“It is a huge honour to be able to go back there, and visit the era where it all started. It means so much for us on the developer side”. These are the words of senior producer of DICE, Andreas Morell, at the reveal of Battlefield V, the next entry in the world known series and an important return to the period where it all began. Andreas was excited to talk about it not only due to his own personal history, with his first job at EA being a tester for one of the expansions for the original Battlefield 1942. But to share the work of the DICE team back in Sweden, on the highly anticipated next entry in their iconic franchise. “We have an extremely talented group of people back home in Stockholm at DICE, and we always want to deliver the most balanced, rock/paper/scissor gameplay that we can. Even since 1942 was released 16 years ago, we’ve continued to stay true to the Battlefield formula, while continuing to evolve the franchise and the shooter genre, by delivering the ultimate sandbox experience.”
Over the years I’ve more than dabbled in the Battlefield series. From the old school days spent playing Battlefield Vietnam, through to the modern era with 3, 4 and Hardline, and more recently with the series venturing into World World I. All capturing my attention due to the series’ massive sandbox arenas, focus on vehicle combat, and freedom to play how you want. Which more often than not leads to epic moments of action, ridiculous amounts of map disintegration (which thanks to Battlefield 4, is lovingly referred to as levolution) and absolute mayhem. Mayhem that can often be the moment to moment gameplay of the series, making Battlefield a hallmark in the FPS genre. With mechanics and a style unto itself.
The Issues Which Have Held Battlefield Back
Despite these core elements, which has led to the creation of one of the largest and most dedicated FPS communities in the world, personally I’ve found my interest drop off with each new entry, after a few dozen hours or so. Battlefield has never quite kept me interested as long as other FPS titles in recent years, like the hero shooter Overwatch from Blizzard, or the tactical and special forces focused Rainbow Six Siege from Ubisoft. And sure, each of these titles have their own minor hiccups too, but their overall theme and enjoyable gameplay loop has kept me playing for years after their respective initial release.
Looking back on the Battlefield series, particularly in recent years, there are a few common issues which would eventually lead me to losing interest and stop playing each title. One major problem, is how independent people are and how they prefer going lone wolf whenever possible. This is despite squads playing a prominent role in the series since DICE implemented them back in Battlefield 2. There are small bonuses in the form of extra points (giving you further experience) for staying with and working together with your designated squads buddies, but they’ve never been substantial enough for most players to care. Which inevitably leads to battles filled with individuals not working together and endless stalemates or blockades, as each team struggles to get past a tightly contested area. Through a lack of teamwork, rather than due to intended design.
Another issue is the inevitable blocked-off content in the form of Season Passes and paid-for expansions, which often require you paying the price of the game again just to keep up to date post-launch. Recently revisiting Battlefield 1, there were so few servers and games to play because most core players that were still playing 18 months after the release, had bought the DLC or Season Pass. And naturally, had moved on to the larger variety of maps in rotation. This has been a common trait in many big budget, multiplayer series, including Destiny, Call of Duty and The Division, where segregating communities slowly became the norm. In regards to Battlefield, this further took away from DICE’s want for fans to play and work together.
Story Matters, Even in Battlefield
When it comes to story, only recently have the thematic tones behind the Battlefield series become more prevalent. Largely due to the most recent edition being set in World War 1 and its new anthology approach to single player, dubbed War Stories. These were a fantastic breakaway from the otherwise militaristic and competitive nature of the series. Where intimate and tragic stories about the men and women who fought and died in horrific conflicts that would consequently shape people, nations and the world were told. The anthology approach meant that developer DICE could explore theatres of the First World War from Europe all the way to the Middle East. Which included ‘The Runner’, a series of missions which explored the campaign of Gallipoli from the perspective of ANZAC soldiers - an incredible treat for myself and fellow Australians.
But despite this important step forward in embracing the themes of the setting and conflicts depicted, this was limited largely in Battlefield 1 to its single player. Much of the narrative and thematic weight that was given room to breathe and settle throughout each War Stories campaign, was lost the moment you jumped into a multiplayer match, filled with the classic ridiculous over-the-top action, the series has become known for. Although this is an issue faced and mostly unsolved by a majority of military or historical shooters with multiplayer components, it felt more glaring with Battlefield 1. Where the human and earnest themes of the War Stories were so detached from every other aspect of (although still overwise great) modes in the 2016 title.
V-Day and the Return to 1942
When considering what would be the focus for the next entry in the famous shooter series in the lead up to the reveal of Battlefield V, I all but assumed that the setting would be World War II (confirmed earlier this week). But also, that DICE’s focus would be placed on bigger and grander multiplayer modes, and new royale opportunities to take Battlefield to the Next Level. Presuming said changes would relate more in terms of action and explosive set pieces that look good in a trailer; rather than fixing the issues which have plagued the series for years and many entries. Although these assumptions were still correct to a degree, we are literally getting a new multiplayer mode called ‘Grand Operations’, DICE surprised many of us at the recent worldwide reveal in London, by announcing several changes and additions focused and dedicated to finally fixing these long term niggling problems, coming in Battlefield V. Which hopefully, looks to be a massive turning point in the best possible way, for the Battlefield series.
Briefed by several key members of the Battlefield development team, they made it immediately obvious that returning to World War II, 16 years after the release of the original Battlefield 1942, was a big deal. Not only due to returning to where it all started, with more experience and far greater tech (which we’’ll be touching upon in an interview feature coming soon), but that it was time for a change. Not just a change in a setting and time period for the sake of new weapons and ways to race across chaotic maps, but in how the core Battlefield experience flows. Reforming the relationship between DICE and their community (and EA), and allowing for the theme of each entry to have a more meaningful impact. Not just in single player, but throughout every mode, and especially - multiplayer.
This change begins, or rather continues on from Battlefield 1, with the return War Stories. Which will once again explore personal, untold human stories from often forgotten regions which were also greatly affected by the widespread conflict, of World War II. The single War Story revealed for Battlefield V so far, follows a resistance group in Norway fighting back against their Nazi occupiers. A story in which you’ll most likely play as Anne Sofie Ostvedt, who historically lead thousands of resistance fighters in Norway. And like countless other warriors during the conflict, just so happened to be a women. An intriguing premise which is hopefully just the beginning of a unique WWII single-player experience.
In the end though it's the promise of how the gritty, unforgiving and brutal nature of the war is being represented in multiplayer, particularly in the new Grand Operation mode, that has me truly excited.
A Grand Operation
Building off the Operation mode introduced in Battlefield 1, Grand Operations are matches split over several days, with each encounter making up just a part of the overall story of the battle - while the map evolves through the flow and intensity of the fighting. The results of each day have an effect on the resources and reinforcements available for each faction, at the start of the next day. The first and only example given so far of a Grand Operation, was of the historically early Battle of Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
Part of the Second World War, the Battle of Rotterdam was fought over several days in May of 1940, with the German army looking to seize the Dutch city. The sheer might of the German army was met by resistance in the form of infantrymen including local citizens in the form of bakers and butchers. Both sides suffered considerable losses as there was a back and forth between pockets of the city and key strategic bridges. Eventually a ultimatum was given by the German forces, cease the resistance, or face total destruction of the city. Unfortunately, it would be the latter.
In Battlefield V as the Battle of Rotterdam begins, the attacking team begins their assault with paratroopers (with respawn planes in the sky allowing for choice on when and where to jump from), and if they fail to take out a vast majority of the defending faction’s artillery, they will then have less men for their main invasion of the city in Day 2. The battle for the city will continue regardless over the next two days, in close quarter fights, fighting for one corner, building and street at a time. But, the match can end on the third day if one faction has a sizeable lead. If it remains a stalemate however, it then reaches a climatic and desperate fight to the death on the fourth day. Last soldier standing. You have one life for the round and start with only one magazine of ammo. Not only is it an epic conclusion after days of grueling fighting which will last around an hour all up, but a reflection of the unending and destructive battles of World War II, where we’re also reminded of the Battle of Stalingrad.
There will be more rewards for the outright winners in regards to experience points and likely special gear, but more importantly, a likely tight, tense fight, not unlike the feelings you experience from the popular Battle Royale genre. Most importantly though, it gives multiplayer a greater meaning beyond just getting to the top of leaderboards through kills and taking the same objectives over and over. Additionally, resources will be far more scarce in general across multiplayer in Battlefield V. With less ammo from spawn, it’s far harder to rush in immediately and smarter to take your time to explore maps, collecting resources from resupply stations at objectives and looting bodies. It represents a far more grounded experience, more akin to the tactics and necessities from WWII. Overall, DICE is aiming to bring the narrative of the conflicts from their setting to the multiplayer like never before. Along with this focus on Grand Operations and the narrative built through each battle, comes the spotlight on your squad and the reliance you’ll have on each other, throughout these intense and ferocious battles.
Band of Brothers and Sisters
If there could be one theme to takeaway from DICE’s perception of World War II and its influence on Battlefield V from the reveal, (including that the War Story based in Norway being focused on family, as told to us by DICE), is comradeship. Which is intrinsic to a core element of what makes Battlefield, Battlefield. Squads. But in order to bring squads of players together in Battlefield V, to make working and playing as one more worthwhile, change had to come to this traditional part of the multiplayer experience. Changes that would play on the reliance soldiers had with each other in the World Wars, or any conflict. But also, elements that work for a Battlefield game. As although DICE are heavily inspired by historical events, they want their games to be fun, meaning they of course are not entirely historically accurate (as it just wouldn’t be possibly while also creating a truly fun game. At least not yet proven to be). These changes range from allowing any member of your squad to revive you (although slower and with less health replenished than a medic’s revival), to being placed in a squad as soon as you join a match, and then have constant chat available through matches, loading screens and menus with said squad.
Of particular importance and likely to be the greatest draw for working with your squad more, is the squad reinforcements. These are rewards for squads who play together, support each other and play the objective as a squad. The rewards? Well they range from more standard supply drops for extra resources and smoke barrages, to calling in vehicles such as tanks just for your squad to use and V2 rockets, which can be directed to anyway on a mao to reshape the battlefield and tear down otherwise impregnable enemy fortifications. This focus on squads, teamwork and comradery, carries across not only multiplayer modes for DICE, but how they’ll be releasing content post-launch too.
The Tides of War
The removal of the Season Pass and paid expansions in Battlefield V, the bain of gamers across many franchises, is a definite case of “Finally!”. In the past 18 months, EA has slowly been stripping away Season Passes and paid expansions from its major franchises. Including Titanfall 2, which has seen several map packs released for free after launch, and Battlefront 2. Which saw not only new multiplayer modes and maps added from different eras of Star Wars, but another chapter in the sequel’s story, focused around the Empire’s Iden Versio.
Now, Battlefield V is the latest of EA’s massive series’, to be letting go of the long frustrating paid post-launch model, which has segregated Battlefield fans for years. Instead, DICE is introducing Tides or War, an online service taking a similar focus to titles such as Overwatch. Providing regular events and new free content, to continue to build their audience, long after release. When asked about the decision to remove these gaming paywalls, senior producer Andreas Morell said, “For us, it’s very important to be able to keep the community together, rather then it being split up between passes here and there. It is a great move for Battlefield players. A great move for everyone and to do really positive things for the community”.
It’s a similar theme, all these decisions, updates, and changes to the Battlefield formula as it were make perfect sense. Perhaps now, after exploring many different settings and returning to WWII, it made sense to go back and rethink the basics. Possibly more freedom too from EA, who has seen much success becoming one of the biggest publishers and players in the industry, to feel safe letting DICE take such a huge focus on these smaller details, that many others would have considered a risk. The big leap and major box art sell itself is the setting of World War II, which does come with a whole slew of, although similar, completely different sets of weapons, vehicles, clothing, equipment and styles of combat. But these details can be missed in a fast paced, action-infused trailer.
DICE’s focus on fine tuning the nitty gritty details and elements of the series (with many more I didn’t even mention, such as new destruction and fortifications systems and more realistic reactive environmental elements), is a signifier that they are listening and truly care about the core fans they’ve accumulated over the past 16 years. Although we still have to wait till EA Play at E3 in June to get hands-on with Battlefield V, to find out if everything we’ve seen so far truly showcases that DICE is focusing on the right elements and areas.
This is Battlefield V
It’s exciting to see a huge series such as Battlefield continue to expand on content by adding new modes, while others are taking away from their traditional line up and then retrofitting something that has only become popular in the past year or so. If you’re a Battlefield fan, you’ve got a lot of reasons to be excited about Battlefield V. As one of them, I’m hoping it feels as good as it sounds come launch. After 16 years of experience and having seen the passion from the developers in London, there’s a great chance of not only this being the case, but this being the next big step for DICE, the genre, and the industry. A big call sure, but the fact remains that a huge, important, and fun series which has become a hallmark of the FPS genre, is now looking more impressive than ever.