‘Battlefield V’ uses World War II to make a thoroughly modern video game

When introducing Battlefield V to the media, Senior Producer Lars Gustavsson invoked Battlefield 1942, one of the franchise’s most beloved games. The developers at Electronic Arts and DICE aren’t fools. They know that nostalgia builds hype, and hype puts controllers in players’ hands. “This is back to where it all started, [but] with new possibilities,” he told reporters during a presentation ahead of the game’s official reveal event Wednesday.

Yet bringing the Battlefield franchise back to a tried and true setting is the least interesting thing about it.

The bones of Battlefield multiplayer are not changing for Battlefield V.

Yes, Battlefield V returns to World War II but, aside from its “War Stories” single-player campaign, the period is not its defining characteristic. Battlefield V will see a litany of changes, big and small, which invoke modern trends that have become standard among competitive online games. Some of these changes, like its “unprecedented” emphasis on character customization and the pivot away from expansion packs to a “live” content model, reflect popular trends. Others, like giving every character the ability to build fortifications on the fly (as in Fortnite), invoke specific games.

That may sound scary for long-time fans, but DICE seems to be integrating these new ideas into the Battlefield mold. Battlefield V is still a “sandbox,” as DICE’s senior designers like to describe it, and if everything goes according to plan, it’s one that should keep you playing for a long, long time.

Multiplayer

The bones of Battlefield multiplayer are not changing for Battlefield V. You can still expect large-scale games of Conquest, Domination, and Team Deathmatch on foot and in vehicles like tanks, planes, and (presumably) ships. You still choose a class and the core classes, like assault and support, return.

Battlefield V, like previous iterations, hopes to push players towards tactical, squad-based play. Players will automatically load into every game as part of a squad, and will default to spawning on teammates after death. While you can opt out and spawn at other key point on the map, as in previous games, DICE insists you’ll want to play with your squad, as there seems to be a mandate that cooperation is essential to survival.

“This is a squad-based game,” said DICE Design Director Daniel Berlin. “You should play with your squad.”

Every squad has a designated squad leader, who can call plays and issue specific orders to their teammates. Successful leaders and squads who follow orders earn re-enforcement points, which your team can spend on unique vehicles and special attacks, such as a V1 rocket strike — not unlike Call of Duty’s killstreak system.

The level of cosmetic customization in Battlefield V is, as DICE noted, “unprecedented.”

Your squad will also help you stay alive in a very literal sense. According to Berlin, Battlefield V will see health and ammo become scarce. Players cannot fully regenerate health and will not start out with enough ammo to wage a one-man war on the enemy, as they have in the past. Instead, squads will need to rely on medics to heal and support players to dole out extra ammo, or seek out resupply stations to get back to full strength.

In a nod to Fortnite every player, regardless of class, has the ability to build and repair fortifications, such as sandbags, on the fly. The support class, which in past games has been the only type that could repair, will be able to repair faster and build larger fortifications, like giant, X-shaped, anti-tank guards. We haven’t seen this in action, nor have we seen the full list of things that every player can build — like stairs — but it doesn’t seem that DICE intends the mechanic to alter gameplay in a tremendous way, as it has in Fortnite. Instead, it’s a way for to get squads to work co-operatively and creatively. It also reinforces the large-scale battles by giving players more ways to change Battlefield’s famously massive maps.

battlefield 5

There’s other subtle changes. One of the coolest tweaks, we thought, was the ability to instantly flip from your belly to your back while prone, putting you in a better position for sliding, or taking out enemies from the ground in close quarters. You can also backpedal while prone. It’s a quirky little change but, as you can see in the simulated gameplay in the trailer, it can speed up the game’s pace.

Playing dress-up with soldiers

The most substantial changes to Battlefield V occur outside of combat. EA and Dice will lean heavily into the “live game” model established in competitive games like Overwatch and Rainbow Six: Siege. That means players will no longer have to pay for expansion packs to gain new maps and weapons, and the game will feature microtransactions, which will likely be connected to cosmetic options for your character.

The level of cosmetic customization in Battlefield V is, as DICE noted, “unprecedented.” Players will be able to mix and match physical features, clothing, facepaint, and numerous gun components to make distinctive characters for each class. The player characters in the BFV trailer, who are meant to represent the outer fringe of what you can achieve, look unlike any WWII-era soldier we’ve ever seen.

The game may turn World War II into a “flavor” rather than a true setting.

That means a heavy emphasis on post-launch content. The game has a strong emphasis on player progression — guns and other equipment for each class is locked behind a leveling system. Guns and vehicles also have their own sub-progressions, which unlock mechanical — read: gameplay relevant — customization options. Every player will get daily quests to grind and help you level up, and multi-part “special assignments” that will give you mid- and long-term goals to complete in exchange for unique cosmetic loot.

The secret of Battlefield V’s post-launch campaign will be “Grand Operations,” a modified version of Battlefield 1’s “Operations” mode, whose setting will rotate seasonally. Like Operations, the Grand Op puts teams against each in a dynamic multi-stage battle based on a historical (though not necessarily true-to-life) setting. Unlike BF1, where each stage flows into the next, each Grand Operation is broken into four discrete matches, whose parameters can change depending on the outcome of the one before. The Grand Operation will rotate every few months with each new chapter of the “Tides of War,” the overarching name for BF5’s seasonal content drops.

While there is a lot to love about these plans, it isn’t without a downside. The franchise has always been known as a historical shooter with a strong attention to detail. With customization options that make characters look less like uniformed soldiers, and live events like grand operations that will not always be tied to the “canon” of Battlefield V and World War II, the game may turn World War II into a “flavor” rather than a true setting.

Multiplayer isn’t everything

Unlike Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Battlefield V will retain a campaign. As in Battlefield 1, missions will be broken up into short vignettes based on different characters from many different conflicts across the war. DICE director TK said the game will focus on conflicts that have not been featured often in games. For example, a vignette called “Nordeliesse” (AKA “Northern Lights”) will follow a female resistance fighter in Nazi-Occupied Norway. TK also suggested the game would prominently feature The Battle of Rotterdam, as well as battles in the French countryside and North Africa.

2018 is going to be a watershed year for mainstream first-person shooters.

There’s also a 4-player co-op mode called “Combined Arms.” DICE and EA didn’t offer much detail, only saying it will create set-piece encounters to simulate the multiplayer experience at its most chaotic. Based on the trailer which is, itself, a simulation of “Combined Arms,” it seems things will get bonkers.

After seeing both Black Ops 4 and Battlefield 5, 2018 is going to be a watershed year for mainstream first-person shooters. Both franchises are changing things up to reflect new phenomenon like Battle Royale, and updating themselves for players who are increasingly returning to these series with new expectations. There’s still a lot to learn before we can say whether either one will succeed in these efforts, but we can admire DICE for seeking ways to gracefully blend the old and new.

Battlefield V will have a tiered rollout when it launches this fall. Origin Access (PC) and EA Access (Xbox One) players will get the game on October 11. Players who purchase the Special Edition on PS4, Xbox One, and PC will be able to play October 16. The final, standard edition will be available October 19. We’ll get the chance to play it next month at EA Play 2018, so we’ll have more concrete impressions soon.