Off to a strong start, but there's plenty more to come.
Battlefield 5 builds upon the fantastic foundations laid by Battlefield 1 and forges a similar path, right down to strikingly similar artwork, and corrects its biggest misstep by eliminating the dreaded Premium Pass. While it’s still riddled with microtransactions, Battlefield 5 has embarked upon a course to engage players for years to come, without segregating them through DLC, which should make Battlefield 5 the best longterm Battlefield yet.
As with its predecessor, Battlefield 5 is deeply respectful of the harsh reality of war. The single-player War Stories are split into three isolated narratives, based on true, but lesser known events, as to carefully avoid retreading ground games have stomped relentlessly so many times before. The three stories — plus a 15 minute prologue and another chapter coming soon — aren’t as thought-provoking as DICE’s last instalment, but they follow the same mission statement. War Stories capture the essence of specific aspects of WWII and aren’t afraid to confront the reality of the wasteful loss of such young life, but aren’t historically faithful retellings; more stories loosely based on reality, delivering a message that marries up with the history books.
While I really like what DICE is doing with War Stories, even on hardcore difficulty these only take around 90 minute each to complete — on normal you could smash them on your lunch break. With a focus on heartfelt story, gameplay serves as an introduction to the mechanics of Battlefield, rather than a complete AAA shooter campaign, and there’s no enticing reason to play them a second time. I didn’t connect with the characters to the same extent as Battlefield 1 — which I called “unequivocally the best single-player mode Battlefield has ever presented” and that hasn’t changed — nor was I confronted by the harsh reality of death to the same extent, because these are much lighter in tone. They are fun, personable missions, but not the deeply engaging War Stories of BF1. However, if you have enlisted early enough to play Battlefield V before its true release date, you didn’t sign-up for the campaign alone.
The shift from The Great War to World War II brings an instant speed boost to multiplayer. The inherent nature of faster guns, bigger explosions, and vehicles with more firepower keeps the combat loop ticking at a faster, and very satisfying, pace. While the classes and weapons are all familiar, combat itself feels streamlined and more accessible. Whereas previous Battlefield games, especially prior to BF1, had a tendency to overwhelm newcomers and demand a nuanced touch, Battlefield 5 ensures players of all skill levels have a fighting chance; while expert veterans are still able to put their heightened skills on full display.
Battlefield 5 can be approached with a mindset as simple as point-and-shoot, but beneath lies a plethora of rewards, unlocks and challenges — with considerable stat tracking — for more engaged soldiers. Conquest is still at the forefront of the multiplayer experience, and while familiar tactics reign supreme, Battlefield 5 has a much greater emphasis on squad-based play. To be truly successful, you must embrace teamwork, both within a four-player squad, and the larger unit of up to 32 players. The returning squad commands system remains fantastic, and so long as you have an active commander, allows four random players to communicate and work together effectively, even without the burden of microphones, which are often miserable in public lobbies.
Battlefield is at its best when it feels like you are being engulfed in an escalating conflict that knows no bounds; Conquest has that in spades, where barely a second passes without a plane exploding or a barrage of gunfire ensconcing from all directions. The six capture points divide your team’s attention — hold a majority of them and your opponent will start losing life tickets — which is why each squad needs an active leader to provide sensible direction.
Fortifications are Battlefield 5’s crowning glory, and they assimilate perfectly with the team-player mantra of squads. A well-drilled squad will mix and match their classes so each member has a specific role, but that’s not realistic in public matchmaking. Fortifications allow you to batten down the hatch and assist your squad in defence, by laying down sandbags, razor wire and supply drops, while reinforcing damaged structures. Fortnite’s influence is all over this, but Battlefield’s interpretation is much simpler; building is super fast, placements are predetermined so are always useful, and it doesn’t cost any resources, which is a perfect fit alongside the existing destructibility, which is ramped up back off the charts.
Buildings crumble and key locations will be entirely obliterated towards the end of the match, forcing a rethink of the camping strategies that worked so well to capture a point 10 minutes earlier. It reminds me of the Bad Company era, where Battlefield was focused foremost on destructible environments; only now it is part of a more rounded overall package. That’s where fortifications come into play: we will rebuild. While they can be ignored entirely, good players will grow accustomed to hitting down on the D-pad (on consoles), and great squads will be able to rely on it from their teammates.
With limited ammo and no regenerating health, attacking players are more reliant than ever before on support from their team to survive. Fortifications round out DICE’s balancing by encouraging players to genuinely work together, at least at a basic level, while marginally punishing those who go rogue. Lone wolves aren’t scorned entirely, but it’s plainly apparent there is strength in numbers.
Still, the community (at least in EA Access) remains the weakest link. Conquest is a slow burn won or lost not only off the back of kills, but by holding a majority of points for the longest amount of time, while preserving your own lives. While I have been in some strong squads, that counts for little if the majority of the team runs off to get kills and doesn’t worry about the objective or supporting their teammates. I lost track of the number of times my supposed allies ignored my wounded body — when every lost life counts, I struggle to fathom why these people play Battlefield.
While most players flock to Conquest, Grand Operations is the signature long-form mode. As it implies, it’s grander than Operations by incorporating elements of all the other multiplayer modes, split across several days and multiple maps. Each round represents a day. Winning one day will give you an advantage heading into the next, as you push forward to definitively eliminate your opponent; performing poorly from the outset puts you on the back foot. It’s a great mode that delivers significant variety every time you play, but clocking in at over an hour per match, it will be up to the community to embrace playing well for the long haul. Balanced teams, consisting of committed players, is the difference between one of the most exhilarating and meaningful multiplayer modes in gaming, and frustrating regret.
The other modes, all on a smaller scale, are tucked away and have scarcely been touched by the EA Access players. Frontlines replaces Rush as the tug-of-war control the flag mode. Domination cuts the control points by half and removes vehicles, and Team Death Match speaks for itself.
Breakthrough is a mixture of Rush and the original Operations mode, on a smaller scale, as an attack vs defence setup. Defenders initially have the upper-hand, while attackers have to work together more than in any other mode to take sectors one-by-one. As in Operations, these must be captured in sequential order, slowly pushing back the opposition one sector at a time; if the attackers aren’t on the same page, the defenders will win.
It’s a passable variety of modes, but Battlefield 5 launches as an incomplete product. While the lack of a Premium Pass is a great step forward, the initial wave of “free” DLC is clearly content intended for the base game that missed the deadline. The new maps we accept as post-launch support, but the other updates in the “Tides of War” post-launch content all should have been here from the start.
Over the next few months it’s slowly adding more features, such as vehicle customisation, Rush, Squad Conquest, and the 64-player battle royale Firestorm mode, as well as a quarter of the single-player campaign. Aside from the maps, none of this is actually free DLC. It’s merely content that finalises a Battlefield experience that feels 75% complete; content that wasn’t ready for launch, and has been branded by the marketing department with a positive spin.
The launch edition of Battlefield 5 is still great fun, but it’s essentially a full priced game in early access. As well as missing content, there are a bunch of bugs and glitches to be fixed, most notably difficulty getting the “revive” command to register in a timely manner; despite being crucial to nearly all game modes, and especially Conquest. If DICE wants to encourage players to assist and revive each other, the functionality needs to be reliable.
The menus and UI are also complete trash. They are extremely unresponsive, and the amount of time spent on a black loading screen is ridiculous. Based on the release roadmap, it seems DICE hasn’t bothered completing menu functionality in time for its three-pronged launch. Issues causing the menu to become “unusable” have been fixed in the launch patch, but it still feels borderline unusable, at least extremely unresponsive. There’s much work to be done.
Despite its slow rollout, Battlefield 5 is a fantastic multiplayer experience, especially across the fan favourite Conquest and large-scale Grand Operations. The combat loop and pacing are spot on, and the destructibility and fortifications system, across a spread of well crafted maps, make for some thrilling gameplay. War Stories are of a lighter tone and less impactful than those in Battlefield 1, but still offer something for solo campaigners; however, like the multiplayer, they are missing a quarter of the content at launch. EA delayed Battlefield 5 as long as it could to hit the holiday market, and while there is a positive spin applied to the post-launch support, don’t be fooled into believing it is anything other than a series of patches adding content intended to be there at launch. Battlefield 5 is a good, but incomplete, game on day one that will effectively launch in full around day 120. Hopefully that’s when it becomes something special.
Battlefield 5 was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox One X, as provided by EA. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.