A blizzard started up as soon as I made my way through the jagged crevice that guarded my sloppy escape from a German ambush. The screen started frosting from the outside in, a warning that Solveig would freeze to death if I didn't find a heat source soon enough. German soldiers shouted as they closed in; Solveig's legs unable to push onward. I collapsed onto the ice as shadowy figures circled me in the oncoming darkness. My screen went black, and the controller vibrated as Germans fired a few bullets into Solveig's lifeless body just to be sure.
Battlefield V's War Stories may not be the pinnacle of historical accuracy, but you can't deny the authenticity. At least until it's time to respawn at an earlier checkpoint.
Ahead of Battlefield V's release on November 20, EA and DICE invited SYFY WIRE to go hands-on with the single-player campaign, "War Stories." Like the narrative missions in Battlefield 1, DICE opted for an anthology approach to BFV's solo mode. The four stories available at launch all offer glimpses at parts of World War II that have been underserved elsewhere. You won't be storming the beaches at Normandy again, but instead occupying time with French Colonial troops, rebellious Norwegian agents, and seedy Londoners thrust into combat to avoid jail time. The vignettes opt for instances where people had the defining moments of their lives, even if that means they didn't survive.
Part of the reason DICE went with these more focused short stories was the appeal of not having to worry about one person escaping improbable odds for the length of a traditional first-person campaign. The concept of mortal jeopardy was an important touchstone for single-player design director Eric Holmes, as it would allow the team to craft more of what it called "Battlefield moments" throughout. As I found out when playing, those bombastic sections of unexpected carnage and chaos thrive in short bursts across the different War Stories, even if they didn't happen exactly as DICE presents them.
"If you search for the places and the names, our stories are not based on real stories, but they should feel like they could have happened by the nature of us grounding it in reality," Holmes said. "It starts to stretch credibility a bit too much if you try to do true accuracy in a game with exaggerated mechanics like Battlefield. Our instinct was trying to swerve away from delivering something outrageous in a true style and getting it wrong, versus something that could have happened and been outrageous, but maybe wasn't recorded that way."
Case in point: The action of "Nordlys" — Battlefield V's lengthiest installment in "War Stories" — showcases the Norwegian resistance fighting against German occupation. Based on the real-life events of Operation Gunnerside, Solveig's story deals with stopping the Nazis from getting their hands on heavy water to further develop the atomic bomb. These chapters invite players to see beyond the more prominently featured Allied powers working against all odds to stop the Wehrmacht's machinations. Family and sacrifice aren't new themes for anyone who's experienced media entrenched in the thick of World World II, but they're explored here with nuance not typical of past first-person shooters. It's one area where DICE has managed to make Battlefield's recent ventures into narrative more enriching, and shows the franchise can be more thoughtful in its approach to war.
Battlefield V's other "War Stories" bring similar thematic weight that complements not just the franchise's tried-and-true gameplay, but the other stories around them. "Under No Flag," a Guy Ritchie-esque adventure featuring a bank-robbing criminal opting for a tour of duty rather than solitary confinement, has a touch of humor wrapped around its "against all odds" mission. "Tirailleur," featuring colonized African soldiers fighting for France, brings with it a sense of awe in its juxtaposition of the gorgeous blue skies and verdant expanses of the French countryside with the carnage of war. It also provides a stark look at how marginalized soldiers were treated even in the Allied countries. These are stories that are worth exploring, not just because they shine a light on corners of the global conflict pushed to the precipice of history books, but also because the people there deserve to have their stories told.
"There is this generation of Senegalese colonial soldiers that came over to fight in France," Holmes explained. "They were pulled from Nigeria, Senegal, Indochina, basically France had a large empire and pulled colonial soldiers into the conflict. Over 200,000 of them came in and landed in France, but if you look at the pictures of the liberation of Paris, you won't see them in any photographs. They were pulled out of the parades. There are some still left today, and they're actively fighting for their rights to pensions and citizenship in France. Former President Hollande actually gave a lot of them citizenship a few years ago, and we cover some of that in our closing cards for that story. It's great that some of them are being recognized today, but so many of them didn't make it to today to be recognized. There are many more of them that are alive who haven't gotten that recognition too."
While the "War Stories" that launch with Battlefield V all feature stories told from the Allied perspective, the game will get a post-launch chapter that puts a German tank squad at its center. "The Last Tiger" may well turn some players off, as the Nazi perspective isn't one people often wish to explore. DICE is well aware of the complications but looked to other media for inspiration on how to tread the tricky waters. In Das Boot, Holmes saw that stories could be told from the German side while being honest about their part in World War II.
"We didn't want to let these guys off the hook, and we didn't want to glamorize them," Holmes said. "We're certainly not apologizing for them. People fought on that side, and there are potentially valid stories to tell there, as well as ones which could put their foot in it and get it wrong. We tried to be careful in terms of how we presented the army, the people in it, and what sort of mindsets they were in then."
What we were shown of "The Last Tiger" didn't give an indication either way about how it would be presented. Instead, the overall concept seemed to be rooted in ideas like those in Black Hawk Down, where a group of men must survive overwhelmingly impossible odds in one of history's most remarkable war machines. Will the player want them to? That's a question that can only be answered by actually playing the story, and DICE is gambling with the odds stacked against it. Humanizing Nazis isn't something that's typically offered as a feature in a game. Without the proper context of the mission in full, though, it's too early to know whether DICE made the right choices with the upcoming content.