With Battlefield V, DICE has made small but important changes to the multiplayer from Battlefield 1, and overall the online experience is stronger. However, the single player content is now clearly an afterthought and the lack of content on release strongly suggests that Battlefield V is not finished.
The timing of a review is always important when it comes to online focused games. The meta changes constantly, bugs get patched, patches introduce new bugs, and they also get patched. The timing of any Battlefield V review is more significant than normal with EA releasing content piecemeal over the next five months. December brings with it a new war story and multiplayer map, alongside the new Tides of War mode, and by the end of March we should also have Firestorm, the battle royale mode. Once all this content is out, I can imagine upping my review score to a four, however there are enough niggling problems on show in the current state of Battlefield V to make that far from a guarantee.
As with Battlefield 1, you have to play through a forced introduction before you can get into any of the action. While it lacked subtlety, I found the opening of Battlefield 1 to be incredibly impactful and it did a decent job expressing the senseless waste of the war. Battlefield V opts to quickly shove you into loads of different scenarios so you barely get time to warm up your joystick in the air over Hamburg before you’re traipsing through the mud in The Netherlands. I’ve already forgotten most of it.
The war stories start off with Under No Flag. You play as Billy Bridger, a young bank robber who is recruited from prison by Mason due to his skills with explosives. He’s drafted into the Special Boat Service and tasked with blowing up planes and resources before they can do any damage to the allied troops. Bridger and Mason have an entertaining father-son chemistry and, with their strong cockney accents, I couldn’t help but imagine them as a young Danny Dyer and a younger Ray Winstone. The standout moment is when they find a radio and start singing while shooting down enemy planes. It’s hard not to smile and sing along with them.
Unfortunately, the rest of this story is a bit of a dud and establishes a pattern consistent throughout all three to a certain extent. Dice wants you to play Battlefield as a stealth game. Most of your time is spent infiltrating enemy camps, sabotaging alarms, silently killing as many enemies as possible, and then going all guns blazing when you inevitably get caught. Halfway through Bridger’s story, you’re given three camps to sneak into and blow something up. The three camps are all spread out but there’s no life between them except the odd truck driving around. I guess this is supposed to be player freedom, but it’s just letting you choose the order you tackle three identical tasks.
The second war story, Nordlys, hits the stealth notes even harder, except this time you’re at least given knives to help you remain undetected. There’s also a pointless survival section tacked on where you have to move from fire to fire trying to stay warm and then once again you have three camps to invade, complete with alarms to deactivate and soldiers to sneak up on. At least you have a set of skis on hand which are a fun way to get from camp to camp.
You play as Solveig a young woman trying to rescue her mother from the occupying German force in Norway. The Germans have developed a substance called Heavy Water which was part of their plan to develop atomic bombs. There are hints of an interesting relationship between the mother and the German commander in charge, however there’s nowhere near enough time to flesh it out. The short runtime means the ending doesn’t have the emotional impact it should and the slower sections where you walk through the snow feel like an unearned break.
Things pick up in the third story, Tirailleur, which finally lets you partake in some large scale battles which work to Battlefield’s strengths. You’re Deme, one of the Tirailleur, drafted in from Senegal by France to help with the war effort. Deme is eager to make a difference whereas his older brother Idrissa just wants to get home to his wife and child. The Tirailleur are initially tasked with digging trenches however when the French army fails to bring down the German guns, the French captain turns to the Tirailleur to get the job done.
The third mission is the best by far because you’re part of a squad and it’s a little more grounded compared to the other two (if that’s a word that can ever be used to describe games like this). The war effort rarely relied on one person to infiltrate enemy camps, so turning individuals into super-heroes seems to be missing the point. The third story doesn’t make this mistake and yet still manages to make the player feel appropriately badass and connects us to the protagonist and his brother.
Even though the campaign is short, I still encountered a fair few bugs. Enemies have a tendency to walk through solid objects which is a huge problem when you’re hiding behind one of those objects. There was also a really bizarre bug where the scope of my sniper rifle got shunted all the way up to the top of the screen. More minor bugs include being able to see a texture layer appearing square by square as you walk near the water.
I can’t escape the conclusion that Dice doesn’t know what to do with the Battlefield campaign anymore. It’s persevering with the war stories model, but its heart isn’t really in it. An effort is clearly made with the writing and direction of cutscenes, but the missions themselves couldn’t be much less imaginative. Perhaps it’s time to go back to full-length campaigns or drop the single-player content entirely because content this weak only makes the overall package look worse.
The single-player campaign is a step down from that of Battlefield 1, however multiplayer has seen a few tweaks and I’m having a slightly better time as a result. As of the first release date, there are eight multiplayer maps with another on the way in December. Grand Operations is an improved version of Operations that debuted back in Battlefield 1 while War Pigeons has been removed much to the disappointment of about seven people. Conquest is still where it’s at, however there’s also team deathmatch, domination, breakthrough, and frontlines if you want to mix things up a bit.
The multiplayer feels immediately familiar to anyone who played Battlefield 1, however there are a few notable changes that improve the experience. First of all, you can’t spot people anymore with the quick tap of a button. You can still point out general locations to squad mates, however, and suppressing enemies places a marker above their heads briefly. While not being able to spot people feels odd at first, I’m already used to it and believe it’s a change for the better.
Grand Operations no longer has the special vehicles such as blimps and trains that were designed to level the playing field when battles became too unbalanced. These vehicles looked spectacular but were annoying once the novelty wore off. Dying because some chump randomly fired a gun from a boat 500 meters away never felt entirely fair. The blimp made for great gifs but not great battles. Even without these supposed levelers, most matches of Grand Operations have been incredibly close with a couple ending in ties which are then decided via a Final Stand where each player only has one life and the arena gets slowly smaller. Conquest has been similarly competitive. I’ve had a lot of matches ending with a single digit number of lives left on one side and most have fewer than 100. Hopefully, this will continue on the full release.
Battlefield V also adds the ability to build fortifications around zones. The builds are fixed so the capture zones will end up roughly the same each time, but it’s still satisfying to create blockades and even dig your own trenches to provide cover. Most importantly, you can build ammo and health refill stations which are crucial because attrition plays a big role this time around, even for someone like myself who in previous games was not alive long enough for it to be much of a factor.
Whatever mode you’re playing on, the maps all look stunning. I don’t usually place much significance on graphical fidelity, especially when it’s striving for realism, however moments in Battlefield V are simply spectacular in a way that genuinely makes you want to slow down and take it all in. Fighting under the aurora borealis is as beautiful as you’d imagine. The sound design also helps you revel in the mundane such as trudging through the mud in France or crushing the snow underfoot in Norway. This is to be expected of Dice games, however we shouldn’t take it for granted.
There are no maps I dread playing on yet, however a couple are starting to grate. Fjell 652 is set in the mountains with thin paths separating all the flags. Effectively everything is a choke point and you nearly always know where enemies will come from next. The two Rotterdam maps offer a great before and after perspective but they’re far too busy for my personal tastes. Hamada is in danger of being too big. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a large map, but there’s a limit. Hamada has two sections divided by a long bridge and more than once I decided to wait for people to come to my side of the map instead of crossing the bridge and attacking a new zone. It was just too far to run.
On a more positive note, Twisted Steel is excellent. There’s another massive bridge in the middle but this one has two capture points that are a predictable but enjoyable scene of absolute chaos. I also enjoyed Aerodrome in Northern Africa and found the aerodrome centerpiece a much more entertaining arena than the equivalent cathedral in Rotterdam.
Overall, I’m still not enjoying multiplayer as much as I did with Battlefield 4 and Bad Company 2. Battlefield 1 felt like a cross between Battlefront (2015) and Battlefield 4 and Battlefield V is much the same. The pace is faster than the older military shooters and death doesn’t have the impact it used to because you’re back in the action so quickly.
There’s also a lack of vehicles which contributes to large maps feeling like a chore at times. A helicopter could get five people across the map quickly while also posing a significant threat, however due to the World War II setting, we’re limited to slow moving tanks and a handful of small but fragile quads. Some maps have planes however they aren’t there to transport people around. I’m not really sure what they are there for, to be honest. Whenever I watch people using them, they just fly around either doing nothing or shooting other planes. Their presence adds to the atmosphere but apart from the odd kill here and there, they don’t contribute much.
As with single-player, the multiplayer content brings its own unique set of glitches and bugs, some of which will no doubt be fixed, while others will just become part of the experience. Floating assets seem to be a particular issue. Hurdling and climbing is still inconsistent and a major pain the arse. You can get stuck on a foot of snow and won’t always be able to climb walls you know you can climb.
The multiplayer is enjoyable enough, but it’s overly familiar, with no new modes to speak of and the bare minimum number of maps. More content is on the way, although I find EA’s release strategy somewhat baffling and I’m worried it will backfire. The major positive is that there’s no premium pass. All new maps and modes will be free to those who own the base game. There are no microtransactions in the game right now, however there clearly will be. It looks like microtransactions will be restricted to cosmetics which you can buy directly and not through lootboxes. I can live with this if it means the entire player base gets extra content for free. But are we going to get extra content? The release schedule for the next five months feels a lot like it’s finishing off the base game and not giving out free DLC. Who knows what will come after that. If you care about cosmetics, then be warned, they are expensive to buy with the in-game currency. You earn a paltry amount so be prepared to grind or pay real money for the fancy stuff.
Battlefield V‘s war stories have tedious mission design and are a step back from those of Battlefield 1. The multiplayer is only a slight iteration on its predecessor and, while the online experience is stronger overall, the lack of content on release means it feels like DLC for Battlefield 1 instead of the new game I waited two years for. I will consider increasing the score when Battlefield V is complete in March, however as of November 2018, I don’t recommend you buy in at full price. Wait for a sale, by which time Battlefield V might actually be finished.