Everything DICE has done before has been building up to this. Battlefield V is a return to the World War II era that started it all for DICE’s iconic brand of all-out warfare. When it’s firing on all cylinders, it’s an undeniable tour de force. Yet there are still little self-inflicted cuts – some design decisions, some bowing to public pressure, and some unfortunate recurring sins of the Battlefield forefathers – that hold Battlefield V back from its true potential.
Unlike previous Battlefield titles, though, Battlefield V is being sold as a live service. If DICE can deliver the kinds of content expectations and gameplay refinements that are part and parcel with the games-as-a-service model, the shooter juggernaut may put EA in a beautifully awkward position where there doesn’t need to be another Battlefield game, at least not for years. That would make Battlefield V akin to what Ubisoft is doing with Rainbow Six Siege but, unlike Siege, Battlefield V is scoping in on a much more stable launch.
I was on the infamous Battlefield 4 review trip. It’s “infamous” because the game I played in Redwood, San Francisco and the game that launched felt like two different beasts. What I played was a stable online experience, afforded by controlled online matches powered by the kind of internet that, to this day, still seems like science fiction in Australia. For those who played Battlefield 4 at launch, though, they’d know how unplayable it was.
Ever since then, playing any sort of multiplayer-focused game, especially one built by DICE, under controlled review conditions breeds nervousness as to whether what I’ve played will compare to what is delivered. Despite its very apparent warts, last year’s Battlefront II had stable networking at launch. The same is true of Battlefield 1 and the recent Battlefield V beta was promising. Enough time has passed and DICE has learnt its lessons, it would seem, but I wanted to flag upfront that my experience of Battlefield V was played under controlled conditions in Sweden.
And the vast majority of that was spent, understandably, in multiplayer. Thanks to some scheduling weirdness, where the organisers didn’t actually allow adequate time to play the three launch War Stories, combined with the epic time required to get home and the reality that the review embargo lifts roughly an hour after I’m due to land, I didn’t get to finish the campaign. Because of this, the campaign isn’t reflected in my score, but I will say that outside of a terrible opening gameplay section in the first anthology, I had a lot of fun.
There’s nothing ground-breaking to be found in the solo experience, but DICE finally gets that fans love the series for the many ways in which they can tackle a problem. The final disclaimer is that I played with players of varying skill and almost no communication. Initially, this was incredibly frustrating – especially when squadded up with controller-wielding players (the event was played exclusively on PC) – but, later, I accepted it as an accurate indication of your average pub match of Battlefield, especially when people are learning the ropes.
Enough of the boring shit. Let’s get into this.
The Ultimate Co-op Battle
Yes, co-op is coming to Battlefield V post-launch, but that’s not the point of this subheading. Battlefield V’s competitive multiplayer is best envisaged as a four-player cooperative experience that just happens to include up to seven other friendly co-op squads and eight enemy co-op squads. Like any good co-op game with deep gameplay systems and cooperative, class-based incentives – where there’s no one obvious class to play as – your moment-to-moment enjoyment of Battlefield V relies heavily on the communication and capacity of your squaddies.
I’ve been playing Battlefield games since day dot and have found varying levels of satisfaction as both lone-wolf player (solo in a pub server) and squad player. As a PTFOing gamer, taking a contested point has never been as tricky as in Battlefield V in a very, very good way. This is mostly thanks to DICE’s deliberate push to raise the skill ceiling. You’ll no longer be shooting at red Doritos, instead, you’ll have to face check for enemies. In theory, this should make Recon players a viable part of any squad, given their spotting flares are the safest way to spot enemies in an area. But there’s a catch.
Those flares take time to spot enemies and their spotting radius is much, much smaller than Battlefield 1. Couple that with capture radiuses that feel huge (and are packed with stacks of sneaky hiding spots), as well as the merciful removal of the controversial ‘sweet spot’ mechanic, and Recon is, once again, an entirely optional class that feels more like a begrudging inclusion in Battlefield V than an essential one. This is because, more than ever, DICE wants you to play the objective in Battlefield V.
The only other saving grace for Recon – which, like the spotting flare, takes time to unlock – is the spawn beacon. That device goes a long way to justifying the price of admission for Recon devotees, especially when it’s used to allow spawning on unexpected (and protected) flanks of hotly contested zones. It’s less exciting when a squad of Recon players use it to form an impromptu sniper nest, away from the main battle. Still, if you’re an attacking player like me, you’ll find very little active utility in the Recon class, and the arsenal leaves a lot to be desired for capturing points and, generally, playing the objective outside of the weak defence of the minor contribution to an enemy team’s ticket count.
What’s worse than a Recon class that’s incongruous to DICE’s harder thrust into PTFO territory is how the Medic role has been handled.
A Medic-al Emergency
I’m an unapologetic Medic main. I fully expect it to be a similar situation for Battlefield V, but there’s a big problem with Medics in Battlefield V. They’re now relegated to the SMG-wielding class.
On paper, this makes a lot of sense, especially given how important it is for Medics to push up to the frontlines to heal and revive friendly players. In execution, it doesn’t work so well. Battlefield V hasn’t even launched and I can already hear an outcry from my fellow Medic mains for a TTK buff to SMGs. The fact that the first one you start with is one of the best (until right at the end of the launch unlocks) is scary, more so when you realise how garbage – in all stats except for fire rate – the first SMG unlock is.
SMGs are consistently outshot at the close-quarters range where they should dominate. Both assault rifles and LMGs kick the shit out of the SMG in close quarters in fair, head-to-head fights. Take that same fight out to any range beyond close quarters, and things get a whole lot tougher for Medics. Even tap firing at medium range feels like you’re shooting Nerf darts at enemies. Do this at your peril: enemies with better weapons will have adequate time to retaliate, especially now that suppression accuracy debuffs are now (mercifully) no longer a part of Battlefield.
On top of this, the smoke grenades need a buff. Cleverly, Medics start with a smoke-grenade launcher. This lets you pop smoke just beyond a downed friendly and move in for the revive. Except, despite fast propagation, more often than not it felt as though the smoke didn’t adequately obscure enemy vision or it didn’t extend wide enough to provide adequate visual cover.
Hit indicators are still very much a part of Battlefield V, so it’s possible that savvy enemies were merely speculatively firing at me through smoke, waiting for a hit marker, then finishing me off. But it felt like I died a disproportionate amount of times after popping smoke. I could have switched out the rifle-fired smoke gren for a thrown one, but the range afforded by the rifle, especially during a charge, offers the Medic fantastic utility beyond perpetually playing doctor.
Before I move on to the other classes, it’s worth flagging there’s really zero reason to opt for the medical crate over the pouches. Unlike Battlefield 1 where there were pros and cons for crates vs pouches, the medical crates in Battlefield V make your life as a Medic harder, especially because you have unlimited pouches (with zero cooldown, as far as I could tell) to disperse to friendlies.
A Class of Their Own
It's as strong as it’s always been, more so with the right unlocks for your weapons to buff shooting in ways that include a reduction in horizontal recoil and increased movement speed while aiming. On the topic of unlocks, though, DICE has taken a step backwards.
Instead of opting for an attachment system that includes pros and cons for weapon stats, the only con of choosing a weapon upgrade in Battlefield V is that you miss out on selecting an alternative pro. That’s because all upgrades are positively charged: no more heavy barrel that increases recoil or a suppressor that reduces bullet damage. It’s a missed opportunity. More concerningly, because certain players are paying to have access to the game earlier than others, the opening weeks of the game will be rough for latecomers given the head start on weapon unlocks (not to mention vehicles and planes) that objectively make even the average starting guns better.
In terms of Assault, though, the class is stronger than ever. The era allows for launchers to return to the fray, so don’t expect tanks to dominate like they did in Battlefield 1. That said, DICE still, unfortunately, believes in stealth tanks that don’t appear to make any noise when they’re stationary. This inevitably leads to embarrassing deaths when you’re standing right next to a tank that’s effectively silent.
The same is true of footsteps in Battlefield V, which seem noticeably quieter (especially for enemies) than those in Battlefield 1. In fairness, this may have been because of the new 3D audio setting I was using. That said, this setting was specifically championed by DICE for use in Battlefield V, so I feel the criticism is valid. Still, Assault players can take heart that they have a stack of explosive ordnance and are ready to be the bane of tanks from the get-go.
The Assault player who’s supported with meds and ammo is deadly at all ranges. Support, on the other hand, has a fascinating versatility. There’s the basic stuff, like how Support players build faster and can construct more items than the other classes, which is actually super important for holding points of interest. But then there’s the gameplay implications of the distinctions between LMGs and MMGs.
Medium machine guns an be fired (inaccurately) from the hip, but are most accurately and best used when deployed on a bipod. The Support player in Battlefield V who favours the MMG over the LMG will be playing a role that’s more akin to Day of Defeat: that kind of start/stop movement to clear an area when advancing. The MG-34 comes early on and is your first taste of the MMG, but the MG-42 is the true MMG beast of Battlefield V and it’s truly devastating.
Come up against it, and you’ll loathe it. Get bunkered down in a defensive position or deploy on the flank of a squad, and you’ll fall in love immediately. It offers a fantastic versatility to support players, especially now that the option to fortify a position (not to mention generous cap zones) means holding a point can be just as intense and satisfying as rushing to cap the next one. And that’s coming from someone who almost exclusively attacked enemy points in previous Battlefield games.
For that attacking Support player, though, the selection of launch LMGs don’t disappoint and allow for a more aggressive mentality that lets you keep up with the pushing Medics and Assault players in your squad. Plus, as if having two categories of primaries wasn’t enough, Support also has access to shotguns, which probably should go back to Assault or perhaps even transition to Medic. That said, the semi-auto shotgun is useless beyond point-blank. But the double-barrel shotgun, with a third underslung barrel with a single rifle round, is brutal in the right hands. If you’re accurate, you’ll have a lot of fun with this gun.
Canned Explosive Spam
Gren spam has been a big problem in the last few Battlefield games. It’s been effectively neutered in Battlefield V. There are far fewer grenades, and the procedural approach to destructibility means being crushed in a building is far less likely. There are still, of course, tanks and planes to contend with. But DICE has taken a much more infantry-friendly approach to these Battlefield staples, too.
Forget about the nightmarish aerial and armour dominance of Battlefield 1. Both of these vehicle types need to rearm: for planes, that’s after a single bombing run (for the explosive stuff). For tanks, it’s less frequently, but those aforementioned Assault anti-armour options (not to mention mines, by default, for Support players) means, like good government, these once mighty rulers should be afraid of the little people.
On top of this, there are generous spawns of anti-armour and anti-air options. For the stationary choices, they can be dragged around the map with armoured cars, and you can even have someone riding inside the field gun/anti-air while you’re driving, which means you can flank tanks and chase planes. To be honest, as much as I was looking forward to this feature, I was never so pissed off by a tank driver or pilot that I felt the need to do this (which is a good thing). Hopefully this is reflective of the game at launch.
For the frowning tank and plane aces out there, vehicles are still deadly in Battlefield V, particularly when they’re upgraded. A well-placed bombing run can devastate an attack or defence, while tanks are incredibly effective at clearing defensive structures and denying cover.
New Battlefield Pillars
For Battlefield 1, the new gameplay pillars were behemoths and elite classes. For Battlefield V, the new gameplay pillars are much more meaningful and far less like back-of-the-box bullet point-type additions. Attrition, though not as severe as in the Battlefield V beta (alas; I loved it), adds another layer of tension to gunplay, especially for players who survive long enough to experience the dreaded click of an empty primary weapon mid-firefight. It’s a new feature that requires careful management and one that effectively adds to the intensity of matches, especially the closer ones.
Fortifications are a great counter to Battlefield’s long-running destructibility problem. Whenever DICE lowered destructibility, fans of the Bad Company games (like me), decried the “backwards step”. But I can finally see where DICE is coming from in Battlefield V. When you’ve effectively nuked an objective with a V1 rocket – part of the all-new squad (and welcome) requisition system – you’ll know how important construction is to the new Battlefield formula.
It’s right that you should feel the impact of such explosive ordnance and that other battles should show the scars of a recent fight, as well as afford players the explosive architectural reworking of an area. But the fixed construction spots mean that you can rebuild. It also means that a usually boring uncontested cap can be complemented by the easy points scored from construction. There’s a risk within this constructive reward, too: the defences you build may well be used by your enemy if they recapture.
Then there’s the increased kinetic feel of Battlefield V. Advancing on what was started in Battlefield 1, what seem like small changes when spoken are actually quite significant in execution. Getting out of a vehicle or plane now takes time, which means it’s something you have to factor in when looking to make an escape. No more teleporting out, guns blazing, or conveniently parachuting out directly over an objective.
Speaking of positive changes, you don’t have to smash windows to move through them. It sucks the 10% of the time it stuffs up, but for the most part, you can hurl yourself in and out of buildings with reckless abandon. Being able to smoothly shift between spaces is a fantastic complement for clearing houses, especially now that the mini-map isn’t something you’ll spend a lot of time staring at because of the lack of 3D spotted enemies. On top of this, the crouch run is legitimately a godsend and the ability to fling yourself prone in any direction is incredibly versatile.
For instance, diving backwards down the stairs of the clearly enemy-occupied attic you just entered gives you a fighting chance. Similarly, diving sideways to avoid some honking driver searching for a new bloody hood ornament is equally satisfying. On top of this, there’s a touch of Mirror’s Edge-style parkour at play that rewards three-dimensionally thinking players with new ways to explore and, more importantly, sneaky flanking routes with the right jumping combination and quick reactions for grabbing ledges.
It’s these new additions, small and large, that make Battlefield V the most versatile and player-empowering entry to date.
You may have noticed that, despite thousands of words written already, I haven’t talked a lot about the maps and modes. That’s because I only played each of the eight launch maps a couple of times, and it was a similar story for the modes. It became clear that learning these maps will take a lot more hours, especially in terms of the ins and outs of what is and isn’t destructible, where things can be constructed, and the various flanking routes.
There was definitely plenty of openness that I was initially scared of, especially as a Medic player seeking to close the gap against scope-glinting Recon players. The beautiful thing about Battlefield V is that kills at range feel genuinely satisfying, for every class. Attrition means that you might have killed someone who wasn’t at full health, but bullet speed and drop have a level of mastery that offer escapability for the targeted player and satisfaction for the shooter that scores a frag.
Thankfully, there are more ways to get around the map, and DICE seems quite generous with APCs and other motorised ways to get between points. For most open area, there was either a trench, stream, or other (at least partially) concealed defilade for moving around the battlefield. Again, the lack of UI visibility of enemy players cuts both ways, and it means that pulling off effective flanks are as possible as they are satisfying.
My biggest frustrations with Battlefield V were the lack of support from my squaddies, but after 24 hours of the Battlefield V beta and 400+ hours of Battlefield 1, I know that con will be addressed as soon as I jump into battles with my regular Battlefield bros at home. It’s not a perfect experience. There are still lingering bugs, for instance, as well as concerns about netcode issues such as super bullets, dusting and, at the very least, a scoring system whose damage claims seem at ends with what’s shown in the killcam.
Speaking of the killcam, I did die behind cover a fair few times, but given that I haven’t had a chance to fully test the degree to which higher-calibre weapons can penetrate objects – and spraying through cover is a very, very viable tactic in Battlefield V – DICE gets a pass on that. For now. Player visibility is my biggest concern, most notably (or lack thereof) on the snow maps, where prone players, especially, blend in with the background. It may have been a monitor thing, and the fact that the majority of my time was spent playing at 55 FOV didn’t help, but there was a fair chunk of times I got killed by players I had no idea were in front of me.
I know player visibility was something DICE was working on between beta and launch, so fingers crossed it wasn’t quite implemented yet but will be there as part of a day-zero patch. Ultimately, though, none of this is game-breaking. The fact that DICE is openly seeking to be held accountable for its live-service model and says it will be reactive to player concerns means this already solid start has the potential to get even better. More importantly, DICE has made some big changes to the beloved Battlefield formula and, for the overwhelming majority of them, they add up to what, just a few months from now with the launch of Firestorm (in particular), may well end up being the definitive Battlefield experience.
If you’re a Battlefield fan who didn’t like the times when DICE has played it safe in the past, Battlefield V is for you. I’m one of those people, and I cannot wait to jump into epic play sessions of what could quickly become my favourite Battlefield game, more so now that the community won’t be divided with future content.