When you smash open the pinata of a Battlefield game, you’re looking to find one thing: an interesting multiplayer mode. Battlefield V is an interesting multiplayer game. While I’ll get into the specifics over the course of this review, there’s some part of me that thinks that this initial claim is basically all that matters. Battlefield V does what it says on the back of the box, and if you’re in the mood for what it offers then it will probably suffice.
There are caveats with that, though, just as there are caveats with every game and aesthetic experience on this damn planet. The game has been live for reviewers and players who have been invested in the “deluxe” edition for a while now, and there’s no shortage of opinions floating around with which you could orient yourself.
Those players, myself included, have run into weird bugs and glitches. For example, if you check the assignments (think quests) menu while playing the game, there’s a strong likelihood that your game will simply freeze. You also might get killed multiple times trying to climb up a snowbank. There’s a chance that while playing Grand Operations, the massive multiplayer mode that takes place over several portions of a map, that enemies will simply start spawning behind you and killing you.
These are problems. They are frustrating. I’m not the kind of person who gets super stressed about that kind of thing, but through several days of Battlefield V play, I did start to get angry. Why the hell is this the case? Is this the cost of playing a game early, of digging into this big multiplayer game that has beckoned me through so many ad campaigns and promotions?
It really hit home for me then that Battlefield V is a framework more than it is a game. It is a set of expectations and commitments on both the developer and player side. It is a schematic, broadly taken, of contemporary blockbuster videogaming. It’s an exoskeleton for you to pilot around, and, sometimes, it seems to be doing all of the directing.
What I mean by this is that Battlefield V has a set of pre-packaged narratives that you and I step into when we play it. We can’t help it. One of those is that this is the biggest and grandest multiplayer experience that you can have on a console. The battlefield is dynamic, with tanks and planes and different player classes creating thousands of different decisions points in each map. The skill tree is deep, and the skill ceiling on a player’s ability to master a weapon and a loadout is high. These are all about the promises of time. Battlefield V, like so many games, is a promise that the time you sink into it will be worth it. You will extract more fun that you will deposit in dollars.
Battlefield V is cast from this mold, and it’s an old one. It’s got a smell about it. And it feels weird that these are the promises being made when the game just straight-up breaks or doesn’t work well in the first week of play. But at the same time, the inertia of the Battlefield games means that it can’t change that broad model. You cannot swerve when the franchise is barreling down the highway at double the speed limit, sucking up capital and players at an equal rate. You can’t take a hairpin turn at that speed.
And, like, I get it. You’ve got a model and you stick to it because you’ve got millions of players of Battlefield games in general that you need to convert into specific Battlefield V players, so you hammer on a familiar narrative with familiar multiplayer modes and just enough innovation and change that people who were on the fence before can buy into the novelty of a new entry. I get it. I enjoy it, even, because if there’s anything a game reviewer likes it is something fresh.
But you can feel the belts wearing out on the whole apparatus. This shit is creaking as it hits terminal velocity, and no number of maps and augmented guns and player classes can hide the sound. I played Battlefield 1 a whole lot, and as far as I am concerned it was a great game. It did all the things I wanted, and while it was sometimes frustrating, I still put a few hundred hours into it over a couple of years on multiple platforms. But the same story, the same framework, is being used to tell me that Battlefield V is a great and interesting game. The same mechanics return. The same basic principles, those things that make it a Battlefield game, are static. I’m just a cog in this big machine of repetition.
If you asked me “Why should I play this instead of something else?” I would not be able to answer the question. It’s a good game, sure, and I enjoy playing it, but I don’t know why you’d want to play this over Battlefield 1 or Battlefield 4. This game will have a higher player population. That’s about it.
What is novel in this game are things that, at the end of the day, are fundamentally unimportant to me. There are single player War Stories that are beautiful, well-designed, and fundamentally boring retreads of the most basic war plots from films. There are lots of new weapon skins and ways of customizing weapons, but I don’t know what these add to the game other than complexity for complexity’s sake. Someone who is invested in the minute details of this game can elaborate a hundred reasons why things are good or bad here, but I have the feeling that if you’re invested in that, then you’re not reading my review. You’re looking at wikis, forum posts, and YouTube videos. For those of us who play a wide variety of games, this game is interesting but not unique.
It’s a structure, like a gym or a concert, and we have our role to play in it. It is good for what it is, but it isn’t more than that. This is a first-person shooter on a large scale, and if you’ve played one before and you’re itching for the most-recent and best-looking Battlefield, then you’ve found it. Anything more or less than that and you’re better off getting last year’s model. It’s probably gotten all the kinks worked out, at least.
Battlefield V was developed by EA Dice and published by Electronic Arts. Our review is based on the Xbox One version. It is also available for PlayStation 4 and PC.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com. His latest game, Epanalepsis, is available on Steam.