Battlefield V is a weird game to review at launch. That’s because this year, DICE and EA have decided to treat the game’s release as step one of a journey, rather than the finish line. With a very clear plan laid out to follow a service model, DICE have already announced a ton of major upcoming stuff for the game that we won’t get the chance to play for a while yet, from a brand new War Story, to the co-op mode called Combined Arms, to Firestorm, Battlefield’s take on battle royale. As such, any judgement anyone passes on the game in its current state might not even be relevant a few months down the line, because it might not reflect the state the game is at that time. What we can do instead, like with all games that follow a service model, is look at the state the game has launched in, and based on how good or bad it is currently, predict what the future might look like. In the case of Battlefield V, this is a solid launch that builds on the excellent foundation laid down by 2016’s Battlefield 1 in numerous ways, and does enough new things to make me very excited for all the stuff that lies ahead for the first person shooter.
Where Battlefield 1 was in so many ways a shake up to the formula the series had been following for several preceding instalments, Battlefield V is, once again, an evolution rather than another change in direction- which makes sense, because the roadmap that the 2016 title put in place for DICE’s franchise was a very strong one. From the War Stories to Grand Operations, most of what Battlefield V does is a re-iteration and evolution of what’s come before, but DICE makes enough changes and improvements to help it set itself apart, and feel like an actual improvement of the formula rather than a lazy copy-paste job.
"From the War Stories to Grand Operations, most of what Battlefield V does is a re-iteration and evolution of what’s come before, but DICE makes enough changes and improvements to help it set itself apart, and feel like an actual improvement of the formula rather than a lazy copy-paste job."
War Stories was one of the headlining changes in the last game, when after spending years trying to imitate Call of Duty and its campaigns, DICE finally struck gold with their own idea of what single player offerings in a military first person shooter should be like. War Stories in Battlefield V prove yet again that this is a great way of having single player content in a multiplayer-focused shooter, and though it doesn’t have the same kind of impact that War Stories in Battlefield 1 did, owing simply to the fact that it’s not new anymore, it exhibits many of the same qualities. That said, it exhibits many of the same weaknesses as well, which are more pronounced this time, and as such deliver a more uneven experience.
The game has three War Stories at launch, with a fourth one due out in December, and each of them lasts roughly two hours. They all have varying degrees of success in what they set out to do. At their best, they’re exhilarating rides with smart mission design and characters and situations that are very easy to get invested in. At their worst, they’re still at least decent, but come up lacking in terms of writing quality or originality. The best of the lot is Nordlys, without the shadow of a doubt, which follows a young Norwegian girl and her mother and their against-all-odds efforts to throw a wrench into the German war machine. Nordlys is consistently harrowing, keeps things moving at a brisk pace, makes plenty of smart design choices, and ends on a very strong note.
Then there’s Tirailleur, which tells the story of a Senegalese battalion of soldiers who’re fighting to retake France as part of the French Colonial Forces. Tirailleur is very different from the other two War Stories, in that while the others are more personal tales of a narrower scope, here you actually feel like you’re part of a global, horrifying conflict. The scale of battles here is conveyed very effectively, and from a gameplay standpoint, it’s thrilling to be thrown smack-dab in the middle of these insane and desperate firefights. It also has some strong themes and ideas, such as the squad dealing with racism from the very soldiers they’re supposed to fight alongside, or them putting their lives on the line to fight for a nation they’d previously never set foot in. From a thematic standpoint, Tirailleur is perhaps the most interesting of the three War Stories that are currently available- sadly, its falters in the execution of those themes. Oftentimes the writing is too heavy-handed, and comes across like it’s trying too hard to convey the horrors of the circumstances and the surroundings, when surely, they would have been instantly apparent even at a glance. Tirailleur’s writing doesn’t seem to understand that it’s better to show rather than tell, and as such, the impact of several pivotal moments feels somewhat muted.
"War Stories in Battlefield V prove yet again that this is a great way of having single player content in a multiplayer-focused shooter, and though it doesn’t have the same kind of impact that War Stories in Battlefield 1 did, owing simply to the fact that it’s not new anymore, it exhibits many of the same qualities. That said, it exhibits many of the same weaknesses as well, which are more pronounced this time, and as such deliver a more uneven experience."
The most forgettable of all three War Stories is Under No Flag, in which we take control of a British convict who agrees to enlist in the Special Boat Service so that he can escape the confines of prison. The two characters that this chapter focuses on primarily are written in such a manner that they seem to be the very definition of generic, while the story told here itself isn’t all that interesting either. As such, it’s very hard to be invested in much of anything that’s going on, either on a smaller scale or a larger one. Under No Flag is by no means a bad chapter in Battlefield 5’s War Stories, since its open ended level design, which is to be expected from anything in a Battlefield game, is inherently strong enough for it to at least be a decent, enjoyable ride, but its weaknesses in other areas make it the most forgettable of the lot.
Taken as a whole, Battlefield V’s single player offering isn’t an astounding one, but it’s one worth experiencing nonetheless. Nordlys is some of the best single player content DICE has ever put out, and should absolutely be experienced by anyone interested in the game. Tirailleur is let down somewhat by its sloppy writing, but its large scale of battles and thrilling firefights make sure that you will find plenty of enjoyment here nonetheless. Under No Flag is quite forgettable, and though it’s fun, it’s not unmissable. All in all, in a market where shooters are starting to wonder whether they even should have single player stories at all, Battlefield V staunchly stands by the belief that they absolutely should, and delivers solid, if not exactly stellar, content.
Now, on to what Battlefield is really all about- the multiplayer. Much like its single player content, Battlefield V’s multiplayer is all about taking what worked in Battlefield 1, and continuing in that same direction. If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it, and Battlefield V doesn’t try to. It does make plenty of changes to help make the experience somewhat more balanced and more focused on the core tenets of any Battlefield game. Some of these are immediately felt the moment you start playing, others reveal their influence and importance the more time you spend with the game, while a few of them don’t succeed the way most others do. Map design is typically strong, exhibiting the large scale that the series is synonymous with, and depicting plenty of variety as well, both visually and in terms of design. The likes of Narvik and Twisted Steel are absolutely excellent- Twisted Steel in particular has to be one of the best maps in a Battlefield game in years.
"Much like its single player content, Battlefield V’s multiplayer is all about taking what worked in Battlefield 1, and continuing in that same direction. If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it, and Battlefield V doesn’t try to. It does make plenty of changes to help make the experience somewhat more balanced and more focused on the core tenets of any Battlefield game."
Squad play and working together with members of your team has always been a central pillar of Battlefield’s multiplayer, and in Battlefield V, it’s more emphasized than it has ever been. The primary reason for that is that necessary resources like ammunition, explosives, and health packs are quite limited. There’s no regenerating health, and every time you spawn, you do so with only one health pack. This means that staying with your squad is almost necessary most times, because it’s the Support class that is charged with providing teammates with health packs and ammunition. Additionally, reviving downed teammates is also no longer limited to just Medics- though they’re quicker and more efficient at it, all players can now revive teammates, regardless of their class, which gives yet another incentive to focus on sticking with your squad, or at least someone from your team. The fact that you can also respawn on any one of your squadmates not currently engaged in combat also contributes to this greatly- spawning on a squadmate who’s driving a tank and immediately finding yourself behind the vehicle’s machine gun can be very, very useful, as you can imagine.
Meanwhile, you can now also build fortifications. Certain areas on all maps are highlighted and tell you about specific things you can build to fortify them, and though the system is a bit restrictive and doesn’t really give much freedom – neither in being able to build wherever you want, nor in being able to build whatever you want – it can often be used tactically in situations, such as building barricades to take cover behind in the middle of choke points, or building barbed wires around an area you’re looking to defend. Building each fortification is also a slow process, and that meter can take a good few seconds to fill up, so having members of your squad or your larger team to watch your back while you get the job done is something else that encourages cooperation. There are some issues on the balancing front- for instance, while the Recon class feels more vital in matches than they did in Battlefield 1 (thanks to the fact that spotting enemies is no longer done by mashing a button, but by actually spotting them), the Medic class feels like it’s gotten the short end of the stick, and is clearly the weakest of the bunch. Assault and Support are no doubt going to be the most picked classes, at least unless and until DICE does something to change that.
The highlight of Battlefield V’s multiplayer offerings in terms of modes, at least until Firestorm arrives next year, is Grand Operations. As the name suggests, Grand Operations is an expansion of the Operations mode introduced in Battlefield 1. A Grand Operations match spans three in-game days, with each day acting as one round of the match and being set in a different location, with different objectives, which can change depending on how both teams performed in the previous round. Every match in Grand Operations is long, longer than anything Battlefield’s multiplayer has ever offered- but it’s also absolutely amazing. The narrative touches help contextualize things very well, while the new objectives and locations in each round also help keep things fresh and exciting. It never gets monotonous, and more than any other mode in the game, perfectly captures the large scale of battles that the series has always been known for.
"The highlight of Battlefield V’s multiplayer offerings in terms of modes, at least until Firestorm arrives next year, is Grand Operations."
On the visuals front, Battlefield V is predictably gorgeous. Both the series and DICE themselves have a pedigree of creating visual marvels with each of their efforts, and Battlefield V looks like its squeezing every last drop out of the Frostbite engine. Explosions look stunning, as do the massive clouds of dust they leave behind. The environments look sharp and crisp, which is further aided by the game’s excellent lighting. Character models and facial animations, especially in cutscenes, look great as well. There are a few hiccups here and there, such as your character clipping through some of the geometry, especially when they’re prone, or some texture pop-ins here and there, but all in all, nothing too grating. Sound design, as always, is one of the game’s biggest strengths- artillery, vehicles, gunfire, screams, and crumbling environments all come together to create a chaotic cacophony that adds a great deal to the atmosphere, all of which is something that fans of the series will be very familiar with.
Battlefield V has gotten off to an excellent start. With 2016’s Battlefield 1, DICE clearly put a solid structure in place that they planned to build upon in the future, and that is exactly what they’ve done here. The single player War Stories are slightly more uneven, but still worth experiencing (two of them, at the very least), while the multiplayer makes some smart changes to put more of a focus on squad play. And Grand Operations? It simply cannot be praised enough. What’s truly exciting is that there’s still so much to come, in the form of things you would expect, such as maps, new features, and other, more significant additions, such as Firestorm. In the here and now, Battlefield V is yet another excellent addition in this admirably consistent franchise, while the future looks even bright.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
Nordlys is some of the best single player content to have ever come out of DICE; Grand Operations is exhilarating, and easily the best multiplayer mode in the game; Multiplayer makes plenty of changes to have more of a focus on team play; Several smart balancing changes; Solid map design; Stunning visuals; Excellent sound design.
War Stories are an uneven experience when taken as a whole; Building fortifications doesn't offer much freedom; Some classes are clearly stronger than others; A few visual bugs.