EA are back at it gain, subverting expectations with their naming conventions when it comes to their premier franchises. After Battlefield 1, what is the obvious next step? Why, Battlefield V of course! It’s a strange way of doing business, so the important thing to know: Battlefield V brings the series back to its roots, setting events during World War Two, first visited in the first game, that, confusingly, was called Battlefield 1942. Oh for some continuity. This is my opportunity to share some thoughts from the recent Open Beta, so please, hit the break.
I. The delay seems sensible
I’m talking about EA’s recent decision to delay the launch back into November. In their statement, EA talk about balance and ensuring the Tides of War feature is as strong as it can be. My take? They started to realise from the Closed Alpha tests that this was still a buggy mess, and an extra few weeks was essential to get things ship shape. The Open Beta isn’t great on the bug front either. Yes, player bodies ragdoll around, or get stuck in awkward poses, that is going to be expected, it happens in most EA games (I’m looking at you FIFA and Madden). The more pressing issues I have encountered are around regular crashes when the nVidia GeForce Overlay is active. I’m sure this will be resolved in a future game, or driver, update, but it is extremely frustrating. Using the Overlay, key moments from your game are saved, in a similar fashion to how the Overlay works with Fortnite. It’s a welcome feature, but one that needs to work properly. I managed to save a couple of videos before the constant crashes to desktop persuaded me to turn it off.
Turning off the Overlay doesn’t resolve some other problems. On several occurrences, I have spawned into the game, tried to move my mouse…only to find that my weapon won’t move around at all. I can shoot, and look down the sights, but that’s no use when my gun is point at a 30 degree angle off centre. Sometimes a quick waggle of the analogue sticks on my Xbox 360 pad sorts things out, other times I’ve had to play the whole round using the pad. It ain’t much fun. I’m sure EA and DICE will sort the problems out, and it is certainly better to find them during the Beta than when the game releases properly.
In previous Battlefield games, vehicles posed a major balance problem. It was something which plagued Battlefield 2 during its lifespan, with major changes to planes and anti-air causing massive ripples in the way games played out. An infantry only mode was also introduced to keep a level playing field on maps where tanks would run riot. EA seemed to get a grip on things with Battlefield 1, although some would no doubt argue that tanks were somewhat overpowered even there.
My experience of vehicles in the Open Beta so far has been generally positive. I haven’t seen tankers in Rotterdam, or pilots in Narvik dominate proceedings as I feared. I will always worry about the balance between plans and anti-air, but for now, it doesn’t seem to be an issue. When pilots become better accustomed to how the planes handle, things might need tweaking. It’s pleasing that tanks don’t break the competitive nature of the game. The support class comes with AT-mines as default, while the assault class comes with throwable dynamite. Additionally, there are plenty of anti-tank gun emplacements available, and they can even be towed by larger vehicles. Just don’t try it with the Kettenkrad, the physics tend to throw a wobbly.
III. Snipers and Squad Play
Snipers? What are they good for! Oh so often I have seen friends, or foes, hiding out on the hillside in the Norwegian Narvik map. Camouflaged in the snow, they are challenging for the enemy to spot…but all they seem to do is rack up kills, without contributing to the war effort. When you’re trying to work with a squad, being lumbered with half the members sitting on a hillside isn’t much good. On the other hand, snipers do have some uses, if they are put to action properly. Spotting doesn’t work like it used to (“Enemy boat, spotted!” anyone?), you can mark up a fixed location for a few seconds, but to keep track of someone on the mini-map, a sniper will need to use their spotting scope.
It is a feature that could certainly work well when used properly. A sniper playing overwatch, communicating with their squad, spotting enemy locations and providing a reliable spawn point. All good things. I hope to get some good squad play at some point, hopefully when some friends get into the action allowing us to team up on Discord and really get stuck in.
Another key feature of squads are the changes to the revive system. A medic, in the right hands, can drastically turn the tide of battle by bringing fallen comrades back into action. A quick jab of a needle, and a player is right back in the action. A squad has some advantages though; anyone in a squad can revive a fallen squad member, medic or not. If you aren’t a medic, it takes a bit longer to complete the revive process, but it does encourage squads to work together.
IV. Building Is Fun
I’m falling in love with the building mechanics in Battlefield V. Cry out loud that it is a rip-off of Fortnite, but I like the contrast between the destruction that you witness, and the ability to make things new again. A lot of the early hype about Battlefield V has been around how destructibility is returning to Bad Company levels. I haven’t seen destruction as crazy and over the top as it was back then, but there is a certain joy to be found in flushing out a sniper from a nearby building using your rifle grenade and seeing the facade of the building crumble away.
What gives me more satisfaction though, is to bring out my toolbox (available to everyone, but more powerful as the support class) and start building defensive fortifications, admittedly, in predefined locations. I can go from barricading some windows, to building a wall of sandbags, all the way up to formidable blockades down the alleys of Rotterdam to Czech hedgehogs to slow down enemy armour. Of course, it is one thing to fortify an area that you are defending, it is another thing to lose ground and have to attack over the strong-points that you only recently created. I’m more than happy turning into a builder for the rest of the Battlefield V career.
V. Assignments Add Focus, Highlight Complexity
A couple of weeks ago, one of my old friends from the -=256=- of Battlefield 2 days got in touch. He was organising a one-night only reunion in the old game (made possible with BF2Hub). While I missed a lot of the modern niceties of the in-game action, one thing I was pleased with was the simplicity of the meta-game. In Battlefield 2, you have one overall rank that you level up, which as you progressed, unlocked one additional weapon for each class. Ribbons, medals and other rewards required and investment of time, and skill, to unlock.
Everything happens in a flash these days, and it is no different in Battlefield V. During a match, you might receive a dozen ribbons, but there is nowhere I have seen where you can see what you did to be rewarded. There are ranks for your overall performance, ranks for each class…and then ranks for each primary weapon. Sadly, the menus don’t give you one clean and clear view of what your stats and progress towards a new rank. You end up digging through several layers of menus to find out what is happening, it shouldn’t require a dozen menu clicks to find out you can unlock upgrades for your primary weapons. A very cool feature, but one that is needlessly hidden.
It’s all topped off by assignments. There are random daily assignments, and special ones that you pick and choose from a range of options. They all add a certain level of focus to proceedings, ranging from the basic elements of each class, to weapon proficiency or focuses on game modes. They are similar to what we saw in Battlefield 1, and hopefully will provide people with a steer towards, you know, working as a squad to meet the objectives of the game mode, not just sit back and rack up the kills.
In closing, I have no doubts that some will be put off by the change in pace of the game, and we’ll see whether that is tweaked between now and release. Personally, a fuller picture will emerge once I get some proper squad action on the go. Colour me pleased though, and pass me the toolbox.