Battlefield returns to its World War Two roots, but is it better than ever?
From the polygonal paratroopers of Medal of Honor, to Call of Duty’s all-out assault on the senses, there seemed to be a definite running theme of giving you big guns to single-handedly wipe out the Nazis.
That was except for one game in 2002 — which gave players a unique multiplayer experience, mimicking the territorial nature of war in giant maps with bases to capture. This was Battlefield 1942, and thanks to its insanely addictive gameplay, the series has grown to become one of the biggest shooters around.
Fast forward to now, and DICE studios has returned to this historical conflict after a reinvigorating romp through World War One in 2016. Will its success continue? And how does this stack up against Black Ops 4 when it comes to the FPS shootout?
Campaign: A different kind of history lesson
Of course, one obvious benefit over Call of Duty is the single player campaign. Contrary to popular belief, turns out gamers like solo experiences, and following their popularity in the last game, DICE delivers another round of War Stories.
Much of what we know about WWII has already been told, right? We’ve seen it portrayed in movies, TV shows and books for decades, and one of Battlefield’s earlier entries was also set in WW2 in Battlefield 1942.
But, as Battlefield V sets out to show, there are plenty of stories we haven’t been told about the people who fought and made personal sacrifices in one of the biggest wars in human history.
You’ve got four separate chapters (one of which is available now as DLC) – each of which teaches you the ropes on key gameplay elements. Our favourite was Under No Flag, tasking you with the job of heading behind enemy lines, as part of a cockney squad with language so salty it would make the entire cast of Lock Stock blush.
Less successful is Nordlys, which tasks you with being sneaky as part of the Norwegian resistance in one of the more emotive stories ever told in a Battlefield game. Simply put, the story is great, but the stealth isn’t for everyone. It can slow down the pace of the game, and we guarantee you will never be sneaky again during your entire time playing this game.
Luckily, it’s not a requirement, as you can approach each engagement in a variety of ways. You can either try to stealth your way through with throwing knives, or you can shoot them all in the face and blow a hole in the wall to reach your objective.
You may notice something missing here: where’s the team? We know this is single player, but where are the friendlies that you fight alongside — which teaches players the overwhelming importance of teamwork in the game and pursues some historical accuracy?
Well, besides only a few scenes out of all the stories combined, there are none. The team quickly disappear, turning this into a rather lonely experience that feels a lot like the WW2 games of old (even down to the conveniently placed machine gun turret and almost magical appearance of enemies).
Trailleur even had a moment that felt exactly like the D-Day landing in Frontline — just running up to the enemy base, hunkering down and mowing down everything that moved. Avoid sneaking, then you’re in for a polished and enjoyable game tutorial; a nice side order to the main course of this spread.
Multiplayer: Band of brothers
If you’ve ever played a Battlefield game before, then you’ll know multiplayer is the real reason to pick up this game, and there’s a lot to talk about.
This isn’t a massive revolution in online FPS gameplay. The real story here, much like what you expect from the annual FIFA games, is small changes to make a big difference.
DICE has taken the list of issues with Battlefield 1 and worked methodically to resolve almost all of them. Bored of people running off on their own, trying to be the next Duke Nukem?
With customisable classes that are finely tuned to compliment one another, bonus points for capturing bases together and (one of the more impactful changes) being able to revive members of your team without needing to be a medic, teamwork is not just a nice to have anymore. It’s essential to gain any kind of tactical advantage. Look forward to plenty of selfish player temper tantrums, as they learn this the hard way.
You will be teaming up to fight across a variety of expertly created maps that guarantee many hours of playability. Gone are the vast, flat plains of the previous Battlefield, where you spawned for about 12 seconds before being sniped from across the map. Instead, each location has been intricately designed to really bring out the best in every class while giving you a bloody good challenge.
Take our favourite map, Arras, for example. Small villages made for incredible moments of close-quarters militia combat, wide open crop fields provide cover to crouch and try to take the flank, snipers can take cover in bell towers — only to be utterly demolished by a tank shell fired once the shine of the scope lens is spotted by the driver.
Every location brings its own unique set of landmark-based complexities, such as the giant suspension bridge in Twisted Steel, the claustrophobic corridors in-between mountains on Narvik, and the sheer size of the DLC map Panzerstorm, purpose-built for vehicular chaos.
This care and attention means every place is more than just an entertaining locale to kill each other. It tells a story of completely organic moments that you and your team will remember for a long time to come.
Modes, modes and more modes
Of course, that’s only half the story, as you need something to do on these maps!
The classic Team Deathmatch, Conquest and Domination return, forming the bread and butter of the game. Breakthrough adds a rush element to Conquest, splitting the map into sections that one team tries to take over while the opposition defends.
On top of this, Grand Operations brings all the beauty of Battlefield 1’s Operations mode and adds some real theatre to it all. From going full Paratrooper and starting your Operation with a plane jump, to taking out enemy defences with explosives, and even a battle royale-ish Final Stand.
Your operation could end with both teams on a map ever-reducing in size with zero respawns and one goal — be the last team standing. It completely turns the Battlefield formula on its head and heightens that tension to a fever pitch.
An actual Battle Royale mode will come to Battlefield V in March along with Combined Arms, a great take on four-player co-op without the stress of facing the pros.
The tides of war
To tie everything together, Tides of War is the game’s ongoing live service that gives your experience a sense of progression, while grounding it in historical context.
As your game starts in the earlier stages of WWII, DICE hopes to tell the story of the entire conflict through Battlefield V, through opening new maps and modes to you over time.
This all starts with The Company — your ever-growing faction of custom soldiers, weapons and vehicles. Modifications are unlocked alongside your play style, through a progress map as you level up (fire your rifle a lot from the hip? You’ll probably unlock a better stock for steadier shooting).
However, a lot of this extra progression is hidden under layers of confusing menu designs – one of the more annoying gripes from Battlefield 1 that doesn’t seem to have been fixed this time around.
Visual customisations can be bought with in-game currency, which brings us to the obvious question following the nightmare that was Star Wars Battlefront 2: what of the micro-transactions? Well, the season pass has been scrapped and you will get each piece of content that’s been announced so far for free (phew).
It’s good to see DICE separate the “church and state” that is physical game progression and paying your way, but the rest is yet to be seen.
War never changes
Powering all of this is the Frostbite engine, which leads to an obvious observation if you’ve seen any of the trailers. Battlefield V is a damn good-looking game — capturing both the intense spectacle of war at a massive scale and the smaller details of this world you fight in.
Crunchy leaves blow wistfully in the wind, as a V1 rocket impacts with a ferocious fireball seen from across the map. Gusts of snow impact your vision in the alps, while you go prone and watch many hundreds of bullet tracers illuminate the sky. There is no doubt that you’re in for a beautiful visual treat that is more than up to the task of running at a silky smooth 60 FPS.
The orchestral score matches the action beat for beat, grabbing your attention by the scruff of the neck and not letting go until you reach the end.
And all of this is complimented with a truly grounded gameplay style. Every gun feels weighty, the character movement is just finely balanced between true realism and being enjoyable, and in the moments you do die, it’s easy to spot where you went wrong and learn.
Battlefield V Verdict
There is no doubt that the Battlefield series keeps going from strength to strength, and V is the strongest entry to date.
DICE may have played it safe with small tweaks to the formula since its previous outing, but those improvements make for one of the best multiplayer shooters you can play right now.
Picking a winner between this and Black Ops 4 is difficult, kind of like comparing heavily armed apples and oranges. They both have different play-styles that each pulls off incredibly well.
If you like your FPS action fast and focused on individual talent, then CoD is still the way to go. But, if you’re looking for a slightly slower, vastly more tactical experience, look no further than Battlefield V.