Months After Launch, Battlefield V Is Still Playing Catch-Up

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During the lead-up to the Battlefield V launch, DICE laid out the many ambitious ways it hoped to evolve the first-person shooter series. The evolution of the fan-favorite Battlefield 1 mode Operations, dubbed Grand Operations, would add a new array of objectives to the playlists to keep the evolving battles fresh. A cooperative mode called Combined Arms would provide an evolving PvE destination. A new “Company” system would give players a greater level of flexibility for tweaking and saving class/vehicle loadouts for any battle scenario. And not one to be left on the sideline while battle royales took over the world, Battlefield V would also have its own unique take on the popular mode, dubbed Firestorm. 

When the November 15 release date arrived, only one of these promised features – Grand Operations – was included in its intended state. As crazy as that sounds, it almost didn’t ship with that mode either. Grand Operations only made its way into the Day One feature set after fans busted out the torches over news that the first major feature EA touted in its pre-release press blitz was going to come out shortly after launch and EA was forced to backpedal

As I said in my review, this incomplete picture made Battlefield V a tough game to evaluate on launch day. Although the gorgeous graphics impressed and DICE made many smart, smaller evolutions to the classic squad-based play, the litany of missing features made the game feel like an under-construction early access title rather than a fully featured experience on par with previous entries in the series. Fast-forward three months, and we’re still waiting for the full slate of promised features, let alone any meaningful additions that evolve the game in interesting ways. 

Playing catch-up isn’t necessarily a new thing for DICE. With seemingly each new Battlefield game, the studio infamously reintroduces problems it already solved in previous games. Bad Company 2 inexplicably split squads of friends during matchmaking. Battlefield 3 launched on PC without an in-game server browser thanks to EA’s stubborn insistence players use the browser-based Battlelog. Battlefield V also had its own easily correctable problem. When the contentious TTK-TTD fiasco dominated the fan feedback loop in the weeks following launch, DICE could have explored a fix the way most modern games do – on a test server. However, there was one small problem – Battlefield V inexplicably shipped without the Community Test Environment, which has been a series staple since Battlefield 3. Instead, the entire player base was subjected to a rollercoaster of rushed hotfixes that wildly altered the gameplay. 

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In the aftermath of that controversy, DICE is still slowly chipping away at its to-do list of previously promised features, none of which are capturing the imagination of its passionate player base. Practice Range and Combined Arms are ultimately onboarding-centric experiences meant primarily for newcomers that should have been included at launch; the fact that they weren’t reinforces the idea that this game was rushed to market to capitalize on holiday spending even though it wasn’t ready. Combined Arms was originally intended to be much more ambitious, with a dynamic mission generator and a ramping difficulty that made squads make the tough choice to extract with whatever assets they already had or see the mission through to the end at the risk of losing it all. But the version that shipped a few weeks ago is a generic and unremarkable PvE experience with none of that promise. 

The list of previously advertised features still missing three months in is surprisingly long. The battle royale mode isn’t expected until spring. The Company feature still doesn’t let you save multiple class loadouts, which means players fumble through menus to make sure they are outfitted in the best possible way for the map and mode on hand. You still can’t drag downed players behind cover to attempt a revive, and the rent-a-server and hardcore mode features from previous games are nowhere to be seen. What I wouldn’t give for a map rotation that pretends the horrible Fjell map never existed. 

Meanwhile, DICE has only released one new map, Panzerstorm, which currently only supports three game modes (Conquest, Breakthrough, and Grand Operations). Maps have traditionally been the lifeblood of Battlefield games, serving as the focal point for post-launch content. Keeping a steady infusion of new play spaces is critical to keep the fan base from peeling off to other, more compelling shooters. DICE used to have this cadence down pat. Both Battlefield 3 and 4 offered four-packs of maps via paid expansions within the first three months after launch. The days of receiving 20 maps post-launch are likely gone given the transition from paid to free post-launch content, but if Battlefield V has any chance of growing or retaining its player base, a healthy infusion of new maps is a must. 

Games like Rainbow Six Siege have proven that if a publisher commits itself to fixing a game’s problems and continually releasing new content, players will come. Battlefield V still has potential to turn the corner in the same fashion, but if the game is going to make up for its massive sales projection shortfall over the coming months and years, EA needs to send reinforcements sooner rather than later, moving past old promises and into the future.