At Gamescom a few weeks ago, I got to spend about an hour and a half across a couple of days with Rotterdam, one of the two maps playable in the Battlefield 5 open beta. With the typical lack of co-ordination that you get at public events, it was a total mess. To make matters worse, Rotterdam is a dense, highly exposed map, with lots of long sight lines and exposure on most parts of the map.
Narvik is the other map playable in the BF5 open beta. Thankfully, it's a much better showcase of DICE's grand shooter.
The Narvik level, which takes places on the Norwegian mountainside, is modelled after a series of battles between April and June in 1940. It began as a naval fight in the Ofotfjord between the British and Nazi naval forces. The Allied armies, consisting of joint troops from Poland, Britain, France and Norway, then mounted a two-month long ground assault against Nazi paratroopers and shipwrecked sailors.
Narvik was a key port because it offered an ice-free harbour, which would have allowed a crucial supply of iron ore - a key component in the making of steel - from Sweden by rail. As a result, Narvik became one of the largest offensives in the Second World War - although the assault on Narvik could have been much larger, had Winston Churchill had his way. (The commander-in-chief of the Norweigan forces, Otto Ruge, preferred a counter-offensive on Trondheim. Troops were eventually sent to both locations, although the Allies would withdraw from Norway before the end of the year following the German campaign on France.)
In Battlefield 5, the Norwegian port is playable in the Grand Operations mode which takes place over two rounds. The first round is based on the Airborne mode, where attackers parachute into the harbour port to destroy four objectives as fast as possible. The faster they destroy the objectives, the more extra respawns will be added to the second map.
The second day goes back to Battlefield 1's default mode for Grand Operations: Breakthrough. Put simply, it's a spin on conquest where attackers have to capture sectors in sequential order. The full Operations Mode lasts over four days. There's a Final Stand tiebreaker of sorts if factions are tied after a single day, but none of that is available in the open beta for now.
So when the open beta is widely available on all platforms later this evening, you'll have three ways to experience Narvik: Conquest, the faster-paced Airborne, and the Breakthrough mode available on the second day of the Grand Operations mode.
All three of these, at least from playing with randomised squads on local servers, offered a better out of the box experience than Rotterdam.
It's worth noting - and this will effect every Battlefield map at launch - that maps will play very differently once the broader playerbase has a general understanding of how the building mechanics work. BF5 allows units to build fortifications and cover, although the engineer's toolkit builds much faster.
But regardless of class, you can only build in predetermined spots. Some areas are worth building up regardless though, like building a machinegun nest adjacent to a point, or extra cover on barbed wire fences as you approach the anti-air guns on Narvik.
Right now, many players are still getting to grips with the maps let alone where the fortifications. And the changes to ammo have a pretty massive impact on the moment-to-moment gameplay: you only spawn with a couple of magazines with assault rifles, which makes suppressive fire difficult to justify.
What makes BF5's Narvik a much more enjoyable affair really falls into two buckets: player recognition, and exposure.
Potentially the biggest problem facing BF5 right now is the excess of lighting, dust, wind, effects and everything else that adds to the game's visual splendour. It looks fantastic, don't get me wrong.
But it also makes characters incredibly difficult to see at points. This isn't helped by a change to the spotting system, which is much more restrictive than previous Battlefield games. You can't just zoom in and spam Q, and there's some delay on tags registering even when an enemy is in your crosshairs.
It's a big problem for Rotterdam, where soldier uniforms almost seamlessly blend into the colours of the urban environment. In either the day or the night time, the bright white of the snow makes spotting targets at distance a bit simpler.
The individual points aren't quite as open as, say, objective A on Rotterdam. There's more places to prone and at least minimise your exposure, and there's more ravines, craters and cover when traversing to and from. The general weather conditions of Narvik also acts as a visual impediment, which means you don't have to worry quite so much when running back and forth.
Grenades and rifle-mounted grenades are a lot weaker, helping the early stages of the Airborne mode where defenders to group up to defend entrenched positions.
Narvik isn't without its problems - the Conquest mode shows off the game's airborne combat, which feels more like controlling clunkier TIE Fighters than dogfights between actual WW2 planes. The respawn system ends up being a frustrating transition that you wish you could just skip, rather than having to hold down a button to get back to the deployment screen.
Why, for instance, does DICE want you to hold down a button to bleed out when you either a) don't have anyone else in your squad, or b) your entire squad has died, and there's no teammates in range? The customisations are problematic too: you'll have to unlock weapons, and each of the upgrades are just simply better. The progression tree also only lets users go down one path - rather than unlocking everything at certain levels, and letting you swap out adjustments at will.
Coupled with the ammo problems, it's looking more and more like DICE made the right call in delaying BF5 to November. There's lots of good general elements so far - the gunplay feels great, the performance seemed pretty fine from my experience and there hasn't been any major server issues over the last couple of days. Other elements could use a rework, like the revive system, ammo and smoke grenades - they cover too little ground for what's required - and it wouldn't hurt DICE to seriously think about scrapping planes entirely.
But Narvik, across its multiple iterations, is fun. It's the kind of play that Battlefield fans might have preferred DICE advertised from the get-go, rather than the style and tone they showed in the early trailers. A good map can be the difference between players staying with a game or not, and the vibrant fjords of Norway is a good start.