The comparisons with Fortnite: Battle Royale are inevitable. But don’t let that dishearten you, or detract from the fact that Battlefield 5 is very much its own, unique game… and quite possibly the most ambitious evolution of the franchise in years. This is DICE making a WW2 shooter quite unlike we’ve ever seen, and it’s possibly going to make last year’s Call of Duty: WW2 look a bit silly.
Senior Producer, and Battlefield stalwart, Lars Gustavsson makes a standard boast at the start of my extensive, behind the scenes look at Battlefield 5. “This is the richest, deepest and most immersive BF ever created,” he says. It’s a line we’ve all heard before, but this time it seems true. The scale and ambition of this game is vast, so to simply compare it to Fortnite, PUBG, Destiny 2 or any big shooter of this generation is perhaps an understatement. If DICE's grand ambitions fall into place, this could be the shooter of this generation.
So, let’s start with those Fortnite comparisons. They stem from a new mode called Grand Operations, which is an evolution of the Operations concept seen in Battlefield 1. In Grand Operations you fight a huge battle for four in-game days, with each phase of the battle impacting and dynamically changing the next. The example we’re given takes place on the new Rotterdam map. Day One sees the attackers being paratroopers. The plane circles the map and you can choose to drop out at any time to play the objective - in this case you’re looking to sabotage enemy long-range artillery. The more you take out, the more you minimise casualties for main attack force, which enters the game in Day Two. As the defenders, you’re looking to minimise losses, and you can take out the troop carrier aircraft with AA guns for massive kill numbers.
On day two, the main force arrives and you’re given resources according to how many artillery placements you took out - so, that means more troops, more vehicles, and even starting with more ammo if you’re more successful. From here, you push in and capture flags, like in Conquest. Day Three brings a whole new objective, but changes the map, so you’re fighting in a ruined version of Rotterdam. And the Operation can end on Day Three, if you win a decisive victory but… you don’t want that, because Day Four sounds incredible.
Day Four is sudden death; last man standing. Your soldier is exhausted, down to a few rounds of ammo, and you’re trying to simply eliminate the enemy. Hey, don’t just call it Battle Royale - call it Battle Royale perfected. The winning team is the one that is left alive at the end. Yes, there are spectator modes, yes, you can revive downed squad mates, yes it’s going to be intense.
Let’s talk squads
Now, let’s talk about squads, because Battlefield 5’s big thing is squads - what it refers to as ‘My Company’. The idea here is that you build a squad and stick with it through all game modes. There are three core modes - War Stories (single player), Combined Arms (co-op), and Multiplayer. Your custom character stays with you throughout it all, and your company can tackle co-op and multiplayer as a unit. There are massive rewards for working together, as is the case with all Battlefield games, but the emphasis here really is on sticking to a squad.
For example, the Medic class has changed to encourage more unity among companies. Now ANY class (to be clear that’s: Assault, Medic, Recon, Support) can revive a downed ally. It takes longer, and won’t fully replenish health, but an Assault can bring you back to life within a limited amount of time after death, for example. A Medic just does it quicker, and gives you 100% health on revive. And they can still lay down medkits, which you now have to physically take, instead of just being near. Oh, and you’d better keep a Medic handy, because health won’t regenerate to 100% either - you’ll need to heal for that. The even better news for Medics is that you can now drag downed enemies to cover before you revive them, so no more ‘bottlenecks of death’ like we see in BF1 maps like Amiens.
Support has changed too. You can build fortifications now (Fortnite comparison klaxon) and create fixed machine guns, in addition to resupplying allies and carrying LMGs. Fortifications can be a whole host of stuff, from simple sandbag walls, through barbed wire, foxholes, and even strengthening of destroyed buildings. When you’re attempting to hold a flag in Conquest, this is going to be a genuine game-changer, as is the ability to tow stationary weapons across a map using vehicles. Yup, you can use a tank to tow an AA gun AND use both weapons as you go. And yes, that also means you can organically create an absolute stronghold out of building materials, scavenged stationary weapons, and an assortment of vehicles.
The next evolution of destruction
Don’t get complacent, though. Bullets now penetrate cover again, and higher calibre rounds will rip through thicker barricades. You can easily shred a house with an LMG. Destruction is actually realistic and organic, so you can blow houses apart piece by piece, with no pre-set animations. You can even kill enemy troops with flying debris. So, you really might need that Medic close by!
Squad play really is at the heart of BFV, and when you join a game you actually have to opt out of a squad, if you want to lonewolf. Of course, going it alone is still valid - you can still grab pick-ups, and there are resupply stations around each map for ammo and health. But you’ll be missing out on much of Battlefield 5’s best if you do go solo.
It becomes doubly important to play together when you consider the game’s new scarcity system, which means that players will only start with a limited number of explosives and ammo packs. Good Battlefield 5 players will get through maybe 3-4 kills before they run out of ammo, so looting downed enemies, resupplying, and asking Support classes for drops are essential. DICE really wants the game to ebb and flow, so you’re not constantly in pitched battles - there are down times when you’ll need to hide and recover your health and ammo reserves.
It’s not just the squad roles that have changed either. Spotting has been reworked, to avoid ‘spot spamming’ and ‘shooting at triangles’ as we’ve seen in previous BF games. Now, you mark ‘danger areas’ in the environment, for your squad to shoot at / avoid, and you get points for making kills in these zones.
Animations have been reworked too. Much to the delight of hardcore players, you can now dive sideways to prone, go prone on your back, turn 360 while prone AND crawl backwards on your back. The movement system has been broadened significantly. The map will react to you more too, so you’ll be able to see Recon players crawling around in long grass, or pick off enemies wading through marshy trenches. Soldiers will even slip in mud, and physically push up against cover. It all makes for a game that feels hugely different, yet warmly familiar to BF1.
Now even the weapons have skill trees
Weapons? Yes, they’ve been reworked too. Recoil is now consistent per weapon - this mean that if your LMG constantly recoils upwards, that’s all it’ll do. It won’t bounce from side to side. Roughly speaking, where you aim is where the bullet goes - there’s no artificial skew on shots or random recoil. This means that burst fire will fast become King, and accurate players will be rewarded for the shots they actually take. Phew. Guns, like the vehicles, all have upgrade trees too, allowing you to completely customise EVERY piece of kit you own. That’s both cosmetic and utility.
Weapons, for example, have between 5-7 different parts that can be swapped and changed and you can customise the skills of your weapons, for stuff like faster reloads, more distance, accuracy - things like that. Vehicles too can be chopped, changed, and customised as you see fit. Adding more armor to a Tiger Tank, for example, makes it harder to kill, but slows it down. And don’t worry - you’ll have multiple slots for the same vehicle or weapon. So, if you have a favourite rifle, you’ll be able to customise that exact gun in a number of different ways, save them as pre-sets, and swap between them when you respawn.
Such vast customisation (and to be clear you can customise ANYTHING - including soldier faces, clothes, hair-cuts, gender - yes, there are female soldiers - weapons, insignia, vehicles… just, the lot) is going to mean a whole heap of stuff. There is a lot to unlock and use in Battlefield 5 and it’s done in a number of ways. At the core of it all, you have ‘points’. Simple currency. You get points for doing anything in the game - from playing War Stories, through to being the last man standing in Grand Operations. Points are universal, so when you earn them playing Combined Arms, for example, you can unlock gear to use in regular multiplayer (and vice versa). Points allow you to unlock anything you want when you rank up, so if you’re a Recon looking for your favourite sniper rifle, you don’t need to unlock three other, lesser weapons before you earn the right to use it. Just spend points and you get the gun, crudely.
Points are earned just by playing, but you also unlock them by completing Daily Orders and Special Assignments. Daily Orders are essentially Destiny’s bounties, and you should easily be able to complete them in a couple of hours of play. They refresh every day, and you can have up to three active at once. Special Assignments are longer-form objectives, and they act like Destiny’s Exotic quests - they’re multipart and require you to do certain things in certain ways. So, you’ll perhaps need to get 50 revives on a certain map, then heal 100 people in another mode. Those are unconfirmed numbers - I’m just using them to illustrate a point. You can have up to four active Special Assignments at a time, and they’ll reward you with more than just points. Quite what, DICE isn’t talking about.
Let’s get this out of the way now - I asked whether or not you’d be able to pay to unlock items or buy points and I was told that the way to progress is to play the game. Not a denial, not a confirmation. Given that the Season Pass system has been scrapped completely… well, Battlefield 5 will have to make money in some way. What that is remains to be seen.
Live service is the new DLC pass
Yes, the season pass is dead, replaced by Tides of War, which is the game’s live service. This runs from launch, and it’s hugely ambitious. Each season of Tides of War is known as a Chapter, and it works like a vastly improved version of Fortnite’s Battlepass system. You get a series of timed, limited-period events that last for around 2-3 months, and you get unique rewards for playing through them. Each Grand Operation is specific to a Chapter, so once that Chapter is finished, you won’t play that Grand Operation ever again. Interestingly, each Chapter reflects the way that World War 2 actually progressed, and reflects the events that happened within it. For example, one Chapter will take place in Norway and deal with the conflict inside the Arctic circle - an aspect rarely covered in WW2 games. There will be themed multiplayer events, Combined Arms missions, and War Stories associated with each Chapter.
With Tides of War, then, we’re moving away from the traditional ‘DLC drop’ system, and into constant feeds of new items, new modes, new gameplay elements, and new… everything. It all reflects the way that World War 2 changed the modern world as we know it. Players who take part in these campaigns will unlock exclusive kit that won’t be available ever again, once the Chapter finishes. There will be campaigns set in snowy Norway, rural France, the North African desert, and the city of Rotterdam… and did I spot some concept art from London? Yes, I did.
I feel like I’ve glossed over or missed so much information, such is the extent of the changes DICE is making to Battlefield with 5. I haven’t even touched on how Combined Arms works - essentially pitting four players against a multi-objective scenario, randomly generated by the game’s new mission builder. Not quite a horde mode, not quite a series of full stories - Combined Arms bridges the gap between solo and multiplayer.
All this speaks to the grand ambitions of the game and the way DICE wants to tell a unique WW2 story in an era where games, movies, and TV have exhausted seemingly every possible story in the era. To label this as a reaction to Fortnite, just another WW2 game, or an attempt to move in on Destiny’s turf is doing Battlefield 5 a massive disservice. It could be the shooter of the generation, if gameplay and ambition both fulfil their promises.
Battlefield 5 launches on October 19 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.