EA and DICE return to the Second World War with a game that is full of potential but sadly lacking in content.
This is all starting to seem wearingly familiar. Not Battlefield V itself – although this certainly isnt the freshest the franchise has ever appeared – but the fact that its been released incomplete and full of bugs. As unwelcome as it is that has almost become par for the course for major online games. Although you wouldve thought that after the disastrous launches of Battlefield 4 and Star Wars: Battlefront II, EA and DICE would be sorely aware that first impressions count.
Battlefield V isnt nearly as broken as either of those games were when they started but it is so obviously unfinished its genuinely insulting that its been released in this state. Especially since the game has already invented a new controversy for itself by having a staggered release date that has seen some gamers able to play it almost a fortnight before its official launch – if they paid extra for the privilege.
Controversy or not, apparently the idea is proving popular with impatient fans but, as happened with loot boxes, it may be EAs greed that has the best chance of turning popular opinion against the idea. We certainly cant remember a new Battlefield game that has seemed as unanticipated as this, although it seems obvious thats not because of any one single issue. Its a shame though, because despite the problems the core gameplay is the best its been in years.
One of the big problems with Battlefield V is that the return to the Second World War seems so uninspiring compared to Battlefield 1s unusual First World War setting. It doesnt help that Call Of Duty did WWII last year, which immediately leaves Battlefield V looking like its behind the curve and out of ideas. The one thing it has that Call Of Duty no longer does is a single-player mode, but that comes with it its own set of problems…
Except for arguably the Bad Company games, Battlefield has never been any good at story campaigns. But some important progress was made with Battlefield 1 and its collection of short stories, that showcased both specific elements of the gameplay and a range of different locations around the globe. Battlefield V takes the same approach, except theres now only four missions and one of those wont be available until after launch.
The production values for the story missions are incredible, with not only amazing graphics but some of the best sound design weve ever heard in a video game (except for the terrible mockney British accents). The problem is that the design of the missions works directly against the core strengths of Battlefield. Theres a peculiar emphasis on stealth but because the artificial intelligence is so rudimentary you never feel that youre outfoxing the enemy, just cheating it.
Not having great AI is entirely forgivable in a multiplayer-focused game like this but the story campaigns should be trying to hide that fact, not highlight it. There are attempts to replicate large scale, open-ended Battlefield gameplay as well but again the lack of enjoyable opposition limits its effectiveness.
The best mission by far follows French colonial troops in Provence, which is much more action-packed than the other two and highlights a little-known aspect of the war. The anti-colonial and anti-racism message is clear but not overbearing and the characters come across as the most human and interesting of the set. Just as importantly, the gameplay actually reflects what its like to play the multiplayer mode – rather than trying to be some sort of dumbed down Metal Gear Solid.
The obvious suggestion to make is that DICE shouldnt have bothered with the story missions at all and instead concentrated on ensuring more content for the other modes. At launch Battlefield V is completely missing its promised co-op mode, live service Tides of War (due to start in December), and the much-anticipated Battle Royale option that wont be available until March. Which is clearly the release date the whole game shouldve waited for.
But, determined to get those Christmas sales, thats not what happened. So instead you get the gaming equivalent of a handful of IOUs. The excuse is meant to be that, since this is a game as a service with no season pass to pay for, you should simply look forward to the other free content as its released. But the content is so meagre at the moment that many are going to lose interest long before that becomes a factor.
And that is a shame because the gameplay is extremely solid. The gunplay and traversal is probably the best its ever been, with a noticeably faster pace, a great sense of feedback, and almost parkour-like stunts. The level of destruction is also finally starting to creep back to Bad Company levels, while at the same time being far more graphically complex. Rather than the static backdrops of other shooters nowhere seems safe in Battlefield V, as buildings collapse around you and cover explodes in a shower of stone, metal, and splinters.
We never understood why Battlefield ever moved away from specialising in map destruction but while its great to have it back its not a new concept. In fact, the game lacks any headline new features at all, with probably the biggest being a new fortification system. That may sound like its trying to copy Fortnite but its actually an elegant little set of options that allows you to fortify locations with barriers and defences. But while welcome its hardly a game-changer.
Theres also an increased emphasis on teamplay that is encouraged in various ways, from being able to drag allies to safety along the ground to needing other players to fully heal and re-equip you. This makes support classes such as the medic more vital than ever, even though they have limited offensive capability, and in turn means an inexperienced player can perform a vital role without shooting anyone.
Character progression is also greatly improved, and considerably more engaging than Black Ops 4, simply because its not dragged out on purpose to encourage microtransactions – with EA promising theyll only be offering cosmetic extras.
At some point in the future Battlefield V will no doubt transform into a great game, perhaps even the best of the series. But for now its got two major issues: a general lack of content and the unacceptable number of bugs. The latter range from server lag to glitchy animations and broken round timers. And again, it seems obvious these problems are not there because of incompetence on the part of DICE, but simply because they didnt have time to finish the game before it was supposed to be out.
Arguably the biggest problem though is the map selection, which lacks any true standouts. Whether thats also because of a lack of time is harder to say but most are rather small and lack verticality, to the point where they feel more like something from a Battlefront game. Theres only eight of them too, with some looking worrying like equivalents from Battlefield 1.
What saves things to a large degree is Grand Operations, an expanded version of Operations from Battlefield 1. This is a connected series of different maps and modes that can last for well over an hour depending on how the epic tug-of-war goes. You start off with airborne combat and then compete in ground battles and a potential Final Stand tie-breaker that plays out like a mini-Battle Royale and is apparently a preview of the Firestorm mode due in March.
The fact that even the games best mode only serves as a reminder of how unfinished everything is sums up Battlefield V perfectly. Its a work in progress whose missing features and glitchy gameplay is going to put off many people long before it has a chance to redeem itself. Perhaps Firestorm will save the game when its released in March – or perhaps it wont. If it doesnt itll be a shameful sacrifice of a game sent out to war unprepared and unready.
In Short: What could have been the best Battlefield of the modern era fears like a mere shell of a game, with missing features, too little content, and far too many bugs.
Pros: The core gameplay is great, with solid gunplay, traversal, and a useful new Fortifications system. Excellent graphics and destruction effects, and stunning sound design.
Cons: The game is clearly only half-finished, with missing features and content in every mode. Too few maps, none of which are particularly good. No major new ideas and lots of bugs and glitches.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Release Date: 20th November 2018
Age Rating: 16