Not quite “sound and fury signifying nothing” and not quite the reinvention that fans hoped (or feared) it would be, Battlefield V rumbles and churns onto our PCs and consoles, leaving the smell of cordite in its wake. Although it will probably satisfy devotees of the series, Battlefield V is also curiously incomplete, like a painting not quite filled in, and the coming months may ultimately determine if the game is a must-play classic with real legs for the multiplayer community, or another well-built but forgotten chapter in the seemingly endless replay of WW2.
Let’s get the eye and ear candy out of the way first: Battlefield V looks and sounds stellar, with the Frostbite engine serving up ample portions of graphical detail, though of course a monster rig is probably required, unless one wishes to trade some polish for framerate. Still, the snow, weather and lighting are impressive and there is a welcome variety of landscapes and settings. Although not every map will be a hit with every gamer, the destructible environments that have become a hallmark of Battlefield are torn asunder with gut-wrenching audio design that extends to precise and recognizable weapon, artillery and armor sounds that react realistically with the environments. The largely orchestral score is sweeping, emotional and slightly less bombastic than one might expect.
Equally consistent across all aspects of Battlefield V is the feel and precision of weapons, and although the action has been amped up slightly this time around, it manages to retain some semblance of realism. In a game as loaded with guns, planes, ships, tanks and artillery, not everything is going to feel balanced and great, and some of the airborne units in particular feel underpowered, while bombers are nearly unstoppable. There is no doubt that some rebalancing is in store for the game, especially prior to the release of its Battle Royale mode, “Firestorm”, in March.
I really enjoyed the War Stories introduced in Battlefield 1, in large part because they were diverse and interesting and because — being set in much less familiar World War 1 — they incorporated weapons, tactics and battles that felt significantly fresh. War Stories returns in Battlefield V, but reduced in number to three, with a fourth to be released in December. Although their production values are unsurprisingly high, this time around the War Stories seem like they tread ground that is pretty familiar and although well-voiced, the writing rarely rises above the cliche. Clocking in at less than six hours, the War Stories and a short Prologue provide all of Battlefield V’s single player content, not exactly making it a must-by for lone wolf players. Of course, for the vast majority of players, the single player content is a barely noticed asterisk to the multiplayer modes that form the core of Battlefield V.
No matter what the map or mode, the goal of Battlefield V is to recapture that unique and intensely chaotic mutliplayer experience that was so striking about the early Battlefield games and in this regard it completely succeeds. Partly in response to uber-popular Battle Royale games like Fortnite, all players now have the ability to lay down fortifications, with the Engineer able to built more complex structures. Players may spawn anywhere, including near squadmates, and both the new healing and fortification systems result in a constant attention to risk management. Anyone playing Battlefield V outside of a well-managed four man squad might feel a little lost. While it’s certainly possible to participate in the large scale operations, it’s difficult to feel more than randomly successful or part of something more well-defined than “shoot, move and survive,” no matter what the map or mode’s ultimate objective or structure.
Ultimately, making a judgement about Battlefield V is made inherently tentative due to the nature of its incomplete feature set. Yet unaddressed imbalances and unsatisfying single player content might be resolved with the release of its Battle Royale mode and additional War Stories. It looks and sounds fantastic, and plays as expected from moment to moment. Under all the noise and color, though, it doesn’t really add anything new to WW2 shooters or to our understanding or appreciation of the second world war - not that it probably intended to. For fans who played and loved the early games, Battlefield V is like a memory on steroids. It’s a very good game, not quite a great one yet, but six months from now it may prove to be a high water mark in the franchise.