This week I played two days of Battlefield 5 multiplayer at an event in Stockholm, home of developer DICE. This sequel marks a return to the series’ World War II roots, using lesser-known conflicts as the inspiration for its modes and maps. It throws a few interesting new ideas into the mix, but otherwise feels like classic Battlefield, with big maps, vehicles, and a focus on teamplay. I’ll play on live servers for a while before I write a full review, but in the meantime here are some thoughts from the 15 hours or so I spent playing at the event.
Fortifications are a nice new addition
Battlefield is famous for its destruction, but now you can build things too. Whip out your hammer and on certain parts of the map—usually around control points—you’ll see the shimmering outline of sandbags, barbed wire, and other buildable fortifications. Any class can build them and you don’t have to harvest resources or anything like that, but the process is slow and leaves you open to attack while you wait for a meter to slowly tick up.
A good example of this is in the Aerodrome map, where the entrance to a large aircraft hangar can be plugged up with cover, Czech hedgehogs, and other obstacles to make the lives of the opposing team more difficult. Some maps even let you dig trenches for your fellow troops to move safely through. It never feels like the outcome of a battle hangs on the construction of these fortifications, but they can really change the flow of a map.
I love the Twisted Steel map
There are some great maps in Battlefield 5, which I’ll discuss further in my review, but for now let’s talk about the standout: Twisted Steel. Set in France, this swampy map is dominated by an enormous bridge, part of which has dramatically collapsed. Below the bridge is a wet, marshy forest for skirmishing in, but it’s on the structure itself where the most exciting firefights take place, around the two capture points placed strategically at either end of it.
When the enemy team has control of the bridge, wrestling it back from them is a really fun, satisfying challenge. Its elevated position gives snipers a great vantage point on the swamp and buildings below, but luckily the bridge is strewn with rubble and wrecks, providing just enough cover to push through and claw it back. Of the two days I spent playing the game, I enjoyed the battles on Twisted Steel the most. The scale of the thing is remarkable.
The tone is all over the place
The game opens with a solemn prologue in which you play as a series of doomed soldiers dying in increasingly horrible ways. Its intent is to illustrate the futility and horror of war, but it feels out of place in a game where you can wear a Union Jack gas mask, jump out of a plane in mid-air, land on your feet, then whack a Nazi over the head with a cricket bat. It can’t decide if war is hell, or just cool as hell, which creates some wild tonal dissonance.
This extends to the game itself. Battlefield, despite its best efforts, is a slapstick, absurd affair, and by no means an accurate approximation of a real, gruelling war. Which makes a British soldier’s agonised screams of “I wanna go home!” just come across as really tasteless and tone-deaf. I feel like DICE needs to stop pretending Battlefield respects, or reflects, the struggles of real-life soldiers and just own the fact that it’s a fun, silly cartoon of a game.
It’s as enjoyably chaotic as ever
Battlefield revels in chaos, and 5 continues this tradition brilliantly. In the thick of a firefight, with planes screaming overhead, tanks trundling by, and sniper scopes glinting in the distance, it’s exhilarating. And the dense, detailed maps only add to the turmoil, particularly the post-apocalyptic Devastation, which is set among the shattered ruins of a bombed-out Rotterdam. With 64 players sharing a map, few multiplayer games are this frenzied.
This chaos also results in some exciting, emergent moments that could be scripted set pieces, such as the Spitfire I saw flying too low and buzzing a church’s belltower, carving a hole in the side with its wing and leaving a trail of dust and rubble. But this can also work against it, and I lost count of the visual bugs I encountered: usually involving corpses getting stuck in stuff or jerking around like they were being reanimated by a necromancer.
Squads are essential
Always be in a squad, basically—even if it’s with strangers. Not only can you spawn on them if they aren’t engaged in combat, but now non-medic characters can perform a ‘buddy revive’ on a fallen comrade. This is a lot slower than when a medic does it, but still fairly invaluable in the final stages of a match. It also encourages squads to stick close together, as tempting as it might be to run off and test out your new sniper rifle.
Being able to spawn on your squad to keep the pressure on the enemy feels more important than ever in Battlefield 5. Leaders can also call in flame-throwing tanks, V1 rockets, and other toys when enough squad points are accumulated. I was playing with three people I knew in my sessions, so I’m not sure what it’ll be like to squad up with strangers. That’s something I’m gonna be testing when the game is released to the public.
Grand Operations live up to their name
Building on Battlefield 1’s Operations mode, Grand Operations are vast, themed battles that take place over three days, loosely connected with a story that changes depending on the performance of each team. While Battlefield is often a good game to dip in and out of, you’ll need to set a decent chunk of time aside for these sprawling epics. Each day is heavily objective-based, with teams attacking or defending key military structures.
I’m not sure about Final Stand, though. This tie-breaker round is triggered if both teams are evenly matched and there’s no clear winner. Essentially playing out like the tense final minutes of a game of Fortnite or PUBG, respawns are disabled and surviving players are gradually pushed together by a shrinking play space. The last team standing wins the Grand Operation, which kinda negates your team’s performance in the previous rounds.
Character customisation isn’t great
It’s a given that a big, contemporary multiplayer game like Battlefield would have character customisation. But man, they shouldn’t have bothered. The artists are so hamstrung by the WWII setting that the variety of ways to make your character your own is sorely limited. To give an example, there are like a dozen near-identical versions of the British ‘Brodie’ helmet: a clean one, a damaged one, one with a winter hat under it, and so on.
On the second day of the event, EA gave us unlocked accounts where we could equip any bit of gear, but on the battlefield I could barely tell the difference. The enemy are just indistinct blobs of grey or khaki when you’re in a fight, which makes these customisation options feel like a waste of time. Honestly, I’d prefer everyone to look the same, with readable, recognisable silhouettes for each class. But a lot of players love customisation, I guess.
Overall, I like what I’ve played so far
As I flew back from Stockholm I felt the itch to play more Battlefield, which is surely a good sign. Despite changes such as fortifications, more physical character movement, and an increased focus on squads, it still scratches that distinctive FPS itch that Battlefield always has. It’s not massive, dramatic reinvention of the series, but I wasn’t expecting that anyway.
It might be by imagination, or the fact I was playing on a 144hz monitor with an RTX 2080 Ti, but it feels a bit faster and snappier than previous Battlefield games too, with a touch less weight to the controls. But I’ll have to play more on my own, less powerful PC to see if that’s the case. And I haven’t mentioned the singleplayer War Stories mode yet, which I’ll also be tackling from the comfort of my own desk. Watch this space for my full review in a few days.