The next iteration of Battlefield takes lessons from Battlefield 1 and storms into the Second World War. That’s no bad thing: it’s looking like a confident, strong iteration on a brilliant game.
Battlefield fans are passionate people. The event I attend is more muted, given it’s for media, but one still gets a sense of the excitement that no doubt dominated the fan and influencer version of the same event. “LMGs are going to be so powerful,” a German journalist breathlessly, excitedly gasps at me after a lengthy deep-dive presentation into the events of the game. So excited is he, it seems, that he blurts this out as we stand at the urinals. That’s the level of glee we’re talking here – pissing with excitement.
Now, you know, I can’t say I’m at the toilet-proclamation level of enthusiasm that chap was, but after a lengthy look at the vision for the game and its updated systems, I’m pretty pumped. I played a lot of Battlefield 1 online with my friends, and as far as I’m concerned more of that is absolutely fine. Battlefield 5 (also known as Battlefield V, for both Victory and the numeral) wants to be more than that, however. It aims to be a different, new kind of World War 2 game.
That sounds like marketing guff, I know, but DICE is obviously aware. “We’ve all stormed the beaches of Normandy and cleared every bunker in France before,” DICE’s Andreas Morell explains. The answer, then, is a design focused on giving something new.
Three words dominate the presentation: Unseen, Untold and Unplayed. This is the Battlefield 5 mantra: to show unseen locations, tell untold stories and offer unplayed gameplay moments in WW2. We’ve done the big beats before: so let’s find something new.
We didn’t get to play the game, and because of that final judgements shall have to be reserved. It’s easy to talk the talk in game development – but it’d be a lie to say DICE don’t talk a good game. If all its planning pans out, it’s certainly on the right track to build a fresh-feeling, exciting new WW2 experience. With that in mind, here’s what I learned about Battlefield 5:
In single-player, the aim is to find WW2 missions people have never seen before
While the presenters from DICE didn’t rule it out in their presentation, I wouldn’t expect to be storming Normandy in Battlefield 5. Instead, DICE is focusing its story mode efforts on finding new and exciting stories within WW2 that haven’t been explored in video games as much.
We know little, but the campaign will retain the ‘war stories’ structure of Battlefield 1. At the event one thread is teased – the story of a young resistance fighter in 1943 Norway who is “about to pay the unthinkable price to save her family.”
The team deliberately dug into history and tried to search beyond 1942, the setting of the original Battlefield, to find new stories to tell that can help put the feelings in perspective and make players “walk away with a different perspective on the war,” says DICE veteran Lars Gustavsson.
Fortifications and map-changing abilities add a lot to the sandbox of multiplayer
All-new for Battlefield 5 are fortifications. This isn’t quite throwing up shacks and other shelter as you might in Fortnite, but it’s building in general that allows you to improve your chances out on the battlefield by fortifying and strengthening key positions.
Much of the Second World War was about fortification, and BF5 is aiming to demonstrate that primarily through this new feature. Fortification comes in a variety of forms – so you might build around a ruined, shattered shell of a home in order to turn it into a viable defensive position. You can toss down sandbags to create cover. It’s possible to drop down barbed wire to slow the advance of infantry, build trenches for cover or place tank stoppers to prevent the most deadly armor from pushing too close.
Every class in Battlefield 5 has access to a tool to build, but the Support class is better at it. They’ll be able to build better stuff more efficiently, so the class is still valuable in its own way. There’s a general flattening of class roles, actually – we’ll talk about that later.
Changing the actual make-up of the war zone itself seems to be a key theme of BF5, in fact. Stationary weapons like artillery and huge anti-tank weapons can now be attached to the back of vehicles and towed around, allowing you to re-position them to best suit your objectives. This doesn’t sound like a big deal until you really consider the implications: in past games, an ace pilot could learn the anti-air positions on a map and dodge between them. In BF5, they have no such luxury.
Battlefield is most at home in multiplayer, and DICE say that these tools are designed to add to the overall tool-set available to players in what they call the Battlefield sandbox. They seem like changes that could have a significant impact indeed.
Support and Medic abilities are now partially available to everyone – and it’s all about encouraging proper squad play
In Battlefield 5, developer DICE is particularly keen that players stay with their squads. A number of significant changes to Battlefield’s systems try to encourage that, but one stands out: the ability for all players to revive others regardless of class – but only within their squad.
That means if you stick with your smaller squad across one of BF5’s huge multiplayer matches your buddies will be able to revive you regardless of their own role. Medics, meanwhile, have perks to balance that out: the medic class is the only class that can heal, and when they revive you they do so to full health and more quickly. When other classes revive it’ll be a slower process and only heal a limited amount of health. Players can only heal a portion of a full health bar on their own now, too.
Reviving is generally now a more involved process – one player squats over another and you’ll see your rescuer’s face as they drag you up. This makes reviving also more involved, leaving you more vulnerable, but that’s balanced out by the ability to now drag a player to safety as they bleed out – meaning for the first time you can drag somebody behind cover, to a safe position, before reviving them.
Even the respawn loop has been edited to encourage players to stick as a squad. When you die, instead of seeing the battle map you’ll now spectate a squadmate and choose who to spawn on. You’ll only see the overall battle map if you choose to go back to it or if your whole squad is wiped.
Similar changes have been made to make support more viable, too. They’re vital for fortifications, but deeper restrictions on ammunition means you’ll be forced to cosy up to a support or loot enemies to keep supplied.
Design Director Daniel Berlin explains that the intent is to create “lulls in the tempo” where players are forced to resupply and prep for the next encounter rather than go at it full pelt all the time – quite a tonal difference to their greatest rival, Call of Duty.
Operations are back – and there’s an absolutely crucial change
Operations were my absolute favourite mode of Battlefield 1, so I’m chuffed to see them back in BF5. They’ve had one major tweak this time around: not every stage of an operation will have the same basic attack and defend objectives.
They’re now called Grand Operations, by the way, and they’ll still be historically-inspired battles across multiple maps – but now multiple modes, too, and with custom rules to boot.
In the Operation teased, players will be dropping into Rotterdam as paratroopers. This all links back to the note about squads earlier on. If you die and choose not to spawn on your squad, you’re forced back up to jump from a plane again. The second phase of this operation might then see you attempt a ground assault once the paratroopers have taken down the artillery, but if the paratroopers fail the next stage will see the attackers start with less vehicles and tickets to complete their next objective.
Grand Operations come in four parts, but if there’s unfinished business there’s the chance for a final part, the Final Stand, where both sides have depleted resources. It’s an all-out fight to the death – no respawns (but revives work, so stick with your squad), extreme pressure and even limited ammo – you’ll start with one clip then have to scavenge more from your victims. It sounds stressful and brilliant. I’m in.
The spotting system has been revamped, plus other changes intended to increase strategic options
For multiplayer, it’s ultimately all about strategy. During the pitch for the game DICE drive this home multiple times with several features: fortification, dragging injured allies, re-positioning heavy weapons. More familiar features have also been tweaked to the same effect.
Take spotting: spotting and marking enemies is no longer a case of just aiming at a general area, pressing a button and hoping the AI will see something you can’t. In fact, there’s a general approach to realism and simulation in Battlefield 5 that means spotting enemies should be more natural than ever.
That means that tall grass will shift, move and be pressured out of the way by players. We’re given the example of a sniper spotting and taking out an enemy just by scoping in on the movement of some tall grass – or the reverse, where a well-hidden sniper is ultimately undone by the depression in the foliage around them.
You’ve been able to throw yourself from a sprint into a prone position for a while now, but in BF5 that’s made more natural and through that more potentially tactical, too. You can now roll over when prone to be on your back instead of your belly, shimmying backwards, aiming between your legs at enemies as they approach. In DICE’s trailer this looks like action movie flair, but in a brief bit of alpha test video footage of the actual game it looks more like ARMA: something that could be used as a methodical choice in the hands of a seasoned player.
Even gunplay itself has been significantly tweaked. Bipodding is easier and more seamless, and DICE has worked to make the first few shots with a weapon predictable, the intent to ensure that there are fewer or indeed no moments where any random gun or bullet sway screws you over.
Bullet penetration is back in a big way, by the way – and with caliber of bullet taken into account. A stationary mounted LMG could “shred a house to pieces” according to design director Daniel Berlin.
Combined Arms is a new, low-stress multiplayer mode
Because Battlefield fans are so passionate, Battlefield online can be a daunting, challenging experience. For that there’s a new mode in Battlefield 5: Combined Arms.
Essentially a four-player co-operative mode, DICE describes combined arms as being a “less stressful” way to play BF online socially. They also think of it as ‘bridge’ between the more familiar multiplayer modes and solo offerings, and hope that it’ll encourage some people to make the jump from one to the other.
Combined Arms will come with a mission generator, meaning the game itself can put together fresh new missions for a group of friends to tackle that’ll in theory be unlike anything they’ve played before.
Efforts have been made to make everything look more natural
Movements like the above also should just look more natural. There’s some serious legwork going on around reactive animation, see. I mentioned grass getting flattened earlier, but soldiers will also react. Take a soldier into deep water and they’ll start raising their knees high as they wade through it, as a person really would.
Run head-long into an obstacle and as they approach it the soldier will angle their body slightly to absorb the impact with a shoulder.
It’s not just people either, but across the board. Explosions and destruction is now dynamic, DICE boasts, so if an explosion comes from the inside of a building the debris and destruction will blow outwards. Conversely, an explosion from outside will blow it in. Buildings might also just deteriorate over time once damaged, as the strain of weight being put in places it shouldn’t damages the structure.
The Premium Pass is dead – and Battlefield 5 will have an extensive ‘live game’ component
Yes, it’s true – the Battlefield Premium Pass is dead. In previous games this was basically a way of signing up for the additional incoming content ahead of time and mark yourself as a special player in the process – but that won’t be the case for Battlefield 5. Instead, all core BF5 content will essentially be free once you own the game. That means no more paying for expansions, no more segmentation of the community. That’s good stuff.
Instead there’ll be Tides of War – Battlefield 5’s Live Service. There’s hefty character progression and customization in BF5, and much of that will be earned by progressing through the Tides of War and the associated systems, including building your own Company of unique, customized soldiers.
There’ll be all the things you expect from live service games – challenges, limited time events with limited rewards, a ton of customization and an in-game currency to grind out. DICE didn’t mention anything on supplementing that currency out with real cash, but it seems likely that’ll be how the developer and EA offset the loss of that Premium Pass cash.
Tides of War boss Ryan McArthur described the service as being an opportunity to offer “evolving gameplay,” with the main idea being that the progression of the war will help drive the progression of the live service side of the game. There’ll be new campaign missions, new maps and new game modes, and they’ll be designed to be supported by the real-world narrative of WW2. Early on the live service missions might see you play in missions inspired by early war operations – but later on you’ll be fighting in later events with the associated leaps in tactics and technology. There’ll also be ‘non-canon’ events that’ll allow DICE to get a little bit outlandish with the sandbox.
A slide in the presentation explains it best: an evolving narrative leads to evolving gameplay, which in turn naturally leads to new ways to play and new content. Thanks to WW2 being so well documented, there’s plenty of material to mine through. DICE say there’ll be new slates of content every couple of months, and there appear to be at least four major content drops already planned.
And here’s the Battlefield 5 release date – it’s out this October
Finally, but very important, is the release date. Battlefield 5 will be out on 19 October, but if you’re dedicated you can pick it up early: Deluxe Edition owners get it on 16 October and ‘Play First’ EA and Origin Access players on Xbox One and PC can play from 11 October.
There’ll also be a beta – but no word on that yet. More information will be coming at EA Play, the first of the major E3 2018 press events. Based on the logos all around the event Battlefield 5 will be marketed in collaboration with Xbox – but it’ll be available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.