When you divorce it from its many controversies, Battlefield V still thankfully holds up as a good game. The action is tight, the presentation bordering on stunning, and the explosions as booming as ever. However, for a franchise that used to be pioneering and the FPS series to go to for those allergic to Call of Duty, being nothing more than good just isn’t enough anymore.
It’s hard to know where to begin when discussing Battlefield V, just because there isn’t much that immediately stands out as being worthy of note when compared to Battlefield 1. The pace is certainly quicker and the weaponry more varied with a quicker time-to-kill making things more about the small margins than ever. The TTK, for my money at least, needs a little buffing, though this might just be something that I — and my many swift deaths from playing a Battlefield game on PC for the first time — need to learn from. I was even less receptive to it when I started playing, though I now see that it’s to stifle Rambo plays and make you actually team up.
There are a few other changes to the main Battlefield experience that may take some getting used to for seasoned players, the most significant of these being the lack of regenerating health in multiplayer. This fosters a sense of teamwork like no Battlefield before it, though it is reassuring to note that medics are still as generally unreliable as ever. The loss of spotting and proper tagging of enemies further promotes teamwork, though my random squadmates never communicated via voice; it just isn’t the Battlefield way.
With a “new” World War II setting comes a different colour palette and mood to proceedings; it’s a far brighter affair than Battlefield 1. Most maps are colourful with a distinctively lighter hue to them, evidenced by the Yellow Fields map which feels like it fell right out of a van Gogh painting. There’s a solid variety of maps here, though I’d struggle to suggest any of them are up to Battlefield standards. Rotterdam heavily favours one side over the other whereas Hamada and Airfield are just pure attrition for chokepoints where it feels like nobody wins. The map rotation also seems skewed as I found myself repeatedly in the same snowy maps. Again, perhaps hundreds and hundreds of hours need to be spent in these maps before their quality shines through, but there was little to separate them from each other in my mind.
Most players’ time with the game will be spent with Conquest: the franchise’s flagship mode. It’s more or less the same experience as ever with a couple of twists on the formula, though nothing that feels more than gimmicky at best. Players can now build barricades to slow down opposition or create resource depots for teammates, but nothing that massively changes the flow of a match. It’s still a 64-player limit and generally fun, especially with the combat being as responsive as ever, whether it’s by land or by air.
In terms of the other multiplayer modes, Grand Operations stands out the most as it’s Operations from Battlefield 1 but on steroids. Spaced out across several in-game days, Grand Operations isn’t something you can simply pick up and play. Rather, you have to really settle in with it to appreciate it, the narrative tying in nicely with how you and your team perform. It’s worth spending time with if you have it to spare, it bridging an approachable gap between single-player and multiplayer.
The weapons across the four classic Battlefield classes are varied, though the far superior weapons seem to take an age to unlock. The Assault class feels especially hard done by this time out, the Sturmgewehr 1-5 having a period-faithful level of recoil compared to something like the StG-44. There’s something not quite right when the starting weapon for the Support class feels like a better and more dependable weapon than the one for the Assault.
Though you do have decent options for weapons overall, the selection still pales in comparison to something like Battlefield 4: a game that I have poured countless hours into without unlocking all it has to offer. Obviously, the historic nature of Battlefield V means that the guns obviously won’t have the same level of depth, but with under fourty weapons across all classes with both the Allied and Axis forces sharing the same armoury, it’s hard not to feel like it’s on the meagre side.
There’s an even bigger emphasis on the cosmetics (perhaps at the expense of more meaningful content) this time out and I’d be hard-pressed to say I cared for it at all. I’ve never been one to be bothered about the colour of my weapon or the kind of helmet my character wears, less so when there’s a tiny chance anyone other than myself will see the tip of my slightly shinier weapon in the heat of battle. There’s a good depth of customisation for those that do care, however, ranging from different outfits to skin colours to even sexes if you so wish.
If you wish to have a complete game at launch, though, you might not be in luck with Battlefield V. As I’ve already mentioned, its launch is nothing short of confusing with modes and content not arriving until December and it having three separate release dates. Even War Stories, which was my favourite aspect of Battlefield 1, isn’t complete and lacking an entire episode.
It also hurts Battlefield V that the War Stories are a significant backwards step from Battlefield 1 technically and thematically. Apart from one, Tirailleur, they can’t hold a candle to their predecessors in terms of heart and eliciting a response from the player, just because they don’t give their characters enough room to breathe and grow. It’s odd considering that they are longer affairs this time around, but this is only down to some padding with more open environments in which you must complete three objectives.
The first, Under No Flag, is easily the worst of the bunch with no amount of singing lads under heavy fire making it much more than a dispensable hour of gameplay. You play as Billy Bridger, an irredeemably annoying criminal recruited by the British army and sent behind enemy lines for covert operations. It’s weak all-round and also packed with bugs, furthering the sense that single-player wasn’t the focus for Battlefield V. Whether it’s enemy soldiers twitching spasmodically while dead or shooting invisible weapons, not much care and attention has been afforded here.
Things improve with Nordlys thanks to a couple of interesting mechanics. Solveig, a Norwegian commando during German occupation, comes equipped with a pair of skis to allow for quicker exploration and some pretty sweet jumps, as well as the need to find fire and shelter the longer the War Story goes on. However, the emotional moments within this War Story never really land, it too eager to show off its snowy expanses over proper character building or decent pacing.
As mentioned, Tirailleur is the only War Story really worth your time, it depicting the strife of a Senegalese Tirailleur who’s just looking for recognition from those who don’t pay neither he or his people any respect. It’s emotive and the “straightest” experience, it tasking you with taking down opposition guns and overcoming the odds. This linearity keeps the action intense and the characters at its core worth investing in, delivering the only real winner of the bunch; the fourth entry, The Last Tiger, drops in December.
In fact, some of the most interesting facets of Battlefield V aren’t even included with the game yet. Tides of War is set to launch next month alongside a practice area and promises to be one of the most ambitious twists on the Battlefield formula yet. So what are you paying for on day one? A concept that’s propped up by a “live service” designed to create recurrent consumer spending with microtransactions, which themselves — almost hilariously — aren’t available yet. It’s not quite Black Ops 4 levels of questionable post-launch monetisation, but it’s in the same ballpark.
When you consider the lack of content and the numerous bugs, there’s an unavoidable feeling that Battlefield V is an early access title by any other name, it being pushed out the door a month too early at the least. I’ve fallen through the map a couple of times and just been unable to move too often, as well as the menus being unresponsive and requiring a relaunch fairly regularly. As pretty as Battlefield V is, the game is always just a bug away from revealing its ugly side. You may say this is par for the course for a Battlefield game much in the same way that Bethesda RPGs are utter messes at launch, but a series of failures shouldn’t be excused just because they’re to be expected.
Battlefield V is one of the strangest FPS games I’ve ever played. The action is fantastic when it’s at its chaotic best, but everything else about it — whether that’s the dearth of content or it seriously lacking sheen — means that it’s a hard game to recommend in its current state.
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While the gunplay and spectacle is as excellent as you would expect from a Battlefield game, the underwhelming maps, lack of content available at launch, disappointing single-player, and poor optimisation make Battlefield V a difficult day one recommendation.
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