Battlefield 1942 came crashing out of nowhere in 2002, and introduced war gaming fans to the thrilling experience of huge multiplayer battles on large maps, filled with chaos. You’ve probably seen at least one “Battlefield moment”: someone jumping out of a plane and hopping in another one mid-air, or three soldiers riding a horse with flamethrowers. And yet, despite the spectacle, after 14 Battlefield games and all kinds of advances in technology, the experience largely feels the same. But after playing an alpha preview of Battlefield V this week, I’ve seen signs that the series is finally at a turning point.
The most visible change leading up to this point has been the inclusion of (totally rad) women, leading to one of the most ridiculous backlashes we’ve seen in the era of Gamergate. Fortunately, EA pushed back loudly, telling players to “accept it,” or get lost.
But there’s even more change on the horizon. Battlefield V’s “Grand Operations” mode, which builds on the mode’s introduction in Battlefield 1, is a truly inspired change to the series that has the potential to break it out of a stale format.
Most Battlefield multiplayer matches go something like this: two teams of up to 32 players use cars, tanks, and aircraft to dominate a map by capturing a bunch of control points. In practice, this means trying your best to stand next to a flag long enough for it to magically change over to your side. Battlefield’s best moments happen around this experience, and designers have seldom strayed from this core concept. The biggest change from this was introduced in 2010’s Bad Company 2 with its “Rush” game mode, which put one team on defense, as an attacking team was tasked with destroying a number of objectives sequentially. Rush was a hit, and one of the most exciting changes to the game, because it simply asked players to do something other than standing next to a flag.
Battlefield 1 introduced the next biggest change to the series with Grand Operations, which chained a series of maps and matches together, giving players a sense of progress and making each match feel more meaningful. Still, this mode was all about conquest and rush — capturing flags, or destroying objectives in sequence.
In Battlefield V, Grand Operations has been expanded into a unique concept that strings together a series of battles on the same map, over a number of in-game days. Each day’s battle affects the next. So if, say, your team destroys all of the enemy’s artillery with plenty of lives to spare, you’ll have more war resources to bring to bear in the next match. But the most important change I’ve seen is the introduction of different game types in this series of matches. When I played the alpha version of the game on the Norvik map, my team was tasked with a classic mode of flag capture. But when the day ended and the second match began, we suddenly found ourselves in airplanes at night, parachuting below to search for and destroy a number of artillery pieces. In this moment Battlefield felt like an entirely new game. (We only got to check out Grand Operations on one map, so the final version of the game could have more surprise game modes.)
A willingness to change rapidly has produced some of the best games of this generation. The best example of this right now is Fortnite, which is iterating so rapidly and doing so many bizarre and unique things that it’s almost too much to keep up with. This weekend, Fortnite players will get to witness a one-time event in the game. When it’s over, it’s over — it’s a “you had to be there” type moment that’s exceedingly rare in video games, and often only happens in emergent spaces like MMOs. This is the kind of blueprint that everyone should be copying right now.
Battlefield V is already one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played. The visuals are breathtaking; the special effects are raw and cinematic; the sound is immersive and at times harrowing. But for the most part it’s the same game folks have been playing since 2002 — despite the promise of Grand Operations, a lot of the game is still about standing next to a control point. Sure, there’s plenty of hectic action around it, but at some point you just feel like you’re going through the motions in an increasingly vibrant but stale world.
Still, the surprise of dropping out of an airplane against a backdrop of flak and northern lights was a twinkle of promise — a sign that Battlefield is at a turning point. The game’s designers have shown recently they’re willing to take a stand for change, and change is present in the results of their work. They’ve taken the first steps toward a radical and exciting shift. Now they just need to jump.
Battlefield V launches on PC, PS4, and Xbox One on October 19th.