I was probably more excited than most when DICE initially announced that Battlefield V was getting a cooperative multiplayer mode. I spent hours playing Bad Company 2’s Onslaught mode with friends back in the 360’s glory days, and capturing objectives in that mode was almost as satisfying as arming MCOM stations in Rush. Seeing waves of enemies rushing from the village on Isla Inocentes with half your squad firing down at them from a chopper and the other half hunkered down with LMGs was unlike any horde mode I’d played before, and no other co-op shooter experience has ever really topped that in my mind.
So you could see why I had high hopes for Battlefield V’s Combined Arms. Unfortunately, three months after the game’s initial launch, Combined Arms has finally arrived, and what we’ve gotten is nothing like Onslaught. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, but it just isn’t the fully featured, epic co-op experience I was expecting.
Combined Arms consists of eight standalone missions set across four of Battlefield V’s mulitplayer maps. Each of these missions tasks you with completing a primary objective—varying between either killing three VIP targets, killing 20 lower-level enemies, or blowing up some artillery cannons—then moving to an extraction zone and holding that for three minutes while infinitely spawning enemy infantry and vehicles swarm you. And that’s it. You can play with up to three friends in a squad, but you can’t matchmake, so if no one’s around, you’ll end up playing a cooperative multiplayer mode alone, which kind of defeats the purpose.
I know that Onslaught wasn’t overly complicated. It was basically a multistage king of the hill mode where your squad had to sequentially capture points and hold them against swarms of AI. But it at least felt like the developer wanted to put some effort into making the experience grand on the same scale as Bad Company 2’s regular multiplayer.
One of the main problems with Combined Arms is that the missions themselves lack any sort of interesting structure. There’s just one objective per mission, then three minutes of horde mode, and then it’s over. You can complete most of these missions in less than 10 minutes. DICE could have built Combined Arms as a multistage, multimode undertaking where players started by parachuting onto the map, capturing a base, fighting off bad guys, getting a jeep, moving up the map, blowing up artillery, stealing a tank and some classified Nazi documents, then attacking an enemy stronghold and escaping before reinforcements came. Instead, each Combined Arms mission ends almost as soon as it begins—and as unceremoniously, too.
There’s no real pomp and circumstance in Combined Arms. You’re loaded into a map with a few lines of dialogue that explain why you’re there, and that’s it. The last Battlefield title to include co-op was Battlefield 3, and even though those missions were a buggy mess, DICE at least tried to inject some sense of cinema and spectacle into them. Those missions were about as simple as Combined Arms’ missions, but exciting, cinematic stuff actually happened in them.
It doesn’t help that the mode’s AI, at least on medium difficulty, is about as unrealistic as any I’ve experienced in a game in a long while. Like, even worse than Crackdown 3’s goons, which are expressly programmed to be nothing more than cannon fodder. It’s not that enemies are incredibly dumb, but their tactics lack believability even though they seem to know constantly where you are and will make a beeline to you from every location. I don’t expect enemy AI to act like my human enemies in standard multiplayer, but I at least want them to behave like soldiers with eyes and ears who have lines of sight that can be broken. Don’t bother bringing smoke grenades to the mode, because the Nazis apparently have X-ray vision that allows them to see through even the densest of visual cover.
You can still have fun with Combined Arms. Holding off swarms of enemies for three minutes with a buddy or three can be chaotic, exhilarating, and hilarious. If you want to grind weapon assignments or class XP, you can do that, too. Just don’t expect Combined Arms to be a mode you’ll want to play over and over again.
Now that we’re three months into Battlefield V’s launch, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the live service approach that DICE is taking maybe isn’t the right one for the series, at least not at the moment. In the olden days, we’d already have several new maps to play on, but nothing so substantial has arrived in Battlefield V just yet. I’m hoping that once the battle royale mode, Firestorm, launches in March and Criterion gets us over that hump, DICE will start pumping out new maps at a regular interval. But until then, Combined Arms doesn’t leave me feeling super confident in DICE’s ability to turn Battlefield V into the exciting, ever-evolving game that it promised back when it first announced the game.