Well, this is a return to the past in more ways than one. Battlefield 5’s beta hit for early adopters ahead of today’s open test, and it was a proper beta – misshapen, malfunctioning and with more than a handful of those glitches that mired Battlefield 4’s launch in infamy. Matchmaking was broken, squads – such an integral part of Battlefield’s make-up, and even more so this time around – weren’t working, and it was all a bit wonky. This was a beta in the old-school definition of the term.
So yes, DICE’s return the backdrop of WW2 wasn’t exactly smooth at first, but by the time the doors have opened for the masses this morning many of those problems should have been ironed out – indeed, even after 24 hours DICE had proven adept at putting out fires, with all that lingered come yesterday the occasional floating gun and impossibly contorted corpse. Some concerns will linger a little longer, though.
Battlefield 5 is a strange iteration of the long-running series, at least at first glance. It’s both radical and reserved, with the systems that underpin the Battlefield formula all undergoing change while the fundamentals all stay the same. It’s proven divisive in its early days – as is ever the way when it comes to a new iteration of a much-loved series – though what’s certain is that this is a Battlefield that requires a very different approach.
One of the most controversial edits is the removal of the spotting feature, which once allowed players to call out the position of enemies on the map to reveal their whereabouts to teammates. Spotting remains but it’s not as sticky as it once was, the marker no longer staying with the spotted player and instead staying in a fixed position. It’s a marked shift in pacing, theoretically allowing you to escape from danger that little bit easier without having a massive arrow over your head – and it’s been balanced out by what feels like a drastically reduced time-to-kill. Cue criticisms of Battlefield turning more into Call of Duty – a familiar refrain that seems to greet every iteration of the game – which seem quite far from the truth. If anything, the pace is slowed with the tools for stealth and rewards for reading your surrounds greatly increased.
And Battlefield 5 is going for a more strategic, survival-led brand of shooting with its doubling down on squad play. Ammo is scarce, and you’ll have to rely more on medics to fully heal you, meaning team play is now more explicitly rewarded. It’s a neat idea that leads to some nerve-wracking situations – clearing the cache of your main weapon while holed up in cover and having to make a final stand with your pistol, say – and the only downfall is one that’s typical of any online shooter. Strangers aren’t too hot on teamplay – in an evening’s play I can count with the fingers of one hand the number of times a teammate threw me some supplies – so you’re best off playing with friends who have some inkling what they’re doing.
Such has always been the way with Battlefield, really, and 5 seems to reinforce the foundations that have set this series apart in the past. The destruction that returns to Bad Company 2 levels is a big part of that, and is obvious in both maps in the beta – in Rotterdam, a gorgeous and dense urban map that’s reminiscent of old favourites such as Seine Crossing and Amiens, building fronts crumble, while in the snowbound Narvik everything seems even more fragile, entire outhouses crumbling to nothing while allowing you the opportunity to fortify them. It’s satisfyingly dynamic (and even more satisfying is the way blankets of snow slide to the ground from rooftops in Narvik), and it’s a mechanic that’s going to prove fascinating once Battlefield 5’s Battle Royale mode properly breaks cover.
There’s no small amount of apathy surrounding this year’s Battlefield – and, for that measure, this year’s Call of Duty too – and you can’t help but wonder if their hopping onto the Battle Royale bandwagon will be enough to kickstart interest. Battlefield 5’s open beta shows that, beyond that, this looks unlikely to be the entry to win the series new fans. It’s the same old formula, delivered with only iterative tweaks – and tweaks that have proven divisive, even if I’m broadly in favour with most of them myself. DICE don’t really make bad shooters – at least not ones called Battlefield, anyway – and 5 looks to be another enjoyable entry. Whether that’s enough, though, remains to be seen.