Prepare your cheat sheets so we can tick off the pertinent facts: “Battlefield V” is returning to the Second World War; the game will not feature a battle royale mode, contrary to the current zeitgeist; there will be a single-player campaign made up of ‘War Stories’, ala “Battlefield 1”; and you will be able to purchase visual customisation items for real cash, though nobody used the words ‘loot box’ at any point.
With that out of the way, what’s the general feeling around Digital Illusions CE’s (DICE) latest in the 16-year-old first-person shooter series? One of all-out, all-encompassing, all-consuming gaming combat.
Tides of War
Introducing a new overarching framework for “Battlefield V” in the so-called Tides of War, DICE has set out its stall from the outset: this is a game that wants you to keep on playing, that will keep on providing you with new ways to play, and that will – so the plan goes – live on for a long time after its release.
So how does “Battlefield V” utilize Tides of War to keep players interested? By offering regular updates and challenges to players, on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. These range from small personal challenges all the way up to multi-day campaigns involving dozens of players fighting with – and against – each other to complete larger objectives.
Lars Gustavsson, senior producer on “Battlefield V”, explained why approaching the game with this emphasis on continual updates and ever-evolving play is important to both the team and to players: “We feel that that the portrayal of the war as a whole has often been ‘Here it is, enjoy it, see you’,” he said, “While [in Tides of War] we really want to take you on a journey and make you care about what’s next on the horizon – you know the things that already happened, but what will come next? Why will I care? What rewards are tied to this era? How can I be there and show that I was there?”
The focus for the development team has been on taking players on a journey through the Second World War, from the fall of Europe in 1939, through campaigns in Norway, North Africa, France, Germany and more, to the war’s final days in 1945: “Of course we won’t cover every single day and every single event,” Gustavsson said, “but we cherry pick the things we do believe are right to be there.”
Four Days in “Battlefield V”
One example of those larger objectives – and that progress through the war – was offered up by DICE during an early “Battlefield V” event for members of the media: day one of the Grand Operation, as they’re known, sees an invading force parachuting its way into the fortified streets of Rotterdam, Germany, in order to destroy an artillery position. Said invaders are being repelled by ground forces, who are able to shoot aircraft out of the sky and attempt to stop them from getting a foothold.
Once this event is completed, the next day (in-game, not actual real time days) comes around and a new mission begins. This time players see the effects of their efforts in the previous day’s events come to fruition – a success by the invading force, destroying the artillery unit, means more reinforcements to call on while pushing on. A victory for the defending team and the invasion still continues, just with fewer replacement troops for the invaders.
Day three moves things to another map and can see the end of this particular conflict if either side wins a ‘decisive’ victory – but if neither team comes out clearly on top, a fourth day, almost a sudden death round, is activated and it’s a case of last soldier standing. It’s a smart way of adding in some level of permanence and player impact to typically so very transient online play, and it will be interesting to see how DICE keeps things fresh and updated over time.
There might be worry among fans of the series that “Battlefield V”, in introducing and updating so much of its content over time, will fall victim to the bitty, expansion pack-laden approach of its forebears. Not so, Gustavsson was keen to point out: “In this journey, we’ve chosen to make sure we don’t splinter the community – in Tides of War everything gameplay related is free for everyone, so you’re playing on the same maps, you experience the same things.” No premium pass, no paid for add-ons, no owners of the game locked out because they haven’t or couldn’t buy one specific DLC pack.
“All of the things in Tides of War have a correlation to the fall of Europe, even rewards that you get like dog tags or emblems,” Gustavsson added, “All are tied to events that took place during the fall of Europe. So it’s thematic, it’s ensuring that it’s comfortably rewarding and feeling fresh and that you’re always rewarded for what you do.”
Those rewards come from simply playing the game – whether it’s in the single-player offline campaign – the returning War Stories, together in co-operative mode – Combined Arms, in which teams of up to four players take on dynamic objective missions, or in the meat of “Battlefield” online multiplayer. Everything you achieve goes towards the Tides of War total, though primarily the focus goes towards co-op and multiplayer. “Then, of course,” Gustavsson continued, “We’ll provide you the opportunities of both unlocking visual customization and gear, but also the possibility of buying visual customization.” Just don’t say ‘loot box’.
For all the emphasis on feeling fresh, there’s no doubt “Battlefield V” returning to the Second World War is sure to ruffle a few feathers. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, a period in human history that has been overdone in the world of entertainment – games, movies, literature, and everywhere else. But Gustavsson is confident he and the team have been able to sidestep the traps it’s oh-so-easy to fall into with wartime fiction: re-telling the same tales, retreading the same ground, and re-presenting the same battles.
“I was there a hundred years ago when we did ‘Battlefield 1942’,” Gustavsson said (it’s actually 16 years ago), “And I guess we were a part of the flooding of the market with the Second World War in all shapes and forms to the point where people kind of OD’d on that period. Then almost no one touched it. But there’s no hiding that through the years when we’ve been going through, from Vietnam, into the future [‘Battlefield 2142’], contemporary warfare for a long time [‘Battlefields’ 3 and 4], even ‘Battlefield Hardline’, it’s always been in the back of our heads.”
He continued: “We would often meet in the corridor and say ‘imagine the Second World War, but with this feature added, with the destruction, or with this or that’ – the possibilities down to the improved hardware.” There was also the work DICE did on the last entry to the series, “Battlefield 1”, it being set in the First World War: “We really had to go back and do our own homework – we picked the battles from the movies we knew we wanted to portray,” Gustavsson explained, “But this time around we’ve dug so much deeper… Reading the history books it was clear that so many stories were still untold. It’s so easy to go into the mainstream and portray what everyone else is portraying –just like in ‘Battlefield 1’ where we had the Harlem Hellfighters… I didn’t know about that story, there was so much I learned from when we did ‘Battlefield 1’, that triggered me. It’s the same thing here – things that excite us, we hope will be things that most people haven’t heard of, and will excite them. A new take. That’s what I love about the job – it’s like riding a crazy mustang, but you learn a lot while doing it!”
Building Fortifications, Laying Sandbags
To combat any Second World War fatigue the playing public might be suffering, Gustavsson pointed out the pillars DICE is sticking to in order to keep people interested: “I’m pretty confident in what we do. First and foremost ‘Battlefield’ is about that sandbox and the endless possibilities which we’re heavily expanding now – what you can do and the crazy situations that can happen in multiplayer. We take a step forward with Combined Arms [four-player co-operative mode], where it becomes a bit more intimate, you can have fun playing together. War Stories [single-player campaign] is probably where our different approach to the Second World War will shine through: the stories to be told. Our design director for War Stories, he talks about ‘the feels’ – it’s our possibility to make people feel real feelings and care beyond just the adrenaline rush and excitement of multiplayer and co-op. I’m confident in what we do.”
All of this without even going into the minutiae of what DICE has tweaked under the hood – this is a team that has been working on “Battlefield” games for what is approaching two decades, and it shows. While elements like improved animations – soldiers slipping on mud as they run, or slamming their heft into cover – and reworked gunfire physics are interesting (and sure to be more than just that to some members of the player community), other elements stand out more.
For one, players will be able to build fortifications on the battlefield, laying sandbags and tank traps, or repairing destroyed buildings to offer an ad-hoc base of operations in the middle of a fight. Fixed weapons are now able to be towed by vehicles, meaning anti-air emplacements will be much deadlier – and able to be fired while on the move. There’s also the focus on customization and building your own ‘company’ – soldiers, weaponry and vehicles you modify and upgrade as you play, making them very much your own – as well as a renewed focus on squads.
Squads have always been a part of the “Battlefield” experience, but in “Battlefield V” they’re really being doubled down on, with players set as default as part of a squad, a broader range of rewards available to squad players, more abilities – like ‘buddy revival’, which allows even non-medics to bring squadmates back from the brink – and even elements like squad-specific vehicles so you can all trundle into war together.
It’s all coming together to make for an engaging and intriguing product – if DICE is able to pull off what it intends with “Battlefield V”, there’s every chance it will end up being a game played by a lot of people, for a very long time. But we live in a new world of gaming: one of “PUBG” and “Fortnite,” of “Battlefield’s” main contender “Call of Duty” adding its own battle royale mode in “Black Ops 4”.
It’s obvious that keeping players playing is the main challenge DICE has identified and aims to tackle. But will “Battlefield V” be able to knock the current most popular genre in the world, the aforementioned battle royale, from its perch? It’s difficult to say. One thing we can be sure of, though, is that nobody used the word ‘loot box’ at any point in presenting the game. And that’s progress.