Score: 8.0/10 Platform: Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Windows PC Developer: EA DICE Publisher: EA Release Date: November 20, 2018 ESRB: M
That EA DICE’s latest Battlefield instalment is loads of fun despite some very noticeable technical issues at launch should be interpreted as testament to the strength of its core design, modes, aesthetic and sincerity.
During my pre-release play period I encountered endless little glitches, ranging from a scoreboard screen that refused to update over the course of several matches to AI enemies running through thin air. Most had little impact on play, but some did. For example, I encountered some consistently troublesome problems traversing rough terrain, especially when trying to climb over low objects or shimmy around the ground while prone.
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And yet I willingly overlooked these issues — many of which, hopefully, will eventually be addressed by patches — in favour of the broader experience, a grand and respectful foray back to the military shooter franchise’s Second World War roots.
Unlike the recent Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, which ditched any attempt at incorporating a campaign, Battlefield V includes a single player mode — dubbed War Stories — that strives to create a foundation for the game’s setting, soldiers and action. There are three stories to start (with at least one more to come), each of which lasts perhaps a couple of hours. These stories not only endeavour to tell reverent tales of bravery and sacrifice, but also exemplify DICE’s progressive studio philosophy by placing the focus not on typical American GIs but instead a trio of fictional characters meant to represent little known or unsung groups of fighters: Africans fighting for France, a female Norwegian rebel, and a rule-breaking British convict drafted into service for queen and country. These tales depict the grisly horrors of the battlefield with unflinching realism and provide all the reason anyone should need never to want to go to war. But they also offer an appreciation of the strategic thinking, camaraderie, and courage that lead us to respect those who fight.
The story missions suffer a bit from schizophrenic design — DICE’s team seems torn between wanting to give players the option to play stealthy or engage in all out open world war, and the two never quite manage to mesh — but they’re genuine in their intent to depict the horrors and heroes of war. What’s more, they help to create a sense of time and place that informs the rest of the Battlefield V experience. I’m happy the stories are here, warts and all.
But the reason why most players will pick up this latest instalment is to jump straight into multiplayer, which should feel familiar to franchise veterans but also introduces some interesting new tweaks to the formula.
The primary multiplayer mode, Conquest, delivers classic Battlefield action, with two teams of 32 players dropped onto massive, beautifully drawn, wonderfully destructible maps with the objective of taking and holding control points while whittling down the opposing teams respawn tickets. The environments are expertly designed to spread out the action, with natural choke points, defensive positions and flanking routes. As usual, a collection of vehicles — tanks, planes, and cars — and emplaced guns are at both teams’ disposal, but new this time out is the ability to build fortifications to protect specific locations against enemy armour, which is particularly handy when defending against armoured vehicles.
New players might find all of this a bit overwhelming at first, but Battlefield V slots players into squads and organically encourages us to fight in groups by respawning on squadmate positions so that we can work together and support each other, which in turn often gives rise to longer-term group strategies uncommon in most shooters. Plus, inspiring players to work together as teams can result in some memorable and cinematic moments. Being hopelessly overwhelmed by a sudden wave of dozens of enemies on foot and in vehicles, and then lying there, slowly bleeding out as foes trample past is like being a part of the chaotic final battle in Saving Private Ryan.
A new mode I might like even more than Conquest, however, is Grand Operations, in which teams fight together over four in-game “days,” working as a group to achieve a variety of objectives. The results of each day set the tone for the next, with a brief textual narrative between battles that sets the tone for the next mission, as determined by your success or failure in the previous operation. If the four days end in a deadlock, a tense final battle takes place in which no respawns are allowed, resources are limited, and a battle royale-style boundary wall slowly pushes everyone together to force conflict. You’ll get to know your allies’ play styles, develop rivalries with specific enemies, and feel a grander sense of purpose than most multiplayer modes allow. If you’ve got an hour or two to spare, this is definitely the way to play.
A third node in the multiplayer menu focuses on smaller maps and modes more common in other shooters, such as team deathmatch and domination. I confess I didn’t spend as much time here as the other modes, not because there’s anything amiss but rather simply because Battlefield is, to me, a game of grand scale and teamwork and these smaller skirmishes simply don’t satisfy in the same way.
Regardless of which mode is your favourite, you’ll always be working toward growing the squad members of your Allied and German companies, which are broken into familiar classes such as medic, assault and engineer. A seemingly never-ending series of mini-objectives associated with both specific classes and the weapons you use gradually unlocks new customization options. It’s not quite as deep or multifaceted as the progression systems seen in recent Call of Duty games, but it does have the advantage of being significantly less confusing/intimidating, especially for first time players.
It might lack the spit and polish seen in some other shooters, but Battlefield V delivers a visceral thrill unique to the series. Its adrenaline-filled, large-scale battles give rise to memorable moments simply not seen in other games, and these moments are augmented by the faithful Second World War setting. Those looking for an alternative to the twitch-driven combat of other popular shooters will find it here.