Battlefield V will return to the series’ roots this fall by going back to World War II. Developer DICE took to the stage during EA’s recent press conference at its E3-adjacent event, EA Play, to provide more details about its recently announced shooter, including its “War Stories” single-player campaign and a somewhat predictable addition of a post-launch battle royale mode. We also got a more detailed look at “Grand Operations”, Battlefield V‘s expansion on the huge, asymmetric “Operations” battles from Battlefield I. After the presentation, we went tried one of these “Grand Operations,” experiencing the chaos of war firsthand. It was overwhelming at times, but also an undeniable spectacle, giving the battle a sense of scope and narrative flow like we’ve never really experienced in a first-person shooter.
Isn’t it grand?
Grand Operations are enormous, asymmetric, multi-phase battles for up to 64 players. Where Operations in Battlefield I all shared the same objectives, with an attacker and a defender trying to push or hold a front line, respectively, Grand Operations will offer more varied objectives and unique circumstances. For our demo we fought as the Germans, attempting to stave off an Allied invasion on a snowy, Norwegian coast. The battle was divided into two days – generally they will be longer, but this was presumably condensed for the demo – with the results of the first day determining our standing on the second.
Our initial goal while the Allies were parachuting in was to protect several key artillery positions. Holding our guns would mean that we would be in a stronger position on day two. Any strategic ambitions we may have had were quickly lost in the chaos of combat. The battlefield was littered with hills, walls, buildings, and smoke, leaving very few clear sight lines in any direction. Gunfire, explosions, and yelling came from every side. Death often came quickly and unexpectedly as a result. When you go down you have a brief window during which you can call out for help and a teammate can come revive you, but, in our case, they never did, so we spent much of our demo lying on the ground, crying out our agony in German to the deaf ears of our countrymen.
We lost all of our artillery positions and had to make a tactical retreat. That meant that on the second day we were on our back foot. the Allies had dismantled our initial line of defense, so they were able to bring in more tanks and heavy weaponry than they could have otherwise. Tanks added an intimidating twist to the battlefield, inducing panic as you round a corner and find yourself facing down treads. For the second day we just needed to hold our position, which we managed to do, but barely. We kept just one out of the four control points by the end, but it was enough to let us to limp up into a stronger position in the mountains for the next fight.
Army of one is an army of none
Our near loss felt entirely due to a lack of coordination. During the initial reveal of the game, Battlefield V‘s developers have emphasized that it is a squad-based game, and players will live or die as a team. The chaotic, multifaceted design of these Grand Operations supports this, making it such that teamwork will drastically increase your odds of survival. The cacophony of combat and possibility of sudden death from being caught unawares means you always want someone to have another pair of eyes on your back, covering your flanks.
The way different roles complement one another also encourages cooperation – taking a cue from Fortnite, everyone can build static defenses in Battlefield V (though specialized engineers can do so faster and have more options), but doing so takes time when you need to be protected, or could be helping your team otherwise, making it a decision that’s much easier and more effective when you have a team helping coordinate.
Shooting is obviously a core mechanic in the game, but Battlefield V does a great job of making it feel like just one piece of a the whole. Wars aren’t won by having the fastest twitch reflexes – they are won through strategy, through proper use of terrain and resources, through attrition. Grand Operations was a lot to jump into, and that’s what makes it feel so right as not just a shooter, but as a war game. The dynamic environment particularly underlined this – vaulting over low walls, breaking windows, and outright smashing through buildings with tanks gave the environment a really grounded sense of place that made it feel like much more than just a shooter arena.
Grand Operations are also so impressive for how they take all this chaos and dynamism and contain it in a coherent, narrative shell. The structure of days with different objectives that are informed by the results of the previous day grounds what could be just a nightmare of smoke and bullets in a story with an arc that makes sense.
Saving Private Ryan comparisons might be a little rote at this point, but the film was a watershed for showing the on-the-ground experience of World War II to be so loud, terrifying, and inglorious. Battlefield V will bring that level of verisimilitude to video games.
Battlefield V launches October 19 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC (or October 11 if you have EA or Origin Access).