What is it about the Battlefield orchestral theme that just gets the blood pumping? Ever since first hearing the track way back in Battlefield 1942, its brisk staccato was the preamble to many a night of senseless destruction and endless amusement. Even more than fifteen years and countless revisions later, I still get goosebumps when the song starts. And while the series has had its fair share of peaks and valleys, after the narrative success of Battlefield 1, it seemed like Battlefield V was primed to reach new levels of triumph. Can it manage to keep pace, or will it ultimately end up as inconsistent as the franchise’s numbering scheme?
A Different Point of View
When it comes to telling stories that run the gamut of perspectives, Battlefield 1’s five unique storylines helped to establish a successful new formula for the series. As you might imagine, Battlefield V is choosing to embrace the same structure only on a far more limited scope. At launch, the game features three mini-campaigns that might as well be referred to as episodes due to their surprising brevity. To be fair, there’s plenty of compelling storytelling crammed into the trio of narratives, but they still felt a bit “blink and you’ll miss them.” There’s an additional fourth campaign coming in about three weeks, but who knows if that will add enough content to make the single player content feel like its own full-fledged, stand-alone experience.
To put the campaign’s runtime into perspective, I was able to get home from work, download the entirety of the game, then complete all three campaigns before I turned in for the night. It was wrapped up from top to bottom in one literal sitting. While I wasn’t expecting for this to be a multi-evening slog, I was certainly expecting more than a three to four hour experience. And before you say it, yes, I do realize that there is still more game in the pipeline. However, this seeming lack of material feels symptomatic of a bigger problem that DICE has ran into as of late: releasing completed games.
All three stories seem to adhere to a standard three act structure, consisting of three distinctly different gameplay scenarios. The intro portion leads off with a nice, meaty narrative chunk, followed by a quick portion of gameplay where the player’s introduced to combat scenarios that are unique to each respective setting. Perfect examples of this are the stealth-centric combat that’s emphasized by fighting under blizzard conditions in the great white north or the guerrilla warfare tactics of fighting in a damp forest. Come to think of it, all three campaigns seem insistent upon driving home the importance of sneakiness when taking it to the opposition.
Subtle as a Hand Grenade
The emphasis on subtlety seems like a curious choice given that the brand has previously been known for its gorgeous explosions and destructible environments. I mean, why would you ever want to silently slip into the conspicuously unlocked back door of a base, when you could instead burst down a wall like the Kool-Aid Man and lay waste to an entire militia of unsuspecting combatants? The dissonance between the two approaches is damn near deafening, yet most early missions seem hell-bent on forcing the player to stay in the shadows or meet a swift and violent demise.
Thankfully, in two of the three campaigns, the second act is where the curtain is pulled back, revealing a massive playground in which to orchestrate mass mayhem. As soon as the map opens up, the game begins to feel much more like a proper Battlefield experience. After being led off by the next chuck of obligatory exposition, the player is saddled with the task of, in the most literal sense, single-handedly laying siege to three separate enemy strongholds. At this point numerous weapons, vehicles (both airborne and grounded), and combat tactics are finally available, allowing for strongholds to be tackled in whichever order the player prefers.
The story takes a backseat to the chaotic sandbox of immerging experiences, which is where the game truly shines. Is there anything more fun than flying a plane directly into a cache of enemy explosives, only to eject shortly before impact and watch the place go up like Chinese fireworks barge? Or for the more boring lot, you could always just set off the whole damn facility with a couple of well-placed long-range shots from a sniper rifle. That is the beauty of this sort of open-ended design. The possibilities for your own personal caravan of carnage are endless.
All three storylines conclude with an epic showdown for the final act. These are all brief, heavily scripted, and in a fairly confined arena. The openness of the previous mission is nowhere to be found, all done in the service of concluding each narrative. Though it was unfortunate to see that the gameplay freedom didn’t carry over, it makes sense that they would need to become more tightly structured in order to provide players with any sort of a gratifying climax.
Interestingly, in the Tirailleur campaign, they actually chose to deviate from the structure of the other two, by opting to take a more linear shooter approach for all three acts. The missions actually play in a fairly predictably scripted manner, minus the dank, dark corridors of your garden-variety FPS. Despite offering up brief glimpses of player freedom, the maps are still designed in a way that it’s more of an illusion than anything else. Plus, the fact that damn near everything plays out exclusively on foot further drives this fact home, loud and clear. In a series like Battlefield, claustrophobic design is kryptonite, hence the reason why this episode falls so flat.
Throw Down the Gauntlet
But if we are being completely honest with ourselves, if you’re exclusively playing a Battlefield title for the single-player, you’re doing it all wrong. As has been the case since the genesis of the franchise, multiplayer is where the meat of the game resides. The traditional class-based mechanics are still front and center, which given that it’s what the series is most known for, makes all the sense in the world. However, before you can even navigate to the multiplayer selection screen, it’s hard to miss the greyed out “Tides of War” mode. Yep, this is another piece of content that is being left out at launch, in favor of being added via DLC during the first week of December. *sigh*
What is present, however, is the stellar, massive multiplayer maps and mission-types that have been the bar that most squad-based shooters have been trying to reach for the last fifteen years. One of the most notable deviations is the fact that squads have shrunk in size to only four members. Yes, it isn’t an earth-shattering revelation, but for those with a consistent squad they regularly play with, get ready to have to make a tough decision. That’s right. You finally have an excuse to cut Terry’s laggy ass. Serves him right for not upgrading his DSL connection!
Another interesting move was the complete restructuring of the spotting system, which will most likely be divisive amongst the hardcore. Instead of every player on the team being able to call out an opponent’s position, which in turn populates it on the entire squad’s HUD, this is now being reserved for a single class. Snipers now have the ability to tag the opposition’s position using scoped weaponry. While I’ve already heard people bitching about how it fundamentally changes the tactics to missions, I personally don’t have a problem with it. For one, this continues to feed into the class-based structure already present in the game. Furthermore, when you combine this with the new emphasis on utilizing lookout perches, it makes total sense for this to be exclusive functionality.
The last thing that jumped out as a substantial evolution in multiplayer are the Grand Operations. Essentially this is the previous iteration’s Operations mode after it stopped teething and put on its “big boy” pants. Missions now take place over a series of days, with shifts in objectives happening throughout the course of each round. Depending upon the result of each day’s battle, the next day’s conflict will be tweaked to reflect the outcome. Having the conflict span numerous days is a fantastic way to burn an evening with friends. From what I could tell, it almost seemed as if the game was handicapping the objectives to continue to level the playing field and keep things competitive. Interestingly enough, in reading much of the coverage leading up to launch, this mode was outlined as a narrative experience, but I think that is being generous at best. Sure, there are lead-in text blurbs at the start of each day and moments of a disembodied voice on the radio, barking out commands, but it’s nothing I would categorize as a proper crafted storyline.
Bug or Feature?
Anyone whose read my reviews of the Frostbite-powered EA Sports titles knows that I love a good glitch. Though the engine is far from perfect, it has made significant strides in the arena of physics quirks and collision detection. That said, there are still some pretty remarkable cases where I encountered floating corpses, active enemy character models that would occasionally pop in and out of existence, or even death ragdoll effects from a handgun that would leave the deceased flying across the screen like they’d been hit with explosive force of a cruise missile.
If you take a step back and look at what is being delivered at the launch of Battlefield V, it’s hard to be overly critical about the content that is present. There is a decent, albeit brief, campaign, an extremely entertaining multiplayer suite, and visuals that genuinely made me wonder if my PS4 had been swapped out for a PS4 Pro.
The problem isn’t as much about what is present as much as it’s about still missing. A whole mini-campaign and a massive new multiplayer mode are both still in the hopper. Even the shooting range couldn’t manage to make it into the launch build. Knowing that there is this much left to be added in December makes me wonder if the whole game should’ve been pushed another month, so it could be a comprehensive release. In its current form it just feels unfinished.
Those that make the plunge and purchase Battlefield V will still have plenty to be excited about. There will be a little something for everyone, which will only get better with time and countless updates. Plus, if you’re looking for an excuse to make your PS4 GPU scream, look no further. Who knew that the horrors of war could ultimately end up being so goddamn beautiful?
Battlefield V review code provided by publisher. Version 22946 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.