Battlefield has always captured action movie spectacle in a way a lot of other games have had to artificially construct. Battlefield 5 does this better than any other.
Where Uncharted might have you defending a village from both infantry and armour in a heavily scripted sequence, that is par for the course in Battlefield. Basically every map features that, if you choose to head in that direction.
Even other multiplayer focused games stretch themselves to do what Battlefield achieves without trying. Calling in a bombing run on a killstreak is cool – especially when it adds to your kill total – but in Battlefield, that bomber is piloted by a real player with their own motivations. Sometimes that motivation sees them rack up 50+ kill/death ratios, while at other times they’re in it solely to crash into enemy planes.
It’s what the battle royale genre is tapping into — the chaotic idea that no AI can be coded that can match the unpredictability of sharing a game area with 50+ other people. That given the right tools players can and will create their own high-octane action set pieces, that they’ll become their own devastating killstreaks. That they’re the protagonist in a story where predicting the outcome is near impossible.
A Pickle, Rick
For those in a squad, it hits all the right notes as it blares out a symphony of action. But it feels like BF5 isn’t worth playing without at least one other person in your squad. If you play it alone, it can be intensely frustrating unless you specifically set your own goals — goals that don’t always mesh with what Battlefield wants you to do.
The way Battlefield sets the stage for its brilliant organic action movie storytelling is similar to the way battle royale games do it — by incentivising conflict via common objectives. In battle royale games, the conflict comes when the circle forces you to move. In Battlefield, the conflict emerges from those moments when teams clash near objectives — be they capture points in Conquest or the ever-moving goalposts of the Grand Operations modes.
Playing alone in a battle royale game doesn’t change these incentives — the circle still moves, and your goal stays the same. But in Battlefield 5, because of the way the game is constructed, your goal might not involve frontline conflict any more.
I might have been a bit too dominant in the AA tank because the other team used a nuke worth 41000 req points to kill me and me alone @battlefield
Also they lost this round by 9 tickets, which a V1 rocket sent to the D cap probably could have earned on its own. pic.twitter.com/B4e70MpAMW
— Joab Gilroy (@Joabyjojo) November 13, 2018
Bear in mind you might have fun camping in the backfield with a tank, or performing endless bombing runs in a plane. But to have those Battlefield moments the series revolves around, you need to be in the thick of things, and that just doesn’t work if you’re soloing.
There is no playing outside of a squad in BFV, no moment when you don’t have three compatriots ready to help you back on your feet, give you ammo, or yell at you for sitting in a tank at the back of the battle. But focusing on teamplay in a squad that doesn’t work together is grossly unsatisfying. Lacking communication and teammates with no interest in PTFO (playing the … objective) make your efforts sisyphean.
The issue is that you’re no longer incentivised to play BFV the way DICE have designed it, because you can’t rely on your squad — and BFV heavily revolves around Squad play.
With a medic, a support, and an assault in your four-person squad in Battlefield 5, you’re ready for basically anything the game throws at you. As a three person squad, BFV equips you with everything you need to lock down a cap point, to Rush a bomb, or to sneak into your enemy’s backlines. A medic and a support as a gruesome twosome will do if you don’t have the numbers.
As long as you have one other person to play with, BFV is awesome. So many of the game’s systems are born of the assumption you’ll be playing with another person you can communicate with and implicitly trust to play correctly.
Anyone in a squad can revive another member. Medics do it faster, but anyone can do it. If you pass away, it’s a squad member you’ll spawn on. You earn more points for helping squaddies over normies, and those points contribute to your requisition score.
That’s used for everything from Meds and Ammo, through to Tank Destroyers, and up to the deadly V-1 or JB-2 Rocket Bombs which eliminate anything in a wide radius.
Rebuilding amidst that destruction is now an important part of how BFV works. Press T and you’ll whip out your tool (phrasing). On your minimap, fortifications you can build will show up as blurred white areas. You won’t know what you’re building until you reach the spot, but once there you can create sandbag walls, razor wire barricades, trenches, and more.
Most important are the Ammunition and Medical stations, because BFV heavily restricts you in both of these aspects. Beyond what you start with, you can get extra utility from the ammo crate.
More than that, players don’t regenerate back to full health in BFV. Not without help, anyway. Use a health pack – each player starts with one – and you’ll be straight 100 until your next engagement. But if you don’t, you’ll regen 25% of your health and then stop until you can get healed. Medical stations can do exactly that, and they’ll give you another health pack to boot, adding far more value to owning a capture point than just respawns.
While most of the construction takes place in and around capture areas, however, a lot of BFV‘s combat takes place well outside of these points.
A Different Kind of Singleplayer
There is another option if you’re playing on your own — the singleplayer War Stories. There are three key campaigns to play through, plus the prologue – which is more introduction than anything – and two of them are really well told.
Our least favourite is Under No Flag, a by-the-numbers retelling of the formation of the SAS, wherein a gruff officer recruits a criminal – from a jail no less – to join his raiding team. It’s full of odd decisions, but none odder than the fact that the truth is far more exciting than the tepid tale told here.
The second mission is Nordlys, following Norwegian commando Solveig in what starts as a rescue mission by a commando and turns into a fictional adaptation of the heroics of Operation Gunnerside. It’s a far more impactful story, if predictable. There’s skiing and a great deal of stealth — it’s a recurrent theme in these missions — where you decide when and how you want to engage with the enemy. Silently eliminating guards before they can call for backup feels good.
The final mission — for now at least — is Tirailleur, following French Senegalese soldiers through Operation Dragoon. Their story sends them to France, and it examines the racial implications for African soldiers who are fighting for a country they’ve never seen. It’s a well told, well measured story with fantastic voice acting.
It’s snack-sized storytelling that offers a limited relationship between the player and player character. And the stealth sections might not match up to, say, Far Cry 5. But for what War Stories sets out to achieve, shining a light on the tales told less often, it does a fantastic job.
The Untold Stories
There has been some controversy — or at least consternation — regarding Battlefield 5‘s initial insistence on avoiding the World War II “classics,” as gaudy a concept as that is. BFV doesn’t take place during the Normandy invasion, or across the Rhine, instead opting for the lesser told stories of World War 2.
We think it’s a great choice. Like any Battlefield fan we’d love to see Wake Island, but in a way, Wake Island provides the best frame of reference as to why we don’t need the other traditional locations. After all, The Battle of Wake Island is usually eclipsed by the Attack on Pearl Harbor. It was a less traditional setting, and it became a Battlefield staple because the design of the map is iconic.
And BFV‘s maps are all really beautifully crafted. If we had to pick a favourite it would be Twisted Steel, but thus far it seems like DICE has learned a lot from the mistakes of Battlefield 1. There’s no straight line slaughterfest like Suez, and nothing like Sinai where half the map is a pointless waste of time.
Good map design is far more important to us than reliving moments I’ve seen in Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan, because Battlefield isn’t about those moments. It’s about the organic storytelling that arises from the gameplay itself.
Is Battlefield 5 Good?
Battlefield 5 has nailed the sort of gameplay that drew us into the series in the first place. When you and your crew are clicking, when you’re all playing the objective, taking fights at the right time, popping smokes to cover advances and retreats, resupplying mines for one another in the backfield, and back-capping under the enemy’s noses, Battlefield 5 is unstoppable. Untouchable even.
Regardless of setting, it’s a dozen action movie sequences all playing out adjacent to one another, all with their own protagonists. DICE has made a bold move in daring you to team up with friends at all costs, and it’s worked beautifully. It’s not flawless, but we’re loving it.