Battlefield and its developer DICE began and ended the last generation with massive faceplants. Battlefield 4 kicked it off with a broken launch while Battlefield V ended it in controversies. Sandwiched in between were the equally controversial Star Wars Battlefront and Battlefront II and the lone launch gem, Battlefield 1. As a result, both the franchise and its developer seriously need a reboot heading into the newest console generation. Enter Battlefield 2042, a new entry in the long-running franchise aiming to recapture the glory of older titles by bringing the action back to a near-future setting, focusing on destruction and emphasizing large-scale skirmishes. Does Battlefield 2042 pave the way for DICE’s return or is this another faceplant for an endangered franchise?
Battlefield 2042 takes place in the not-too-distant future. Following decades of destruction caused by climate change, the world’s superpowers are at each other’s throats. By 2042, the United States and Russia are at war. You play as mercenaries for hire dubbed ‘No-Pats’ hired to do battle for the competing factions. Unlike previous Battlefield titles, 2042 doesn’t have a single player campaign. Instead, what’s there is told via gameplay and other transmedia. The franchise hadn’t had a great campaign since 2010s Battlefield: Bad Company 2, so opting not to include one isn’t a deal breaker.
Battlefield 2042 is split into three modes; All-Out-Warfare, Hazard Zone and Battlefield Portal. All-Out-Warfare is the traditional, Battlefield multiplayer experience. Hazard Zone is a PvPvE mode where squads compete over objectives. Finally, Battlefield Portal (developed by Ripple Effect Studios) gives players creative control to build the Battlefield experience they want.
Battlefield 2042 follows the playbook of most other shooters but with its own twists. You’ll still spawn onto the map, runabout, aim-down-sights and pick off enemies. Gunplay in Battlefield 2042 is smooth and satisfying, feeling tight and precise whether you’re firing at point-blank range or taking a shot from a distance. The game adds additional layers to gunplay with its new on-the-fly customization system. Dubbed the ‘Plus’ menu, players can assign various attachments like sights and magazines to their Plus menu through the Collections page. When in-game, you can thing bring up the Plus menu and swap attachments. Facing a tank without a rocket launcher? Equip some armor-piercing ammo. Need to turn a short-range SMG into a medium-range one? Slap on a different barrel and sight with more magnification. It’s a great system that allows for more nuance and strategizing while on the battlefield.
Equally game-changing are the Specialists and their impact on the class system. While previous Battlefield games built their balance around classes, Battlefield 2042 mostly jettisons that for a more open approach that includes Specialists. These characters each come with a unique piece of equipment and trait. For example, McCay gets a grappling gun and Dozer gets a Ballistic Shield. Meanwhile, traits offer unique abilities like Angel’s Trauma Specialist, where revived allies get their armor filled, or Rao’s Trojan Network that allows him to hack into enemy systems for intel.
Despite much of the unrest around their inclusion, the Specialists don’t alter the class mechanics much in All-Out-Warfare. While it’s a tad annoying their equipment isn’t available widely or divided into different classes, each Specialist does at least feel like they fit into a class. All ten Specialists can be used in either faction, though DICE has improved visibility and added lights to help distinguish between friend (blue) and foe (red). Separating the Specialists into Factions would have been preferable, but this solution works well enough. Where Specialists do impact gameplay comes in Hazard Zone, which encourages squads to choose Specialists that create synergy within the team. Specialists don’t actively take away from the Battlefield formula, instead adding to it in interesting ways.
What does impact the class system is the free-form customization. Battlefield 2042’s loadout system is more like Call of Duty than it is Battlefield. Players can mix and match different weapons, secondary weapons, gear and grenades to essentially create their own class. Likewise, all XP earned during a match goes into one bar, unlocking weapons that would have required you to rank up classes first in previous games. It’s a level of freedom not offered in previous titles, but that freedom comes at the detriment of teamwork and class synergy. With the ability to take any piece of gear or gadget into battle, support gear like the ammo and medic crates and repair tool aren’t as attractive as offensive options like the rocket launcher. Battlefield 2042 is extremely fun to play when everything clicks, but that newfound freedom does cost the franchise a bit of its identity.
What hurts Battlefield 2042 the most is a dearth of content. Packed with only seven maps, three-game types, twenty-two weapons (three of which are pistols) and a handful of gadgets, Battlefield 2042 doesn’t supply much out of the box. To put this in better perspective, Battlefield 1, a game limited by its setting, launched with 24 primary weapons not including pistols. The included weapons are fun to play with, but it’s a come down for a franchise that has always prized giving players many tools to play around with.
The seven included maps are usable across All-Out Warfare, Hazard Zone and Portal. As promised, these are the largest maps in Battlefield history, but that sizing comes at a cost. While there’s a lot more surface area in each map, a lot of it is empty space with nothing happening. Even in full 128 player games, there are too many sizable sections on every map that require players to sprint long distances to find engagements. You can summon transport vehicles to help get across these empty areas, but that’s more of a band-aid to a genuine problem on nearly every map. Of the seven, Kaleidoscope’s urban environments and smaller surface area provide for the most entertaining engagements. In Battlefield 2042’s case, the bigger the map, the more empty space.
Other significant features like the ‘next-gen destruction’ and weather systems are disappointing and somewhat lacking. Destruction is kept to a minimum, with only a few buildings and walls being destructible. Going into Portal and testing maps from Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 3 shows how little destruction there is in 2042’s maps. Meanwhile, weather joins Levolution as a much-touted feature that has little impact on gameplay. While the tornado looks cool, its effect on the map and players is minuscule.
All-Out Warfare, the quintessential Battlefield mode, likewise feels neutered due to a lack of content. Unlike previous Battlefield titles, 2042 only features Conquest and Breakthrough. Classic modes like Team Deathmatch, Rush and Domination are missing. What makes their absence felt is that smaller sections of each map that could facilitate these game modes are available in Portal. Why DICE didn’t make them official game modes in All-Out Warfare is unknown and frustrating for those looking for a quick match.
Hazard Zone is a neat idea. Like, Escape from Tarkov, players squad up in teams of four to drop onto a map to complete key objectives. For Hazard Zone, that objective is collecting data drives and then extracting with them. Teamwork is essential, with players needing to work together to pick the right Specialists, weapons and gadgets that complement their playstyles and give them the best chance to win. It’s a neat concept, but the execution is flawed. Specifically, Hazard Zone can be brutally unfair to new players since currency rules the mode. If you want better equipment than the factory assault rifle and gadgets, you need to earn credits by killing enemies and getting hard drives. Teams don’t drop into match with even chances, however, and there’s no floor loot for disadvantaged teams to get better gear. It also doesn’t help that the mode feels slapped onto the 2042 maps rather than receiving its own maps that are better designed to accommodate the different play styles. The open, empty spaces you need to cross on the seven maps expose you to both AI and enemy players. Hazard Zone is a neat idea, but it needs tweaking to be fairer and its own maps that play to its strengths.
Coming in last is Battlefield Portal. Developed by Ripple Effect Studios, this mode is easily the best aspect of Battlefield 2042. It provides players the tools to build their own custom games by using maps, game modes, weapons, vehicles and more from four different Battlefield titles. The game pulls from Battlefield 1942, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 2042 to give players a large, robust set of content to go crazy with. You can create classic modes like Gun Game and Infected or do something wild like putting World War II knives against modern defibrillators. For those who want that traditional Battlefield experience, you can play Rush, Conquest and Team Deathmatch using rules, weapons and gadgets from their original games. Battlefield Portal is a fantastic experience that combines excellent gameplay with a trove of content that helps make up for Battlefield 2042’s lackluster offerings.
The Battlefield franchise has always delivered when it comes to its presentation and Battlefield 2042 continues that trend. It looks great visually thanks to excellent lighting and material work that help sell the setting. While the tornado and stormy weather don’t significantly impact gameplay, all the different effects work is breathtaking and sets a new bar for what can be done with weather simulation in games. The maps may feature too much empty space, but at least that empty space still looks excellent.
To DICE’s credit, Battlefield 2042’s performance is far more stable than the beta. The game runs at a mostly steady frame rate, though there’s stuttering when many effects go off. The visual glitches that permeated the beta have also been mostly cleaned up. Lighting is now where it’s supposed to be, parachutes don’t glitch through solid objects and there are no more flickering lights. Battlefield 2042 does need work, but the performance work done to get the game ready for launch is impressive. Battlefield 2042 both looks and performs like the next-gen game we were promised.
Battlefield and DICE have been put through the ringer time-after-time last-generation. Leaping into the next-generation, Battlefield 2042 should have been a triumphant return of the franchise and developer. In some respects, Battlefield 2042 delivers on its promises thanks to fantastic gameplay, a suite of new features and improvements, and a presentation that looks as good as it plays. Unfortunately, the game falls short just as much, if not more. The amount of DICE-developed content is anemic, Hazard Zone feels poorly balanced, and All-Out Warfare’s lack of modes, maps and weaponry is astonishing considering the franchise’s history. Ripple Effect Studios and Battlefield Portal turn much of that on its head, providing a robust creator, additional content from previous Battlefield titles and a wealth of ways to experience Battlefield. Portal’s immense replayability, reverence for the past and creativity help alleviate 2042’s content drought. Battlefield 2042 is a fun game to play, but its base game content will leave you wanting. Thankfully, Battlefield Portal is there to pick up the slack and does so splendidly. There’s still some gas left in Battlefield’s tank.