Battlefield V Review
Voracious shooting and hardcore appeal, vexed by vehicle issues and vast glitches
It wasn’t that long ago when shooter franchises battled over which of them could do World War II better. Call of Duty, Brothers in Arms, and Medal of Honor released numerous titles that covered the major conflict. Then WW2 fatigue hit and most series transitioned into modern warfare to great effect. But gaming is cyclic. It was only a matter of time before they would return to the setting. Call of Duty did it last year, with their lukewarm WWII, and this year Battlefield goes back to where the franchise began after their successful foray into the First World War two years ago. Battlefield V changes some mechanics and has breakneck speed, but it is inconsistent, unfinished, and prone to many technical problems.
Time to go back to war
For the most part, Battlefield V is similar to Battlefield 1 when it comes to the multiplayer action. Four classes play similar roles; Assaults smash tanks, Supports give ammo and chew through it, Recons sit behind a rock and snipe, and Medics run past your dead body and heal themselves. Gunplay is excellent across most weapons and classes. Every weapon has branching upgrade paths that can reduce recoil, add bayonets, increase magazine size, or more. These upgrade paths offer adequate choice without compromising balance. When running into battle, mantling still allows players to scale over high walls, and it works most of the time. Getting in and out of vehicles still has lengthy animations. Even the general feel is the same as BF1, with similar bolt-action rifles and brutal melee kills.
But there are always changes. In many respects, it is a shift to a hardcore style of play. Spotting has been removed from regular soldiers, forcing greater awareness and rewarding flanking. All players can “mark” an area of interest but it is unreliable. Support classes can tag suppressed enemies and Recons have a few spotting options, but there is far less of it. Soldiers have minimal ammo, encouraging team resupply and scrounging off dead bodies. Health regeneration is slow and partial, and health restoration is typically manually activated with health packs. Death comes fast and there is no highlight of your killer through walls this time.
And then there are the changes that suit more casual players. Every player can now revive any of their squad members. This is great when playing with friends, as now there is no need to play as medic just to make your squad viable. If your squad earns enough points, squad leaders can call in supplies, vehicles, and an obnoxious rocket bomb that gets spammed at the end of matches, in lieu of a commander role.
Soldiers have visual customisation—helmets, pants, faces, camouflage, and jackets—although this means it is now impossible to tell which class enemies are. Not that it matters when you cannot swap gear. The speed of action is rapid, with infinite sprint, crouched sprint, and a tendency for teams to charge to the next objective. Battlefield V tries to appeal to both casual and hardcore audiences in one fowl swoop. The merger is odd, but it works and will require adaptation.
Fortifications allow soldiers to place sandbags and barbed wire
New to the franchise are fortifications. Players can build things like trenches, sandbags, and blockades, mostly around objectives. Building is as simple as selecting the tool and holding a button over the highlighted structures. Creating fortifications can be finicky, as you need to stand close and aim precisely. It can take seconds to build each one, so a bunch of them will take a minute or two. This can be ideal busywork when capturing an undefended flag. In Conquest mode, flags change ownership so rapidly that the wall you just built is now working against you. Even friendlies building their dream house out of sandbags might force teammates to go the long way around.
Some fortifications are better than others. Stations for ammo, health, and vehicle resupply will be useful when pushing forward. Machine-gun nests and cannons can be made by the Support class and they help defend areas. Even barbed wire will herd enemies into death channels. Most regular fortifications provide only a minimal reward. Would you rather kill a few enemies or place a few sandbags? Most prefer the former but good teams will create defensive structures that change level flow.
In 64-player Conquest battles, maps encourage fortifications due to exposed flag designs. Maps trend towards the small size and combat is never far away. The maps are generally not linear, but teams still face off more than they should. There are eight maps in total and their quality is mixed. Each region has two maps.
The desert maps of Africa have minimal cover. Aerodrome is 50 shades of brown in a bland valley region. Most of the combat occurs near the central hangar, and it is hard to go anywhere without seeing sniper glints. Hamada is much larger and it has a heat shimmer effect to reduce distant visibility across the blinding white sand. The flag design is weak, apart from the complex fort region.
Hamada is a decent map for tank warfare
Both snow maps are excessively bright, although they play differently. Narvik is mid-sized and it has some okay variety with its flags. It has two elevation levels but the building areas are too messy. Fjell 652 is infantry chaos; think Argonne Forest from BF1, if it took place on a mountain top with aircraft buzzing overhead. It’s one of the worst maps because of open slopes, samey flags, limited flanking routes, and restrictive corridors.
The city maps provide decent close quarters combat. Rotterdam uses the same interior spaces as Amiens from two years ago but it has oodles of side routes, so it’s no surprise that the flags change ownership like a traffic light changes color. Devastation is a city area post bombing and it lets you get stuck on debris until an enemy comes along to put you out of your misery.
The two French maps are pleasing both in terms of their size and design. Twisted Steel is large with a central bridge that snipers call home and an open marshland for tanks to creep around. Arras is the best of all eight maps. Similar in structure to Soissons from BF1, it offers decent variety for each flag, heavy central destruction, comprehensive fortification use, fields of barley to use as cover, and smart changes in elevation.
Eight Conquest maps are not many, especially considering their relative size. It won’t take long before players have fought in every corner. Even now, maps have spots that attract the action. It also raises another point, relating to map size: outside tanks and planes, vehicles are seldom used.
Transport vehicles are bizarrely implemented and rarely useful. Most maps feature one spawn truck (half-track) and maybe one or two light transports (jeep or bike). The half-track is great because teammates can spawn on it and it offers good driver protection, but, sadly, they only seem to respawn twice. The regular light transports are awful because they leave all occupants exposed. Animations for entering and leaving vehicles are excruciatingly slow. Light vehicles never seem to respawn when abandoned; an enemy jeep remained jammed against a rock for 20 minutes. The lack of transports creates an infantry merry-go-round and puts too much emphasis on tanks and planes.
Tanks tread a fine line between brutal killing machine and fragile tin can. They are brought into battle via the deployment screen and range from light to heavy. In general, they are slow with restrictive turret speeds. Suited more as long-range snipers, they can be felled quickly. They can still do well, as long as you stick near resupply stations and have adequate support.
Planes create some balance issues
Planes are not great for newbie pilots. They handle poorly and dogfights are painful due to poor visibility, bad hit feedback, and wide turning circles. Fighter planes tend to leave infantry alone but Bombers can wipe out half the enemy team if they cluster around an objective, which happens too frequently in some modes.
One of those chaotic modes is Grand Operations and it is a mixture of several other modes spread across two linked maps. Team success in one round affects player spawn numbers, time limit, or vehicle reinforcements in the following round. Attackers might drop via parachute to destroy cannons. Then they push through a series of flags and plant bombs. While the sub-modes vary in design, Grand Operations generally has too many players going for too few objectives. In the map Arras, 64 players fight over a single capture point in the village while bombers obliterate the buildings. It’s absurd pandemonium. Many other scenarios are a similar meat grinder. Despite the name, this mode is not as majestic as its predecessor from BF1, due to the lack of intro videos and balance issues.
Frontlines and Breakthrough are part of Grand Operations, but these modes can be played separately. Both are linear and focused, so they tend to make better use of fortifications. Breakthrough is 64 players with attackers trying to claim ownership of one or two objectives. Frontlines cuts player numbers in half and allows for both attacking and defending, so it is more palatable. In either case, it is hard to flank when enemies take up firing positions outside your team’s combat area. Frontlines is also an endless tug of war, sometimes literally: bombs might not spawn and the game will never end.
The infantry modes of Team Deathmatch and Domination keep the pace frantic but remove the vehicle threats. Deathmatch is quite replayable as the game spaces are large and skirmishes break out in different areas. Domination is more focused, but flags change ownership rapidly so it does not stagnate. All eight maps work fairly well in both modes, perhaps due to the limited spotting. These frantic shooting modes are actually the most relaxing in the game and they prove that chaos is not essential.
In most multiplayer modes, there is too much hyperactivity. Some players won’t experience the eerie quiet as the wind howls through a rocky passage or hear teammates whisper when crouching towards a flag. Footsteps are nigh impossible to locate when the game is constantly trying to overwhelm the senses. The strange thing is that the experience is actually sometimes better when the pace drops.
Single player offers some pleasing visuals and not much else
Single player provides plenty of downtime—perhaps too much. Once again it is a series of clichéd War Stories that encourage stealth. There are typically several objectives that can be achieved in any order. One story features a prisoner turned soldier that destroys targets of interest in the African desert. It tries to create emotion with its two lead characters but cannot manage it. The second story is thematically more interesting as you control a young commando in snowy Norway as she attempts to sabotage Nazi heavy water facilities. The final story is a bit more overt as you take control of a French soldier that assaults a German fort and finally a chateau.
The stealth mechanics in the campaign have sadly not improved since the last game. There are no dragging bodies, traps, persistent distractions, disguises, cover takedowns, or anything that elevates it over barebones covert action. Nazis just patrol the area, or sit against invisible chairs, and you can melee them and disable alarms. If the alarm rings, a flame trooper might arrive to make it harder, but there usually are not many foes. Enemy AI is idiotic. Sniping at soldiers in a truck will see the truck drive on nonchalantly, even after a dead guy falls out the back.
But there are some neat moments in the campaign, aided by pleasing visuals. Skiing down a Norwegian mountain and stopping to survey the area is relaxing and somewhat freeing. Throwing knives make stealth too easy but they are still fun to use. Many scenarios do not force stealth, and just shooting enemies is mostly entertaining with the decent weapon handling. The campaign does feature some elements not present online, like drivable trucks, barn interiors, idyllic forest settings, unique uniforms, and even forts. This makes it seem like the multiplayer is missing components. These War stories aren't great, and more multiplayer maps would have been a better use of the developers' time.
Battlefield V is visually inconsistent. At times it is great looking and other times it’s washed out. Performance is similar. It runs great sometimes but is squirrelly when the action gets intense. Textures are good, even on lower settings. World lighting is either too bright or too dark, with little in between. Target acquisition is the worst in the series. Often the only visual indication of an enemy is the muzzle flash from the bullet that just killed you. It takes many hours until enemies begin to stand out. And that is before taking into account random weather effects like snow, rain, and fog. Even interiors on some maps have bizarre lighting—the game auto-adjusts brightness, so looking outside is like staring into the sun and looking in is like focusing on a black hole. The game needed to be visually cleaner.
Visibility can be a problem
The menu system is bad. It is nothing but sub-menus upon sub-menus that take forever to do simple tasks. Changing a weapon after dying in multiplayer takes six clicks and requires you to wait seconds for the weapon previews to load. It is a sad case of form over function.
Technical issues are not on the same level as BF4 at launch, but they are persistent. Servers are generally stable but that’s where the good news ends. Although destruction is good, it has its fair share of glitches, like church bells hanging in mid air and ivy floating on missing walls. Ragdolls are horrible; every death imparts soldiers with satanic force that might see their bodies get stuck inside buildings. Reviving players can send them sliding out into the open arms of an enemy.
Weapon sights break. Player models freeze. Bipods fail to deploy. Spawning doesn’t work. Visual outlines of soldiers persist after revival. Even quitting to the main menu takes a ridiculous 40 seconds. There are less critical audio bugs too, like soldiers continuing to beg for help after being revived or voices in the spawn area when nobody is around. Friendly teammates will praise your vehicle-destruction abilities in game modes that do not have vehicles. The list of technical issues is broad, signifying, again, that the game was pushed out months before it was ready.
Fortunately the music is exceptional, with long notes that build in tempo and volume. The soundtrack is composed of stringed instruments, piano tinkling, flute solos, and even drums. It would be good enough for a war movie.
Battlefield V is worth checking out, if the hardcore shift and WW2 setting appeals. It gets close to greatness in some areas and flounders in others. While its core shooting and rapid pace are still among the best in the industry, the supporting features are lacking in balance, quality, or quantity. The new fortification system works okay. Multiplayer maps are not the best in Conquest although at least they are not linear. There are some decent modes but too many are chaotic. Single player has some okay slower moments but is ruined by poor AI, weak story, and uninspired mission design. Battlefield V was a chance to recapture the magic of the series and the era, and it does that sometimes, while also shining a spotlight on how much extra time was needed for development.