After a four-year break, DICE has delivered another Battlefield to the masses, taking the combined arms fight to the near future. The studio has also put all its focus on multiplayer this time, saying goodbye to the campaign element altogether.
Battlefield 2042 is both a departure from the norm and a return to its roots. If you remember the classic Battlefield experiences before Battlefield 3, the series was always offered as a multiplayer shooter. To me at least, the campaigns always felt like tech demo made to show off Frostbite engine’s visual prowess with lackluster stories attached — Bad Company games being the exception — so the skip isn’t a big deal.
Battlefield has boasted 64-player servers with multiplayer clashes across ground, air, and sea since the first installment, Battlefield 1942, made its way to PC all the way back in 2002. While bigger and bolder player counts felt like the next step for the series as newer entries came by for better hardware, it has taken until 2021 to gain the coveted 128-player promotion. DICE is also trying out other ways to expand on the usual formula in this iteration, with new tactics-focused and community content-orientated modes.
With several days of play across everything Battlefield 2042 has to offer now under my belt, here’s what I thought of this ‘next generation’ shooter.
Battlefield has always been about massive arenas with hordes of players and tons of explosions. DICE has not messed with that formula in Battlefield 2042. The maps are the biggest we’ve seen with a player count to match, and there are enough explosions happening at any point to make even certain countries’ new year celebrations blush. Three distinct components make up the experience: All Out Warfare, Hazard Zone, and Portal. It’s the third one I’ve been enjoying the most, but I get to that later.
All out Warfare is Battlefield 2042’s opening chapter, a combination of absolutely massive maps and 128-players to populate them. Infantry, tanks, hovercrafts, helicopters, jets, and everything in between are thrown together to create an inviting chaotic landscape. The wide-open spaces and long stretches of flat ground in most of the maps do present problems with vehicle dominance, but when frontlines collapse on each other, no other franchise can give me this much of a spectacle.
To adapt to different kind of engagements, DICE has also introduced a sleek new way to change weapon attachments on the fly named the Plus system. Running out from a close-combat environment to a wide-open space and quickly swapping out the red dot for a 2.5x magnified scope, removing the silencer, and replacing the laser pointer with a grip, can all be done in a few seconds while still bolting. While gimmicky, it’s proven to be quite useful in many situations.
Destruction has been toned down rather heavily. Only a few structures have the means to get their walls exploded, and they are relatively rare in maps. Trees, guard rails, and other small elements can still be ripped apart thankfully, but it is disappointing to see reduced demolitions in a series that has touted it heavily in the past. All is not lost though, as tornados decide to rip through entire maps occasionally as teams scramble to both get close them, for the joyride, and get away, upending secured positions. The sudden weather change, the lightning surrounding the twister, trees almost bending 90 degrees from the wind, alarms blaring from nearby buildings, military vehicles being thrown around like toys, all culminate to create a terrific “Levolution” event.
What has been taken out entirely are the ever-present Classes, and I don’t think it was a problem that needed solving. Replacing them are Specialists. While a campaign is not part of the package, much like other multiplayer games nowadays there is a story in the background about a budding war between America and Russia, with country-less Special Forces units (No-Pats) doing the fighting. This is where the new Specialists come from, a range of hero characters with special abilities on the outside and zero personality on the inside. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to read character bios and hear one-liners to feel attached to what are essentially cosmetic holsters.
Grappling hooks, wingsuits, automated turrets, deployable cover, homing grenades or something else, with more to come, are in the hands of all players now. I have to admit, they are fun to use and look good in action. The downside is this ‘hero shooter’ style mechanic only encourages even more solo play. Only two Specialists from the 10 available at launch can revive any ally (outside of squad revives), and their special abilities are probably the most boring of the entire bunch: a healing pistol and a crate drop allowing for kit switching mid-match. To nobody’s surprise, they are not a common sight in maps.
Where Specialists do make sense is in Hazard Zone, Battlefield 2042’s second main game mode. Here, a squad of four drop into a map to collect a specific kind of resources before extracting, with both other players (looking for the same items) and AI coming in as opponents. The twist is you keep the resource at the end of a match to invest into another run of Hazard Zone, which can mean better weapons, equipment, and perks. Anyone who’s played Escape from Tarkov or a similar game will instantly recognize DICE’s direction, but the execution here is not optimal.
The game is missing voice communications as a whole, but when a solely tactical play-focused game mode is involved, its lack of it is felt immensely. Not being able to quickly direct the squad towards a threat or asking them to hold fire feels suffocating. There’s not even a sophisticated pinging system to help a little, only the simple waypoint pings as seen in other modes. If this is working as intended, typing things out and hoping your squad is reading the chat while actively engaging enemies is bizarrely part of the coordinating process.
Map knowledge doesn’t really make a mark on the experience either. Hazard Zone utilizes the multiplayer maps from All Out Warfare, which have wide open spaces with small structures scattered about. Continuously covering great distances to objectives across flat ground hoping an enemy who invested in a scope won’t wipe everyone out is the least tactical I’ve felt in a while. Changes need to be done here, and first on the list should be voice communications.
Spending an afternoon in Caspian Border, El Alamein, or Valparaiso, is not something I expected to enjoy so much. Battlefield Portal, the third major mode of Battlefield 2042, is the most impressive out of the lot, letting anybody spin up dedicated servers with a Battlefield 3, Bad Company 2, 1942, and 2042 content, with the classics recreated in the latest Frostbite engine. Want to play Battle of the Bulge with 2042 soldiers and gameplay? Done. Arica Harbor Rush with unchaged Bad Company 2 settings? Easy. A 128-player match putting 1942 and 2042 soldiers head-to-head? Say no more.
Elements from earlier games I sorely miss in 2042 are made even more apparent with the inclusion of features like classes, Rush game mode, layered environments, and much deeper destruction in Portal recreations. Trivial things such as vehicle orientation indicators while in the gunner position or hustling to grab a seat of a tank without spawning straight into one are amazing to re-experience. The mode ends up being a showcase of DICE’s greatest hits and shines a spotlight on the latest entry’s misgivings.
Funnily enough, going back and playing the old games or a weird combo is the most basic thing achievable in Portal, the possibilities only increase from there. I’ve already dived into Gun Game and Infected servers via the browser — oh did I mention there’s a server browser in Portal? The web-based logic editor offers a mind-boggling number of options for creating new game modes, which I’ll leave for much more talented members of the community to deliver on.
I expect to see brand new creations for the best kind of kooky experiences as the masses hit the game at launch. There is terrific potential here for Portal going forward. As a dedicated studio is attached to it, hopefully a steady stream of more classic Battlefield content and rule customizations will keep rolling out. My stupid hope is for Battlefield 2142 and Hardline assets to breach Portal. Imagine giant walkers chasing after police cars. It’s brilliant.
Graphics, audio, and lots of bugs
2042 is not the most visually impressive Battlefield game DICE has put out, though it certainly wants to run like it is on the performance side. On my machine running an 8-core 3700X with a RX 580 8GB, the average frame rate hovers around 80 and 50 on the low and ultra-presets, respectively. What I have noticed though are constant FPS dips. They only last a brief time, but as mouse sensitivity changes along with the frame rate, it makes quickly tracking targets an impromptu butter churning session on the mousepad. The same FPS dips are being reported on even the highest end graphics cards like the RTX 3090. An optimization pass is definitely needed.
Unfortunately, the issues continue in the audio side, normally a department DICE goes above and beyond in. Positional audio likes to mess with you with phantom footsteps and vehicle noises. The overall soundscape is much quieter too, compared to earlier iterations. A massive battle occurring only a few hundred meters away involving dozens of ongoing explosions often makes no impactful sounds. The same goes for when a helicopter is doing a raid. It takes a second to realize the hellfire on the ground had come from above as the air vehicle’s sound is barely noticeable.
Throughout Battlefield 2042, what pulls the emersion and fun factor down the drain is the constant stream of bugs and bizarre UI decisions. The world of hovercrafts climbing walls, jeeps falling through the map, teleporting players, and many more comical wonders are unfortunately common sights. These aren’t only slight annoyances either, multiple times I have gotten stuck in the ‘asking for revive’ status, where quitting the match entirely is the only escape.
The UI direction in Battlefield 2042 is genuinely facepalm worthy sometimes. For instance, the game does not show what my squad mates’ currently equipped gadgets are so I can fill an empty role like going anti-armor or medic. Unless you’re playing with a group of friends with a third-party voice software, prepare for a solo experience where your squad functions as mobile respawn points. Excruciatingly, no nearby medics nor ally indicators are present when downed either, meaning almost nobody waits around for revives. At the same time, the Commorose — a quick menu for giving out commands and asking for support — has a good chance of disappearing and being stuck closed. This is just a small sample.
Even minor things like being forced to open a dropdown to check if you’re in a party as most of the main menu is dedicated to a useless animation, or the fiddly gun customization system inside menus makes the game feel sloppily put together.
The core of Battlefield 2042 is still the stupidly fun formula DICE has mastered, with spectacular Michael Bay movie-esque action sequences that organically breed out of extreme chaos. There’s a lot of game in here, and the bump to the player count is a natural step forward for the franchise. While I’m not sold on Specialists replacing classic Classes entirely, their abilities and gadgets are fun mechanics overall to play around with.
However, from the playable but unstable frame rates and what can only be described as dreadful UI decisions, to the overall buggy-ness of the game, more time in the oven was a definite requirement for Battlefield 2042. While situated as one of the three main pillars of the game, Hazard Zone’s tactical focus is brought down by not having maps crafted specifically for the experience, lack of voice coms, and at least a semi-decent pinging system.
This isn’t the first under baked Battlefield launch, and if those prior instances are anything to go by, DICE and other EA studios will work hard to fix the glaring problems in the coming months. It’s just a frustrating tradition I wish they don’t keep repeating, especially with such huge contenders in the shooters front from AAAs to indies. A launch purchase recommendation is hard to give when, by the time the game is at a much better state, it will also be priced lower.
In any case, Portal is easily the most entertaining thing to come out of Battlefield 2042. Handing the community the keys to past games as well as a deep rules editor and letting them run wild is an exciting plan. I really hope the potential will keep growing and its talented development team at Ripple Effect can plug more Battlefields and customizations into the experience going forward.
Battlefield 2042 is available for purchase on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5 for $59.99. The title launches on November 19 for standard and EA Play Pro members, but the Gold and Ultimate editions offer immediate early access. a 10-hour trail is also available to EA Play and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate members.
This review was conducted on PC using a Battlefield 2042 key for EA Play provided by Electronic Arts.
If you’re interested in learning how the current-gen console experience of Battlefield 2042 is, read our very own Asher Madan’s Xbox Series X impressions of the game here.