Battlefield 5 Review – On The Front Lines
Chaos and scale have always been the foundation of the Battlefield franchise, and Battlefield V is no different. Squads of soldiers relentlessly push towards objectives with either sheer force or improvised tactics while gunfire and explosions ring throughout the beautiful, but war-torn landscapes. It’s an overwhelming sensory experience and a fine execution of a familiar formula–if you play the better modes.
Battlefield V goes back to where the franchise began by using World War II’s European theater as the backdrop for first-person shooting and vehicular combat in large multiplayer matches. It’s not too dissimilar to Battlefield 1, where every weapon has a distinct weight and impact that comes through vividly in both sight and sound. The core conceits of Battlefield remain mostly untouched, but small tweaks have been made to the formula, most of which are welcome.
Ground troops are even more deadly this time around, with a revamped ballistics model (random bullet deviation is gone) that results in reduced time-to-kill for skilled players; floundering in open areas is now more dangerous than ever. Navigating the maps’ messy terrain has a smooth, intuitive feel whether you’re mantling obstacles or scrambling for cover. All players regardless of class can revive squadmates, which highly encourages sticking together and alleviates the disappointment of dying without a medic around. Since it takes a few precious seconds to perform a revive and is limited to squadmates, it doesn’t negate the importance of the Medic class’ instant revive. The ability to spot enemies is now exclusive to the sniper-focused Recon class by using the manual spotting scope or having the subclass perk to reveal enemies you fire upon.
Class roles and teamwork are further emphasized by the Attrition system, which encompasses the changes made to resource scarcity and scavenging and affects nearly every aspect of the game. The fact you’re not given much ammo at spawn makes the Support class’s ability to dole out ammo pouches clutch when you survive multiple firefights, while the Assault class has a perk that grants more ammo upon scavenging dead players. Surviving with the game’s health system, which is partially auto-regenerating, relies on having a medkit on hand, which can only be distributed by Medics. As impactful as Attrition sounds, it’s not so overbearing as to drastically shake up Battlefield’s core, though it does make going rogue less viable.
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Another new mechanic introduced in Battlefield V is Fortifications, which consists of building predetermined structures within the environment–like sandbag walls, barbed wire coils, and Czech hedgehogs. There are no resources tied to your ability to construct them, though the Support class builds faster than other classes and can prop up things like stationary gun and supply crates in certain spots. Overall, fortifications feels a bit tacked on and inconsequential in some cases, but there’s no denying their effectiveness in the right situation. Something as simple as improvised sandbags for a little cover can go a long way by turning a sitting duck into a well-positioned defender who can better hold down an objective when every other building’s been reduced to rubble.
Above all else, Battlefield V truly shines in Grand Operations, a series of three consecutive matches (or rounds) intertwined by brief narrative bits inspired by WWII events. Each round, presented as one in-game day in the same theater of war, is a specific game mode, and teams can earn reinforcement bonuses for certain rounds depending on the outcome of the previous one. The narrative dress-up is a nice touch, but the real reason Grand Operations works is because it keeps up the momentum from round to round and packages a variety of game modes into one long match, encouraging you to see it through.
The success of Grand Operations should be primarily accredited to the more focused, well-executed modes like Airborne, Frontlines, and Breakthrough. Frontlines in particular plays out like a tug-of-war; teams fight over varied objectives in sequential order within defined sections of a map, depending on the phase of the match. Teams will struggle to hold capture points in sequence to push the other back, and other phases may be demolition-style attack/defend skirmishes. The opportunity to push back a phase also makes it so you can regain ground if your back is against the wall; by the same token, you can’t get too comfortable with a lead.
These game types aren’t entirely new; Frontlines was seen in Battlefield 1 DLC and borrows elements from Rush and Conquest, and Grand Operations is a variation–albeit improved–on the original Operations in Battlefield 1. However, the tools and mechanics built around Battlefield V along with how map dynamics shift at each phase make them an absolute thrill to play. It accentuates the best features of the map roster, and also makes the moment to moment firefights distinct since they’re concentrated across different sections. The structure of modes like Frontlines naturally ushers a team’s attention to a handful of clear objectives at a time and provides a method to the madness, creating a satisfying push-and-pull where success feels earned.
As great as Grand Operations is, the series staple of Conquest has become the weakest link. This traditional mode has devolved into a match-long carousel of flag captures, easy kills, and cheap deaths. Maps like Twisted Steel and Arras function well enough for Conquest, but that leaves a majority of the eight available maps lacking. Narvik, Fjell 652, and Devastation feel too condensed and disjointed for the high player count and mechanics of Conquest; the action hardly ever stops, but cramming everyone together in compact, circular maps means you’re often caught from behind or flanked by enemies that simply stumbled upon that fruitful opportunity. It goes both ways, as you’ll frequently find yourself catching enemy squads with their backs turned because you lucked into a certain spawn and ran off in the right direction.
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Battlefield V is also rough in spots. A few bugs are forgivable, like wild ragdoll physics, but some are more problematic. On rare occasions, the map goes blank when enlarging it, or health packs just don’t work. Very rarely would you have to revive a squadmate by a door, but when this happens, you’re likely to only get the prompt to interact with the door, leaving your friend to die. Thankfully, these issues are not enough to overshadow the game’s best parts.
Regardless of your preferred mode of play, you’ll be earning XP for a number of separate progression paths. There’s overall rank, class rank, individual weapon rank, and for good measure, each tank and plane has its own rank as well. There isn’t a whole lot to unlock for weapons given the WWII setting, but leveling up weapon proficiencies lets you customize them to your play style, like choosing greater hip-fire accuracy, faster reload, quicker aim-down-sights, or less recoil in ADS. Various weapons and pieces of equipment (such as the spawning beacon for Recon or the anti-tank grenade for Assault) unlock as you rank up classes. It’s a fairly sensible system, though the same can’t be said about vehicle progression. Vehicles are tough to come by in Battlefield V as it is and since each one ranks separately, it takes an extra-concerted effort to level them up. There are some useful perks to obtain for vehicles that can provide a slight advantage, but it can be a struggle to acquire them.
Aside from weapon skins, you’ll customize each class’s appearance for both Allies and Axis. It’s the cosmetic aspect where you can fit yourself with different parts of uniforms, though it doesn’t bear much fruit since this is a first-person game that moves so fast, even your enemies won’t really notice the ‘rare’ uniform you’re wearing. Cosmetic customization is also how Company Coins comes into play, the in-game currency that you earn through completing challenges (daily orders or assignments) or completing matches. Most cosmetics can be acquired with Company Coins, which can be a grind to earn. You should note that unlocking weapon and vehicle perks are also tied to Company Coins, but at least they are relatively low-cost. There are no microtransactions at the moment, but they are said to coming in the future, and for cosmetics only.
Battlefield V isn’t solely a multiplayer endeavor. War Stories returns as the single-player component that attempts to present a brutal conflict with a more earnest tone. The campaign highlights lesser-known parts of WWII, like the Norwegian resistance, and the Senegalese Tirailleurs who fought for the French Army amid racial discrimination. The effort is admirable, especially when it comes to the Tirailleur campaign as it sheds light on piece of history that has nearly been forgotten; the scale of Battlefield comes through and the story speaks to the horrors of war. Nordlys boils down to a mix of stealth and combat that casts you as a one-person army that’s enjoyable at times, but doesn’t go beyond lone-wolf skirmishes–at least it showcases some of the game’s best setpieces. And the Under No Flag campaign for the English side is an eye-rolling series of tedious missions that goes for a lighthearted note; it doesn’t stick the landing, however. War Stories has its moments but is all over the place in terms of design, tone, and style.
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Currently, Battlefield V still has features to implement as part of its game-as-a-service approach (designated Tides of War), but there’s enough to chew on for now given the quality of the better modes. It’s an exciting prospect that there’s more to come at no additional cost, but you can’t help but feel that the launch package could’ve been a bit more dense considering there’s only eight maps. Additional modes (including co-op), new maps, another Grand Operations mission, and the Firestorm battle royale mode will be rolling out intermittently between now and March 2019. All that could make for the most feature-rich game in the series; unfortunately, we won’t be able to evaluate those parts of the game until they arrive.
The Battlefield series has a winning formula that Battlefield V doesn’t deviate far from, at least for now. Conquest and the map roster don’t mesh well together, however, Grand Operations–and the other modes within it–steal the show and foster some of the greatest moments the franchise has offered. You might be surprised by the impact of the slight changes made for this entry, especially when you’re deep into pushing or defending objectives in Frontlines alongside teammates fulfilling their roles. That’s when Battlefield V is at its best.
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