My relationship with the Battlefield series has evolved significantly over time. Battlefield 1942 (sealed in a solid brick of nostalgia) was one of the first shooters that I ever played, and remains one of the formative experiences in terms of what I expect from a shooter (right up there with Perfect Dark and Half-Life).
But while 1942 was basically a WWII sandbox, the series has taken countless twists and turns since 2002, throwing players further into the past, way into the far-flung future, and even taking them off of the front lines to explore smaller conflicts with the police-centric Battlefield Hardline. But after jumping around in the timeline, developer DICE decided to rewind all the way back to World War I in Battlefield 1, to great effect, no less.
Battlefield 1 wasn’t perfect, but after the mixed reaction to Hardline, it was a step back in the right direction for the series. So it only seemed natural that its sequel — Battlefield V — should bring the series full circle back to World War II. All DICE needed to do was build upon what worked so well in Battlefield 1… right?
1. A grand old time
Grand Operations is Battlefield V’s supercharged version of the Operations multiplayer mode introduced in Battlefield 1. It takes place over the course of multiple in-game days, tasking players with working their way through a variety of game modes. Whichever team wins the round will be granted perks and additional resources that could give them an edge in the next round. These matches typically last about an hour.
While this mode can be somewhat demoralizing if your team isn’t competitive, it is also the highlight of the game when both teams are evenly matched. For all the problems I had with the game (which I’ll get to later), the actual gunplay itself was enjoyable and dynamic enough to keep me captivated with the action.
By the end of a Grand Operation, I felt more comfortable with the game and all of its mechanics than I had before I started, which isn’t always the case with a short Team Deathmatch or Domination battle.
2. Right to the action
It took me several matches to realize that Battlefield V doesn’t quite feel like the Battlefield I remember. It’s faster and smoother than before, which, as someone who doesn’t have the time or the inclination to master an online FPS at the moment (and never exactly flourished anyway), is a welcome change. I’m not sure how the adjustments to the game’s flow will go over with diehard fans, but where I bounced off of Battlefield 1’s multiplayer almost immediately due to its deliberate pace, the barrier to entry in Battlefield V felt lower.
As such, I found myself fully engaged in the Grand Operations and massive Conquests in a way I haven’t been with any recent Battlefield. The game doesn’t bog you down with rules and progressions systems and tutorials — you learn by diving in head first and experimenting with the various classes, weapons, and vehicles.
Speaking of progression systems, one of the reasons that Call of Duty became such a massive phenomenon was its remarkable ability to suck players in with the constant stream of unlocks and level ups. You can level up your classes, your weapons, your vehicles, and your account while playing the multiplayer modes, but none of it feels as obligatory as it does in other games. I never felt outmatched by players with more unlocks than me, nor was I desperate to unlock an incendiary grenade for the Assault class. It all happens in the background while you play.
1. Bore Stories
I had no expectations for the single player experience in Battlefield 1, but it ended up being one of my favorite first-person shooter campaigns of 2016. Those War Stories were effective, impactful, and fun to play, while helping me get back into the groove of Battlefield’s style of war after the team took a detour with Battlefield Hardline.
Needless to say, the first thing I wanted to do when I got my hands on Battlefield V was jump into the new War Stories and see what DICE had cooked up this time around. What I got instead was an incredibly uneven series of missions that didn’t have the same emotional weight as Battlefield 1’s War Stories, or the cohesive tonal thread that tied them all together. They had their moments, but they were too repetitive and tedious to connect with.
It’s also worth noting that one additional story will be added post-launch, but for now, the grayed-out option in the menu just serves to remind players how high up this mode was on the list of priorities for DICE.
I still appreciated the production quality of the cinematics and the bursts of emotional resonance which a multi-hour campaign often fails to provide, but these massive FPS franchises are clearly moving past single-player storytelling in favor of the dynamic stories that arise from multiplayer battles. If this is the last Battlefield “campaign” we ever see, it’s a disappointing send-off.
After all the development time, all the beta tests — how is Battlefield V still this buggy? Whether I was playing through the single player War Stories or knee deep in a Conquest match, I couldn’t avoid bugs. From dead bodies spazzing out to general performance issues, I never really felt completely comfortable playing Battlefield V.
There was even one instance during the second of the War Stories, “Nordlys,” where the cutscene froze altogether (like a Netflix show that needed a moment to buffer). When it picked back up, the dialog was no longer synced with the lips of the characters, which lasted for the duration of the cutscene. I’m willing to forgive relatively small, isolated hiccups like that, but when all of the other bugs and issues begin to stack up, the cumulative effect is impossible to ignore. The game isn’t broken — I don’t want to hyperbolize — but it’s rough around the edges.
The problem is that Battlefield has become infamous for rough launches. That’s not something any developer wants its series to be known for, but even with two full years between releases, Battlefield V caught the… “bug” bug as well. I have no doubt DICE will patch it up (as it always does), but it’s frustrating nonetheless.
3. Unfinished business
There’s no need to skirt around this: Battlefield V isn’t done yet. Now, that could be said of more than half the games that launch nowadays, as day one patches and missing features have become the norm, but there is shockingly little to do in Battlefield V, even compared to other recent entries in the franchise.
We’ve already covered the War Stories, of which there are only three at launch. These last a couple of hours at most, but feel more like chapters ripped from a book than complete stories. Then there are the multiplayer modes — which I praised above. There is just enough variety to keep most players entertained for a few weeks, but with just eight maps at launch, I found myself playing through the same locales over and over again.
Then there’s the Tides of War mode, which sounds fascinating, but won’t be ready until two weeks after launch. The same is true of the Practice Range. Plus, we still don’t really know what’s going on with the Firestorm battle royale mode, but we do know that it won’t be ready for primetime until 2019.
As much as I wanted to like it, Battlefield V never quite clicked with me. That’s not to say I didn’t have fun with it, or that I won’t return to it as more content is added (particularly the Tides of War mode, which starts on December 6th), but the underwhelming single-player content and the boilerplate competitive shootouts weren’t enough to grab me.
I never expected Battlefield V to reinvent the wheel — after all, the wheel works pretty well as is. But to be entirely honest, I’m not sure I need another World War II shooter in my life, even if we haven’t been swamped with them in recent years. Battlefield V does what it does well (save for the bugs and glitches), but the lack of content at launch and the technical issues make this feel more like a side project than a blockbuster sequel to one of the most successful first-person shooter franchises on all time.