, new cosmetics, new nationalities, and new battles and military campaigns will be featured.
It will also give players new missions and tasks to complete, and the Overture chapter gave us a glimpse of these with a strings of weekly tasks leading to single rewards. Personally, I quite like the idea and found that the missions and multiple paths weren’t terribly onerous, being relatively easy to complete in a single sitting (with a little luck). It rewarded me with enough points that, without too much grinding, I was able to work through to the final rewards of the chapter as a whole across the five weeks in a relatively natural fashion.
However, what’s quite undeniable is that I simply wasn’t playing the game to be a good team player while completing these tasks. At various times, I put completing those objectives ahead of sticking with my squad mates or playing to win the particular game mode, even when the objectives were actually oriented around squad play. I’d hop between classes, run off and get my five enemy spots with the Recon’s telescope, join and quit matches when I wan’t on the offensive team to let me try and place a bomb on the objective, and run off as an Assault class while trying to one man a tank kill (which I miraculously managed).
To a limited degree that’s OK, and even healthy for a game to encourage you to play as and master all of its aspects, but DICE have a fine line to tread with some of them. We ended up with a week where everyone was playing a medic and dropping supply boxes, then a week where the class was effectively abandoned in favour of Assault and Support that can do some modicum of damage to tanks for the aforementioned task. All those cries of “Sanitäter!” went practically unanswered.
It’s sadly compounded by the rather run of the mill and uninspiring Proficiency and Mastery tasks for each of the weapons and classes. You get these as you level up and use them, but some of them just force you to play badly or against your nature. The Assault class being told to “damage enemies for 100 points with explosives” leads to cheeky C4 throws and detonations, but will much more likely end up with you rushing onto the objective and getting caught without a gun in your hand. Then there’s those that encourage sniper camping by asking them to get 10 headshots while prone, or worst, 10 headshot kills while prone in a single life. Often there’s a fallback of simply racking up a larger number across multiple lives or rounds, but the later challenges lack that safety net leading to potential frustration. In general it just feels that they lack imagination and force play in an inorganic fashion, and while I hope DICE can refine the assignments they hand out, it must be said that this is something that many live games continue to struggle with.
The centrepiece to all of this should be the Grand Operations, the successor to the Operations in Battlefield 1 that had wave after wave of soldiers being thrown at a defensive line. Grand Operations mixes things up with different modes set across several days, but a common complaint is that it feels like none of this matters until the third and final day, and instead of having closing remarks that applaud your victory and how it has shaped the war, as in BF1, history flows around your exploits as though they never happened.
There’s several solutions to this, from making a successful attack or defence earn you a greater boost or bonus for a successive round, potentially even starting the attackers an objective later into the map if they stormed to a first round victory, to reworking the way the shifting modes are presented to players with overhauled intros and voice overs. Preserving the state of a map and its defences from a round of Airborne to the next round of Breakthrough or Frontlines would also go a long way to giving us a feel of continuity between rounds.
The second major chapter, Lightning Strikes, is due to begin on 17th January with a teaser of what’s to come this week. Realistically, given the game’s back and forth at the end of 2018, we can’t expect DICE to be able to do much more than they had already planned in terms of adding features like Combined Arms co-op and tackling major bugs, but hopefully DICE can also take the opportunity while preparing for the next chapter to address some of the more ingrained design choices and lay the foundations for the game’s future.