It’s hard to know where best to start with a game like Battlefield V. While its direct competitors are slimming down and scaling back, the team at DICE is going bigger, broader, and somehow better than ever. It’s probably best to start where the developers did – at the core: your Company, and your Squad.
Battlefield V supports 64 players in its massive maps, and that’s already a feat unto itself, but it’s the way they’ve rebuilt squads in the game that make the game something special. To encourage team play, you’ll be able to pair up with four of your friends to create a Squad. Your Squad has several special functions that make it more than just a small team. As a Squad Leader you can call out orders to your team members, and if carried out, you’ll gain access to requisition points that you can use to unleash the most powerful weapons in the game, including the brutal V1 Rocket and German Sturmtiger tank. You can also spawn near surviving team members to give you a quick boost back to the front to re-engage the enemy faster. If your whole team is wiped out, you’ll be forced to respawn back at a base, or a captured point, so it’s important to keep at least one member safe while everyone respawns. If you stick together, however, you can pull one another back from the brink of death, even if you aren’t a medic. Using a buddy revive mechanic, you can get your friends back in the fight (though a medic does it far faster), which, when combined with the other traits and advantages, provides every bit of incentive to call commands, follow them, and cooperate as a single entity. It also creates the foundation from which everything else is built.
With a heavily-incented squad mechanic in place, the team took on the task of revamping player progression. All the way back to Battlefield 1942, you’ve been able to unlock weapons, but now the customization is more than cosmetic. There are dozens of weapons to choose from, each with their own traits like damage, accuracy, range, and so forth, but you really don’t need to worry about that. Simply playing the game the way you would normally will unlock the things that matter to you. As you play, your account (read: character) will level up, but you’ll also get level up the weapons and vehicles you use most often. This will grant access to specializations that can provide slight advantages like faster aiming down the sights, better accuracy from the hip, or better breath control. Each weapon has more than half a dozen of these options, providing a great many ways to configure your fighters to play the way you’d like. Experimentation is not only encouraged, but rewarded while you discover your playstyle.
Speaking of fighter configuration, this is the first time players are able to fully configure their Company. On the Axis and Allied team, you’ll be able to configure the weapon loadout, as well as the look of all four of your soldiers, plus three tank and three plane options. Each weapon has between five and seven parts that can be upgraded. Some parts provide better zoom capabilities, but beyond that, the upgrades are all cosmetic. Your soldiers can upgrade their hats, jackets, pants, and face paint, allowing you to mix and match with rarities from common to epic. Everything can be purchased with in-game currency, though I have no doubt that there will be a real-world cash option for those players who want a pay-for-convenience route to unlock the cosmetics. After playing with a rookie account, as well as an account with everything unlocked, I couldn’t notice a difference, so my fears about pay-to-win are completely alleviated.
The classes in Battlefield V have seen a great deal of polishing work, and none more than the Engineer. This class has always been important for laying down heavy suppressing fire and shoring up ammunition reserves, but here there’s a greater focus on fortifications. As you capture or defend map positions, everyone is able to build fortifications to help hold that position. These can be sandbags and razor wire to hold back infantry, tank traps to keep out larger mechanized war machines, small cobbled together emplacements to provide bit of cover or a shelf to stand on to lay down fire. While everyone can slowly build these fortifications, the Engineer can build faster, and can drop weapons to further shore things up, including stationary machine guns emplacements that can turn the tide of an incoming invasion.
Beyond the improvements to the Engineer, each class (once they hit level 8) gets a secondary discipline with distinct advantages. As an example, a Field Medic has a Healer Trait to provide bandages and a faster sprint when running towards downed friends. After level eight, they can switch things up and become a Combat Medic with a Melee Expert Trait (longer reach with melee weapons), and Emergency Retreat, which offers a hastier sprint when at critical health. Similarly, a Sniper has the Eagle Eye Trait, which automatically spots enemies when you wound them, and an Expert Marksman Trait, which allows you to hold your breath longer to steady a shot, but can become a Pathfinder with the Advance Scouting Trait to spawn next to placed Spawn Beacons outside of your squad, or the Vanguard trait, which grants additional requisition points when someone spawns on the aforementioned beacon. The best part is that this mechanic doesn’t look like it is static, and easily could be expanded for every class as the DICE team pushes the game forward with their Tides of War post-launch content. There is no end to the ways that the developers could expand on this concept.
One of the biggest core loop differentiators that I enjoyed most in Battlefield V is the way you engage with the world. As you run through the battlefield, you’ll see players stumble over rocks, sprint, crouch, and mantle over low cover, grab ledges and pull themselves over fences, and otherwise traverse the world in a realistic and very physical way. It transcends what we’ve seen in other shooters, and makes the world feel more realistic and immersive.
On the shooting side of things, DICE has done a lot to polish gunplay for Battlefield V. There’s a lot less randomness to where your bullets land, depending on your choice of weapons (e.g. an LMG is never going to be described as “accurate”). The game still requires a degree of skill be earned by the player to become proficient, but there’s no doubt that there have been tangible improvements made in this area. It’s not something easily described, but the end results are easily felt.
Obviously map count is important, but modes are equally important. Over the last few days, I’ve gotten to play on all nine maps, as well as all of the modes that are available at launch. I also got a sneak peek at Panzer Storm, the first Chapter of the Tides of War post-launch content, but that’s going to be covered at length in another segment. First, let’s dig into the meaty slate of content DICE has put together for launch.
Armada is a massive map, showcasing some of the biggest tank battles in history, with long stretches of open space broken up by small hills for strategic attack. Aerodrome is set in norther Africa with a bombed out hanger and support facilities to control on each side. Twisted Steel is set in France with the largest structure DICE has ever put in a game – a massive, twisted steel bridge that towers above a marshland ripe for tank skirmishes and plane battles overhead. Aaras is also set in France and is all about tanks and trenches. It has a small town with a church that provides superior sightlines for sniping, as well as defilades that provide flanking positions for artillery. Rotterdam, Holland represents a slice of the real-world city, specifically the train tracks and surrounding cityscape. Devastation is the unfortunate aftermath of the bombing of Rotterdam, the city lying in ruins, creating concrete and steel pilings that transform every corner into an enemy ambush point. Narvik is set in Norway, pushing both sides to fight for the control of a coastal harbor town. The final map, Fjell 652, is set deep in the mountains of the arctic circle, complete with extreme weather. This infantry-focused map is danger-close at all times, creating a perfect opportunity for any would-be Engineer to hone their support skills. Every single map feels absolutely massive and amazingly balanced. Any time I felt like I had discovered a chokepoint, I remembered that the game fully supports building destruction. It’s amazing how fast you can dig out an entrenched enemy when you literally blast the walls of the building down, imploding it and dropping the ceiling directly on top of their heads.
Grand Operations, Grand Ambitions
Grand Operations are easily my favorite part of Battlefield V’s evolution. This mode pits Axis against Allies over the course of four days, with map-specific objectives requiring the utmost in teamwork to achieve. Success or failure yields results. As an example, if you are particularly unlucky or disorganized, and your team fails to defend gun emplacements, you might be given extra reinforcements to help you rally back on the second day. The battle will rage over the course of three days, but if there is no clear victor by the end of the third day, you’ll go to a fourth sudden death battle royale mode where there are no respawns (beyond buddy or medic revives) and an ever-shrinking battleground to push players together. It’s impossible to overstate just how successful this new mode is in transforming the game from a collection of maps into something that feels like a war where your actions contribute to the outcome.
During a recent visit to DICE, the team talked a lot about how attrition works in Battlefield V. Specifically, how resource points, vehicles, health, and ammunition interplay to create a constant struggle for supplies that are no longer infinite. Each soldier carries a single medpack, but can be resupplied by a medic. Everyone has a limited amount of ammunition, but can be resupplied by an Engineer. Specialist medics or Engineers can even build aid stations or ammo dumps, but these things have cooldown timers and are also finite. This means having to loot enemies, make your way back to hardened resupply stations or captured points, and otherwise acquire what you need in the field. It also makes support classes a very viable part of the game, and their contributions are now equally as important as any sniper or assault class. I saw this play out best of all during the Grand Operations maps, which can go on for an extended period of time. Teams that worked well together and had a balanced set of squads tended to push the objectives, keep each other healthy and well supplied, and see success. People who tended to go it alone found themselves bleeding out in a field without support. By limiting resources, it made the team dynamic work far better than it has in any game prior – a huge success for a game that puts upwards of 64 players in a single mission.
It isn’t all about Grand Operations with Battlefield V – there are some returning classics like Conquest that should get fans excited. For those who haven’t played in a while, Conquest pits the two teams against each other in a brutal version of capture the flag. This mode pits sides a fair shot at every flag on the field, minus the opposing uncapturable bases. Holding more flags than the other side causes their tickets to bleed off at a faster rate. It all sounds very straightforward, but even with 32 players on your side, it is very difficult to hold five positions simultaneously. This game of cat and mouse is my favorite mode, and Aerodrome was easily the map I most enjoyed with its long sightlines, deep trenches, and a hardened metal structure in the center that changes hands constantly.
Breakthrough is a returning mode we saw in Battlefield 1, where the attackers have a limited amount of time and resource points to assault objectives in sequence. If they are successful, new objectives further into the battlefield are unlocked, forcing the defenders to retreat to new positions to attempt to hold them. It’s even possible to re-take positions and push the attackers back, forcing them to assault those positions again. It’s here that fortification really shines, at least until you run a Tiger tank through all those hastily-cobbled together sandbags. If you are a strategic player, this will be the mode for you.
Frontlines was described by the DICE team as a combination of Rush, Conquest, and Obliteration from Battlefield 4, and that’s a fairly apt description. In this mode, you’ll know exactly where the enemy is as you fight for one flag at a time, pushing towards the enemy base. Successfully capturing the final flag unlocks the ability to bomb the enemy stronghold, ending the match.
Team Deathmatch also makes a return for those purists who just want to get into a map and duke it out, but I suspect that this mode will see a lot less traffic in favor of the vastly superior Grand Operations or revamped Conquest modes.
Surprisingly, as large as this list of modes and ways to play Battlefield V is, there’s more to talk about. The team at DICE is launching new modes with its Tides of War chapters, including a four-player cooperative mode called Combined Arms, and a Battle Royale mode called Firestorm. Best of all, the team wants to ensure that the community stays together, so Tides of War will be entirely free – everyone will have access to the same content as soon as it’s available.
Battlefield V – Single Player is alive and well
Building on the success of Battlefield 1’s story approach, Battlefield V will feature “War Stories” – short vignettes that show the futility and brutality of war from the perspectives of several ordinary people who found themselves in extraordinary situations. After a short prologue entitled, “My Country Calling”, there are three of these War Stories available at launch, with a fourth coming as a part of the first chapter of the Tides of War update in December.
In “Under No Flag”, a young man named Billy Bridger finds himself on the wrong side of the law and facing a tough choice – military service, or the inside of a jail cell. Billy’s Commander, a hard man named Mason, accompanies young Bridger on a mission that takes a turn for the worst when Billy makes an impulsive but well intentioned decision which leads to a massive German panzer division bearing down on them, leading to one hell of a last stand for Billy Bridger and Commander Mason. This short story about the real-world Special Boat Service is a fantastic 1.5 hour slice of history that hits you right in the feels.
The second mission, Nordlys, is set in Rjukan, Norway in the spring of 1943. 400,000 Wehrmacht troops have secured the northern front and now dominate the country, suppressing the rights of Norway’s 3 million people. The Norwegian resistance continues to fight back, but they’ve lost one of their operatives, and your job is to rescue this missing resistance fighter. This mission is quite a bit different than “Under No Flag” as it’s set up as a stealth mission, and the game gets relentlessly difficult if you decide to go loud. It’s a very personal mission, and despite being a bit of a history buff myself, I learned a bit about the war that I didn’t know.
Tirailleur pushes the story by another year, taking place in 1944 in Provenance, France. This story, like the other two, features a group that hasn’t seen a lot of exposure in movies and books – the infantry of Operation Dragoon. Dragoon was originally going to be a joint strike operation in conjunction with Operation Overlord, the well-travelled Normandy Beach assault front. The goal was to secure vital ports on the French coast to open up a second front for allied forces. This story focuses on these 300,000 soldiers, and their noble sacrifices as they joined the war only to be treated like latecomers. Handed shovels and looked down upon, they stood up and sought out their chance to proudly stand up for a country many of them had never even seen.
The final War Story that will launch with the release of Tides of War in December (though, there’s no reason the team couldn’t further expand these at a later time) is entitled The Last Tiger. The Last Tiger will focus on German Commander Peter Müller and the crew of his Tiger Tank #237. It’s great to see DICE telling the story from a different perspective.
These missions all run roughly an hour and a half to two hours in length, and each one showcases a different untold story from the war. Unfortunately, the latter two also expose the softness of the AI when soldiers that are not more than 50 feet from one another fail to react to gunfire ringing through the crisp mountain air. It’s tough because when it works it’s brilliant, but when it stumbles, it breaks the otherwise excellent immersive experience.
When other shooters are eliminating their story components entirely and shipping what is arguably half a product, DICE is clearly committed to not only providing a great storyline, but even giving us a nod to future single-player content to come. I have a deep appreciation for that sort of commitment to their product, and to their fanbase – it puts one in the win column for the Swedish-based developer for me.
An amazing assault on the senses
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the incredible soundtrack to Battlefield V. Johan Söderqvist and Patrik Andrén, the composers who tackled Battlefield 1, have returned to score Battlefield V, and they’ve done a masterful job of it. There are stirring remixes of familiar tracks dating all the way back to Battlefield 1942. Hans Zimmer chips in with an amazing main theme for the game, but in my opinion Söderqvist and Andrén deserve the credit for the heavy lifting on this one.
If there is a dream job for an audio engineer out there, it might just be capturing the sounds for firearms. Lead Sound Designer Andreas Almström and Senior Audio Director Bence Pajor have truly outdone themselves with Battlefield V, and it’s easily one of the most overlooked aspects of the game. Every weapon in the game has been lovingly captured and recreated, their sounds being replicated at all distances. A Sten fired at close range sounds different than one fired at a distance, and every sniper rifle sounds different. The team even tracked down a working V1 rocket and captured the unique thrumming sound that the engine makes as it buzzes across the sky. If you want an idea of just how much work the team sank into their audio production, you’ll get it when you select from half a dozen audio options before you even start the game.
Graphically, Battlefield V is one of the most breathtaking games of this generation — it’s no wonder that NVIDIA has used it as a showcase for their new RTX technology. It’s also no surprise that the game will be demanding on any platform. I have no doubt that my favorite comparison site, Candyland, will do a head-to-head comparison, which I’ll happily link when it’s live. As a mouse and keyboard player (except when flying – don’t judge me!), PC is my home, so I was happy to see page upon page of options to tweak and adjust. Whether you are looking for the highest framerate, or trying to push 4K resolutions, there are options to make that possible.
Speaking of RTX, while we’ve seen the video below that showcases the possibilities of the technology, the drivers from NVIDIA are not available quite yet. An early version of the driver will hit at launch, with further refinements coming as RTX sees more widespread adoption. As such, I won’t be able to speak to it more directly, or showcase any benchmarks utilizing it. That said, with no adjustments whatsoever, the 1080Ti is capable of running the game in DX11 mode with everything maxed out and at 4K resolution and beyond a 60 frames average, at least while running the 416.81 drivers released on 11/8/18. Undoubtedly this will increase post-launch as more mature drivers are released — they always do.
There are a few bugs to be ironed out in Battlefield V, but thankfully all of the ones I’ve encountered have been cosmetic. When blowing up a building, occasionally the lights or a church bell will hang in mid-air, though the roof is now destroyed. I’ve spawned with no weapon in my hands, my arms contorted in an awkward position zipping around like tagliatelle, even though my weapon still worked as intended. There’s also the odd Havok engine bug where arms will flail about, bodies will fly far higher than they should, or they’ll clip through the floor as you writhe around waiting for a rescue or respawn. For a game as big as this is, it’s surprising at just how few hiccups there really are, and I suspect these will be ironed out in short order.
After spending quite a while with the game, I’m blown away that there’s still so much to discover. With dozens of collectibles to find in the single player campaign, a seemingly-unlimited number of weekly challenges, and the Tides of War looming large on the horizon, Battlefield V is the best this series has ever been, and easily the best FPS of the season.