Games Review: Battlefield V (PC, 2018) is the most interesting World War 2 video game in years

Battlefield V is goddamned pretty. It’s something I’ve continually murmured to myself while reviewing DICE’s latest entry in their longrunning shooter franchise. Nobody is capable of squeezing the visual juice out of EA’s Frostbite engine quite as well as they can. The game they have constructed with it isn’t just one of the best Battlefield titles ever produced, it’s also home to a single player experience of a similar reverential mind with 2016’s Battlefield 1.

It’s safe to say that the War Stories, the shorter form single player vignettes that make up Battlefield V‘s campaign, are not as strong as those found in Battlefield 1. They don’t have the same kind of surprise or energy as their WW1 counterparts, partly because we’ve seen so much of World War 2 in games before and partly because World War 2 was a wholly different conflict. Where DICE are to be praised is in their willingness to veer away from well-worn video game territory, your Omaha beach landings and Battle of the Bulge set pieces, and into stories and theatres of conflict that don’t get as much of the spotlight as the usual all-conquering, all-conquering American heroes.

War Stories begins with a quick prologue mission that spotlights all the different modes of play available in Battlefield V and what to expect from each story. Each part of this 15 minute vignette ends in a swift, grisly and inevitable demise for your character, but it does give you an overview of the broader tone and scale that DICE are shooting for. The first War Story, Nordlys, follows a Norwegian resistance fighter hellbent on trying to save her mother from Nazi clutches. Norway was a crucial staging ground for what could have become the German nuclear weapons program, the Nazis finding a rich supply of the heavy water required to build reactors. The Norwegian resistance fighters, much like the one you play in Nordlys, made sure that particular plan never came to fruition. This is a very grim story about a very scared and driven young woman, pulling of a minor miracle in the name of her country as she pursues a goal that is much more personal.

Under No Flag, the second War Story, switches tonal gears in a big way. The comparisons to Guy Ritchie’s gangster films are not without merit — Under No Flag adopts the same feeling of escalating cause-and-effect absurdity that Ritchie’s films are known for, with a similar scallywag gleam in its eye.

I use these two as my examples because they’re a good encompassing of the whole singleplayer package. You get a taste of a lot of different parts of the war, a lot of different perspectives. This is a wonderful thing and something the team should be exceedingly proud of. From a gameplay perspective, the thing that struck me about all of these vignettes was the way they played. They’re very similar in structure to Ubisoft’s Far Cry series, sending you around sprawling maps to touch on related objectives that are often placed very far from each other. It’s a credit to DICE’s mastery of the Frostbite engine that they can create biomes this huge and this detailed but every now and again I started to feel like I was being run ragged.

The multiplayer component is Battlefield as you know it, as you like it and as you want it. There’s very little DICE really have to alter game-to-game in order to make the multiplayer work — big maps, lots of vehicles, big player counts and the rest seems to sort itself out. The Operations mode from Battlefield 1 returns, now called Grand Operations. This mode puts teams into pitched battles from throughout World War II, playing out on what the developers refer as “forgotten battlefields.” Each round makes up a day of fighting, and how well you perform individually and as a group informs the next step of the included narrative. It’s an interesting approach to PvE and one I like seeing from DICE.

Conquest returns, bringing with it the massive 64-player insanity that Battlefield is known for. Breakthrough is a fairly standard point capture mode with one team attacking and the other defending specific sectors of the map. There’s also Domination, Team DM and Frontlines which is a bit of a mash up of different Battlefield game modes that boils down to fighting over a flag.

Do I have any gripes? Only a few, to be honest. I still struggle with the actual shooting in Battlefield and I think that’s a multifaceted problem. When I say “struggle with shooting” I mean to say that my aim, even on PC, is fairly abysmal. On the one hand, these are period appropriate weapons and the bullet spread on them should be wide. On the other, god help me I’d just like to shoot a guy even one time. There’s a floatiness to Battlefield V‘s aiming that utterly eludes me. It’s one of those things that makes Battlefield what it is for diehards I suppose — some people click with it immediately and start no-scoping the head off a medic at three hundred metres and some people have to rely on the old spray-and-pray methodology. I still had fun.

Battlefield V is another example of the series operating at very close to its best. It doesn’t quite scale the dizzying heights of Battlefield 1‘s commitment to its setting but it works hard to bring something new and interesting to the World War 2 shooter genre. It carries itself with a surprising amount of respect and dignity and puts in the effort to make a multiplayer game that looks great, plays great and feels great for those who love it most. A worthy edition to an increasingly storied franchise.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Highlights: Gorgeous visuals; interesting historical selections for War Stories; Strong multiplayer as ever
Lowlights: Some bugs mar the experience as ever; Long range sniper duels still a pain in the ass in big team games
Developer: EA DICE
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC
Available: Now

Review conducted on Windows PC with review code provided by the publisher.

 

David Smith

David Smith is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously worked as a freelance games journalist and critic, appearing on PC World Australia. He tweets at @RhunWords and plays the odd game at twitch.tv/RhunWords when the internet works.