Battlefield V, playable now for EA Access and Origin Premier members, takes the series back to its World War Two roots with far more spectacle than when the series premiered in 2002. I was sceptical after the game's rough betas, and while I've only had a handful of hours with its latest incarnation, Battlefield V has largely proven itself. It plays fast, tells lesser-known stories, and while not everything has clicked yet, it's an intense experience.
The Battlefield series is mostly about large scale online battles with heaps of players and destructible environments. The series took a different direction in 2016's Battlefield 1 by adding a gritty single-player campaign in a harsher setting. It was part LAN party, part History Channel documentary.
It didn't always work but was still a refreshing change. Battlefield V follows a similar pattern, offering players as much online chaos as they want alongside rousing tales of valorous soldiers.
The latter is handled, as it was in Battlefield 1, through short, disparate campaign missions where you play as characters on lesser-known fronts. Call of Duty: WWII told the familiar story of The Big Red One and featured well-known battles like the Invasion of Normandy or the Battle of the Bulge. Battlefield V shies away from telling those tales. Instead, its opening sequence features German tank advances in Libya and the Allied liberation of Nijmegen.
If the message of Battlefield 1's opening — an extended sequence where the player controls numerous doomed soldiers on a single battlefield — was the human cost of war, Battlefield V's focus is scale. Even more than Battlefield 1, it wants to stress the global nature of the war.
To that end, the first story mission I played followed the perspective of a Senegalese Tirailleur fighting in France during Operation Dragoon. Many of these soldiers had not seen France before, although there were Tirailleurs who fought in World War One, and Battlefield V uses that frame to tell a story that touches on themes of racism as well as general rousing war story fare.
At the very least, it's a change from Battlefield 1's failure to manage a proper story for Harlem Hellfighters after featuring them prominently in the game's marketing material. Battlefield V fast-paced mini-stories don't really allow the game to hone in on serious topics, opting for a broad and not always earned sentimentality.
And yet, in showing these lesser known fronts and troops (and presenting the whole damn thing in spoken French!) Battlefield V uses its setting far better Call of Duty: WWII did.
It helps that the game is also terrifyingly good looking. Graphics are not the most important thing for a game, nor is realism, but Battlefield V pushes the Frostbite Engine to such extremes that it's easy to get pulled into the setting. Windswept mountains toss snow around and I swear I can see each unique crystal. Bright vineyard leaves meet the golden sun and for a moment it feels like the war is kilometres away.
It's not as painful and cruel as Battlefield 1's barren no man's lands or burning forests, but it's not meant to be. Battlefield V is about something cleaner, a world still spoiled but worth reclaiming.
That's one side of the game. The other, arguably more important side is the multiplayer. In describing it during alpha and beta write-ups, I've always been keen to talk about how much faster it feels compared to Battlefield 1, and that holds true for the final release.
Battlefield V speeds players up and makes them die faster. There are slow points too, notably in the extended death animations that play out whenever your do meet your digital Maker. But these have been tweaked since the beta, and there's less downtime than before. The ammo-limiting Attrition system, which affects access to supplies as tides turn, has also been toned down.
Downed foes drop more ammo pouches than before, but you'll still find yourself scrambling for supplies and calling for a Support class player to drop an ammo box. As a result, some of the friction points and rough edges that made the beta stumble have been shaved away.
When it works, it's astounding. I've wandered around with squads as their designated medic, keeping folks alive while our gunner set up shop and did their thing. I've seen players rally together to build barricades as the enemy advances, another new feature that allows you to contribute beyond lurking in a corner and sniping. There might be some need to adjust to how the game moves and plays compared to what came before, but once you do it can be incredibly rewarding.
When it breaks down, it's less enjoyable. Battlefield V might smooth some gameplay edges, but others remain rough. Changes to how spotting works — instead of pressing a button to mark targets, you need to keep your sights over them — and the use of a system where you earn points to unlock special vehicles and airstrikes feel clunky and distracting.
Sometimes, for a reason I've yet to pin down, matches are full of nothing but spawning into enemy fire or getting obliterated by V1 rockets. And that's to say nothing of the game's tangled web of gun customisation and gear allocation.
Still, Battlefield V seems to have recovered its footing after initial poor showings in earlier iterations. The game's story mode, while perhaps a bit maudlin, takes time to explore the setting. Tweaks to the multiplayer have removed many of the issues I encountered in the beta, making for a familiar but faster Battlefield experience. There might be some jank here or there, but when it clicks, it turns into something great.
We'll see how the rest of it plays out and have a review for you next week.