Battlefield has always felt to be at odds with itself. The story team wants to tell you about how terrible war is, the huge cost of life, the atrocities committed in the name of country and pride. Then the multiplayer is about people running and gunning, snipers sitting in spawn to pepper objectives and everyone throwing ammo pouches around while duckwalking. The shift between single-player and multiplayer is rather abrupt, but at least it is still there.
Telling a story
Battlefield V wants to tell stories about the war that we might not have heard before. We have heard of the big moments, the hard pushes against the enemy, the fighting in the cold. But there are tales we have never heard and will now never hear as the remaining survivors of World War II die of old age. There are currently three such war stories available to play, with at least one more on the way. Each tale is split into three acts and focuses on a single individual somewhere in the war. In these tales, you can use stealth, smarts and all the tools at your disposal to complete objectives and for the first time, it feels like the game had a viable stealth element. Pick off patrols, find suppressed weapons or kill people with melee and you can enter a base without setting off an alarm, then you can disable the alarm before completing your objective.
Each story also has one act that feels like a small open world area, with three objectives for you to attack in any order. This open world, attack how you want feels a lot like playing Far Cry and while the story structure feels awfully repetitive, the moment to moment interactions and gunplay feel great. The three playable stories tell small, intimate tales of heroism and sacrifice across the length and breadth of the war. From the beginnings of the British crack troops using Churchill’s butcher and bolt model of warfare, to the tale of what might have happened in Norway to stop the Germans from getting hold of heavy water, while the third details the bravery and sacrifices of the Senegalese Tirailleurs, troops drawn from French colonies to fight for France. It was the last two stories that I enjoyed most, probably because they were stories I didn’t feel I had been told many times before, with moments that felt less like something you would see in a movie (the end of the British War Story is so cliche movie that it hurts). While I enjoyed the stories they hardly play to the strengths of Battlefield, which is a squad-based shooter with massive levels and attacks by vehicle and on foot. Get ready to crouch. A lot.
It was the last two stories that I enjoyed most, probably because they were stories I didn’t feel I had been told many times before, with moments that felt less like something you would see in a movie.
Built for PC
While I try every now and then to join my friends who play FPS games with a controller, I always gravitate back to my mouse. Battlefield has always prided itself in strong PC versions and Battlefield V continues this trend. From a laundry list of graphics options to letting the game dynamically shift settings to give you the best look while being smooth, or to make sure your ping never takes a hit, you can find a setting that appeals to your playstyle.
It also looks downright amazing. The detail that has been afforded to terrain will have you stop during the single-player to admire the view and to use Nvidia Ansel to take a few shots. Seriously, I stopped for a good while to admire the small rivulets running down a muddy incline, complete with different types of mud and sediment. It just looks that good.
Battlefield V has a solid server browser, which doesn’t involve opening your web browser (remember that nightmare idea?), though it isn’t without its foibles. Often the browser will tell you there are spots in a map, only for you to click join and end up in a queue. Also if you join a busy map as a squad, it will put you into the game one person at a time, without any notification that this is how it handles full servers. So one of you gets to run around and have fun, while everyone else stares at a queue. Every server also mentions ping, where it is and the tick rate that it runs at prominently, which might be a jab at another first-person shooter.
Playing for unlocks, not the objective
It feels like every time I play an objective-based shooter, without fail, the majority of players are playing for the best K/D ratio. This is true in Battlefield V as well, where the game seems more likely to reward killing people than playing tactically. More than a few times I saw players discussing in match chat which maps and modes were best for farming points for unlocks. Sadly until the game offers more tangible rewards or progression for playing the objectives and winning, it will always be about K/D ratio instead.
Until the game offers more tangible rewards or progression for playing the objectives and winning, it will always be about K/D ratio instead.
The big new feature is that we finally have destructible environments and that players can build fortifications on an objective to make it harder to attack. Of course in some games, this means absolutely nothing, as conquest matches seem to devolve into capturing a point before running off to the next one as soon as the flag gets planted, regardless of whether there are enemies nearby who could take it right back. Weird attention deficit player behaviour aside, the ability to upgrade a point gives a support class hero a chance to really shine. Anyone can place sandbags or dig a trench, but a support class does it in half the time. Set up barricades, use barb-wire to slow down the enemy or funnel them into one area where you built a machine gun emplacement. These upgrades can let you turn a hard to defend point in the middle of a field into a fortified hill with ammo and medkit resupply points and maybe an AA gun. Until the enemy brings heavy explosives to bear and the wall you were hiding behind becomes a pile of rubble.
The game only lets you build things in set locations, which makes it a bit faster for those who just want to help out, but could be infuriating to those who really want to set up on a point to keep it as you can’t choose to shore up a hole a tank left in a building, which neatly bypasses your barb-wire perimeter.
I hope that as the days wear on, more cohesive squad-based play will happen and I will see players take a point, build it up and set up camp there to defend it with the added cover and firepower. For now it feels like a nice feature that sounds great on paper, but has minor relevance in reality, except for players taking advantage of destructible buildings to attack from new angles.
As much fun as Battlefield V is right now, it feels incomplete. Several areas on the interface have big “COMING SOON” or “Coming xxx date” on them, which feels rather awkward. While I like the idea that more content is coming to the game, it reminds me a lot of playing an early access game, where the core mode is out and the others are coming later, if you don’t mind waiting or paying in a few bucks. It isn’t just the menu screens that feel slightly under polished. Seeing buildings pop in and out of existence as they go from happy homes to bombed-out husks is jarring, as are the hopping and floating corpses that seem to pop up in my game. Several matches have required a forced quit because the game wouldn’t let me access menus or deploy and more than a few times I spawned without a UI, making for a rather tense run around looking for enemies and hoping that dying would fix the issue. Many of these issues are known (like the tank’s top turret graphic going out of sync with your aim) and being fixed for the first patch and technically I am playing the game before release, even though judging by server populations, it feels like everyone who wanted it is already playing. Still, until the game is available to everyone who paid for it, and the servers feel the deluge, it is unfair to score the game. I want to believe that this is where I will be spending my time shooting things for the next while.
Disclaimer: This review was made possible by EA Game Changers, which provided us with early access via Origin Access Premier.