My first impression of Battlefield V’s battle royale mode Firestorm wasn’t the action — it was the silence. I heard very little but the sound of my own boots on the snow, the reloading of my gun, and the breath of my soldier as my crosshairs were locked on a window across the road. As a longtime fan of the franchise, I’ve become used to the constant sounds of gunfire, tanks, and objective callouts; the collapsing skyscrapers and the massive explosions of the V-1 rocket. Battlefield is beautiful chaos. When I dropped into Firestorm, however, it was still. At least for a few moments.
With millions of players dropping in and billions of dollars being made, it’s no surprise that game developers are jumping into battle royale. So when the rumors of a Battlefield take on the genre first surfaced, they almost seemed like established fact. The game already had large maps and 64-player servers, so it seemed like the natural evolution. The question wasn’t whether it was coming, but how it would differentiate itself from the now crowded market. How would it compete with the behemoths that are Fortnite, PUBG, and its longtime rival Call of Duty? Would developer DICE be able to pull something off that feels unique and engaging?
In short, the answer is yes. Though it’s in need of some serious polish, Firestorm successfully captures the essence of Battlefield in the battle royale format.
The mode is currently centered around one map: Halvoy. Its layout is fairly uneventful, lacking memorable and interesting locations. Nothing on the map really jumps out at me like Pochinki, Tilted Towers, or the Thunderdome from Apex Legends. However, this doesn’t mean the map isn’t fun to play. Its design allows for plenty of amazing combat scenarios, having a nice balance of verticality and open spaces. Thought it’s a huge map, transport vehicles aren’t too hard to come by. You can drive a classic sports car, the first prototype helicopter, or even a tractor. All will help you stay in the circle and avoid the firestorm, which is terrifying and magnificent in its own right. Playing around the edge of the zone places you next to a massive wall of fire that crackles and roars, adding even more chaos to your battles. Getting caught in it means running for your life through hell itself. With buildings crumbling down as the ring closes in, this has to be the most intense battle royale storm of them all.
The excellent gunplay of the base game transfers over to Firestorm. Guns have predictable recoil patterns, which the player can learn to manage over time for better accuracy. There are plenty of weapons to choose from, and which ones you select can impact your style of play greatly. The exceptional weapons combined with the smooth character movement makes combat feel responsive and intentional. Not quite as twitchy as Apex, but a far cry from the stiff character movement of PUBG.
Destruction is a welcome addition to a genre that mostly has static environments. Unlike Call of Duty’s Blackout or PUBG, you can make the environment suit your needs at any given moment. In Battlefield, no cover is sacred: anything you hide behind can be unexpectedly destroyed. This keeps the combat dynamic and tactical, allowing you to open up new paths, snake a team out of hiding, or allow a new line of sight.
Vehicles are another aspect that makes this game different than any other battle royale. I was initially worried that they would be overpowered in solo mode, but tanks work a bit differently. Unlike the numerous transport vehicles littered across the map, tanks are stored in “vehicle breakouts,” a sealed garage that requires turning valves to open, leaving the player exposed while sirens alert other players to your intention. Once in a vehicle you’ll quickly notice the driver can’t control weaponry. In solos, the player must switch seats to access a vehicle’s torrent. This means that every time you want to shoot, you’ll have to make a tactical decision. Do you keep moving? Or do you go for the kill but leave yourself vulnerable? In squads, you’ll have to coordinate with your teammates in order to be the most effective. There’s also plenty of anti-tank weaponry that spawns throughout the world, so taking out tanks isn’t as difficult as I thought. Overall, tanks are an extremely fun and fairly balanced piece of the sandbox.
As great as all of this is, there are some aspects of the game that don’t quite live up to its competitors. The biggest issue is the inventory and looting system. So far, the single most aggravating part of this game is digging through the pile of loot that confettis out of an eliminated enemy. All items drop into the game world, almost always overlapping each other. This makes grabbing ammo for your assault rifle a test of patience as you juggle all the guns that are laying on top of it. This annoyance is compounded by the fact that every gun needs to be reloaded when picked up, even if you dropped it with a full magazine. When you finally manage to select an ammo box, often you won’t be able to pick it up because your ammo count is full. This is because all ammo adds to your inventory space, which may seem obvious for those coming from PUBG and Apex, but can be off-putting for those coming from Fortnite, especially since the game doesn’t tell you this.
This ties into the bigger problem of the game’s confusing UI. It took me hours to realize that your inventory is being tracked by a small bar above your ammo counts. I also found the gadget swapping to be a huge pain, especially during firefights where you’d need to access your armor plating, anti-tank weapon, and ordinance all within a few seconds of each other. I would really love to see a more refined system implemented here that allows for the speed that we’re used to from PUBG and Apex.
Firestorm is also currently lacking a comprehensive ping system like Apex Legends, which is a shame given that Battlefield’s comms quick menu is the perfect place for it to go. Coordinating a squad of players when auto matchmaking is extremely difficult. There’s an in-game chat, but that would sometimes be buggy and not appear in-game. Out of the dozen or so matches I’ve played in this first week, I have yet to encounter a player using voice chat.
Perhaps worst of all, if you do manage to finally achieve a victory, you’ll realize there isn’t much payoff. The end screen is extremely underwhelming. Given the thrilling action it takes to get to that point, I think there should be something dramatic that happens when you finally clear that last squad. It took Fortnite a while to get it right, so we’ll probably see a similar route for Firestorm.
Progression in Firestorm is tied to your base game progress. So if you’re already a Battlefield V player, you can still play battle royale without feeling like you’re losing out on new gear and weapon specializations. You’ll also be able to earn new rewards through Tides of War, chapter-based content updates that allow you to complete a set of weekly challenges. Unlike the battle passes of other games, Tides of War is free content for all Battlefield players.
The positive is that if you’re new to the game, there’ll be plenty of things to grind for. The negative is that some challenges are much simpler to complete in the base game modes. Splitting up the challenges may be convenient for players of both modes, but it’ll split the player base. It’s also important to note that microtransactions are coming to Battlefield V and, much like the ill-fated Star Wars Battlefront II, the future of the game likely depends on their success. (If you’re a bit skeptical about the paying $30 for a copy of the game, I’d suggest dropping $5 on Origin Access for a 10-hour trial.)
Firestorm is a great battle royale that offers very little innovations besides implementing what makes Battlefield great to begin with. And for a certain breed of shooter fan, that’s probably enough.
Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.