The quiet moments are what really caught me. Battlefield V is a game full to the brim with down and dirty combat. Seeing 10s of soldiers storm one point amongst screams and artillery fire is as exhilarating as it is horrifying. However, there is magic in those brief moments before a game starts or when the fight hasn't quite made its way to your part of the map yet, when everything is quiet but for some rumbles in the distant. In that space, an interesting feeling you don't usually feel when it comes to a military first-person shooter washes over – dread.
Battlefield V launches in a somewhat precarious spot. In a lot of ways, a cavalcade of mishaps and controversy are all working against it. While you can never call the 15th game (depending on what you count) in one of the biggest FPS franchises in the world an underdog, Battlefield V is fighting for every inch of itself. The game is coming off DICE's last game, the industry implicating Star Wars Battlefront 2, a delay to a more unfavourable late November date, a slightly muted advertising push and a bizarre backlash around putting women in a WWII setting. The good news is that Battlefield V rises above those hurdles and then some.
Perhaps the most fascinating part of this game, from a historical point of view, is that game's single player offerings, War Stories. Like in Battlefield 1, these are short 90 to 120 minute campaigns that focus on different aspects of the war. For the moment, there are only three (with that expanding to four on December 4), but as an anthology, they sell the artistic vision of this Battlefield. That feels like a weird thing to say for a historical, multiplayer-focused military shooter but there is a very clear throughline connecting the three stories. In order of how they are listed, you start with Under No Flag. This is probably the weakest of the three but it has its own charm to it. It tells the tale of Billie Bridger, a convict who is invited into a new top secret squad (the still covert SBS) after Dunkirk. You and your corporal head to North Africa to disrupt German supply lines. The cockney accents are overplayed, but in terms of the British taking on the Axis, this is the most meat and potatoes WWII story of the lot.
The second, Nordyls is quite surprising. Set in Norway, it follows a single girl, Solveig, on the way to rescue a captive of the Germans. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that the Germans have a world-implicating plan that needs to be stopped. Of the three, this is the one that feels sincerely hurt by the time constraints. However, that's only because what's there shows such promise. The stealth, survival and skiing aspects of this mode are all great, and I'd love to see a full-length version of this story played out.
The third War Story is Tirailleur, which follows Senegalese conscript Deme fighting in the south of France as part of Operation Dragoon. While the play here is pretty standard shooting galleries with some light objectives like storming points and holding them, the story it tells is an important one. In the context of the backlash the game's seen from those arguing to see a game only about the triumphs of white men, this almost feels like a direct response. It's an important story about forgotten sacrifices and the erasure of the successes of minority soldiers. It's an interesting and thought generating tale based on some real world divisions.
When you look at the three together, it's clear DICE was trying to say something with this mode. Each is a game equivalent of a novella about the undertold stories. These are the tales of people who gave their life the same as those often depicted in this conflict in other media. From the covert nature of the SBS to the literal erasure of other cultures' successes, it's clear Battlefield V is a game defiantly not about the D-Days or Dunkirks.
Of course, as a purchase prospect, all-together, you'd be lucky to get five hours out of all three, so I couldn't wholeheartedly recommend you get the game just for these. However, if you are someone who picks up the game at some point, you really should take the time to look at these.
The real meat, and the reason anyone would reasonably be buying into Battlefield V, of course, is multiplayer. On the surface, this brings what Battlefield always brings to the table. A scale that dwarfs most other AAA FPS franchises that shines when it has objectives to work towards. While Call of Duty and the like feel like game maps, evolutions and riffs on Quake maps of old, Battlefield always nails making its maps feel like spaces where wars actually happen with impressive 32 v 32 player counts. There are 8 maps to play at launch, all with pretty varied settings. From the crumbling ruins of Rotterdam to the fields of France, North Africa skirmishes and Norwegian mountaintop battles, the beauty of Battlefield shines here. It's hard to argue that DICE's games don't sport some of the most consistently impressive technical graphics on the market. This is no different for Battlefield V. This is as good as it has ever looked.
However, while on the surface, the game resembles what you expect Battlefield to look like, it's clear it has geared itself towards the hardcore. While in previous games, you could solo-queue and mostly use the squads as loose guides, DICE has specced things in Battlefield V to encourage, hell, even require you to be part of your four-man squad. Health and ammo are harder to come by, so you will want to bring a support and medic with you. The class specifications are much more important and team play has been tweaked and prodded in order to coerce your squad of four to try and work together. This focus on class definition, while more demanding of players, does open up some nice new play styles. If you are a medic who's reviving every fallen soldier but only collects a handful of kills, you can still place respectably on the leaderboards. This new emphasis is a great refocus for the game, as if you are all playing together. you can really feel you are making a strong difference. You are still only a small part of the amorphous broader team, but good squads win games.
The modes in the games are few but substantial none the less. Of course, the constant of the franchise, Conquest is here, but there is also a more kill focused mode too. However, where I have spent most of my time, and where the multiplayer and tenants of Battlefield shine most is in the new Grand Operations mode. This is an expansion of the Operations from Battlefield 1. However, these are long, multiplayer campaigns that happen across several maps. Set across three in-game days, you brawl with the other side for objectives. Attackers will jump out of planes while defenders build their defences ready to hold whatever objective you are tasked with. These are mostly capture points, although split up into sectors, or artillery cannons that need to be blown up. The team who did better will be given certain advantages each day before coming to a head on Day 3 where either team can win. Full matches can take around forty-five minutes or so, but there is a real sense of progression with each map that makes the matches just feel bigger and more weighty. Infusing a narrative through-line through what is essentially three multiplayer matches is a stroke of inspiration that really pays off in this mode.
None of this is to say the multiplayer gets out unscathed. As of right now, matches can be buggy. There are some small glitches that rear their head, such as a lot of clipping through walls, especially in lengthy revive animations. Alongside that, spawning into a vehicle as a gunner can keep the gun stationary, yet you still move around and shootwith an invisible weapon which is disconcerting. There was one, big game breaking bug I saw too which meant the attacking team couldn't pick up one of the bombs needed to plant on an artillery canon for the whole game. While there was one other one that was usable, it seriously hamstrung the team. Thatg shouldn't be happening in a game where the online expeirence is paramount.
On a more conceptual level, the complicated issue of using realistic and weighty warfare merely for entertainment also rears its head. In this game, perhaps more than ever, there seems to be an emphasis on making the war a little more harrowing. They are subtle touches but the genuinely unsettling screams of some players dying is always a reminder that this did actually happen to real human beings. It feels like DICE made a conscious choice to remind you that these battles did happen, and people died, but they often get lost in the flows of a normal match. It's a tough situation as, due to the respectful tone of the game, you never want to completely let go of the realities of war, but at the same time, you don't want to ruin your online matches with challening imagery that gets in the way of the task at hand. I wonder if the balance between reminding players that war isn't friverlous while remaining fun and engaging can ever be met, and it's perhaps harsh to pull Battlefield V up on this, but it's something that will always remain in the back of my mind during a match.
With all that said, Battlefield V feels like a return to form for DICE. The game is set to receive much more content, including new stories, new maps and new modes, including the battle royale mode Firestorm. For some, they might want to wait until this is a more complete package. However, as it is now, Battlefield remains impressive. There is a sense that I rarely get from multiplayer focused games all the way through Battlefield V. In other games in the genre, the story and multiplayer modes can often feel like two entities separated by a hardline wall. In Battlefield V there is this sense of a throughline between all of it. A vision. Cohesion. This is a World War II game about putting the spotlight on forgotten stories and diversity. Add on top of that, a focused expansion on the squad play towards the hardcore, this feels like the most unique game in the series in recent memory. While still a Battlefield game, there feels like an important step in the right direction for all of its content.
It's hard to recommend the title if you don't like multiplayer FPSs, but if you want something a little different from your standard Call of Duty, Battlefield V is an excellent competitor. It's a little buggy, and there is still a bunch of content to come to the game over time, but for me, it works as a multiplayer game with a vision. As a World War II game, it works as a magnifying glass on the alternative. It has some way to go before it feels entirely 'complete' but Battlefield V feels a little different than it should all the way down. To me, that's an exciting thing for a genre that too often gets stuck in its ways.