Review: Battlefield 2042
Oh, hey guys. It’s me, Grant, I’m back from the year 2042. You thought 2020 wasn’t so hot? Looks like we’re in for another world war in 20 years or so. At least according to EA and DICE’s Battlefield 2042. So if you can’t wait 20 years, I’m here with the deets on how things are going to turn out!
So let’s suit up, grab some gear, and deploy on in to Battlefield 2042, now available on Xbox One, Series X/S, PS4, PS5, and PC via Steam/Origin/the EA App. The PC version was played for this review.
This is War, People!
In this new world war, we have two main sides led by the United States and Russia, fighting over various locations around the world. Other than a few briefings to explain how the core game modes work though, there is no story for the game whatsoever. There’s no explanation of what this conflict is actually about, how it started, or anything like that. There’s a few subtle bits, like the “No-Pat” (for “Non-patriated”) designation of the soldiers you play as (all of whom have names, unlike past entries – more on this below).
This game is entirely about being on a battlefield and fighting a giant battle; story doesn’t really enter into it beyond the setting. It feels like a really missed opportunity. There could have been a section in the menus with explanations and additional background, but in all fairness, the Battlefield series was always simply a military shooter game and little else, this time lacking a single player or co-op campaign mode that some of the franchise’s competitors often include.
Battlefield 2042 is all about getting your boots on the ground, shooting guns and lobbing grenades. For this reason, the lack of lore or story elements is forgivable, but I feel it should have been present to some degree. I would really prefer my participation in these battles to have a clear purpose.
Shaking up a Legacy
Although I myself have limited experience with the franchise (The only other Battlefield game I spent much time playing was Battlefield 2142 because it was more futuristic and more removed from current reality), the series has a pretty passionate (albeit sometimes toxic…) fan base that keeps coming back for more.
Because of this, DICE has been very careful about making any significant changes to the core mechanics of the series. That changed with 2042, to a fair bit of controversy over the course of the Early Access week in which I played. Past Battlefield titles all generally used a rigid class-based system where players would choose a class to spawn as (e.g. assault, medic, recon, etc.), where each class has its own selection of arms and gear you can load out with. Battlefield 2042 moves away from this tested formula significantly by replacing the more rigid classes with “specialists”- Named hero-like characters who each have unique passive abilities and specialized tools, but otherwise all have access to the same pool of weapons to load out with. You can pick any rifle, pistol, throwable, etc. with any specialist, and they are set apart by their appearance and traits.
This has a few pros and cons. There’s something to be said for clearly defined roles, and it is certainly what the player base has become used to. But it also means if needs change, you basically needed to commit suicide in order to change classes. It also meant some roles were more popular than others. Being a medic, for example, has limited appeal when it means you carry an inferior gun and the only thing special you do is help up dying soldiers.
That said, it also means there is little to distinguish one Specialist from another, and so basically everyone’s going to be using the same weapons, items, and so on. On the whole, I’m modestly in favor of this new system, but even I have to admit that part of the motivation behind the switch to Specialists is that a wider range of unique looking characters are easier to monetize with skins and the like, which is definitely happening with the game. Additionally, the wide-open loadouts for each Specialist kind of dilutes the meaning of any one of them. The vibe I’ve been getting from the community is they aren’t happy that DICE is messing with things they feel aren’t broken, and that does deserve some consideration.
Another seemingly innocent change I saw players talking about was the lack of a normal scoreboard, listing all the players and how many kills they have and so on. The game does rank the performance of each four-man squad on the battlefield, but it does give you considerably less information to tell you how well you’re doing. Although I consider this information useful, I also don’t consider it that critical against the real objective of winning the battle, which does not happen by kills alone. The objectives in each game mode are key, and I think this change helps to emphasize that. Finally, the game is cross platform and unlike what is typical, the game actually identifies the platform of every player (cue console players getting mad at PC advantages in 3… 2… 1…).
Flavors of War
Of course, like most shooters, there are various game modes to choose from. But tying into the things discussed above, I want to highlight the Battlefield Portal. This area of the game is much like the Workshop in Overwatch where players can create and host custom experiences. You can change various rules and features here, and share these custom “experiences” with others. Alongside this, you can also find a number of classic modes here, which tweak the game to behave more like specific past iterations, including the class system, so really I think that issue was rather overblown with the existence of these classic modes.
The portal is simultaneously the best and worst part of the game. Best because it makes it easy to play the way you want to play and find others interested in it. But it’s also the worst because a popular use of the portal is bizarre “XP farm” experiences. These typically have tons of bots on one team and a handful of players on the other, so you can rack up kills and unlock stuff faster. But sometimes you can end up on the team with the bots and not really realize that you are the XP that is being farmed rather than farming it yourself. Yeah, that’s a bit of a mess. A cap on XP earned in Portal modes and co-op vs. AI matches limits the effectiveness of this, but it’s still not a great situation.
On to the other game modes, we have the standard Conquest mode of past BF titles, now with up to 128 players. Drop in, make for the objectives, and shoot any hostiles along the way, with the ultimate goal of depleting the other side’s reinforcements. It’s been the core of the series from the beginning and, aside from the new Specialist system and bigger battlefields with more players, it’s the same experience as always. This is the place to be if you just want to immerse yourself in a natural-feeling war zone, and BF 2042 does a great job of that. Despite how big the area is, you’re always on the alert for enemy fire and the tension it creates is real, and the big appeal of the game. If there’s any downside to this mode, it’s really just that you don’t feel like your personal actions have much impact on the battle as a whole. But in fairness it isn’t that important. The game uses a drop in/drop out system; players can come and go at any time without penalty, and so often you’re joining a battle that’s already well in progress. This makes any individual battle a little diluted, though. You don’t even keep a record of battles won/lost because of this
Breakthrough is another mode that sits alongside Conquest, with an attackers-and-defenders structure. Defenders have infinite reinforcements, and the goal is for the attackers to progressively claim all the objectives on the map before they run out of their limited supply of reinforcements. The positive of this mode is it is more structured and gives you a clear winner and loser. It’s also much more satisfying when you win compared to Conquest, where it almost doesn’t matter. I enjoyed this mode quite a bit more than Conquest, as it is more focused and gives me a greater sense of purpose.
My favorite part of the game though is Hazard Zone. This mode is very different from the others: there are eight squads of four, tasked with dropping into an area, finding as many “data drives” as they can, and then escaping at an extraction point. If you miss the two chances for extraction or your squad wipes, you’re done. This mode was by far the most fun for me. It places a much stronger emphasis on teamwork, while also having a greater sense of competition, since the squads are not allies. It’s your squad vs everyone else, almost like a battle royale, but the goal isn’t simply to eliminate everyone and be the last one standing. Instead, it’s all about at least one of your squad making it to the extraction point with one or more drives. After each mission, you earn credits based on your performance which can be spend on future missions to have more gear to choose from in the loadout phase before the mission starts.
While I found Hazard Zone by far the most fun, I also find it really bizarre. The whole premise just doesn’t make sense. There isn’t two sides in this fight; it’s every squad for themselves, but they all seem as though they’re being sent by the same military force. This is reinforced by the fact that the extraction point is the same for all the squads. And as you might imagine, this means that with two chances to extract, this means that generally only members of two squads will make it out. Sure, you could just choose not to shoot at one of them as you board the same transport chopper, but the whole thing just really doesn’t make sense.
Because this is a free for all, it’s not even clear who these drives belong to. Every time I load in, it does say “US Marines Command” which suggests that we’re on the US side trying to steal data on hard drives from Russian satellite pods. But if that’s the case, why is it an eight team free-for-all? Shouldn’t it be co-op? It doesn’t make any sense for members of the same fighting force to be shooting each other over these data drives. I don’t get it. It is tons of fun though. The whole concept of the mode is fun, it just doesn’t make sense in the context provided.
Bugs. The bane of the success of any video game. And hoo boy, are there a lot of them here. I want to preface this special section by saying that I understand that bugs are inevitable in games, and part of the reason for these pre-release play periods (of which we were a part) is to test the game in the real world and identify issues.
That said, there were a lot of problems. Lag chief among them, particularly in Conquest. It suggests to me that DICE were really pushing the limits to get the player cap to 128. I’m not sure why they felt they needed to double the number of players in the game, but it was touted as a feature, so if it’s a thing it has to work. It does, but it’s pretty rough. Maybe if they ignored powers of two and just made it 100 players? Regardless, it’s not noticeable in the modes with less players. But this is the flagship mode we’re talking about, so something needs to be addressed there.
Lag of course is not necessarily a straight up bug,, but we’ve got those too. Wrong animations playing? Check. Weapons and gear not working correctly? Check, although at least DICE had the foresight to implement a system that lets them disable problem items and weapons without having to take the game down to address them. Random crashes and disconnects? Check. Unable to connect to online services in an online-only game? Check. Getting stuck in the dying state without ever actually dying and being unable to do anything until the match ends or you restart the game? Check. Getting massive input lag caused by the high polling rate of my gaming mouse and keyboard? Check.
Now, I’m a reasonable person, and I have been involved in game development QA myself, so I know nipping bugs in the bud is a never-ending task. For the sake of fairness, BF 2042 definitely is nowhere near as bug-ridden as, say, Cyberpunk 2077. But there are a lot of minor (and some not-so-minor) things all over the game, and it really is substantial enough to significantly mar the entire experience. To DICE’s credit, there was a patch relatively quickly that addressed numerous obvious bugs, and that’s a good start, but there’s plenty more to go.
Beauty in Combat
On the artistic end of things, we’ve got some definite highs and some definite lows. Visually, the game is quite stunning if you have a PC that can take the game to max settings. My PC is starting to show its age and I had to dial the settings back a bit, but it still looks good overall even then. There’s great variety in the maps, and even in the visuals within the same map.
I do have to call out one of the maps in particular as just plain weird though. There is one map where the combat takes place in a big city with highways running around and a sports stadium and all sorts of things. But this city is partially buried in giant sand dunes. I’m just wondering how this all happened. Just another one of those things the game should explain if it gets a story I suppose. It does look great though and, as weird this environment is, it all looks natural. Very well done on the visuals overall.
Unfortunately one of the low points of the game is the sound. There are a lot of annoying sound effects, particularly in the menus, where moving the cursor around makes this short static-y sound. It legitimately sounds like your sound hardware is glitching up or your cables are loose or something. The sounds of combat are generally fine, but the music… where is it? On the loading screens and at the climax near the end of Conquest battles, the game plays this “music” that just sounds like electronic farts and the kind of repeating glitchy sort of sound when you would alt-tab out of games or they locked up in the old days. Earlier Battlefield titles used… actual music…. to create tension as the battle reached its conclusion. Really not sure what they were thinking on this one. I’m not in any way an audiophile, but even I wanted to mute the sound after a little while.
The War Rages On
It’s definitely been a while since I played a military shooter like Battlefield 2042. There was definitely a lot to like. The guns, the game modes, etc. all of it is fun at its core. But the long-time fans I met in game generally seemed pretty irked at how much of the old formula was getting revamped for no particular reason. I think this happened because, with the game being set only near into the future, DICE felt like they had to change up the gameplay more to distinguish the game from the other modern day iterations. That’s understandable to me as an outsider, but it’s worth being aware that if you’re a long time fan on the fence, you may or may not like how 2042 changes the formula. Many of the changes seem aimed at making the franchise more approachable to people outside their core fanbase.
While I did enjoy quite a lot of my time in Battlefield 2042 (especially in the new Hazard Zone mode), there are a mix of gameplay, technical, and functionality issues of varying severity that really hamper the experience. This game is somewhat recommendable to Battlefield fans and those with a general interest in military-style shooters, but there is a strong chance that the game’s current flaws are going to really limit the potential for many. Because of this, if you’re considering this game, you may want to wait for a patch or two before you deploy to the battlefield.
Hopefully this serves as a reminder to publishers that hard deadlines can damage a game’s potential for success and that, while delays can harm the relationship with investors, major launch (or pre-launch) issues scaring off players can harm it far more. Great things take time, and when you rush things, people will notice.
Review copy provided by Electronic Arts for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.