After taking the popular Battlefield series to “the beginning” with the First World War-based Battlefield 1, developers have returned the action to its World War II roots with Battlefield V.
Anyone who’s not familiar with this first-person shooter (FPS) need know only that the original game, introduced in 2002 as Battlefield 1942 (BF42), offers players the chance to control vehicles as well as soldiers.
At the time of its introduction, that was a novel twist for the traditional FPS, and it gave developer Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment — more commonly known as “DICE” — and publisher Electronic Arts one of the most successful FPS game franchises. BF42 spawned two expansions, along with several gamer-made mods or modifications.
The series continued the action with Battlefield: Vietnamand several modern day-focused games, including Battlefield 2, Battlefield 3, Battlefield 4, and the companion series Battlefield: Bad Company, which added a single player component to what largely had been a multiplayer-only experience.
Now, with BFV, the action returns to World War II, but in many ways the real world has moved on in the intervening years. Back when BF42 came out, HBO’s Band of Brothers, along with a slew of movies, such as Saving Private Ryan, had created new interest in “the Greatest Generation.” World War II-focused games already were in vogue, thanks to EA’s other shooter series, Medal of Honor, and Activision’s Call of Duty.
Sixteen years later, it is questionable whether World War II seems relevant to today’s players, including gaming veterans who have seen this conflict depicted so many times before. Even with its robust graphics, new storytelling elements and gaming enhancements, the setting risks being perceived as passé.
Going It Alone as Single Player
The Battlefield series long has been known for its multiplayer action — and it remains one of the only game series to offer 32 vs. 32 epic combat matches. This time, the developers have upped the ante quite a bit with the single player experience, which in past games really was little more than an introduction to the action.
BFV features three robust campaigns that are worthy of games in their own right, so those who prefer to go it solo won’t be disappointed by what this one has to offer.
As with other single player military-themed games it is short on story, of course, so don’t expect to interact with other characters to advance the plot much. While there is dialog acted out, the player doesn’t really interact. Instead, this is very much a linear-focused run and gun experience.
If there is a complaint, it is that the player is on point most of the time with little support, as with so many past games (Medal of Honor and Call of Dutycome to mind). Of course, this is expected, as what fun would it be merely to watch the action unfold? Still, being “Johnny on the spot” almost becomes frustrating — fighting off tanks, planes and infantry at various times!
The three different campaigns offer unique perspectives on World War II. They start with “Under No Flag,” which features commando-style missions beginning in North Africa. The second campaign, “Nordlys,” visits the frozen Nazi-occupied Norway as a female member of the resistance. While it feels cartoonish at times, the story is straightforward enough.
The final campaign offers the boldest statement in the franchise to date. In “Tirailleur” — the name of a type of colonial French infantry from North Africa — players are much like those men — soldiers fighting for a homeland that wasn’t really theirs, but for the promise of becoming Frenchmen.
As expected, the single player game offers the chance to be a Rambo-style hero who can easily outgun the hordes of enemy soldiers. Even in the third campaign, the men fighting alongside you simply feel scripted to die to heighten the sense of sacrifice. While it is nice to see some support from other soldiers, it still isn’t quite the same experience as one would get in the multiplayer modes.
Where the single player game feels underwhelming is that it offers infrantry operations almost exclusively, so there are only brief moments to control the Battlefield vehicles.
The ability to play online against other human players long has been the biggest selling point of the Battlefield series, and this remains absolutely true with BFV. At launch there is a nice mix of maps, and this provides plenty of variety for gamers. Here is where, despite the familiar World War II setting, the developers have managed to offer something fresh.
Maps include locations in the Netherlands in 1940 and the French countryside, and even snow-covered vistas in Norway, but the game allows players to visit more familiar stomping grounds in North Africa — DICE really likes to create desert maps!
Once again, the game features the usual variety of multiplayer modes that include the mix of conquest, domination, frontlines, team deathmatch and breakthrough.
Experienced players will recognize the different types of gameplay these offer when heading into action. Conquest involves controlling a number of flags around a map, while frontlines is a tug-of-war style match as players fight back and forth along a front.
BFV also builds on BF1‘s operations mode, which has one team engaging in an offensive while the other team is able to dig in and stop the attack. This time, the “Grand Operation” requires allies to push forward over several maps. How players do on each map determines the amount of equipment and supplies for the next round. This is meant to simulate how both attackers and defenders can be affected by continual combat.
Going for More Realism
As expected, BFV is visually stunning, and it truly highlights the improvements in gaming graphics since BF42 was released 16 years ago. A fair comparison would be today’s 4K/UHD TVs to the 480i standard definition CRT TVs of 2002!
Everything simply looks better, which makes for a far more intense experience, but at times — dare I say it — the realism could be too much.
As a history buff, I’m personally impressed by the attention to details in uniforms and equipment. However, it is a little offputting to be playing as a German soldier of the Third Reich shooting at Allied soldiers, given that I have heard actual war stories from old relatives and friends.
The game’s new wound system has been tweaked so that players aren’t immediately killed (“fragged” in gamer speak) when they take hits, but instead can call out for help or opt to bleed out quickly to respawn faster.
In BFV it isn’t only medics who can offer aid. Each squad member can offer medical attention to squad mates, while medics can revive anyone on their respective side.
When I called for help, more than once those calls went unheeded. There were times when other players opted to “bleed out” to respawn. Today that doesn’t feel quite appropriate, and I have to remind myself that it is still a game.
DICE once again has done a good job of encouraging teamplay. Soldiers serve as a cohesive unit in combat, not a bunch of lone wolves running around the battlefield. To this end, squad members can spawn on one another, as well as other designated spawn points. This certainly can help tip the scales in close matches, but these improvements in gameplay bring down the realism. Reinforcements in battle aren’t teleported to the lone holdout in a bunker!
More to Come
DICE has offered a lot of add-on content for its Battlefield titles. With the previous BF1, it even mapped out what players could expect. Of course, each add-on came with a price, sometimes requiring players to buy a special version.
This time around, DICE has promised that one price will buy everything, so expansions will be free for gamers as they arrive. That could help persuade those on the fence, as players like to know that a game will have support down the digital pipeline.
However, at launch the game feels like it could use a bit more refinement. No doubt the development team has been scrambling to make sure it is as polished as possible in time for the commercial release, but the pre-launch version that I tested featured long load times, some visual glitches, and gameplay that didn’t feel as smooth as BF1 seemed immediately before its release.
Still, as Battlefield games go, this one offers truly stellar improvements. Controlling the vehicles once again is an absolute blast, the maps are diverse, and the gameplay can be intense. I can only hope that BFV renews interest in actual history, as past games in this series have done.