We review the single-player War Stories segment of Battlefield V, a series of short multi-mission episodes which cast you as different characters struggling to survive the war.
War Stories’ structure is similar to the Freedom Chronicles of Wolfenstein 2, offering up a handful of bite-sized adventures to play through in any order you like. Each story features a different protagonist, who finds themselves thrust into the bitter conflict for different reasons, and with very different purposes. And although these tales are apparently ‘inspired by real events’, we’d take that with a pinch of salt.
The first War Story is actually Battlefield V’s relentless introduction. This is completely different to the other episodes, throwing you into the worn boots of several different characters over the course of around 20 minutes. One moment you’re a steady-handed sniper, picking off faceless foes from afar. The next you’re in a German tank, steering and blasting your way into an enemy base. It’s a frantic and exhausting experience, like Modern Warfare on crack, and it’s absolutely enthralling (although understandably free of narrative and decidedly linear).
Once that’s done, you have a choice of three other episodes: Under No Flag, Nordlys and Tirailleur. A fourth War Story, The Last Tiger, is set for release in December 2018.
We prefer the episode structure of War Stories to Call of Duty’s occasional approach, where you’re tossed between a number of different characters willy-nilly. Sticking with one protagonist throughout their whole story means we can get to know them, and the characters here are all very interesting in their own right.
Billy Bridger is the unlikely ‘hero’ of the first piece, Under No Flag. A convicted arsonist and robber, Billy is saved from prison life and drafted to a demolition squad operating deep behind enemy lines. He’s young and reckless, but surprisingly effective when it comes to causing chaos.
Next up is Nordlys, which sees you sneaking into snowy bases as a Norwegian resistance fighter, desperately trying to rescue her mother from a captured plant. The emphasis here is on stealth, with silenced pistols and sniper rifles helping you to take down your foes, along with a helpful collection of deadly throwing knives.
The last episode of the current selection trades snowy peaks for the sunnier climes of southern France. You join a squadron of Senegalese Tirailleurs, risking their lives for a country they hadn’t even seen before the conflict began. Here, there’s less subtlety and more all-out aggression, as you wearily storm through the German defences.
While some sections of Battlefield V’s War Stories are typically linear in nature (generally ‘get from A to B’ or ‘survive an all-out attack’), large parts are more open-world. As with titles like Far Cry, these bits hand you an objective and leave you to complete the mission however you see fit. These are the game’s strongest moments, allowing a surprising amount of flexibility.
For instance, Billy Bridger needs to blow up two radar dishes, housed in the middle of a heavily guarded camp. You could go stealthy, avoiding the infantry and planting charges before beating a hasty retreat. Alternatively, why not hijack an armored truck and drive straight into the heart of the base, before chucking a grenade into each dish and legging it? If you scout around first you’ll even find a nearby air base, where you can nick a fighter plane and take down the dishes from on high – although you’ll have to deal with enemy craft at the same time. The level of freedom is up there with the best sandbox titles, and certainly refreshing.
One problem with the open nature of these levels is the serious gap between checkpoints at times. You can literally spend half an hour carefully sneaking into a base, talking down every sentry in a super stealthy fashion, only for it all to go pear shaped in the final seconds. Then back to the beginning you go.
Thankfully the intense action kept me coming back for more, even after some frustrating fails just inches from my objective. And if you choose to go in all guns blazing, the good news is that a competent FPS fan shouldn’t struggle to take down swarms of Nazi soldiers and get out in one piece. Especially if you work smart – taking out alarms and tagging enemies from afar with the binoculars before you go storming in.
We did see a fair few bugs while playing this freshly launched version, from soldiers who disappeared when shot to tanks glitching into the landscape. Nothing game ruining exactly but still disappointing, so hopefully these issues will be sorted in a patch asap.
Thankfully Battlefield V gets all of the usual FPS elements right, from the smooth controls and impressive levels of customisation to the incredible variety of guns and other weapons. It’s just a shame that the episodes are over all too soon, but there’s plenty of room for expansion here – and possibly new stories starring existing characters. So while the War Stories alone don’t make Battlefield V worth a full-priced purchase alone, they’re definitely great fun and a worthy distraction from that multiplayer action.