Battlefield V interview: Capturing players with single-player stories, not battle royale
Electronic Arts’ DICE studio showed off Battlefield V’s War Stories, the single-player missions that show different aspects of the war through four vignettes that explore distinct characters and stories. These stories are emotional and full of action, and they are meant to hook the players into the fantasy of Battlefield V, which debuts on the consoles and PC on November 20.
I played a good chunk of the War Stories single-player missions in Battlefield V. These are DICE’s version of a single-player campaign, and they depict a different main character and aspect of the Second World War. These are not tales you’ll find in history books. While fictionalized, each story is based on a kernel of truth that makes the stories plausible.
Were there black French soldiers in World War II? Of course, said Eric Holmes, the design director of Battlefield V’s War Stories. The presence of these black soldiers and female operatives makes the diverse characters and tales possible in the War Stories. These tales can inspire players to get immersed in the fantasy of World War II, and that is meant to make multiplayer more engaging, Holmes said. The War Stories from the earlier Battlefield 1 were also emotional, moving, and tragic — pointing out the horrors of war in a way that multiplayer can never accomplish.
“When you play with that Tiger tank, you won’t think of it as that tank with a lot of hit points,” he said.
I felt that way, and I think War Stories will be an advantage that Battlefield V has over Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, which jettisoned its single-player campaign in favor of a battle royale mode. I played through the full story of Nordlys, which focuses on a mother and daughter during commando raids on a German heavy water plant in the Norwegian wilderness, where cold weather is just as big an enemy as the Germans.
I also played the initial missions of Under No Flag, which depicts the SBS, the secret British commando unit that used unconventional troops. And I played the early part of Tirailleur, which shows the black troops in the French empire. I didn’t play The Last Tiger, which shows the experience of a German commander of a Tiger II tank.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: How did you approach doing War Stories? Coming off Battlefield One, the single-player game there was very successful. Is it a similar structure, that kind of series of vignettes?
Eric Holmes: We felt we cracked something with the anthology format last time. There was a couple of wins out of that. One was diversity. We could tell very different things. “Friends in High Places” is very different from “Through Mud and Blood.” One is almost a Han Solo, cheeky, over-the-top flyer character, and in the other one the characters are very earnest, earthy, and grounded. It gave us different brushes to paint with, different fantasies to play with.
The permission to have all those under one banner — we didn’t have to make a big decision about, “Who is the one character we have for World War I? Is he allowed to make a joke? Should World War I be characterized by a guy who makes jokes?” It’s a real question, right? It doesn’t seem like a place where you should have a lot of jokes. But suddenly we had a relief valve for all these things. There could be range.
We also found that we could have a much more flexible approach to drama. You can kill those characters. They can have worthy deaths. It doesn’t have to be something that’s telegraphed way in advance. The stakes can feel higher and more dramatic, potentially more powerful, in this kind of format.
GamesBeat: How did you choose these particular four?
Holmes: There are multiple dimensions. There are the gameplay roles they have. You’ll notice there’s no flying War Story this time. That was one that was in the cards at some point. We had a giant list of more than 70 different possible ideas. But it came down to this sorting system. What gives us the best total offering? If we had four tank stories, that would be a pretty poor offering. You get the Sherman story, and now you get the Tiger story, and then the Lee in north Africa.
GamesBeat: It would just be World of Tanks at that point.
Holmes: [Laughs] Right. So, different fantasies, different locations, different languages, a different sense of character to each one. The way it landed the way it did, it’s about chemistry, about framing some sort of balance. A balance of pacing, a balance of experience, a balance of languages. Literally, at one point, we had two French stories in there. How did we get here? So one of them killed the other one and became the strong French story.
One of them is a high-aggression infantry story. Okay, that covers high aggression and infantry. With the SBS story, “Under No Flag,” we have this kind of comedic play-it-your-way experience, which can be really loud and boisterous, but it can also be quite sneaky. It’s also in a very over-the-top, noisy military location. We have all these bases around. “Nordlys” is quiet and kind of noble in contrast to SBS. The characters are upright and earnest, whereas the SBS characters are swearing in their dirty, thuggish — they’re from the gutter.
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