Battlefield 5 Review: A New Coat of Paint on an Old War Tank
Battlefield 5 is perfectly functional. Everything people want out of a mainline entry, this game delivers. The gunplay is sound. The sound design is spot on. There are enough maps to cater to many different gameplay styles. Even the game modes are just, well, fine. They create the same rush we've felt when playing the series for years, though Rush itself is no longer playable.
But there is nothing particularly new here, nothing to excite the imagination like the infantry focus and pacing of Bad Company 2 or the grand reopening for the series with Battlefield 3.
Battlefield 5 goes through the motions, trodding a well-worn path that is all at once fun and adrenaline pumping but somehow still terribly rote.
Stories Well-Enough Told
The singleplayer side of Battlefield 5 is a stronger showing than its multiplayer. It's here where we see the developers playing with expectations in gameplay, if not in narrative.
Like Battlefield 1, BF5's "War Stories" are self-contained mini-campaigns with a lens focused on a single soldier. They're about the effect a few competent men and women can have on a small part of a much larger conflict.
Each of them tells the story of a different phase and theater of World War 2, and each plays with the expectations players have of a big-budget FPS experience.
Mechanically, each War Story is unique, and each chapter of each story attempts to give Battlefield's take on another type of game. From open world to area defense, flight sim to stealth-action, the gang's all here.
And I'll be honest: I was quite taken with every chapter I played. DICE has just about outdone themselves when it comes to making the Battlefield singleplayer fresh again.
As with the rest of the game, though, don't expect anything to fly out of left field; the storytelling is sound despite predictable plots and somewhat stock characters. I never found myself particularly attached to any of the playable characters, or the NPCs for that matter, but I was interested enough to see where their stories would go, so that's somewhat of a plus.
The expansiveness of the missions warrants a mention as well. Some of the levels are among the largest we've seen in a Battlefield game, and each is laid out to allow for multiple (and different) playstyles and playthroughs.
There are collectibles scattered about and plenty of chances to play with all the weapons and other armaments on offer, and vehicles are ever-present, as should be expected.
My main issue with BF5's singleplayer is twofold. First, the complete experience is currently unavailable. The fourth and final mission won't unlock until December 5, and while I can see the value in holding content back to keep people wanting more, it smacks of incompleteness if not desperation.
Secondly, I can't help but compare this offering to those with a similar length and content-saturation. Take a game like Titanfall 2, where every level brought something wild and new but still contained it's best ideas to individual stages, and Battlefield 5 seems quaint.
I was never knocked out of my socks, and I know for a fact DICE can pull off those kinds of moments. I've played them.
The only truly memorable moment was when an explosion synced up perfectly to a section of the in-game music. I suppose that's the point, but in a genre partially defined by its set-pieces, to have something so small stand out seems like an overall missed opportunity.
At War With Ourselves
I began my AAA FPS career with the Battlefield series. My entry into the franchise was Bad Company 2, and I was terrible. I could hardly hit the broad side of a barn, let alone see it in the first place. If I were a new player in BF5, I probably would have given up ages ago.
As I said in my feature on the beta, Battlefield 5 makes every player feel like they can have an impact on the outcome of a match. It's not something most will be familiar with, but a single medic can — and has — turned the tide with a few well-timed revives.
Here, a coordinated squad can take the entire map by the bootstraps and run roughshod over an enemy team. Moreover, they can be of almost any class composition so long as their aim is good enough.
In short, individual players haven't been this powerful in years.
It's a beautiful feeling, but it's held back by almost everything else about the multiplayer, which is best served as a list of unfortunate "demerits":
- The maps are some of the worst in the series. They lack verticality, personality, and gameplay variety. Each match turns into "run to that house. Now that one," over and over again. Oh, and there aren't enough of them.
- The guns all feel fine, but none of them give me a sense of satisfaction when I use them. The strong ones are strong but in a flat, uninteresting kind of way.
- The game modes aren't anything special. They are fun and facilitate entertaining gameplay, but none of them try anything interesting enough to make them stand out.
- The vehicles are also what we've come to expect. A tank is a tank, and a plane is a plane (read: there's a lack of actionable variety).
One thing I will give the multiplayer is that its pacing is well done. Even the longest matches are played out in high-speed. Everything happens at a mile a minute, and the sense of escalation and de-escalation is what I'm looking for in a shooter.
One moment I'm sending out health packs to three different squads and the next it's quiet save for the occasional ricochet in the distance.
The way classes have been laid out only helps the pacing, too. Because Assault players are dependant on Medics and Supports to keep them in top form, they can only plow through a defensive line for so long.
With Medics now wielding SMGs, they have every reason to be up in the middle of things, getting their hands dirty.
I touched on squad composition briefly in my TDM and Domination guide, and I'll be going into more detail over the coming days in individual class guides, but for right now I'll say that I'm super satisfied with the state of classes in Battlefield 5.
The Assault is more powerful than ever, but as the workhorse class, I think they should be, and without competent squadmates behind them, they can only do so much.
I'll hold off on talking much about customization because it has almost no effect on gameplay. Short of becoming a microtransaction-laden mess, there isn't much to say beyond, "Oh, it's there. That's nice."
Battlefield 5 ticks all the boxes for a fun, safe, copy-selling entry in the franchise. It could be one of the least accessible shooters in recent memory, but most AAA FPS titles can say that, Fortnite notwithstanding.
BF5's singleplayer mode is well-conceived but ultimately treads ground we've seen before, though it does so with new boots. The multiplayer functions and provides moments of entertainment but lacks any real bite.
I don't regret the time I've put into the game for this review, and I definitely can see myself playing a few hours at a time if I need a way to unwind or get my Battlefield fix. There's great potential here, but right now Battlefield 5 doesn't quite reach it.
[Note: The developer provided a copy of Battlefield 5 for the purpose of this review.]