The Battlefield series is a weird beast. Everyone has a different opinion about which game is the best, due to the fact that every release seems wholly different from the last. Even the run of modern combat games spanning Bad Company 2 through Battlefield 4 offer completely different experiences. Unlike Call of Duty, where the core gameplay seems relatively similar no matter what the setting, and where there are certain standout titles that most fans can agree are the “best” in the franchise, Battlefield’s ever-shifting output means that most longtime players are split in the debate about which title defines the Battlefield formula.
Maybe because of this, Battlefield V feels like a Frankenstein’s monster of every release in the series to date. It’s equal parts Battlefield 3, Battlefield 1, and Battlefield 1942, with a dash of Bad Company 2’s flair for theatrics. The fact that all these pieces can somehow come together to create a compelling multiplayer experience with keynote “only in Battlefield” moments is a testament to the series’ basic gameplay mechanics. But in keeping with tradition, Battlefield V isn’t completely devoid of some of its predecessors’ legacy issues.
What got me hooked on the series when I started playing Bad Company 2 was the mixture of more realistic gunplay moments taking place in the context of these massive, vehicle-heavy battles. Holing up in a house with my friends, shooting down at enemy infantry as they attempted to arm an MCOM station while a tank blasted a hole in the wall we were using as cover, I fell in love. That’s the feeling I’ve been chasing ever since. Battlefield 4 came close, and Battlefield 1 provided a different kind of chaos. Those titles are probably better games, but nothing in the series has really topped Bad Company 2 as an experience.
Battlefield V comes closest to recapturing that magic. You could argue that the details of its World War II setting aren’t totally authentic, but when you see a Churchill tank roll through a building and hear the patter of a Spitfire’s machine gun rounds as it divebombs a nearby capture area, it doesn’t matter. Battlefield V captures the series’ patented brand of controlled chaos with impeccable sound design and the kinds of locations that, while not as iconic as Omaha Beach or Stalingrad, make you feel like you’re in a World War II movie. The foggy marshes and broken bridge of Twisted Steel and the bombed city streets of Devastation feel like they could be sets in Saving Private Ryan 2. When you prop a bipoded MG34 in a window and start firing on enemies scurrying into cover, you feel like the star—or at least a supporting actor.
The eight launch maps in Battlefield V don’t just set the mood. Most of them are functional improvements over Battlefield 1’s coverless meat-grinders called maps. The aforementioned Twisted Steel is easily the highlight, with a massive destroyed bridge creating a tug-of-war centerpiece for the vehicular mayhem in the surrounding swamps and village outposts. Arras is another incredibly strong map, its quaint French hamlet, complete with a church and bell tower, providing plenty of cover for intense close-quarters gunfights while the surrounding rapeseed fields are one of the most visually striking motifs ever in a Battlefield map. Not all of them are winners—Fjell 652’s empty mountains feel like a minor Star Wars Battlefront map, and Hamada’s massive scale doesn’t work well with every mode—but Battlefield V might have the most complete, balanced set of maps of any recent game in the series at launch.
They’re strong settings for Battlefield V’s new multiplayer showcase, Grand Operations, an extended grab bag of the series’ best-of modes with a few new additions to boot. On paper, Grand Operations should be an exciting addition: a two-map match that features three or four different attack-defense modes where two teams of 32 face off. In practice, it’s a slightly more disjointed and less climactic version of Battlefield 1’s plain old Operations.
Each Grand Operation starts with Airborne, one of Battlefield V’s two new modes, where the attacking team parachutes onto the map and tries to blow up four different artillery positions. It should be fun, and the theatrics of jumping out of a plane down to the ground, where the waiting enemy team takes potshots from behind sandbags, can definitely get the blood pumping, but it suffers from a lack of balance, mainly in how the attacking bomb carrier is always tagged so defenders know exactly where the attack is coming from. The fact that you even have to pick up bombs after parachuting and carry them from the same spot every time makes defending way too easy, but at least it feels like a Battlefield mode.
The other new mode, Final Stand, is an entirely different beast. This fourth-round mode only happens when the Grand Operation is tied after the first three rounds, and its irregularity as an occurrence mirrors its peculiarity as a 64-player Battlefield mode. It’s a last-player-standing mode where the map’s boundaries are constantly shrinking. Medics can still pick up downed teammates, but with Battlefield V’s new animation system, reviving a teammate will leave you vulnerable. Final Stand is fun as a curiosity, but it doesn’t exactly feel like a substantial addition to the series.
Besides that, Battlefield V leans on a few old standbys in Conquest, Domination, and Team Deathmatch, with Battlefield 1’s two standout additions—Operations (as Breakthrough) and Frontlines—rounding out the list of modes on offer. Admittedly, it isn’t the most exciting package, and Grand Operations feels more like an iteration than an innovation. Between Operations in Battlefield 1 and Rush in Bad Company 2, Battlefield players have grown accustomed to the series introducing a game-changing new mode with each entry. Not all of them become staples like those modes (see: Battlefield 4’s Obliteration or Carrier Assault), but Battlefield V doesn’t really even seem to try. That’s not to say that what we already have isn’t great, because Conquest, Breakthrough, and Frontlines all provide experiences that are compelling, but it does feel a little too been there, done that.
What’s been DICE’s main talking point in getting players excited for Battlefield V are some of its new gameplay mechanics. That might not make for the catchiest tagline and most exciting trailers when trying to market the game, but in a lot of ways, Battlefield V seems like a nod—some might say a concession—to Battlefield’s “core” audience. Gunplay has received the most attention, trading in Battlefield 1’s random bullet deviation for learnable recoil patterns and visual-based weapon kick. The result is engaging, physical gameplay that puts precision aiming and player skill at the forefront, even to the point that it might alienate a lot of the series’ more casual fans that aren’t necessarily K/D warriors. Add to the fact that DICE has seriously nerfed aim assist on consoles and that the blazing fast time-to-death means gunfights are sometimes over in a matter of milliseconds, plus the removal of standard 3D spotting, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Battlefield V is eventually viewed as one of the most exclusionary games in the series.
Don’t get me wrong: Battlefield V has some of the best gameplay the series has ever seen, and its new mechanics make ancient game modes feel very different. That’s once you get the hang of it and stop playing it like Battlefield 1. Instead of running around like a headless chicken, spraying and praying (which worked all too often in Battlefield 1), the players in Battlefield V who survive the longest are the ones who stick with their squads and play their class roles. The new ability to revive downed squad mates, even if you aren’t playing as a medic, is a game-changer for the series and promotes playing with your squad (as opposed to running off and lone wolfing it) more than any other mechanic the series has ever introduced. Keeping your friends topped off with health pouches as a medic or ammo pouches as a support player will keep everyone alive longer and, thus, together longer. With the deadlier gunplay, strength in numbers is the key to victory, and that’s a welcome change in a team-based series that seemingly started favoring solo play in more recent years. Being able to now build Fortifications to restore damaged houses and create more cover lets you play more carefully, even if most players I’ve encountered rarely utilize this revolutionary (to Battlefield) mechanic.
Another major gameplay addition, attrition, doesn’t necessarily pan out the way it should. During Battlefield V’s open beta, I felt that attrition was perfect. Everyone started with minimal ammo and no extra health pouches. This slowed down gameplay and made every decision more tactical. Unfortunately, DICE gave into the demands of more solo-minded players and nerfed attrition before the full release. Too often, more ammo and more health to spare means that bad habits from Battlefield 1 have already started to seep into Battlefield V, with players more willingly running around like World War II Rambos, without having to think about where they’re getting their next clip. You’ll still survive longer by taking it slow and sticking to cover, but Battlefield V already feels faster than it did in the beta because of this change, and I don’t know if it’s necessarily a good thing.
Other than with its gameplay, Battlefield 1 never really incentivized players to keep playing past the first few weeks after its launch. Battlefield V corrects this mistake by piling on the progression systems. There’s one for your overall career rank, which will unlock Company Coin for you to spend on weapon upgrades and cosmetic items. Then there’s another progression system for each class that will unlock weapons, gadgets, and new challenges to complete to earn new cosmetics. On top of all that, each weapon has its own progression system that will unlock the next tier of “specializations” (i.e. upgrades) you can buy, as well as—you guessed it—more cosmetics. It’s a great system that’s constantly rewarding players for simply playing how they want and a return to form for the series.
The only complaint I have with this new progression system is that weapon specializations make guns objectively better, as opposed to Battlefield 4’s attachment system that raised one stat at the cost of another. It leads to a somewhat lopsided experience and makes choosing a new gun over a fully upgraded one a more difficult decision than it should be. That being said, finally unlocking that new firearm and leveling it up is a rewarding experience, but it leaves very little room for experimentation with each weapon. You do have to decide between which specializations you want to pick, but having a higher-level version of a gun be objectively better than its early-level counterpart seems like a misstep.
If you’ve noticed that I’ve spent most of this review talking about the game’s multiplayer, there’s a reason for that: the single-player War Stories are back, and they don’t really add all that much to the package. The best chapter by far is the Norwegian-set “Nordlys,” which follows a resistance fighter’s attempt to rescue her mother from Nazi clutches. The best thing I can say about it is that its settings and gameplay reminded me of GoldenEye, but that is a 20-year-old game at this point. The other two chapters available at launch rely way too much on stealth at one moment and throwing waves of enemies at you the next. It’s repetitive, and the stealth moments just don’t work with Battlefield’s mechanics. On top of that, each chapter will take you about an hour to finish, and that’s just not enough time to cultivate any sort of connection to the story or its characters.
I would say War Stories is disappointing, but I didn’t have any real expectations for the single-player in the first place. I never even finished Battlefield 1’s mini-campaigns and never understood why they received as much attention as they did. All I can say is, if you’re looking for a single-player first-person shooter, there are plenty of other games you should play instead. That won’t matter much to most Battlefield fans, who buy-in for the epic multiplayer, but it does make Black Ops 4’s decision to scrap its single-player campaign more understandable.
Besides its standard multiplayer offerings and perfunctory single-player experience, more Battlefield V content is seemingly coming down the line with its Tides of War live service. Its cooperative mode, Combined Arms, might be a fun distraction and less stressful way to level up your weapons, and its upcoming battle royale mode, Firestorm, might help the game get more attention on Twitch, but it’s impossible to know how much of an impact each will have on the overall package. Same goes for the additional maps and modes that DICE has promised are coming in the future but won’t be in the game at launch. Battlefield V’s longevity as a mainstay shooter is TBD, but it’s important to remember that every one of these content updates is going to be free. Compared to other multiplayer games that launch unfinished and then charge players for the rest of the pieces, Battlefield V is one of the more consumer-friendly AAA shooters on the market at the moment, and that’s worth something.
So far, Battlefield V is an excellent start to what might become the best game in the series. Its gameplay is tight, its setpieces are epic and explosive, and its team-based mechanics have taken on a whole new level of depth. And hey, its matchmaking has worked perfectly so far, which is more than DICE can say for Battlefield 4. What we’re left with is the core of a perfect multiplayer experience, but there are still a lot of lingering questions that need to be answered. Until then, I’m going to keep playing it and enjoying it. I just won’t get my hopes up.
Battlefield V has the potential to be the best game in the series. It’s recaptured the magic of those Battlefield moments at almost every opportunity, and its new mechanics like squad revives and attrition put the focus back on sticking with your teammates. There are still a lot of questions it needs to answer with its Tides of War live service, and more casual players might be turned off by the challenging gunplay, but what we have now is a worthy successor to the Battlefield name.
M – Mature
|Battlefield V is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version played was for Xbox One. Product was provided by EA for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|
Michael Goroff has written and edited for EGM since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter @gogogoroff.