Battlefield V Review – No amount of Raytracing can make up for the fact that this is a shitty game.

Is Battlefield V a good representation of the future of game graphics?  Probably not.   And it isn’t even a decent game in it’s own right.

I’m old.  I’ve been around for a while.  I can remember the orignal Pong.  I played King’s Quest on my Black-and-white 4.77Mhz PC clone. I played the original Wolfenstein on my 20Mhz 80386 and remember the revolutionary feeling I got playing DOOM for the first time on what was a state-of-the-art 80486DX2 running at 66Mhz.  I also got those same feelings the the first time I played Final Fantasy VII on the Playstation (a revolution in optical game distribution) played Turok, Dinosaur Hunter on a new 3DFX Voodoo card and played Sega Football on the Sega Dreamcast,

The online internet revolution came next.   Reviewers trashed Starseige Tribes for being online-only and having no single player option, but the original Tribes is quite possibly still the best online-only first person shooter ever made.  It was so amazing to be online with other people from around the world that sometimes I’d just observe games, watching the other players work together.   No longer were we fighting brainless drones that went down like bowling pins… we were fighting other humans that aimed to outsmart us, play tricks on us, distract us, and we worked together to figure out ways to tear down and break the enemy defenses systematically to capture the enemy’s flag and score points.

Higher profile games followed in the footsteps of Tribes that are probably more remembered in the annals of history, including Quake 3 Arena, Unreal Tournament and Battlefield.  All these newer games were prettier than Tribes, but paled in comparison to Tribes’s deep, strategic 64-player online gameplay propped up by it’s rabid Mod community (thanks to being the most easily moddable game quite possibly in history).

To all those who loved Tribes, the previews for the original Battlefield, on the surface, seemed to indicate that the game might deliver the things that Tribes players were hungering for: Better, more diverse vehicles,  Better Graphics, more teamwork options.  As a Tribes player I was naturally intrigued by idea of flying a bomber while a teammate manned the guns, but the actual act of doing it was a poorly integrated novelty as you would essentially fly this bomber around in a circle over a map that was way too small for the task.

Continuing into the future, I remember how the community went nuts over a little tech demo released by a little company named Bungie that looked like it was going to completely change the game for everyone.  Halo, looked like it was every Tribes fan’s dream:   Jet Packs, strategic online gameplay, multi-passenger vehicles.  At the time of the original video’s release, there was no mention anywhere of a single-player campaign for Halo at all.  We all thought it was going to be an online-only game with revolutionary graphics, and awesome physics (Thanks to nVidia’s T&L acceleration and shader pipeline).   Then Microsoft bought it, delayed it for about 3 years,  and then turned it into the flagship game for the original XBox.  Whereas it was still revolutionary, it’s multiplayer mode was incredibly dumbed down.  Small maps, deathmatch, capture the flag… ZZzzzz… we’ve all been there, done that.  This began a great downturn in online gaming as the  industry seemed to go through a prolonged period of dumbing down so as not to intimidate the masses.  Small maps.  Run around and shoot stuff.  Teamwork: optional.

Graphical quality since the original release of Halo has been largely more of the same.  Graphical rendering techniques have remained constant, while hardware evolved to push more memory bandwidth to larger, high resolution displays, higher quality textures.  The techniques used today are the same they were back then.  The makers of hardware eventually became so desperate to find new things for graphics cards to do that they started multi-sampling pixels, sometimes sampling the same pixels up to 16x to smooth out jagged edges (anti-aliasing) and make things like chain-link fences look better.  These days my GeForce 1080Ti pushes 60fps on Bungie’s “Destiny 2” with all the fine details cranked, even though I can’t tell the difference between Anti-aliasing on or off on my 4K screen.

So recently, as nVidia RTX came out with a whole bunch of hype surrounding “real time ray tracing”,  I began to wonder, “Is this going to be one of those revolutionary moments?”  As a child I never thought I’d live to see the day that real-time raytracing could be achieved in any capacity… let alone in a game I could play with a world I could explore.

So in early 2018, at GCD, a number of companies all came out and demonstrated “Real-time raytracing”, including a very classy-looking Star Wars demo that really wowed audiences.   The catch?  That Star Wars demo was rendered on a $60,000 rig!  Also it was about 2 minutes long and the majority of the action took place in a 5×5 elevator.. essentially a simple cube.   We all thought it would be at least a decade before that was available on the consumer level and working with complex game geometry… then strangely, all of a sudden, 3 months later, nVidia says “we’ll sell you this for $1200”.

Okay…. but how practical, in actuality, is this implementation?

For months, people had been buying RTX cards with absolutely no proof that it would actually work…. and now, Battlefield V, unfortunately, is the only measure we have for how well it actually works…. and again unfortunately, i have to conceded that it doesn’t work very well at all… at least in its current state. Edit: As of the Dec 2018 Patch and Driver update, Real-time Raytracing actually works quite well if you are willing to shell out the cash for it.  In my case, I found an “open box” RTX 2080ti pre-overclocked for $1050, and Watercooled it with an EKWB Waterblock so that it could run at 2Ghz 100% of the time without flinching.  With this update I can actually run Battlefield V at 4K resolution with Raytracing on Ultra and achieve 60fps most of the time with occasional dips down to 45 (still playable, IMO).  It also helps to have a badass processor.  I just so happen to have the most badass of all processors, the AMD Threadripper 2990WX, an insane 32Core/64Thread processor which I’ve also watercooled and overclocked to 3.4Ghz.

Raytracing aside, I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to actually enjoy about Battlefield V.  It is basically still the same game it has always been.  The maps in the latest iteration are not even particularly interesting or innovative when compared to even it’s own predecessors in the series.  The single player mode is particularly janky.  The computer AI characters literally stare right at you without firing a bullet while their comrades are slain 6 inches away from them.  The ragdoll death animations are often comically miscalculated.  And the vehicle physics feel largely out of Sega’s abysmal Daytona 500 arcade racing machines.  You’d think that since basically all video games are made by essentially two giant corporations these days (Activision and EA) that someone over there would teach them how to do vehicle physics… but management seems to have failed to deploy people who know what they’re doing for FIVE STRAIGHT RELEASES.

I’ve worked in game development before, I know how the art pipelines work…. RTX asside, this game is just more churn and burn of art assets without any particular attention to innovation.

The multiplayer is also completely uninspired.  Domination.  YAWN.  No strategy.  No secondary objectives.  No incentives to work as a team other than maybe to shoot the guy who shoots your teammate before he can shoot you.

“Twitch” style gaming leaves very little time to stare at fancy reflections, and for every single reflection that looks “cool” in this game I find 20 other things that are substandard in the rest of the game, be they washed out textures, bad use of light probes, particularly in stair wells, janky animation blending,  bad vehicle physics, geometry, textures, and shaders that pop in-and-out suddenly, 2-second stalls in the game, even with RTX off… and just overall substandard art, even in the prerendered cutscenes.    It is clear to me that Battlefield V is just a soulless money making creation from a giant, uninspired  video game conglomerate that hasn’t made a decent game since Sim City 2000.

Furthermore the frame rate just sucks, particularly when measured against the payback you get for it.  This isn’t to say that RTX is to blame.  RTX is clearly the future… but this is very much the beginning.  I think EA hasn’t done enough to take advantage of the current generation of RTX quite yet, and it may take 3-4 generations before the hardware and software makes things start to look really good.  EA’s own tech isn’t very good even when RTX is taken out of the equation, and my understanding is that the current build does not use the RTX’s tensor cores, and maybe that’s one major point of optimization that companies will figure out in time.  Also the game’s lighting and shadows are all done via plain-old rasterization.

Even the reflections themselves are not often all that impressive despite the horrible framerate (Edit: After the Dec 2018 Patch, I’ve found plenty to be impressed with, however).   I find myself trying to find my own reflection in windows, headlights, and puddles, and usually I am baffled by the lack of what I see. (Edit: Patch shows many more player reflections now).  When I do make out objects in the reflections, it is apparent that the reflections are generated from some highly simplified geometry that is separate from the game’s main geometry and has a very near far-plane.  Reflections seems to be limited to a single bounce — you can’t see the reflection in a reflection of a window across the street, for example).   Objects that are more than a short distance away are not rendered at all… and entire parts of buildings in the distance are completely cut-off from the rendering.    I couldn’t even get a decent reflection from a lamp in a window… at night time… in the same room I was standing, although some of this might just be lack of attention to detail by artists (the interiors of the houses and sheds and huts in this game are severely neglected).

If you’re looking to get an RTX.  My verdict is: wait… AT LEAST until Summer 2019… maybe longer unless you’re a software engineer who wants to dig into writing 3D engines and the like.  For the average person, all you can do with it that is remotely special right now is play one shitty game at no more than 1080p resolution.  And if you want more than 1080p, you have to sell your organs to nVidia for a 2080 Ti, as the 2080 and 2070 are just not good enough.

At the time of this writing, the 2080Ti’s are selling faster than the stores can stock them, while the 2080s and the 2070s sit on the shelves and rot.  Nobody but the hardcore enthusiasts want the RTX and those people are willing to shell out the cash for the 2080Ti only.

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