“Say Auf Wiedersehen to your (white man) balls…”
Initially unveiled during May of this year; the reveal of Battlefield V was met with a mixed response due to a number of questionable design choices found within a somewhat ‘controversial’ reveal trailer. Since it’s unveiling, EA and developer: DICE have taken a hard-line stance against the issues that were raised by the community in response to the trailer, which has potentially impacted the sale of the game, with the title’s pre-orders being at an all-time low for a new Battlefield game. The open beta closed last Tuesday after giving the community a whole week to get to grips with the new title and test out the newly refined gameplay mechanics, showcasing some positive and not-so-positive changes when compared to its predecessor: Battlefield 1. Over the course of this somewhat in-depth article, I’m going to be discussing the failure of DICE’s marketing campaign thus far as well as my time spent with the beta, detailing what has changed since the previous iteration, as well as the likelihood of me picking the title up at launch.
Battlefield vs. Call of Duty; the very words that make fans of both franchises either break out in a fanboy-esque rage or shudder indiscriminately with cringe. Whether you have a stance in this particular fight, couldn’t care less or have been living under a rock for the last decade, the boom in popularity of the first-person shooter genre is commonly known to be attributed primarily to the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises, with both IP’s being worth billions to their respective publishers/developers. While Call of Duty has always had an almost arcade approach to the shooter genre (with a strong emphasis on annual releases), the Battlefield series has always been known for its interpretation of “All-Out War” offering huge, sprawling maps and multi-layered combat covering land, sea and air, presenting a unique experience not found in other titles. 2016’s Battlefield 1 mixed up the formula somewhat by taking the series away from its modern confines to the raw and gritty frontlines of World War One, presenting the ‘war to end war’ in a way that highlighted the horrors of the conflict while still being vastly identifiable as a Battlefield game. The game’s success also prompted Activision to return their cash-cow franchise to its historic roots with Call of Duty: WW2, which was a den of controversy for a plethora of reasons; the most notable being the amount of historical inaccuracies present in a game that was billed as being “100% historically accurate” featuring female soldiers fighting for the Third Reich, battles in areas that never took place, as well as the overall removal of the Swastika from the game’s multiplayer purely to make the game ‘safe’ so it didn’t offend anyone. While the game was not 100% accurate to the time period, Battlefield 1 managed to portray a solid level of historical accuracy (with minor revisionism in terms of some of the weapons) while still remaining inclusive, showcasing the lesser-known stories of the men and women of WW1.
While care was taken in keeping a balance between realism and revisionism in Battlefield 1, the hours that I’ve spent with the beta for Battlefield V seems to suggest that all bets are off for the franchise this time around (apparently the term ‘White Man’ is now an offensive according to DICE). The game was initially unveiled on May 23rd of this year, to a somewhat mixed reaction surrounding the games ‘controversial’ reveal trailer (which currently holds the highest like/dislike ratio for any Battlefield reveal trailer to date). While the majority of the Battlefield community had issue with the over-the-top cosmetics (which has been confirmed that they aren’t making it into the final build of the game) and the wacky Michael Bay-esque trailer, The big ‘controversial’ talking point that a small part of the community took issue with is that there has been a strong focus upon the women of WW2 within the game’s marketing campaign, leading some of the same people on Twitter to start trending the hashtag: #NotMyBattlefield in response. It could be argued that the backlash has had a knock-on effect with the pre-order sales of the game as according to industry analysts, the overall pre-orders are down 85% in comparison to Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. While the overall response is the same sexist rhetoric you’d come to expect from certain corners of the gaming community, some aspects of the game’s design do seem to conflict with design choices that DICE have previously adhered to while working on Battlefield 1. The Battlefield V Beta features female soldiers fighting for countries without any historical context within the multiplayer, showcasing an Asian female sniper fighting for the British, as well as a white woman seemingly fighting on behalf of the Nazis (marketing screenshots only). The lack of context (for me personally) takes away from the immersion somewhat, especially so when there are a plethora of instances from WW2 where women were in more prolific combat roles: Lyudmila Pavlichenko with her 309 confirmed kills, the women of the French Resistance who fought against occupation from the Nazis are two such strong examples that DICE could have gone with instead, without breaking from the historical accuracy and immersion found within its predecessor.
Some of the Beta’s female avatars feel somewhat out of place within a historical context, especially so when WW2 already has a plethora of rich historical sources of women in combat roles that could have been used instead.
The multiplayer Beta for Battlefield V launched on the 4th of September and finished on the 11th, giving players a whole week to dig into the content that was on offer. In terms of the content, there were two maps that were available to play: Rotterdam and Narvik, offering both the classic Conquest mode, as well as the new cinematic Operations mode titled: Grand Operations. In terms of the core gameplay, certain systems have changed quite dramatically since Battlefield 1, resulting in a more refined and immersive gameplay experience. For starters, everything is a lot more interactive and manual; everything from reviving downed teammates, to resupplying yourself with Ammo all come with some kind of manual interaction in place of the automatic systems that were in place back in Battlefield 1. Another simple (yet effective) design change is that you spawn into the game with only two magazines and a small amount of supplies, forcing you to be a lot more conservative when it comes to ammo and resource management. When it comes to resupplying, this can now only be done by picking up the ammo off of an adversary’s corpse, being resupplied by squadmates, or by interacting with an ammo dump which are dotted strategically around the game’s maps. The lingering issues with randomised bullet registration (the bane of every scout in Battlefield 1) have also been resolved this time around, meaning if you aim your shots correctly they will hit their intended target without fail. In conjunction with the aforementioned changes is a dramatically reduced TTK (which feels a bit Call of Duty-ish) which conflicts with the game’s obvious change in pacing within certain circumstances, but overall doesn’t present too much of an issue.
These changes directly tie-in with the new squad system, which has also been refined to the point where it feels dramatically different. For example, revives are no longer only tied to the Medic class, as anyone in your squad can get your back on your feet albeit taking considerably longer and leaving you with less health compared to a Medic’s revive (the class still holds a valuable position). The role of squad leader has also undergone a pretty significant change, being able to call in re-supplies via air drops as well as whirring V1 rockets (that cause significant devastation over a small scale area) depending on how well the squad is performing. In addition to the core gameplay changes is the new fortification system, which gives every player (regardless of class) the ability to set up tactical defences in certain areas of a map, such as sandbags, tank traps and barbed wire fences adding another layer of strategy if players find themselves in a tight spot. The core classes have undergone some changes as well, and have progression systems built into both the class and the weapons they use (such as weapon mods and perks) that will give players the options to have personalised loadouts depending on the situation at hand. Conquest has returned to the old spawn/ticket bleed system that was used in Battlefield 4, and Operations have had a massive facelift with them now crossing not only maps but game modes too, with them being all the more cinematic to boot (diving out of a plane over Narvik was amazing). Both the Rotterdam and Narvik maps look drop dead gorgeous on the new Frostbite 4 engine, offering higher resolution textures, more particle effects as well as both 4K and HDR enhancements (if you have the applicable hardware) making the games’ environments all the more aesthetically pleasing and closer to reality than ever before.
The maps within the Battlefield V Beta look absolutely stunning in 4K HDR and is a testament to the power of the Frostbite 4 engine which adds higher resolution textures and more particle effects on screen at any given time.
While the moment-to-moment gameplay is solid, there are some outside lingering concerns that hurt the general flow of the game somewhat. The first one lies within the aforementioned customisation system, which sees you having to quit out to the main menu should you wish to customise your weapons in any way, making the entire process a complete chore. Another issue is that gameplay-altering attachments are locked behind the same currency that is used for cosmetics items (unconfirmed at this stage whether it’s tied to microtransactions for the full release) which kind of defeats the purpose of having a weapon progression system in the first place, where attachments should be unlocked organically through gameplay rather than unlocking the ability to purchase them. In addition to my previous point about historical accuracy, the only factions available within the beta were the UK and Germany, representing the Allied and Axis forces fighting on battlegrounds where no such battles took place (Rotterdam is a textbook example); whether this will be fleshed out at launch with different factions is anyone’s guess, but it’s potentially another area where DICE have backpedalled with what was once a thing in Battlefield 1, introducing other factions and telling their stories across the multiple fronts of the great war; which could have been explored even further with Battlefield V and WW2.
Overall the time I spent with the Battlefield V Beta was a mixed bag; the improvements made to the core gameplay are only going to benefit the game going forward, making people play together more often as a squad, making the overall gameplay experience all the more immersive and personal. In contrast, where Battlefield 1 took the time to immerse the player in both the atmosphere and history of the great war, the impressions given by the Battlefield V beta is that historical accuracy has been completely left out in favour of revisionism, putting gameplay experiences and personal character customisation at the forefront, which may (or may not) hurt the title going forward (historical accuracy in games is a personal preference after all). In terms of its release, the games’ launch date has been pushed back to November 20th in order to “provide time to implement player feedback and make various meaningful improvements to the gameplay experience” according to DICE CEO: Oskar Gabrielson (It totally has nothing to do with the original launch being alongside Red Dead Redemption 2). It’s definitely worth keeping an eye on over the coming months to see if the PR situation improves for Battlefield V at all, otherwise I would definitely hold off until after launch to pick this one up, as the reviews may be less than favourable.