We played the Battlefield V closed alpha and here’s what we thought

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This weekend past DICE held a closed alpha test for Battlefield V on PC for select press and Battlefield community members. And luckily, we managed to secure a last minute access to the alpha so that I could tell you whether this is the revolutionary experience it potentially promised to be. Well, after sinking a bunch of hours into it, I wouldn’t quite call it a revolution, but I definitely like it.

The alpha consisted of just the Conquest and Grand Operations game modes on Narvik, a beautiful snowy map set in the Arctic fjords that really shows off Battlefield V’s fantastic new weather effects. Amazing lighting effects combined with detailed modular destruction – the environment now slowly collapses over time as it takes damage – and snow getting dynamically whipped around in the air, into and through destroyed buildings, made for a very immersive experience.

(Because of getting into the closed alpha last minute, and the age of my pc, I didn’t capture any gameplay video, but LevelCapGaming and a few others have uploaded raw alpha gameplay footage in high-res which I will embed below for you to check out)

That immersion was really on point when it came to the actual gameplay, which feels like more like an evolution of Battlefield 1 than a dramatic reimagining. On the broader strokes, the layout and presentation of in-game menus and loadout options, as well as the raw mechanics of the action feels very Battlefield 1-ish. You will quickly notice the differences though, the first of which for me was my ammo. Spawning in as a medic, my Gewehr 43 semi-auto rifle only had a meager 30 bullets in total. This is part of the new Attrition system which forces players to be a lot more strategic in their engagements. No more blazing guns, one-man army Rambo players as you have to pick your shots. You can only get resupplied at ammo depots scattered on the map, get ammo packs thrown to you by friendly support class players (who no longer have ammo crates they can leave to passively resupply), or by looting corpses.

This also prohibits solo camping. I’ve never been the best Battlefield marksman, so when I spawned in as a Recon class, the 15 bullets I had were just enough to kill/assist-kill 2 or 3 enemies (no more “sweet spot” one-hit kill shots to the body) before I was forced to move from the sneaky nook I had found in the backline to go find ammo. And the same goes for tanks/vehicles. The days of tanks parking on a hill and just firing into a control point is over, as they have a limited supply of ammo and once it’s up, they need to drive to one of a few depots on the map – usually close to a contested point – to resupply.

The immersion is really felt when you are reviving players or need to be revived. Once you’re downed, you have a bleed out counter which you can slow down by calling for help – an action that has the physical animation of you reaching out and crying in pain. If you’re playing as a medic, you see an icon on players showing they want to be revived (you can’t seem to revive players not calling for it, so no more surprises if you just wanted to redeploy as a new class) but for non-medics these audio and visual clues are key to knowing which players you can help.

And yes, I said non-medics, as anybody can revive squad members now. The difference is in how long it takes as reviving now triggers an animation that shows you crouching down, administering aid and getting the downed player back on their feet. For the medics, this is relatively quick action taking about 2 seconds and restores downed players to full health instantly. Non-medics doing squad revives take about three times as long and only partially restore health though, meaning you have to time those revives or risk being exposed and shot yourself (You’re supposed to be able to drag around downed allies by their limbs so that you can revive from a safe spot, but I couldn’t figure out how to do this no matter what I tried). Just like with your lack of ammo, this danger of revives, coupled with the fact that your health no longer regenerates fully unless a medic heals you, makes running in a balanced squad who support each other so much more important.

If you do bleed out and die you get shown a 3rd person view of all your remaining squad mates. You can cycle through these and then select one to spawn one while seeing exactly what is happening around them, which means no more spawning into bullets. If your entire squad is wiped out, or if you choose to redeploy as a new class, you get taken back to the traditional top-down redeploy screen. DICE previously made a special mention of this, making it appear as if going back to the redeploy screen would be a huge disadvantage over squad spawns. However, besides for not being able to see first-hand what is happening to your squad mates – who the game won’t allow you to spawn on when they’re under fire anyway, no matter which screen you’re on – I genuinely didn’t notice any difference when it came to redeploying.

I also didn’t see much point to the game’s new toolbox, a gadget every class spawns with that allows you to build fortifications. While most classes are restricted to just shoring up walls/windows with these fortifications, the support class can also build ladders, mounted gun emplacements, etc., and do it much faster than others. However, since these can only be done in predefined locations, unless your squad planned to hunker down and stand their ground on a single objective, these fortifications didn’t really offer much reward. Very few players were actually building fortifications during the alpha, so maybe more effective uses will still be unearthed over time. Similarly, I seldom saw players hitching stationary weapons to vehicles and towing them to new locations on the map, which is another new gameplay offering.

I did make use of BFV’s new movement system though, often diving through windows without having to break them first and rolling when I hit the ground. Initially, I thought the ability for players to also now throw themselves to the ground in any direction silly until I turned to run down the stairs in a building and met an enemy player on the way up who was busy reloading his gun. It should have been an easy close quarters kill for me, but my shots hit nothing but air as the enemy soldier flung himself backwards onto the landing below. DICE has built in a bit of delay when diving to stop players from abusing it, but by the time I realized where he had gone, the soldier had already switched to his pistol and shot me full of holes while lying on his back. Later I saw some other players doing the same thing… only involuntarily as the new physics engine caused a massive explosion to knock them to their butts in the snow.

As for shooting, DICE has reworked the game’s weapons to remove any randomness to firing patterns – bullets go where your crosshairs are pointed. Each gun has its own distinctive and predictable recoil that you can learn and compensate for, and it feels really good. Very few of the “no hit markers” problems from BF1. Time-to-kill also feels lowered somewhat as just a couple of bullets being enough to kill most enemies. The support class was unfortunately the only one in the alpha that offered more than one archetype – brand new specialized sub-classes, boasting different weaponry/gadgets, built for specific functions – so I couldn’t test it too well. This Machine Gunner archetype saw you kitted out with an MG42 machine gun that was unable to aim down sights while moving. However, go prone or setup on low wall or windowsill, and you can pop out the gun’s tripod which doesn’t just allow you to aim down sights but makes the gun incredibly stable and therefore perfect for defending a stationary objective.

Speaking of aiming down sights, be prepared to do a lot of it. The “3D spotting” system of previous games are gone where hitting a button while looking at a general area lit up the enemies with icons above their heads and on the mini-map. Now, when you’re aiming your weapon and looking straight at an enemy or engaging them in a fight, an icon automatically appears above them. Look away though and that icon disappears almost immediately, meaning you have to really pay attention and communicate to keep track of enemies.

What doesn’t help is that it’s actually really hard to differentiate between friendly and enemy soldiers. This problem is really acute though when it comes to planes in the sky which seemed to have no identifying icons or colours. I lost count of how many times I got on an AA cannon to shoot a plane and did no damage, only to realize I was shooting at a friendly pilot. Hopefully, DICE do something about that. I have a feeling they may also do something about the medic’s syringe. While knives and other melee weapons felt seriously nerfed to the point where I stabbed an enemy twice in the face point blank and it appeared to do nothing more than annoy them, using the syringe on an enemy was an instant kill no matter where I stabbed them. It wasn’t long before I took to whipping out a syringe the moment the game’s absolutely incredible sound design let me hear an enemy close by.

Unfortunately, the alpha had its expected bugs. Besides for being stuck in respawn loops a few times, I also struggled to test the new Squad Reinforcement mechanic (which allows the squad leader to use squad objective points earned to call special weapons or vehicles) as the one time I was made squad leader, every time I summoned in a Crocodile flamethrower tank, sweet bugger-all happened. I did witness other squad leaders calling in rocket strikes to devastating effect though. The alpha was also limited in terms of content/mechanics. The Grand Operations game mode, BFV’s new take on BF1’s multi-pronged Operations mode, was restricted to just a Rush-styled game on the first two of a possible four days, so I never got to see the final day “Last Stand,” a last squad standing, winner takes all battle with extremely limited ammo and no respawns.

Overall, Battlefield V definitely feels like Battlefield 1 in places. But in the places where it doesn’t, it really doesn’t. The action is more deliberate, rewarding teamwork and dedicated skill far more than any previous entry in the franchise, while also making the entire experience far more active and engaging. It’s that aspect of this experience in the alpha, much more than great visuals and sounds, fantastic weather effects, or detailed character animations that has really excited for what DICE will bring to the table when the game releases later this year.

Last Updated: July 2, 2018

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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