Back in 2016 EA and DICE threw us back into World War One with Battlefield 1, not only in terms of the historical setting for the multiplayer but also with the anthological War Stories, showing us various viewpoints on the war as we walked in the shoes of different characters through short campaigns. Well, that's something the studio is continuing in Battlefield V, and we got invited to London recently to check out four of the five War Stories on offer.
The first is the Prologue, and this is sort of an introductory passage so you can get a taste for the game. In very brief and fleeting gameplay moments - where one second you could be in a tank and the next positioned as a sniper - we get a glimpse into various the mechanics at play in a number of theatres of war, seamlessly switching between them to give us a sense of the scale of the conflict. As franchise design director Daniel Berlin told us, that's the point of this prologue; to show us the global scale of the war.
We played through the very brief Prologue in its entirety, and another War Story we got to see in full was called Nordlys, set in Norway. Authenticity is important for DICE in one sense, in that the everyone speaks Norwegian and the subtitles are in English, but on the other hand, the events that happen aren't exactly authentic. There's a lot of poetic license going on with events here, but as Berlin told us, this isn't a historic retelling but rather a spotlight on things that could have happened as part of the human stories they want to tell.
This one tells the story of Solveig, who at the start of the campaign is looking to rescue a Norwegian resistance fighter from the hands of the occupying Germans. We won't dive too much into the narrative details, but what we can say is that it's very open mechanically; another intentional move by DICE, who told us we can play these stories our way. For example, early on we're tasked with infiltrating the location where our ally is being held captive, and you can either drive a truck through the doors and run down all the enemy soldiers, or sneak underneath and make a more covert entrance, and everything in between.
Elsewhere in Nordlys the snowy world opens up to you and gives you more of a playground to work with, whether that's using your skies to traverse the snow or waiting perched on a mountainside to spot all the enemies before making your move. It's a thoroughly enjoyable and refreshing look at the war, both in terms of gameplay and the story, especially since it's a very rare occasion to see women in a World War Two setting.
What DICE does here is interweave historical fact with fiction, as while they say it's all about the human side of the war, Solveig becomes embroiled in a plot that can change the world forever. The underlying plot revolves around heavy water, an ingredient for the German's plan for an atomic bomb (that's a real thing, by the way), and although it's very Hollywood-ised, it still goes to show the struggles that real people went through as part of the resistance.
Under No Flag was one of the War Stories we only got a brief glimpse at, and it follows a load of cockney criminals as they get sent on an operation to destroy enemy aircraft. Despite sounding like a Guy Ritchie film, it's good to give a sense of the heroes that aren't glorious. After all, these are common criminals spared prison by getting sent on dangerous secret missions, and as your commander says in the opening of the story, there's no glory waiting for them.
Here you play as Billy Bridger, an all-mouth-and-no-action lad whose expertise in explosives earns him a ticket to the front line in Libya. The open approach remains, but there's an extra emphasis on your isolation here. After all, nobody cares about this group of soldiers who are sent there because they're expendable, and Bridger's youth really shows in both his whining and his cocky attitude.
The last one we played was called Tirailleur and it tells the story of a black French soldier called Deme who realises what his fellow man thinks of him after he walks merrily into the army and is deployed. After he's forced to dig, he gets called up for a mission, and he and his men must march against the German army to push them back out of France, which at this point had known occupation for a long time (this is set in 1944). His love for France is dampened in this story's opening, and it's really heartbreaking to see.
We didn't play the full story, but it seems to be a tragic tale thus far, since not only is Deme disrespected by his allies, but he's also sent on a seemingly insurmountable task, going against the might of the German army and their monstrous machinery. There's a very poignant moment, for example, where you have to hold a point after pushing the Germans back, but you have to constantly run around and dart in and out of cover as tanks batter your defences. It's beautiful with the trees shedding their leaves in the autumnal French countryside, but it's haunting because of the way Deme is treated; it's an interesting juxtaposition that he's being told to fight against a nation that would oppress him alongside men who would disrespect him.
In terms of the action in all of these War Stories, we get various tempos of combat, but mostly this is up to the player. You can blast your way through enemies with all the classic WWII weapons like an MP40 in Nordlys, for example, but you're much better suited to a silenced pistol, while in Tirailleur you have no choice but to duck and dive among the bullets and explosions. It's classic Battlefield combat in terms of visual fidelity and the amount of weapons available to you, although interesting elements like skiing, silenced weapons, and the open landscapes serve to spice things up a touch.
What's also worth noting is that at the event we were shown how ray tracing technology looks, coming into Battlefield V to improve the lighting and reflections in the game. Battlefield 1 is still a good looking game despite being two years old, but with ray tracing pushes the visuals even further to make them richer in new ways, if you're into your technology and your high-end graphics, be sure to check that out.
All in all, we walked away from the event impressed by what we'd seen. DICE hasn't changed the formula dramatically, but if you enjoyed the anthology approach of two years ago you'll enjoy it now, especially if you're looking for new and untold stories about the war, featuring interesting locations like Norway; relatable human struggles like those endured by Deme; or perhaps the light-hearted side of a band of brothers, as we see in Billy Bridger and his crew. When Battlefield V lands on November 20 we'll get to see these stories play out and...