If there was one game series seemingly perfectly placed to have a crack at the battle royale genre that exploded in popularity in 2017, it was Battlefield. Here was a shooter that already had large (though not huge) maps, it already supported large 64 player game modes, and featured the kinds of bombastic combat moments that people could daydream about. They could have taken the genre by the scruff of the neck, but as Battlefield V’s Firestorm battle royale mode finally rolled out this week, they’re facing a more crowded and competitive genre than ever.
Firestorm is, well, it’s Battlefield V battle royale. It conforms to the majority of the genre’s conventions, from having a pre-game lobby area as all the game’s assets and players load in, to dropping into the world with nothing but the clothes on your back and knife in your hand, and the ever-shrinking circles that damage you if you ever step a foot outside.
As the fleet of planes takes to the skies over the map of Halvøy, a Scandinavian peninsula the epitomises much of Battlefield V, a few Battlefield specific quirks make themselves clear. For one thing, they’ve stuck to their traditional 64-man game mode, making this one of the smaller examples of battle royale out there. The map’s design isn’t square, but rather rectangular, starting you off in a circle that only presents you about half of the map. That, in and of itself, should mean there’s a greater feel of variety and stepping into the unknown, compared to other games.
Dropping in at any cluster of buildings, weaponry is plentiful. Each building is almost guaranteed to have a main weapon or at least some useful gear and a pistol. When so many matches in other games have you frantically scrabbling around with nothing but a larger ammo clip and scope for a few minutes, it’s a refreshing change of pace after a few months of Apex Legends. That brings me to the second point: much like in Fortnite, there’s no gun attachments, but rather different rarities of guns that have things like scopes pre-attached to them. It’s part of a neat inventory system that lives as an overlay on the right hand side of the screen and, while it initially takes a bit of getting used to managing on the fly, is pretty intuitive to manage while running around.
It’s as soon as you get into a fight that you can feel the Battlefield V core gunplay coming through. It’s sharp and punchy, even with player health bumped up to 150 and being able able to slap on a few armour plates to help brush off some more points of damage. You get a lot of mileage out of knowing your relative position in the undulating map, going for flanking routes with a shotgun or being a dab hand with a sniper rifle.
One thing you can’t rely on are your class abilities, because those have been stripped away to ensure people are on a more level playing field, and giving Assault players panzerfausts and explosives from the off would be a terrible idea. Your choice of class at the start is purely cosmetic, and your abilities uniformly based off what you pick up and some battle royale specific tweaks, like being able to move while downed, and having a really wobbly, smeary pistol to fire while downed (which was amusingly the source of my first kill in the mode).
The destruction and vehicles of Battlefield simply had to make an appearance, and they do. If you find enemies in a building? Just blow it up with rockets and explosives! I mean, it’ll get destroyed anyway when the titular Firestorm rolls through. You can happen across Jeeps and the amphibious Schwimmwagen, and find bunkers with tanks in them to give you the upper hand, while also painting a big target on your back, and there’s even a prototype helicopter that lets you take to the skies.
Having been introduced in the main game of Battlefield V, reinforcements also make an appearance, letting you fire a flare to call in an artillery barrage, V1 rocket, supply caches and vehicles. How you get them is perhaps the most interesting thing that Firestorm does compared to a standard battle royale, as control points periodically appear for you to try and capture. Weirdly they can appear outside the ring, or in areas that are about to be engulfed, but it’s a nice idea that takes a little much-wanted inspiration from the main game.
However, Firestorm isn’t in lock step with where the genre is heading. Coming from Apex Legends and Fortnite, context sensitive pings are sorely lacking for people playing in squads, and it took me a moment to realise that I didn’t have a jump master to follow to the ground. Where direction and orders plays an integral part of squads in Conquest and Grand Operations, this is an area that’s surprisingly lacking. So too are the niceties of having the ability to respawn your team mates from Apex, and when you kill an enemy, their loot spews across the ground in an unmanageable mess, instead of being collected in a death box that you can more easily sift through.
On the whole, Firestorm is a good, solid Battle Royale mode. I’m not sure it’s been entirely worth the wait – having it at launch could have made Battlefield V a much bigger event – I don’t know if it really appeals to the pickiest of Battlefield players who just want Conquest, and I don’t know if it’s enough to light a fire under Battlefield V as a live service, but it’s something I can see myself dipping in an out of alongside my diet of other battle royales.