Battlefield 5 Preview: Alpha Shows the Series At Its Best and Blandest

Does Battlefield 5 do enough to build off of Battlefield 1's fresh start? Our hands-on impressions of the alpha...

Sometimes, our perception of what feels true can be more impactful than what’s actually true. For instance, The Big Bang Theory was the most popular show on television for years, but I’ve never met a person who’s watched it. Vanilla is supposedly the most popular – or at least best selling – ice cream flavor in America, but I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen someone buy plain vanilla ice cream at a shop. In case you’re wondering, it’s not a coincidence that The Big Bang Theory was compared to vanilla ice cream.

There’s something similar at play when it comes to the recent Battlefield V alpha. When DICE says that this Battlefield game adds enough new features to the series to make it a worthy sequel to Battlefield 1, I know the team is telling the truth because I’ve seen the number of things in Battlefield V that are new or different. However, the real question is: “Does Battlefield V feel like a worthy sequel to Battlefield 1?”

The biggest difference between Battlefield 1 and Battlefield V is the speed of the game. Battlefield 1 was intentionally a much slower game designed to capture the more trench-based engagements of WWI. Things got crazy in that game, but the heart of the action was a more methodical experience.

Battlefield V says nuts to all that. Actually, the biggest change in Battlefield V that you won’t see on the back of the box is the visibility of enemies. It’s extremely difficult to spot enemy soldiers from even a moderate distance on the map. You can no longer just tag them from an extreme distance, and the incredible number of particle effects on each map (more on that later) can make it difficult to identify squads through the chaos.

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The idea behind this seemingly bizarre change is rather simple. DICE wants to cut down on the number of lone wolf players who scope foes from a vantage point halfway across the map. Instead, the studio wants you to stick with your squad, communicate with your teammates, and get into the thick of it when capturing and defending points. In theory, this approach capitalizes on the elements of Battlefield that make it special. Squad-based play, a variety of playstyles, tense battles over key objectives, and the feeling of being part of a larger conflict have always been the things that Battlefield excels at when the series is at its best.

In practice, this approach is a bit of a mixed bag. While the reduced visibility cuts down on the effectiveness of snipers from a certain distance – i.e. halfway across the map – and encourages squad play, it also leads to an awkward adjustment period. There are many times when the killers and the killed are determined by who happened to be focused on the right part of the map at the right time. That, combined with tweaks like reduced weapon recoil, means that getting the drop on an enemy is more important than it has ever been. It’s a blind leading the blind situation (or, in this case, fighting the blind) that is only really “fixed” when you and your team (better yet, your squad) learn the ideal paths to each point on the map, learn where the enemy will likely be, and learn to counter the most likely approaches.

At least that’s how the game will ideally work. Again, there’s a bit of an awkward adjustment period to this modified approach that sees some players abandon the optimal Battlefield V gameplay in favor of going at it alone. Whether it’s a member of your team that isn’t quite capable of going solo or a member of the enemy team that is a little too capable as a lone wolf, there’s just enough wiggle room left over to ensure that the optimal approach is abandoned and that you’re soon left playing a much faster, more chaotic shooter that doesn’t always feel like the Battlefield you might think you signed up for.

This is especially true of the new ammo system. Simply put, bullets are far more precious than they’ve ever been in a Battlefield game. Most of the time, you’ll only be scrounging for ammo or relying on your secondary weapon after firing off just a few clips. This change will be controversial, but it adds a degree of desperation that ensures that those who are able to survive multiple conflicts have a tougher time “going off” over the course of an entire game.

This new approach is supposed to be complemented by the new fortification mechanic that lets you set down sandbags, metal blockades, and other defensive structures. While you’re supposed to use these structures to fortify your position or assist your team during an assault, the chaos of combat hot spots makes it hard to rely on fortification before getting shot with far more reliable bullets and bombs.

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However, fortifications do enhance Battlefield V’s amplified destruction system quite well. Bombs and bullets can absolutely wreck a house and other, less sturdy structures. You’ll need to rely on fortifications if you’re going to have any hope of staying behind any kind of cover once the battles get really heated.

Even without fortifications, the new destruction physics really add an extra element of flair to Battlefield V’s conflicts that make you feel like you’re part of a bigger battle. They’re aided in that respect by new animations for things like reviving your teammates that make you really consider the value and timing of performing certain actions when things get hairy. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Battlefield V’s visuals and sound design are some of the best you’ll see and hear in any game.

More than the new destructions and animations, though, it’s the Grand Operation mode that truly makes you feel like you’re part of an actual war. Much like the Operations mode in the previous Battlefield game, Grand Operations strings together multiple scenarios as part of a larger battle. Unlike Operations, the larger battles in this mode can take place over the course of several real-life days.

For instance, you might parachute into a fortified town on one day and be expected to chase the enemies into the mountains the next day (if you won the initial conflict). In-between, you might get the chance to play a kind of “buffer round” that sees the losing team spawn into an area with few resources and little chance to win. The variety of modes that Grand Operations will hopefully include (this alpha preview only featured one large battle and the associated conflicts that make up that battle) should help Battlefield stay fresh once the allure of the traditional Conquest mode wears thin and the novelty of the new disappears entirely.

The longevity of the game will also depend on what shape the game ships in. As it stands, Battlefield V is technically somewhat rough. The PC version of the game drops frames like they’re as hot as your GPU while running this title. I’ve read reports from gamers who are running the alpha on top of the line gaming supercomputers who have also encountered this issue. It’s possible that this problem – and smaller bugs like incredibly slow respawns and bullets going through obstacles – will be fixed by the time the game is ready for retail prime time, but these bugs should serve as another reason to maybe not pre-order the title until you’re certain that the performance is up to par.

Technical issues aside, we come back to whether or not Battlefield V really feels like the worthy successor to the surprisingly great Battlefield 1. The answer to that question won’t be found in a list of features or, as tough as it is to say at the end of this article, impressions of the game in its early state. It’s going to come down to whether or not DICE and the game’s community can bring it all together and ensure that Battlefield V operates at its ideal best for extended periods of play. For now, though, there are times when things aren’t working in Battlefield V that it begins to feel like sitting down with a bowl of vanilla ice cream to watch The Big Bang Theory.