‘Battlefield V’ Design Lead Addresses Weapon Balance, Chaotic Spawns

Nathan Lawrence
Games PlayStation
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Battlefield V recently passed its second pre-launch release date. But three release dates isn’t the only confusing thing for Battlefield fans. Battlefield V is, after all, a different beast from what’s come before, particularly when stacked next to its predecessor: Battlefield 1.

Sure, the foundational all-out-war gameplay is there, but DICE is, once again, mixing things up. In fact, according to our recent interview with franchise design director Daniel Berlin, DICE has looked to the past for inspiration for its latest Battlefield game.

“One of the major things we’ve seen is the weapons, in general, we saw heavy feedback coming in from Battlefield 1: that the random bullet deviation, basically – which was a balancing factor in Battlefield 1 – wasn’t necessarily perceived very well. People really liked the aspect of where you aim is where you shoot because we want players to always be in control of their actions and the randomness should just be removed.

“If you line up your shot and you shoot that bullet and you know it should go straight, it should go straight and should hit the person. That’s one of the major learnings we’ve taken from both Incursions and previous titles to make sure we bring that gunplay that we’ve had in maybe Battlefield 3 and fuse that into this title as well. Listening to the community, Battlefield 3 often comes up as one of those fan favourites, like, ‘The weapons were so good!’ so we’re looking a lot at that.”

Battlefield V Combined Arms company
A shot from Battlefield's Combined Arms co-op mode shows soldiers from different backgrounds fighting side by side.

Evolving the Weapon Balance

Those familiar with the Battlefield V beta will likely notice differences between the gunplay from the trial – specifically, the time to kill (TTK) – and what’s in the game at launch. Berlin disputes the TTK changes but emphasises the importance of skill-based shooting in Battlefield V.

“It’s certain weapons at certain engagement ranges [that have changed since the beta]. But, in general, we want there to be a significantly more skill-based shooter core this time around. The time to kill is the same at the base, but then we made adjustments for certain weapons at certain ranges, because we could also see in the data coming in from the beta that certain weapons were just owning it at close range, mid-range, and long range.

“If you look at the balance across the board for all weapons, we need to bring certain weapons in. If you’re experiencing that the time to kill is slightly longer now, it’s because you’re running with a weapon that has maybe had a damage reduction on bullets at a certain range.”

The damage reduction at range seems to primarily impact the submachine guns. As a Medic main and after 50-odd hours of Battlefield V’s multiplayer, it’s clear the SMGs need a damage buff, akin to Battlefield 1’s divisive TTK update. When SMGs don’t consistently dominate at their intended close-quarters range and feel like firing Nerf darts at even the closest of mid-ranges, there’s a problem.

Prone firing while on back in Battlefield V
Battlefield V will let you fire while on your back.

Instant Team Play From Every Spawn

“One of the bigger things that we looked at was a rehaul of the current settings for the attrition systems,” says Berlin. “We really liked the aspect of having team play available from the second you start. So if you spawn in with a squad, hit the spawn button and you’re in, there are team opportunities right there for the Support player. They can instantly start handing out ammo. What we saw from the beta was that people felt you started a little bit too weak, and the mandate that we have is you should always spawn capable.”

That’s a positive and player-friendly mandate to have which, regrettably, falls apart with the current spawning system. Spawning on captured points in Conquest, particularly the contested ones, are consistently intuitive and fair, with a range of automated spawn locations. But the current Squad Spawn system is more risk than reward, especially given the lack of knowledge of where your third-person-perspective squad mate currently is. (Reportedly, the deploy screen and Squad Spawn screen will be rolled into one in an upcoming update.)

Worse than the current Squad Spawn system, though, is the start-of-round bombing runs from planes that are already seemingly on top of you as the map starts, meaning rounds tend to start with a feeling that you are not spawning capable. After all, there’s little you can do to stop this. At least your just-bombed and revivable corpse lands in a consistent place thanks to server-side ragdolls, which is the first step in a push towards adding an option for players to drag incapacitated friendlies to safety before reviving them.

Battlefield V Panzerstorm
The first post-launch map, Panzerstorm, will be very tank heavy.

“[Body dragging] is still a thing but it’s not ready,” admits Berlin. “Technically, it’s a challenge because the dead soldier’s ragdoll, in previous games, that has been on the client [side]. In previous games, you might have had the experience of, ‘Oh, I’m dead, and I’m laying here on the staircase,’ but when you got revived, you got teleported to the bottom of the staircase, because the person who revived you saw your corpse at another location.

“In Battlefield V, we’ve actually taken the ragdoll and moved it onto the server, so the ragdolls are now at the exact same location for everyone. That’s the first step for us to be able to get the dragging working, because once your corpse is on the same location for everyone, the same person can then go and attach to you. It’s coming post-launch.”

Despite this feature being touted prior to launch, the ability to include it post-launch is part of DICE’s new live-service approach to its Tides of War service. “This is the whole rework of how we think about Battlefield,” says Berlin. “In previous titles it’s been, we release the game, and then we’ve added maps, we’ve added weapons, but the core of the game hasn’t necessarily seen new features added on top of it. But since we’re now starting with Tides of War, we’re scrapping that mentality and saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to add new core mechanics and continuously build on the game and change the game throughout Tides of War.’”

Old War, New Business Model

Berlin respects the gravity of shifting Battlefield V to that live-service model, instead of the traditional post-launch DLC model. “This is big. The whole Tides of War mentality and the whole live-service mentality, that’s new for our consumers, and that’s new for us, too. We haven’t exactly settled how we want every [content] drop to be.

“We don’t want to say, ‘Okay, every drop is going to be this time, and it’s going to be this number of maps.’ We don’t do that. We basically build stuff and then when we feel like it’s ready, we package it together and we release it. So you might have drops in a Tides of War that are smaller. You might have ones that are major. And we also listen continuously to the feedback from the community to see what they want, what they like. Do they like the small increments? Do they like the big ones? Do we do both? Do we do one or the other? We will see how we do it.”

Battlefield V company customisation squad co-op campaign
Much of Battlefield V feeds back into your customisable company.

Despite this new approach, Berlin acknowledges that knee-jerk reactions to public outcries aren’t how DICE intends on handling balancing and post-launch support for Battlefield V. “We are changing a lot of the core systems in Battlefield V. We’re moving away from always being spotted and this type of stuff. There’s the same [sentiment] in-house. The game has been working a certain way for so many years and when you change that, people go, ‘What’s happening to my Battlefield? It’s changing!’

“But we believe that the changes are for the better, so when it comes to listening to sentiment, we know it’s going to take a little bit of time for people to get used to new systems. We have a mentality of, ‘Hey, we don’t do knee-jerk reactions.’ If we see a sentiment online, we go, ‘Okay, this is the perceived issue, let’s look at the data. Okay, there’s actually something to it,’ then we make a change.

“But we don’t necessarily just listen one-to-one to certain outcries – ‘Okay, let’s change it’ – because then we might make things worse or make it bad. You can see the community feedback is like a megaphone where we get a lot of info, and then we look at the data and see the actual issue.”

Singleplayer – Lest We Regret

Because of the aforementioned multiplayer imbalances and missing features like body dragging, you might wonder why DICE didn’t do what Treyarch did with Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and ditch single-player from its offering. After all, this would allow more time to focus on the real meat-and-potatoes of Battlefield: the multiplayer.

According to Berlin, DICE was never tempted to ditch the War Stories and its inclusion helped beyond being a mere back-of-the-box bullet point. “There’s a certain thing that you get when you have a single-player offering that you lose if you don’t. Of course, you have the single-player offering, which is, ‘Oh, there’s content for me to play alone,’ which is one thing.

“But there’s another thing that comes out of the process of building single-player and that is the style and the tone, because a lot of that actually lives in the single-player narrative. We’re constructing our Grand Operations, like the Airborne game mode, for example: ‘What should the music be? What type of voice actors are we using? What should the style and tone be?’ When we do that kind of stuff, we can just instantly go to the single-player part of the game because we already have that set and we know the style and tone from there, basically.”

'Battlefield V' could have easily glorified one of mankind's darkest hours, but instead, its story feels far more mournful.

DICE has listened to feedback regarding the haphazard quality of Battlefield 1’s War Stories, too. “One of the major learnings of looking at War Stories was the consistency of quality between the different War Stories as well,” says Berlin. “It’s something we really focused on. A lot of feedback in Battlefield 1 was that certain War Stories were lengthier and had a higher quality, versus certain other ones that were shorter and seen as having less quality. It’s been a lot of work to make sure that we have more like an average length of War Stories and that the quality is even across them, basically.”

DICE has already announced what players can expect from the first three Tides of War chapters, kicking off in December and stretching beyond March 2019. For the launch version of Battlefield V, it’s clear the potential is there. DICE now needs to ensure enough devs are dedicated to creating quality new content and ironing out the bugs to ensure this live-service Battlefield experiment is a success.

Nathan Lawrence’s flights, accommodation, and meals for this Battlefield V review trip were paid for by EA.

Nathan Lawrence
Nathan is a full-time freelance frag-loving games critic who loves shooters.
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