Format PS4, XO, PC Publisher Electronic Arts Developer EA DICE ETA 20 November World War II has stories to tell, and we’ve played three of them
Back to World War II for EA’s series, focusing on the less frequently told stories from the conflict.
Battlefield 1’s War Stories campaign was one of the most pleasant single-player surprises of 2016, showing a sensitivity we had no reason to expect from a multiplayer-first shooter, making observations about the tragedy of war amid its vast set-pieces. Battlefield V gives this elegant treatment to World War II. There are four stories in Battlefield V’s War Stories campaign, focusing on less-explored parts of the war. Nordlys follows a Norwegian resistance commando looking to take out the Axis heavy water supplies, Tirailleurs is about the unsung sacrifices that Senegalese troops made for France, Under No Flag pits you as a cockney criminal recruited for the British Special Boat Service, and The Last Tiger charts a German tank commander stuck deep behind enemy lines in we-want-to-say Berlin.
Of these, the only one we didn’t play was The Last Tiger, which will be available as a part of the still-mysterious ‘Tides of War’ service. We do know it’s about a crew forced to face the consequences of their actions, and it’s definitely ‘not a heroic tale’ (speaking with the devs, we got a sense that they’re picking their words carefully about what could be labelled a Nazi War Story).
It’s not easy to pack an emotional punch into each of several rather short stories (we played through the Nordlys campaign in one-and-a-half hours), but
“On the ground, there are improvements in level design, which at this point feels almost far cry-like in its openness”
after blitzing through several missions, we can say that Battlefield V manages it using the same tricks as its predecessor.
Like before, each tale zooms right into the psyche of its protagonist, blinkered from the macro-scale ideological and political significance of the conflict. All are told with a well-written degree of internal monologues – be it a Senegalese war veteran recalling mixed feelings about fighting for a country he never knew, or the delirious memories that haunt the Norwegian commando overcome by hypothermia.
Offering a counterpoint to these stern narratives is the story of Billy Bridger, a bank robber who signs up with the Special Boat Service to avoid jail time. His first mission – to plant a bomb on a German warplane – suggests it’s going to be a buccaneering tale rife with cheeky British banter. Sure, the presentation of protagonist ‘Billy Boy’ Bridger as a whining coward sort doesn’t really fit with the fact that he’s your conduit for taking out half a German airbase, but the dynamics between him and his team of vagabonds offers some welcome chirpiness in a campaign that looks set to be heavy-going in other areas (such as the sobering Tirailleurs story).
Playing War Stories soon after replaying the Battlefield 1 campaign, it’s evident how much this is a direct transfer of that format, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Even the prologue repeats the approach of casting you as different soldiers in different places, who duly get overwhelmed or blown up. The impact may be lessened through familiarity, but it still feels like World War II deserves this kind of narrative treatment.
On the ground, there are improvements in level design, which at this point feels almost Far Cry-like in its openness. During the Nordlys campaign, we skied down to German strongholds nestled amid the fjords, where we were attempting to rescue a fellow Resistance member. Early on, we spied some soldiers fixing up a truck. We considered swooping in, thanking them for their handiwork with a knife between the ribs, and charging in over the bridge with the truck (popping some dynamite in the back while we were at it). But, seekers of secret paths that we are ( not cowards), we sought other routes. A narrow path over a chasm led us to the underside of the main bridge into the fort, where a silenced pistol in a crate awaited us, and a metal supporting beam under the bridge took us across silently.
The stealth system is rudimentary: enemy alertness gauges fill up at a forgiving pace, and melee kills can be activated from a few feet away, sending you gliding towards your victim’s throat. Guards will hear you the same whether you’re walking on snow or steel grating, and neither foliage nor shadows seem to hamper their all-seeing eyes. Given a stealthy approach is encouraged in many missions, it still feels like a bit of a bolt-on rather than a carefully crafted system.
After a few botched attempts that lit the snow red with alarm lights and led to a good few buildings being blasted down, we snuck into the building where our target was held. The level of interior detail was impressive, and after admiring the scattered paperwork, gleaming typewriters and other 1940s titbits, we got her out of there. Instead of taking the quiet way out, we strapped on the skis and slalomed through enemy territory, bullets and wind whistling in our ears.
We went on to play several other missions, from classic control point capturing in Tirailleurs to a somewhat contrived survival sequence where you need to seek out fires before you freeze to death (which apparently happens in under a minute in Norway). Crucially, War Stories is hitting the target much more often than not. With the promise of longer, fully fleshed-out stories where before some felt like vignettes, there’s plenty here to salute.
A stealthy approach is often encouraged, though it’s fair to say we’re not taking it this time.
The War Stories campaign is incredibly moving, but that doesn’t mean you’ll want for action as you play through it.
You get a genuine sense of the person behind every War Story: every number was a human being.
Had enough of the beaches of Normandy in games? Then rejoice, because Battlefield V is featuring some lesser-covered theatres of World War II.