Battlefield V is a confused game.
Not a confusing game, particularly, since it’s up to the gills in player-centric design elements, score counters, objective markers, on-the-nose diary logs scattered throughout its singleplayer campaign—but a confused game. It’s a game that doesn’t really seem to know what it wants to say about World War II, even if it is completely unafraid of depicting it in near-photorealistic detail.
Its singleplayer offerings include three distinct campaigns focused on different theaters of early World War II (with a fourth campaign coming early in December). It’s a grand attempt at showing the scale of the war by flipping between different viewpoints, and it, well, comes off as confused.
World War II is a mythology of conflict that’s become so ingrained in the American psyche that it’s hard to shake. We’ve seen thousands of depictions of it, from games to films to critically-acclaimed miniseries. There were so many games about World War II in the early 2000s that the small ‘break’ we’ve seen in the past few years feels like an relative drought. World War II is the grand story, the one where the good guys won against the bad guys, and it crucially lacked the mainstream criticism that World War I did, with all its mess and trenches. World War II was the war that we could like.
The problem, of course, is that it wasn’t, really, a good thing. Yes, I know, saying “war is bad” is hardly a grand statement, but after seeing how much Battlefield V can’t seem decide if WWII is a victorious romp or a worldwide horror show, it feels apt to say it again.
Other games that dabble in WWII ephemera, like Wolfenstein: The New Order, tried to re-imagine the horrors of the war as something more relatable to a modern audience, drawing parallels between the national mobilization against Nazi fascism and popular mobilizations against fascism.
And that’s where Battlefield V most falls flat. The world war of Battlefield V is still the one focused on nations versus nations. The horrors of the Nazis are shown as primarily those of wartime atrocities, the sort that the Allied forces were certainly just as responsible for: loss of life, violent conflict, and expansion into controlled territory. In a sense, it feels like Battlefield V’s only criticism of fascism (if you can call it that) is that fascism brings about international conflict, and none of the more specific horrors of fascism itself.
There is little, if any, criticism in Battlefield V’s singleplayer campaigns that does not center only on conflict itself being bad, and even then it is light. Characters and voiceovers speak at length about the horrors of war itself, but the game lets you know when you got a headshot, and rewards you with trademark triumphant horns at the end of each battle. If this is meant to give me a distaste for war, I’m not sure it’s quite doing its job.
The fascism of the Nazis shown in the main campaigns is mostly glossed over. We are meant to believe that the cause of war is just primarily because the Nazis are aggressive, not so much because of anything inherently bad about them. There is a certain honesty in this (historically, most Allied countries maintained cordial relations with Nazi Germany until they absolutely couldn’t, due to invasion or attack) but it feels like a bizarre statement for the game to make, when juxtaposed against imagery of fearless Allied soldiers doing what’s right for the simple glory of the action.
What Battlefield V lacks is an understanding of how fascism can be seen not just on an international level but a local one. Perhaps I’m wanting too much out of my AAA World War II shooter, but after Wolfenstein got it so right, it’s disorienting to see a game get it so wrong.
The Norwegian campaign, Nordlys, feels as close as the game gets to showing what it’s like to live under occupation. It is clearly the standout among its peers, as the story sets you as the daughter of an imprisoned Norwegian resistance fighter, tasked with rescuing your mother from the clutches of the occupying Nazi government.
Battlefield V can’t seem to figure out if what it wants is a victorious war story or a catalogue of history’s ills, and it’s not helped by the fact that it refuses to dive into what makes up the harmful ideologies it depicts. Nazis are simply another force in the war, even in the game’s singleplayer offerings. It’s a disappointing reminder that underneath all the high-definition graphics, Battlefield V doesn’t seem to have much to say.
Dante Douglas is a writer, poet and game developer. You can find him on Twitter at @videodante.