We’ve long equated Electronic Arts’ Battlefield series as Pepsi to Call of Duty’s Coke, Burger King to Activision’s McDonald’s and so on, by which we mean people invariably have their favourite, even if they enjoy them both. While Dice’s shooter isn’t quite the annual event that CoD is, the two shooters are going head-to-head this year with Battlefield V serving as the series’ latest entry.
Although the core shooting feels crisp and accurate, Battlefield V does contain some odd decisions with button mapping. The first is assigning a non-combat move to the right bumper — offline you equip your binoculars, online it marks a spot for teammates. On top of that, each direction on the d-pad is used for equipment, and in the heat of battle we found it easy to forget whether we wanted the left or right item (up is heal). It just seemed unnecessarily complex. Melee attacks also feel limp and unsatisfying.
Vehicular combat is a big part of the series, and you’ll once again be driving several ground-based vehicles, including tanks, and flying around in airplanes. While we’ve always preferred to be on foot dating back to Battlefield 1943, Dice does a good job of making both driving and flying feel straightforward and intuitive. Skilled players can really do some damage, and even us relative neophytes can have some fun with it.
Surprisingly, Battlefield V didn’t wow us visually with some elements even carrying a last-gen feel (and this is on a PS4 Pro). In the heat of battle you’re unlikely to notice, but if you slow down and soak it all in there’s something just a little off, like it’s missing a layer of polish. The good news is that levels and maps are well designed and offer varying sizes to accommodate large and small engagements. Bottom line, whatever graphical issues there are don’t affect gameplay.
During the game’s War Stories you’ll get decent voice acting, though two of the three available ones require you to read subtitles if you want to follow along, which can be an issue when you’re trying to navigate an active war zone. Ambient sounds really draw you in, especially with headphones on or a good sound system turned way up, and create the illusion that you’re really in the midst of a massive battle.
Like Black Ops 4, Battlefield V eschews a traditional campaign, though its War Stories are much closer to one than anything Treyarch offered in its most recent release. As of now there are three self-contained missions, each of which runs around 90 minutes or so, depending on your play style and difficulty setting.
There’s Nordlys, about a young resistance fighter in Norway, Under No Flag, where you take on the role of a convict paroled to blow up German air bases in North Africa, and Tirailleur, which has you serve in a division of Senegalese troops fighting in France. A fourth, The Last Tiger, will be released in the months to come.
While none of them are great, Tirailleur is the best of the bunch as it does a good job of varying up the action and taking advantage of the series’ biggest strength, simulating large-scale battles. Conversely, the other two feel at odds with that, tasking with you going it alone and asking for stealth and patience in a game built for neither.
As has been the case for many years, however, single-player content serves as the undercard with multiplayer the main event, and it’s here that Battlefield V does its best work. At the top of the food chain is the new Grand Operations, which adds a little narrative to a multi-part succession of encounters between up to 32 players on each side.
For example, you may start with the attackers parachuting onto the map with the goal to destroy all of the defenders’ aerial guns. Success can lead to a bonus entering the next phase, where you’ll again be split between offense and defense as one side tries to overrun the other before running out of time (or respawns). This continues until a team claims decisive victory or you enter Final Stand, which limits ammo and removes respawns to declare a victor.
BF5’s other large-scale mode is Conquest, which is a beefed up version of Domination, placing numerous capture points across a large map. Frontlines challenges your team to capture a neutral point and then push forward from there, eventually exposing objectives that can be bombed to finish the enemy. Other modes include Team Deathmatch, Domination and Breakthrough.
It’s a good, not great, selection of modes spread across a modest total of eight maps, though they’re fairly diverse and grand in scale. What makes Battlefield V work so well is the crispness of its gameplay, which often creates a frenetic pace and awesome moments where you and a dozen others are charging through destroyed buildings to try and capture a location from the enemy.
Things generally feel well balanced, too. There’s a lot less cheesing — e.g. people aren’t hopping around while they shoot ala BlOps 4 — and minus killstreaks it feels like players aren’t chasing K/D ratios as much. Sure, there are moments where you’ll curse a medic for running right past instead of reviving you, but most seem to be invested in winning.
For all the good, there are undeniable signs that this game was pushed out early. Some we’ve mentioned (lack of graphical polish, a missing War Story), but there are others: weird glitches, such as falling through or getting stuck in the environment, and surprisingly uneven server performance rating near the top. Still, the fact that it’s as good as it is bodes well for when these issues inevitably get ironed out.
While its single-player content is underwhelming, Battlefield V offers what’s suddenly become an old-school take on multiplayer shooters where the modern bells and whistles have been stripped away, much to the game’s enrichment.