PC, PS4, Xbox One
Battlefield V as it stands is a game of absences, for better and worse. There are the reassuringly perilous open spaces of its eight multiplayer maps, which reach across WW2 Europe from Norwegian slopes to the shimmering plateaus of North Africa, and which rank among the best DICE has ever created. The radiant Hamada map, in particular, is almost offputtingly uncluttered, its northernmost Conquest flags separated from the others by a gorge which gives snipers the drop on any would-be Montgomery fool enough to rush the bridge. In the French village of Aras, meanwhile, swathes of yellow canola provide a little more cover when hurrying towards the barns at the map’s centre.
There are also the vacancies left by the game’s new fortification system, with holographic sandbags and barbed wire thickets waiting to pop into being around each flag, as a wargame defined by terrain destruction belatedly discovers the ability to rebuild. These templates can be filled in by any player class, though only Engineers can raise more complex structures like machinegun nests. Capable of scores of variations per point thanks to their modular design, fortifications are an exquisite addition to an already strategic shooter, providing your team is wise enough to utilise them.
Less forgiveable are the gaps left in Battlefield V’s feature set by DICE’s shift towards an Early-Accessstyle release format, with the bulk of the game’s content to be added after launch. There is no co-op mission suite at the time of writing, and the current singleplayer offering consists of just three hour-long episodes. This spaced-out approach would be one thing in a free-toplay shooter, but in a full-price game there’s a definite sense of having one’s cake and eating it.
Battlefield has never been celebrated for its singleplayer, and the fifth game’s War Stories do little to improve its standing. They’re essentially a thinly narrativised introduction to multiplayer gadgets and mode rulesets, spiced up by a focus on less-known aspects of the war but too ham-fisted to do their occasional promise justice. The opener stars Billy Bridger, a bit-part from a straight-to-VHS Cockney heist movie who is somehow recast as a special forces hero. A series of stealthy search-and-destroy missions against dim-witted Germans, his missions are as tedious as the voice-acting is hysterical.
Things pick up in the second episode, which follows a Norwegian resistance fighter as she tracks a specialweapons project across mountains. A few nods to The Long Dark aside, it is notable for an exhilarating skiing mechanic which sadly hasn’t made the leap to multiplayer (yet). The third chapter explores racism and colonialism through the eyes of a Senegalese soldier, and is a loose playing-out of Breakthrough mode, with players capturing positions in linear order. All of the missions are fairly open-ended, with multiple attack vectors per enemy position and a generous spread of weapon pick-ups, vehicles and weapon emplacements. As such, the lack of co-op support is rather bizarre.
If Battlefield V’s campaign is too lonely for its own good, its multiplayer has never been more sociable. Players now spawn into a four-head squad by default, regardless of mode, and while you’re free to range at whim, there are powerful incentives to stick together. As in previous games, squadmates can spawn on each other, shaving precious moments off the trip from base to frontline. They can also now revive each other regardless of class, though Medics are able to do this faster and heal people outside their squads to boot.
Completing squad actions such as resupplying friendlies earns points towards squad-limited streak rewards, called in by your squad leader, from V1 strikes to a special four-seater armoured vehicle. The impact on engagements is rarely dramatic, but one effect of questing for those rewards is a greater sense of intimacy within Battlefield’s often overwhelming army encounters – and a gentle degree of rivalry with allied squads. This new layer of teamplay sits naturally alongside the rhythms created by Battlefield’s proven class system, as Recon players tag foes for allies while Supports suppress attackers with light machineguns, only to be flanked by nimble Assault players. One quirk of this Battlefield’s launch map line-up is its fondness for bridges. On Twisted Steel, a massive, half-wrecked suspension bridge rears above a sullen river and boggy farmland. In Rotterdam, train cars snake between elegant if battered terraced apartments, while another, ruined railway bridge spews shipping crates across the docks at Narvik. These structures give each map an obvious hook, something to gun for on first spawn. They also disguise the sumptuous intricacy of the surrounding terrain, every corner of every foreign field offering its own, engrossing play of sightlines, routes and cover spots. Many of the details are unearthed by the modes, which expose each map to different engagement criteria.
Such nuances aside, Battlefield V feels more significant for its adjustments to DICE and EA’s business model than what it actually achieves at the level of play: it’s more a question of stretching the same components across different production timeframes than meaningfully changing them. The possibilities of fortifications and the rejuvenated squad system will be alteration enough for returning fans, but won’t attract many new converts, and the singleplayer is a watery afterthought. What’s here is enough to be going on with, but we’ll have to wait till next year’s updates and in particular, that possibly seismic battleroyale mode, to discover whether this is truly a Battlefield that stands apart.
The possibilities of fortifications and the rejuvenated squad system will be alteration enough for returning fans