By Joseph Luster
We’re at somewhat of an impasse in the world of shooters and the disparity between single-player and multiplayer offerings. On one hand, smash hit successes such as Fortnite, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, and the more recent Call of Duty Black Ops 4 have shown that online-only setups can make a ton of money while pleasing hardcore fans and newcomers alike. On the other, there has been plenty of evidence that single-player is far from dead, no matter what your average shareholder-pleasing publisher would like you to believe. Where, then, does that leave Battlefield V, which wrestles between the two styles of play with mixed success?
As everyone suspected well before it was announced, Battlefield V follows the World War I act of Battlefield 1 with a welcome return to World War II. It’s hard to believe there was ever a time when we were so inundated with WWII shooters that we longed for something more. In recent years, each WWII-themed release has felt more like a breath of fresh air in a sea of modernized shooting action. That doesn’t change the fact that many like minded players have had countless experiences with the sub-genre, which raises the bar of expectations regarding what the biggest publishers and developers in the industry can do with today’s technology.
The issue at the heart of Battlefield V’s single-player component doesn’t lie within its story; that’s actually one of the more deftly handled aspects of the package. The War Stories told here range from a Norwegian resistance fighter attempting to sabotage Germany’s nuclear program to the tale of a Senegalese Tirailleur during August 1944’s Operation Dragoon and a sortie that puts a convicted bank robber smack dab in the Special Boat Service during Operation Albumen. It’s all carried out in a manner similar to the way they handled the campaign in Battlefield 1, which was comprised of heartfelt standalone stories full of exciting action set pieces. You’ll find similarly well-written missions here, so why does it ring more hollow than its predecessor?
The meat of the complaints fall directly upon the structure of the campaign itself. Gone are the novel settings and goals of Battlefield 1, replaced instead with the type of objectives we’ve experienced time and time again in the context of World War II. You’ll take down tanks, attempt to hurriedly dismantle anti-aircraft guns, and generally be moved along at a brisk pace throughout an appropriately hectic environment, mired in familiarity all the while. The snow-steeped Norway section of “Nordlys” offers up some interesting diversions, but you will again find yourself funneled down a relatively restrictive path, with only the occasional open area to break up the action.
There’s more on the way for Battlefield V, with a fourth story chapter that’s supposed to land in December or January (so it will likely be out by the time this issue is in your hands). As it stands at the time of this writing, though, the single-player aspect is mostly uninspired and lacking in content. If Battlefield V’s campaign were a little longer and full of more areas that gave players an opportunity to come up with their own unique tactics, it might have felt a little less like an afterthought designed to bolster the multiplayer star of the show.
This is where Battlefield V really opens up, which is great news if you’re a fan of multiplayer-centric releases. Competitive play is fast, hectic, and fun, but much like the solo chunk it isn’t quite fully realized. Some of the most substantial modes, including a highly anticipated Battle Royale mode that aims to capitalize on the aforementioned popularity of Fortnite and similar titles, have yet to arrive. What’s here now, though, is pretty enticing for both new players and seasoned veterans alike, with a handful of detailed maps that can be absolutely obliterated over the course of a single 64-player match.
It was during multiplayer, not the solo campaign, that I realized how beautiful Battlefield V can be. When the multiplayer works, it does an amazing job of selling the absolute chaos of war. At times this is overwhelming, regardless of how many multiplayer shooters you may have played in the past. Developer DICE wanted to bring the franchise back to its World War II roots, and they’ve made some major strides in doing so. One of the features that really drives the competition is the Attrition system, which forces players to make an immediate choice between pushing forward with an undersupplied squad or diverting from the get-go to stock up on essential items. For better or worse, this decision will always affect the outcome of battle in some form.
Other systems need some work, especially when it comes to the methods of reviving downed players. It’s up to the dying player in question as to whether they want to hold out for help from their team or bleed out to respawn more quickly, but it tends to be a little too buggy to bank on regularly. This brings us to the issue of balance, which is always tricky when designing multiplayer that suits all types of players. You’ll run into plenty of balancing gripes of your own if you spend much time in the Grand Operations mode, which takes the structure of single matches and expands it into a series of intense battles that regularly change the level of advantage in favor of the victorious side. As you might guess, these advantages can quickly spiral out of control, especially when dealing with already-overpowered airborne opponents.
Despite some truly rousing battles and a decent amount of room to grow, the full package of Battlefield V comes off as more of a compromise than a complete success in both the single- and multiplayer fields. DICE is hoping this one has some legs, naturally, so it’s worth sticking around to see where it goes from here. If you’re looking for a return to the solo World War II shooters of yesteryear with a slick coat of paint, look elsewhere. If you have patience for a young yet still maturing multiplayer mode, though, Battlefield V is certainly worth investigating.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC