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'Battlefield V' returns to WWII with ever-evolving multiplayer

And no more premium passes, yay!
Jamie Rigg, @jmerigg
05.23.18 in AV
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EA DICE

Games in the Battlefield franchise have covered conflicts from the Vietnam War to a fictional future in 2142. Developer EA DICE took the series into new territory in 2016 with the well-received Battlefield 1, setting the game in the rarely touched World War I era. For the next installment, Battlefield V (let's just not talk about the naming convention) returns to where the franchise started: World War II. As you know, the conflict comes up time and time again in films and games, but DICE hopes Battlefield V will tell some of its untold stories, and link these narratives to an ever-changing multiplayer experience intended to keep players interested, and logging back into the fight. Oh, and you won't have pay for the privilege of new content either.

DICE says it wants to "challenge preconceptions of the second world war" with Battlefield V (which is word-for-word what the studio said it wanted to achieve Battlefield 1 with the first world war). That means moving away from recycled, albeit legendary events like the Normandy landings and putting players in places and situations that they might not expect, like the North African desert, the city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, the French countryside and the harsh, arctic environment in northern German-occupied Norway.

These regions will set the scene for the game as a whole, whether you're exploring single-player stories inspired by historical events, the bread-and-butter multiplayer experience, or the new cooperative game mode. Battlefield 1 was the first title in the series to introduce single-player missions dubbed "War Stories." Senior producer on Battlefield V, Andreas Morell, told Engadget that DICE wanted to again highlight the human aspect of what it was like to live during wartime, particularly in places like Norway where resistance fighters challenged the Germany occupation in WWII. "We're continuing to build on [the Battlefield 1] recipe and refining it to make it even better," he said. "So you can expect the same sort of treatment when it comes to the single-player portion of Battlefield V."

"Combined Arms," as it's called, is the new cooperative mode that'll task an online squad with completing missions with a 'behind enemy lines' feel. You might have to take out a key position, for example, but before that scavenge explosives, steal a vehicle, etcera. A mission generator promises to keep things fresh and varied, with a career-like element tying performance to progression. It's intended more for new players who might initially find the multiplayer mayhem overwhelming, but it also offers everyone a different way of playing Battlefield.

Variety is the spice of war

Mass multiplayer warfare is the hallmark of the Battlefield franchise. DICE is only offering an early look at what's new today; more details and the first hands-on impressions will come at EA Play in June, around E3. Still, there's enough to talk about. On a purely visual note, terrain will now have an impact on how players appear to move through the environment. They'll lift their legs higher when in water, slip on mud, stumble over rocks and perhaps thud against cover if approaching it at speed. This should make everyone on the front line feel that bit more realistic as they sprint toward the action in your periphery. It won't affect actual gameplay, of course. Even if you appear to be slipping to an observer, you won't notice anything in your first-person view. That would inject too much randomness.

The environment itself will behave in new ways, too. Tall grass will shake as you run through it, making it easier for enemies to clock you. Apparently, the whole spotting system is being revamped to make it less of a thing. DICE felt that previous games made it too simple to mark players en masse, and the studio wants to stop people shooting at icons in the UI instead of players on the screen. There are a few new moves for players to work with, like sliding sideways into the prone position and leaping backward to the ground while keeping your gun aimed in front. You'll be able to re-throw live grenades, too.

Building destruction is going full physics in Battlefield V. Instead of predetermined animations, buildings react to the specific situation. Debris shoots outward when the explosion comes from inside, for example, and if a tank just clips one corner of a house, that'll be the only damaged part of the structure. A wall may eventually become unstable after taking damage earlier, collapse and kill you. Again, the idea is to make the battlefield more dynamic, realistic and varied.

But just as cover gets obliterated, so you can build your own fortifications. Bunkers, sandbags, tank stoppers, barbed wire, static guns and many more kinds of military structures can now be built by players. Anyone can do this, but support classes will do it quicker and have access to more type of defenses. Static artillery like anti-air guns can be now be towed by vehicles, either adding more guns to your convoy or setting up temporary defensive/offensive positions. Again, another way to mix things up mid-match.

DICE also briefly touched on gunplay -- specifically, that bullets will always land where the crosshair is pointing at the time it was fired. Random deviations have been reigned in so, although you'll still have to compensate for recoil, all guns will perform predictably. This allegedly raises the skill cap across the board. Because you know how the gun will behave at all times, you can master it. Bipodding machine guns will be seamless, not clunky, the studio tells us, and there's going to be what's called a "caliber mentality." What that means is cover is no longer guaranteed. Sure, running into a house might stop a sniper from picking you off, but a nearby LMG will absolutely tear through those walls, and you. Put simply, different gun types will penetrate different grades of cover.

Stick with your squad, soldier

Battlefield games have always stressed the importance of squads: the four-player groups that work together for the greater good. DICE is making cooperation absolutely fundamental in the next installment. This starts with an element of scarcity. No longer will you have nigh endless ammo that promotes 'spawn and sprint' gameplay. You'll be relying on ammo dropped by enemies, and your teammates, to stay in the fight. You also can't just sit behind a rock for 10 seconds and recoup all your health if you get tagged. The only way to get yourself back to 100 percent is to ask your medic to assist you. You can build resupply stations in the field to top up all your resources, but DICE wants to introduce deeper strategy to squad play while in the heat of battle.

You can still go lone wolf and set yourself up in a far-flung sniper position if you wish, but that'll be a more considered choice. You'll always join a squad when you join a game, and will spawn with your squad by default. If you want to spawn at a hold point, grab a vehicle or what have you, you'll need to actively make that choice. When you die, your default limbo screen will feature over-the-shoulder views of your squadmates so you can get an idea of the situations they're in before you re-spawn. All chat features persist through lobbies and loading screens to keep communication flowing. That's a minor addition, but important for squad cohesion.

You might find yourself dying a little less often in Battlefield V, too. Any player, regardless of class, can now revive a fallen teammate -- the buddy revive, it's called -- though medics will do it much faster and the player will get up with full health instead of just a fraction. You can also now drag downed players behind cover to make it easy to get them back into the fight, and revives will feel more real. You'll bend over a player and see them face to face (customizations and all) while the animation plays out.

Given that's it's now easier to keep your squad alive, a full wipe becomes much more important. The studio hopes that this new element, combined with the scarcity aspect, should create ebbs and flows in the gameplay as opposed to constant action. In that sense, don't let the pseudo-gameplay trailer fool you into thinking it's permanent, frantic firefights. If you wipe a squad, you know they're going to re-spawn far away, so you've time to build up defenses or move to a new position. And if you're attacking and manage to take a point, you'll want to heal, stock up on mags and take your time picking the next objective instead of moving out immediately.

The squad leader also becomes a much more valuable role. Executing orders, sticking together and playing for objectives will accrue points your leader can use for "squad reinforcements." This kind of works like Call of Duty killstreaks, in that when you get enough points you can call in a resupply airdrop, a V1 rocket, or special, powerful vehicles only your squad can use in the fight. Squad leader is no longer an empty title, then, and you'll want someone to actually be in command so you're always working toward your next reinforcement.

Grand Operations

"Operations" was a new type of online match that debuted in Battlefield 1, spreading the action out over different game modes and maps. "Grand Operations" takes the same idea of more elaborate multiplayer campaigns even further, including custom rulesets and map layouts. These matches will take place over four fictional days, each one a different game type. There will, however, be a constant narrative tying each one together, and how well you tackle one objective will directly impact the next.

For example, on the first day you might be a paratrooper sent behind the front line to take out the enemy's long-range artillery. The next day might be a more traditional, boots-on-the-ground battle, but if you failed to take out all artillery guns on the first day, you won't have as many tickets (respawns) and vehicles to play with. The story there is that artillery took out some of your advancing forces.

It is possible that the operations wrap up on the third day, if one team is completely outclassing the other. Should the matchup be fairly even, however, then day four is your "last stand." You'll spawn with limited resources and only one life. At the end of this day, only one team, Axis or Allies, can win. This has a bit of a battle royale whiff to it, the one-life aspect particularly. For a while now, whispers of a proper battle royale mode in Battlefield V have been heard. While DICE didn't announce anything specific today, you can be sure it'll be included alongside the more classic game types.

This is what Andreas Morell, senior producer on Battlefield V, had to say on it: "It's hard not to have seen the impact of battle royale on the gaming world. Everyone is playing it, everyone's doing it. Back at DICE, we're very much fans of it. We think it's a great experience and I think it's also a perfect fit with what we're doing with Battlefield. We've got the sandbox, we've got the big scale, we've got air, land and sea. We've got all the elements." He added, however, that DICE has nothing to announce today, but let's just say it's more than softly pinging on the radar.

The company you keep

Most of you will be familiar with the class system that's common to many games, and core to the Battlefield franchise. You choose to jump into the action as different types of soldiers to suit your playstyle or current objective, whether that be medic, sniper and so on. Customization of classes is getting much more elaborate this time around with what DICE refers to as "your company." This is basically another way of looking at your in-game progression as you unlock different weapons, vehicles and other gear.

The idea is your company evolves with you as you play the game. You don't just customize your loadout, but individual weapons. For example, do you prefer to equip a gun with a bipod for stability in longer-range exchanges, or do you want a bayonet for close-range combat? You'll also unlock different perks, Call of Duty style, to tailor a loadout specifically to your playstyle. DICE calls these class "archetypes." The same goes for vehicles. Do you want a certain model of tank to be armored to the teeth, or do you want it to be faster and nimbler, but more susceptible to damage?

There appears to be so much to unlock, that's where the idea of "your company" comes in, as you'll fine-tune everything to how you, specifically, like to play the game. DICE promises it won't feel like a grind, too. As long as you're playing and having fun, you'll be working towards unlocking the stuff you wanna unlock. There'll be daily "assignments" -- in-game challenges -- that'll help you earn extra virtual currency, as well as longer-term, "special" assignments you choose to equip that can be completed in different ways for higher payouts.

In addition to unlocking weapons, attachments, gear and other elements that impact gameplay, you'll also have a ton of cosmetic items available to personalize your company, their weapons and vehicles. And you'll be able to play as male or female avatars in every class for the first time. Battlefield 1 introduced the first multiplayer female character to the franchise, and though not exactly historically accurate, DICE felt it was important to offer players an all-female cast in Battlefield V. Both to increase choice and to celebrate the important role women played in WWII.

The new "live service," Tides of War

Another big part of Battlefield V is what DICE calls the "live service," Tides of War. This basically makes the game an ever-changing multiplayer experience, designed to immerse players in different narratives throughout the WWII era. Each chapter will be time-limited, and offer people new ways to play the game every few months. That could be a new single-player storyline, specific game types and rulesets, and in-game progression trees that let you unlock cosmetics specific to that chapter, like skins, emblems and face paints.

This links in with the overall theme of Battlefield V: exploring the untold stories of the second world war. New, historically inspired missions covering different experiences (like being on the receiving end of a blitzkrieg push) will become available, as well as new gear, special assignments and other types of in-game content. Grand Operations are part of Tides of War, and will change as DICE turns the leaf on a new chapter.

The hope is you'll keep coming back, and to that end, DICE is doing away with paid premium passes you've needed to play new content in previous games. You no longer need to buy DLC to play new maps and gametypes with your friends. Everything is available to everyone. That begs the question of how DICE will fund this continued development. 'Games as a service' is the buzzphrase these days, of course, with popular titles like Fortnite, PUBG and Overwatch constantly adding new content to keep people interested.

The plan there is to offer cosmetics for real money -- only vanity items, nothing that will affect gameplay -- and later, catch-up packs so new players can pay their way to a level of progression that gets them on par with veterans. And that kind of stuff can bring a lot of money with a decent playerbase. The core game, however, is included in the purchase price.

That's basically all we know about Battlefield thus far, though we expect to hear more as we approach the EA Play event in June, and the retail launch for Xbox One, PS4 and PCs in October. The game will be available first through EA/Origin Access subscriptions on October 11th, followed by launch of the deluxe edition on October 16th, and the normal version on October 19th.

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