DICE finds itself back in familiar territory with Battlefield V; the World War II setting somehow feels remarkably fresh this time around despite once being a ubiquitous backdrop for shooters. With this latest effort, the studio has built on the foundations of what made 2016’s Battlefield 1 such a solid affair, continuing its philosophy of scrutinizing the untold stories of the conflict while expanding on an already robust multiplayer suite. It’s not a complete reinvention, but rather, a perpetuation of Battlefield’s core staples that have helped differentiate the series from its contemporaries over the years. And for the most part, it does a fine job.
Battlefield V’s War Stories is the antithesis of the typical bombast that has been wrung as dry as an old flannel you have knocking around in your bathroom. While the fourth campaign is yet to be released, the three here – Under No Flag, Nordlys, and Tirailleur – are succinct and compelling, if flawed.
Built on the foundations of Battlefield V’s slick shooting mechanics – popping into cover and capping heads remains as satisfying and responsive as always – War Stories work best when they allow you to stretch your legs. Each campaign, be it the sun-baked roads of North Africa, Norway’s snow-soaked Nazi stronghold, or the sprawling forests of Southern France, features mini sandboxes where you are given the freedom to tackle multiple objectives however you see fit. Carefully planning your strategy from afar, tagging baddies, and putting your plan into action without being forced to do things how the game wants you to is liberating.
It’s even better when it manages to subvert expectations with some genuinely surprising gameplay wrinkles. Nordlys’ freezing blizzards sees you methodically pushing through the storm by the glow of campfires, while a stealth-heavy opening rewards careful planning as you slide in and out of the shadows, plunging your knife into unsuspecting enemies. You can even whip out a pair of skis if you fancy it.
Battlefield V’s most egregious mistake, however, is when those lovely sandboxes are thrown out in favour of linear sequences where you’re sabotaging omnipresent anti-aircraft batteries and enemy supplies. All too often I found my screen invaded by intrusive ‘return to mission’ messages, and the endless spawning of cannon fodder foes who don’t pose much of a challenge. It also must be said that some of the scripting in the blokey, cockney nonsense of Under No Flag, is a little off, too. It’s not terrible, but there’s a distinct whiff of 2008 at times.
Battlefield V’s beating heart, however, is MyCompany, which is where you’ll govern your chosen soldiers (whether that be axis or allies), level up, unlock new weapons and gear, and slap some fresh cosmetics on your character. While you’ll need to sink some serious hours into the game to unlock higher-tier rewards, the process is easy enough, as you’ll bag XP and currency by doing things in a match. Furthermore, daily objectives and class-specific assignments allow you to hoover up bonus rewards, giving you further incentive to perfect your skills in battle. DICE has personalised the Battlefield experience; My Company is a rewarding process, and I felt like my efforts meant something, despite the fact I’m actually a bit wank at online shooters.
Equally impressive is the smorgasbord of modes to tuck into. Yes, Team Deathmatch and the usual suspects are back and are as solid as ever, but it’s Conquest and Grand Operations that really steal the show. These longer, more complex offerings really channel the importance of teamwork. The thrill of storming a capture point in Conquest is matched only by the inevitable ruck that will follow as your enemies fight tooth and nail to defend it. It’s a battle of attrition as both teams seek to bleed each other’s ticket counter by bagging key points, making for some tense and sometimes unpredictable matches, although occasionally things become a bit one-sided.
Grand Operations divides teams into attacking or defending units, with specific objectives for each side. Failing or succeeding will impact the next round (or ‘day,’ as there’s three in-game days to each match), and the shifting maps and objectives help to bring a massive boot heel down on any creeping monotony. It’s also home to some of the best sequences in Battlefield V’s multiplayer, whereby if teams are evenly matched after Day 3 the final result will boil down to a process of elimination: There’s no respawns, no fancy firepower, just a tense shootout between surviving teams to determine the winner. It’s thrilling stuff, and in many ways, this stripped-back approach can be applied to Battlefield V as a whole. The game never feels unfair, with battles coming down to effective squad communication and individual skill.
Combat is a dynamic affair, too. While there’s no Behemoth zeppelins or the like to be found, each match is punctuated by absorbing moments; dogfights raging in the skies above; the unmistakable whirl of a buzz bomb and the deafening silence that follows as it plummets to earth; and structures crumbling into ruins when pounded by the earth-shattering thump of a well-placed tank shell. It really feels like a playable Hollywood movie at times, and a Steven Spielberg one at that – not a shitty Michael Bay knockoff.
Maps, too, are generally well crafted, offering a diverse melting pot of tactical freedom. Whether there’s a key choke point you like to exploit or a sneaky sniper’s point to camp in, Battlefield V’s combat zones do not disappoint. Wading through the remnants of Rotterdam, its architectural splendor reduced to a mass of rubble and twisted metal, leads to some close-quarters encounters as players fight for control around its bombed-out cathedral and war-torn streets. Meanwhile, the French countryside makes for a striking battleground, its picturesque views and idyllic villages juxtaposed with the scorched, broken remains of nazi fighter planes and burning taverns. There’s an air of authenticity to the locations that complements the pulse-pounding sound effects and sumptuous visuals, making for one of the best depictions of the conflict in a video game to date.
There are some deflating bugs, however; dead bodies glitch through objects and sometimes launch a few feet into the air after being shot, like their strings were being yanked by an unseen puppet master. Loading times go from irksome to obnoxious, though matchmaking is fortunately pretty spot on and the frame rate is top-notch.
Battlefield V is a competent, often exhilarating shooter that leverages the best bits of the series to date, particularly those of 2016’s World War I soft reboot. Its War Stories do a decent job at humanising the efforts of unsung heroes, and more than anything, act as a compelling argument for why single-player campaigns shouldn’t be eschewed from the modern FPS. The multiplayer wins the day though, and with its excellent map design, quality combat, and meaningful progression system, you’ll be hard pressed to find something more rewarding for a long time. Salute, soldier.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Available on: Xbox One [reviewed on], PC, PlayStation 4
Release date: November 20, 2018
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