Over the years, Activision's Call of Duty has established itself as the first-person shooter for the masses (becoming an incredible cash-cow in the process) while Electronic Arts' rival franchise, Battlefield, has developed a following which views itself as a bit more discerning. EA's flagship shooter is all about making you feel like you're in the middle of a raging, all-out, large-scale war, and 2017's World War I-set Battlefield 1 took that ambition to new heights.
The good news is that Battlefield V builds on Battlefield 1's framework to achieve even greater levels of immersion, and make its players feel even more like a vital cog in a vast war-machine.
But there's a catch. At launch, chunks of Battlefield V which had been previewed are missing. The most significant among them being Tides of War, which is the game's "Live service" – that is, its equivalent to the likes of GTA Online, which is intended to provide a feeling that you're taking part in a huge, constantly evolving, persistent campaign. At least we know when Tides of War should arrive – on December 4, along with the final single-player War Story. Firestorm, Battlefield V's battle royale mode, is also nowhere to be seen, although we're promised that will arrive on some unspecified date in March 2019.
Storytelling with an edge
With COD Black Ops 4 axing its single-player campaign, it really looks like Battlefield V missed a trick by not including the whole of its single-player campaign at launch – it stood a good chance of hoovering up those Call of Duty fans who demand the chance to play solo.
Battlefield V's single-player campaign is pretty good, although also very short. Just like in Battlefield 1, it has been chopped into disparate War Stories which benefit from not having to conform to an overall storyline.
Pre-December 4, there are only three full War Stories, each of which takes roughly two hours to complete. They are satisfying and innovative, though, telling stories from far-flung outposts of the war which aren't afraid to challenge widely held views about WWII.
Unexpectedly, they flaunt some movie influences. Under No Flag follows an East End gangster recruited into the nascent Special Boat Service and operational in North Africa, and its dialogue will strike a chord with Guy Ritchie fans.
Nordlys stars a teenage girl in the Norwegian resistance, equipped with skis and throwing-knives, and tips its hat to Scandi-noir.
Tirailleur, meanwhile, shows a French North African volunteer overcoming racism from his fellow soldiers before participating in the drive to liberate France.
What really impresses about the War Stories is the way in which they present you with a number of objectives, then let you fulfil them however you see fit, in any order, and by employing stealth or a guns-blazing approach. Sure, they have some more linear sequences, but they also cleverly work in introductions to various multiplayer modes, and generally feel both fresh and very distinctive. The enemy AI is annoyingly dumb unless you crank up the difficulty level, though.
Even with chunks missing, there's still a welter of things to do in Battlefield V from a multi-player point of view. The standout mode is Grand Operations, which mixes and matches game-modes to track mini-campaigns as they progress over three days.
A typical Grand Operation might include a Frontlines session – in which opposing teams have huge shoot-outs around chained objectives which, if captured, will push the frontline back – or Airborne, in which one team fights off a stream of incoming paratroops, and a limit on respawns generates a nail-biting end-game.
If a Grand Operation ends in a draw after three days, there's a bonus shoot-out called Final Stand – which is pure battle royale, complete with a ban on respawns and a shrinking map.
The fact that it takes place on maps which you've already come to know intimately, and has that distinctive Battlefield feel and ambience, instantly renders it more memorable than many rival battle royale games. But currently, Final Stand is rather buried within the rest of Battlefield V's multiplayer side.
Beyond Grand Operations, Conquest provides the best example of the classic, large-scale action which Battlefield fans crave, taking place over giant maps in which you might have to try to capture as many as seven flags, and which you're pretty much forced to navigate using vehicles (although you can spawn onto your squad, or into tanks or planes).
In Conquest, it becomes clear just how far developer DICE has gone to town with the game's destructibility – towards the end of a round, as the tanks, planes and artillery have bombed the map to smithereens, support troops, with their new-found ability to build sandbag-fortifications, come in very handy, and the full chaos of war is unleashed.
The classes are nicely judged, with an emphasis on support which is typical of the franchise – Battlefield has always been more forgiving of those who don't possess semi-pro fast-twitch skills than Call of Duty. Medics have a quick-heal, so come in especially handy during Team Deathmatches when pinch-points come to the fore and the lengthy healing process administered by other classes puts them at risk of death mid-heal. There's also a Sniper class which can spot enemies, along with a sop to those who prefer to run-and-gun and wield explosives.
The progression system encourages you to flit around the classes, as do daily challenges, but the Armoury system, which rewards you with cosmetic shaders for your weapons, feels a tad superfluous – a sop to those whose lives revolve around loot-crates.
Pre-launch, a certain amount of glitchiness prevailed in Battlefield V – but DICE has sorted that out, so the only occasional glitches you still encounter have been confined to visual snafus.
Overall, Battlefield V is a fine shooter to both behold and play: the way in which it sucks you deep into the full horror (and thrill) of a terrifyingly realistic rendition of World War II is simply magnificent. It provides everything a fan of the Battlefield franchise could ask for and more – it feels like the most technologically advanced first-person shooter out there, yet has lashings of heart, passion and character.
But those qualities are inescapably dampened by the fact that it is currently only 70 to 80 per cent complete. Your most sensible approach to Battlefield V would be to wait until March 2019 to buy it, when it's likely to be considerably cheaper than it is now, and 100 per cent complete. It's true that EA abandoned the franchise's Premium Pass, so at least everybody will get all the content DICE adds to it, but whatever happened to finishing games before releasing them?