When DICE announced that they would be dropping the Season Pass and the paid-DLC model altogether for Battlefield V, opting instead to offer all future content to all players for free, I have to admit that I was excited.
What I didn’t expect from this new ‘Games as a service’ approach was for Battlefield V to be released unfinished. That doesn’t make it a bad game, it’s quite the opposite in fact, but it is undeniably unfinished.
Let me start with the campaign. Battlefield V’s campaign (similarly to Battlefield 1) is told through ‘War Stories’, a collection of three different stories featuring different characters at different stages of the war. The first story, Under No Flag, focuses around Billy Bridger, a young rogue who’s recruited to join the British Special Boat Section. The second story, Nordlys, gives the spotlight to a young female resistance fighter in Nazi-occupied Norway, while the third and final war story, Tirailleur, tells the story of Senegalese colonial soldiers that were deployed to fight in the French army during World War 2.
These stories do their best to engage us and they are very well told, but the problem is that they are so brief that you have no time to gain any kind of emotional connection to the characters or any real understanding of who you’re fighting and what you’re fighting for. I finished all three in just over three hours without rushing them, and that is just not long enough for any kind of single player portion of a full price release. There’s a fourth War Story due to release in December, but that will still make us one short of the number that Battlefield 1 had at launch; the cynic inside me can’t help but feel like that fourth story is read now but has just been held back to offer it as free content later. For the brief time that these campaigns last there are some nice ideas, with each story offering you multiple objectives to carry out in whatever order you wish on a large, open map. This gives you a nice sense of freedom usually missing in a World War 2 shooter and it’s great to be able to approach objectives in whichever way you see fit.
That being said, there is most definitely an over-reliance on stealth. Large portions of your time in the campaign will be spent spotting enemies through your binoculars before advancing through areas undetected and using stealth takedowns to kill enemies. It’s an odd design decision for a series that is renowned for bringing you the loud, chaotic experience of all-out warfare. When things do descend into chaos, the enemy AI is prone to making some really dumb decisions which makes it very hard to get immersed in the whole experience.
There are tonal issues, too. The prologue sees you take control of several different soldiers for the final moments of their life, taking their last stand before meeting their inevitable death on the battlefields of war. It’s an intentionally sombre introduction from DICE, designed to remind us all of the horrors of war and what people sacrificed to give us the freedom that we enjoy today, but then as soon as the prologue is finished you’re thrown straight into Billy Bridger’s story and you’re faced with over-the-top cockneys making poor attempts at humour. The dramatic shift in tone serves only to leave the player confused about how they’re supposed to feel about the whole thing, it’s like the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan ending with Tom Hanks meeting up with Phil and Grant Mitchell for a few pints and a laugh down the Queen Vic. Thankfully, the second and third story both maintain a consistent, serious tone throughout, and they’re better for it.
Ultimately, I can’t help but see War Stories as a missed opportunity from DICE. With story-driven single-player campaigns being dropped from the likes of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, this was a great opportunity for Battlefield to really make its mark on an area that it has never been renowned for. The potential is there; if these stories were given more time to develop (and by that, I mean if they were three times the length) and if there was a lesser emphasis on stealth then DICE could have had something special on their hands, but as they are they serve only as a small, added extra to accompany the centrepiece – multiplayer.
Multiplayer is Battlefield’s bread and butter and DICE knows it. Rather than attempting to make any radical changes, DICE has instead opted to make a number of small changes to improve things while keeping the core gameplay experience of Battlefield the same. One of the most notable changes is the new “Attrition” system which sees all players drop in with limited health and ammo, this brings a new-found extra level of importance to both the Support class and the Medic class, and makes it important for your squad to have a good balance of classes to make sure that you’re sufficiently covered for health and ammo. Health will now only regenerate up to a certain point; you’ll need a medkit to heal any further. Luckily, all players carry one medkit on them, but once you’ve used it you’ll be relying on a Medic to heal you up.
Speaking of Medics, the revive system has been changed. Rather than the point-farming instant revive of previous entries, reviving a player now puts you into an animation that takes a couple of seconds to complete, leaving you vulnerable to enemy attacks while you’re reviving someone. This means that you have to make sure you clear an area before attempting to revive a fallen teammate or have a teammate nearby to cover your back, or alternatively you can drop a smoke grenade to give yourself that essential few seconds of cover. Failure to do any of these things will leave you with a very high probability of being caught with your pants down and in need of a revive of your own. Reviving players could be a real burden for Medics in previous entries as countless numbers of players would constantly be dying around you, but in Battlefield V all players can revive squadmates, regardless of class. This once again emphasises the importance of squad play and makes it easier for you to launch a successful attack on an objective, while simultaneously taking a bit of the pressure off the Medics. It’s another small change but I’ve found it to make a massive difference to the amount of squad play and coordination. There is one minor frustration with it, and that is that the default button for reviving is the same as the button for picking up a weapon, meaning you quite often run over to an injured ally with every intention of reviving them but end up picking up their weapon instead.
Fortifications are also new, allowing you to build defences at certain points on the map, usually around objectives. These add a new dimension to a series that’s usually only focused on destruction, and while they can provide you with extra cover and defensive stability, the truth is that more often than not they get destroyed almost as soon as you’ve built them. Speaking of destruction, it’s been turned back up to 11 in Battlefield V. I say back up to 11 because this is destruction on a level that hasn’t been seen since Bad Company 2. Walls crumble around you, roofs blow off and entire buildings collapse, sometimes leaving squads that were camped out inside exposed to the chaos outside. It all makes for an exhilarating experience.
The weapons feel great too, with all of the guns on offer feeling distinct and satisfying while also being balanced. I’ve often found gunplay to be somewhat heavy and a bit clunky in Battlefield, but it feels as smooth and as fluid as ever in Battlefield V. I usually find my gun of choice (or at least my favoured type of gun) pretty quickly–I quickly settled with bolt-action rifles in Battlefield 1–but I’m happy to report that I’ve so far managed to have both fun and success with every weapon that I’ve picked up in Battlefield V. Speaking of such, progression is pretty neat; Your Company allows you to pick different characters to use for each of your different classes, and you can customize appearance too, allowing you to finally give some form of identity to the usually-anonymous soldier that you’re taking into battle. Each class has their own levelling system (up to 20) with new weapons and equipment unlocked with each level, and each Primary Weapon has its own levelling system too (up to 10), with cosmetic items rewarded for each level. There are more cosmetic items that are available to purchase through the Armory (which acts as the in-game store) that can be bought with in-game currency or, eventually, real money. This is Battlefield’s compromise for offering future downloadable content for free – cosmetic microtransactions. Thankfully, these microtransactions are purely cosmetic and can still be bought with the in-game currency that’s earned through playing, but you do earn in-game currency slowly, which has clearly been designed to tempt you to reach for your wallet. Some artistic license has very much been taken with some of the many cosmetics on offer, but they’re never enough to ruin things.
So, great gunplay, adrenaline-pumping levels of destruction and a new emphasis on squad play that makes teamwork and coordination more satisfying than ever, could it be the greatest Battlefield game of all time? It could have been, but unfortunately, it suffers from some age-old Battlefield issues. Battlefield V is buggy as hell; I’ve seen dead bodies inexplicably flying into the air, as well as numerous instances of player models going through walls. I’ve been revived with a different weapon than the one I died with and seen countless visual glitches. I’ve even seen the church bell on Arras somehow levitating in thin air when the rest of the tower around it was long gone. Don’t get me wrong, none of these are game-breaking, but it displays an astounding lack of polish for an AAA game and makes it almost impossible to ever fully immerse yourself in the experience. It’s not quite on the levels of the disastrous state of Battlefield 4 at launch, but it’s still not good enough.
The problems don’t just end with bugs though. There are just 6 game modes in Battlefield V, and any of them that revolve around the basis of one team attacking and one team defending largely become so one-sided in favour of the defending team that they become nothing more than a frustration for the attacking team, particularly when the rest of your team is just sitting at the back of the map sniping rather than trying to complete the objective. These problems are probably most prevalent in Battlefield V’s most promoted mode, Grand Operations. Grand Operations takes place across a number of maps in a number of modes, with the successful team on the first map gaining an advantage to take into the second map such as extra ammo or extra vehicles, meaning one team continually gets stronger while the other teams will to carry on slowly drains. Not only that, but Grand Operations takes so long to complete that it’s impossible to pick it up for a quick game – you’ll need to reserve it a slot in your diary to make sure you have time to make it from beginning to end. These problems mean that you’ll probably get so frustrated that the likelihood is that you’ll just end up sticking to the only game mode that feels like an even playing field – Conquest. While we’re talking game modes, series-staple Rush is unbelievably not included in Battlefield V at launch. Once again, I can only presume that this is because Rush will be released as part of the free post-launch content, but that, frankly, is bullshit. The idea of free DLC and games-as-a-service is great, but it shouldn’t mean that core features of the series are removed at launch so that they can be released as DLC later. It may be, of course, that DICE has decided to remove Rush altogether, but that would be a crazy decision – Rush is still one of Battlefield’s most popular modes.
Maps wise, we have 8 at launch and it’s a mixed bag. The open spaces of Hamada and Aerodrome see most matches on these become sniper-fests, and Narvik suffers from the same problem. Fjell 652, which takes place on top of a Nordic mountain, is much better than I anticipated and doesn’t suffer from the aerial bombardment issues that I feared it would, as it becomes an intense, infantry-focused affair. Rotterdam and Devastation give you a chance to do combat in the Dutch city both before and after the Rotterdam blitz and both are solid, urban maps–with the church at the centre of Devastation becoming a particular area of chaos–but Arras and Twisted Steel are the undoubted standouts; the former takes place in a picturesque French village surrounded by plush, colourful farmland; while Twisted Steel takes place in flooded French marshland, with several small collections of buildings dotted around the map and an enormous, partially destroyed steel bridge running through the middle. Both of these maps stand head and shoulders above the others and could become Battlefield classics.
As always with this series, Battlefield V both looks and sounds incredible. All of the maps look astounding, to the point where you may suffer a few deaths because you’re too busy admiring the view, particularly the snowy mountains in the backdrop of Fjell 652. Bullets will whizz past your head with such authenticity that you’ll check the wall behind you for a bullet hole, explosions will boom around you with such ferocity that you’ll feel like you’re charging up the beaches of Normandy, and planes will do battle overhead as though the Battle of Britain was taking place above your house. Indeed, Battlefield V continues the Battlefield tradition of being the ultimate spectacle of first-person shooters, and one of the most incredible, adrenaline-pumping experiences available in all of gaming.
Battlefield V does a lot right. It keeps the core gameplay of Battlefield intact while making subtle changes that ultimately improve the experience, and the consistently excellent visuals and audio coupled with the enhanced levels of destruction strengthen Battlefields position as one of the most ‘must-play’ series in all of gaming. Battlefield V could, one day, be the greatest Battlefield game ever made, but it’s out too early. It has a severe lack of polish (possibly the worst I’ve ever seen in any AAA title), balancing issues across most game modes, a criminally short single-player offering and the series own take on the flavour-of-the-month battle royale genre isn’t out for another five months. Even the Practice Range and the much-promoted Tides of War aren’t available until December. Although it’s good to know that the upcoming microtransactions shouldn’t intrude on anybody’s enjoyment, this games-as-a-service approach is already becoming more of a hindrance for the game rather than the positive that we all expected it to be. I can’t help but think that a few more months of development could have helped Battlefield V to become something really special, and in six months when it’s full of content and the existing bugs have been patched out it may be just that, but at the moment–outside of a few adrenaline-fuelled games of Conquest on a select few maps–Battlefield V serves more as a commentary on the problems of developers being forced to meet release schedules and publishers underhand DLC tactics than as a hands down, must-have release.