Battlefield 5 review: Breathtaking, disappointing, and encouraging

EA's latest Battlefield game suffers from a rushed development, but still manages to knock your socks off if you give it a chance.

10

If you haven’t been keeping a detailed scorecard at home, you may not have realized that EA and DICE have been releasing big-budget shooters at a breakneck pace for years now. Since the holiday season of 2013, DICE has pumped out Battlefield 4, Battlefield: Hardline, Star Wars: Battlefront, Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, Battlefield 1, Star Wars: Battlefront 2, and now Battlefield 5. Even if you didn’t count the mountain of post-release content that shipped for these games, the Swedish studio has been pumping out cutting-edge shooters for five years without taking a breath. This release schedule is simply unsustainable if the goal is to produce the best games possible and the realities of making such large games last left recent entries in the Battlefield series falling short of fan expectations.

EA has declared that Battlefield 5 is ready for release, but even after a month-long delay from its original release date, the game still feels rushed. The foundation of the game is incredibly solid, with tight gunplay, jaw-dropping visuals, and unmatched sound design but after hours of engaging in the often sublime experience, I find myself wishing that the development team could have been given an extra year to turn Battlefield 5 from a great game into an absolute classic.

War never changes

If you’ve ever played a Battlefield game, you know what to expect from this year’s entry into the franchise, even if it’s been fifteen years since the franchise visited World War 2. You select one of the four infantry classes and drop into expansive battlezones with 64 players split into two teams, all vying to emerge victorious. Depending on the specific map, a host of vehicles and aircraft are at the player’s disposal, along with stationary countermeasures to keep the playing field balanced. Battlefield’s two main modes are Conquest and Grand Operations. In the former, teams fight for control points that drop the opposing team’s tickets and the round ends when one team reaches zero. Grand Operations makes use of the same maps as Conquest, though the action is split into four stages that offer alternate objectives. The game offers a traditional Team Deathmatch mode and other genre stalwarts, but the main focus stays with the showcase modes.

While Battlefield 5 shares much in common with its World War 1 predecessor Battlefield 1, some changes have been made to the design, most of them for the better. I’m not a big fan of reducing squad size from five to four, as it can be difficult to work as a unit if one of the members takes to the air or armor during a round. The adjustments to the time to kill, ticket systems, and player movement are all welcome. DICE added new prone positions, allowing soldiers to lay flat on the ground to the left, right, or on their backs, offering additional ways to fight more effectively and keep safe from incoming fire.

Infantry versus armor confrontations feel much more balanced this time around, with neither option feeling overpowered. A well-coordinated tank team can wreak havoc on a disjointed opposing force. On the flip side, an infantry squad of tank hunters can quickly and effectively make life hell for anyone who tries to roll across the maps solo. New for Battlefield 5 is the squad revive option, allowing dead soldiers to be resuscitated by squadmates without the need for a medic. This type of revival is slower, but makes coordinated squads more effective. Medics still offer the most efficient revives, but having this option is a great addition to the game. A new health system removes regenerating health and is also a welcome improvement to the balance of the game.

The gunplay sees a slight evolution from Battlefield 1, though many of the weapons from that game make a return for World War 2. Sadly, a few stalwarts of the war are noticeably absent at launch, like the M1 Garand and Thompson SMG, though they are expected to arrive with post-launch content. Grenades get some real improvement this time around, with players now able to pick up and throw back enemy explosives. Grenades can also be shot while on the ground or in mid-air to prevent death or as a tactical strategy. Smoke grenades are incredibly helpful in Battlefield 5, thanks to their obfuscation of sight lines and because they are now server-side so that the smoke appears the same for all combatants. Popping smokes allows medics to revive downed soldiers safely and effectively. Thanks to the removal of the 3D spotting mechanic, enemy scouts can no longer just aim for the orange Doritos in the mist and must actually see targets to get kills.

An unfortunate misfire

While the in-game action is arguably better than it’s ever been, Battlefield 5 suffers from a rash of bugs and quirks that feel like the result of a rushed production. Dead bodies will often fail to ragdoll and remain floating in mid-air, animation glitches appear a little too often, and structure destruction sometimes fails to appear properly. Thankfully, most of these types of issues fail to negatively impact the gameplay in any meaningful way, but will regularly kill the immersion that the cutting-edge visuals and sound work so hard to achieve.

Weapon and soldier customization are a huge part of Battlefield 5, but the menus and UI surrounding these features are semi-functional at best and infuriating at their worst. SImply changing the sight on a weapon can involve a process that requires the player to move through six or more pages and mouse clicks. Inexplicably, when you earn new weapons, attachments, or cosmetics, you will be unable to apply them in the same round, which is annoying. Even worse, you still can’t equip them between rounds, requiring players to completely drop from the server/squad just to attend to basic equipment management.

While things are mostly straightforward for solo queue players, groups of friends, especially large groups, will be in for loads of disappointment. While the game has a server browser, getting into a match with a full squad is nowhere near as straightforward as it should be. The browser won’t surface empty servers (if there are any), so my large group found it difficult to get into the same session. Some of us got stuck waiting in matchmaking queues for more than 15 minutes at a time. Beginning with Battlefront, DICE shooters have grown more and more hostile towards large groups or clan players. These games have a recent history of poor server admin tools (if they were even provided) and promises made for Battlefield 1 were never kept. There is no way to run or even rent private servers for Battlefield 5. The Shacknews community had a thriving Battlefield community built around these servers for years that has all but evaporated because the recent games make it so difficult to play together. When considering the attention to detail for all parts of the game, it feels like the lack of accommodation for dedicated communities is no oversight.

Every frame is a painting

Battlefield 5 is gorgeous. It is (save for Forza Horizon 4) the best looking game of 2018 and uses its graphical prowess to great effect. Each of the maps is stunning in their level of detail, quality of lighting, and in their ability to be blown to bits. The combination of alpha effects, particles, and post processing work in concert to provide a cohesive look that rivals pre-rendered footage. If you disable the in-game HUD, it becomes easy to suspend disbelief. The frantic “Battlefield Moments” play out with such ease that you may take everything that is happening on screen for granted. The concussive blasts from explosions blow back trees and long grass, light rays are occluded by thick smoke, and the displacement mapping on terrain makes every muddy rut and footprint look real. Each map has some variants that show off the game’s weather effects in all their glory. Rain, wind, and sandstorms make meaningful changes to how battles play out. When pitted against its primary competition Black Ops 4, DICE's latest looks like it belongs in a different generation. Battlefield 5 on PC is the first game to make use of NVIDIA’s RTX effects. They require a GeForce RTX graphics card and the new Windows 10 October 2018 Update to function. As I do not have the applicable hardware, I am unable to test this feature.

Being a DICE game, the sound design is second-to-none. Each bullet crack, artillery strike, and flyby is recreated with accuracy and believable aural positioning. The score kicks in at all the right moments to heighten the tension during the climax of closely-contested rounds. Headphone users are in for a treat with the new 3D Headphone sound preset that offers superb positional audio placement that can give you an advantage in the fight. Battlefield 5 also leads the competition when it comes to options and controls. Everything can be rebound and virtually all parts of the experience can be customized to your preferences, right down to individual sensitivities and controller dead zones.

Frustratingly close to special

When taken as a whole, Battlefield 5 can offer an exceptional experience. It betters its recent predecessors by nearly every measure, and offers the controlled chaos that made the franchise famous. Some may find the package to be lacking in content at release and the highly anticipated Firestorm battle royale mode is not present in the launch version of the game. Only 8 maps make the cut for release day, but they are enormous and are effectively used for multiple modes. Battlefield 5 has a campaign, but really only counts as a sideshow to the featured multiplayer. I have found myself hitting the highest of Battlefield highs during my play sessions, along with growing so frustrated that I shut down the game in anger. I keep coming back, but I wish the game could be so much more.

I can easily see DICE polishing this game up into a classic post-release, but there is no guarantee of when or if that will happen. The shipping package feels rushed, but thankfully the Battlefield Premium packs are no more and new content for the game will be free for all owners. This will keep the community from being torn apart two months after launch like every Battlefield game since BF3, but more work needs to be done with the UI and matchmaking before the hardcore fans will embrace it like the Battlefields of old. I wish EA could give the team at DICE extra time to make Battlefield 5 the best it could be. As it stands right now, the game is a rough, uncut diamond that could’ve been the crown jewel of class-based multiplayer first-person shooters.


This review is based on the PC Origin release. The game was purchased by the reviewer. Battlefield 5 will be available for PC, Xbox One, and PS4 on Novmeber 20, for $59.99. The game is rated Mature.

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

Review for
Battlefield 5
8
Pros
  • Probably the best-looking game ever released
  • Unmatched sound design
  • Excellent gunplay and squad mechanics
  • Feeling that anything can happen in battle
Cons
  • UI/Customization is awful
  • Hostile towards large groups/clans
  • Bugs make experience feel rushed
From The Chatty
  • reply
    November 14, 2018 4:40 PM

    Chris Jarrard posted a new article, Battlefield 5 review: Breathtaking, disappointing, and encouraging

    • reply
      November 14, 2018 5:16 PM

      That’s a lot of emotions.

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      November 14, 2018 5:19 PM

      Guess I will hold off on it, which was my pls all along

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      November 14, 2018 5:47 PM

      The visuals look great -- however I expected better performance out of my 1080 GTX. I'm also not a fan of how hard it is to pick out enemies, and how useless the base building feature is (no one actually uses it, or fortifies to hold a point).

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        November 14, 2018 6:51 PM

        Uh...they do that at all the time in conquest games I play.

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          November 14, 2018 6:59 PM

          I just... Don't believe that. People don't go out of their way to fortify and hold. You build stuff, and people scatter.

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      November 14, 2018 6:03 PM

      Game looks like it’s gonna 0wn!

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      November 14, 2018 6:09 PM

      Really disappointing that they haven't launched with Battle Royale. I really want a PUBG successor that i can play with a sub 230ms ping.

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      November 14, 2018 8:59 PM

      Good review, thanks.

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      November 15, 2018 5:16 AM

      Figured 15 euros wasn't a bad price for the EA Access Premium and I wanted to see the graphics.

      It sure does look and sound awesome!

      However, it only took a couple of rounds for the "been there, done that" feeling to settle in. Don't fix something that works is a fine argument, but as the review says, they've been churning these games out at a ridiculous pace and mostly it's just the theme that changes. I'm at a point where I'm thinking I'd have just as much fun playing BF4 with friends as I would playing BF5. After you learn the new maps and weapons, the experience as a whole across all the BF games is too similar.

      I'm sure I'll get some fun out of BF5, but at the same time I consider DICE one of the technically best developers on the planet, and so I would much like to see them produce something else for a change. (The Mirror's Edge sequel was kind of... meh)