Battlefield 2042 attempts to be multiple things at the same time and struggles with nearly all of them. It expands upon the series’ signature brand of large scale warfare with 128-player modes that feel too big for their own good. It has a small squad based on the likes of Escape from Tarkov that uses the new specialists but takes place on maps not designed for the limited player count. And the new Portal mode lets players jump back in time and experience classic Battlefield experiences with new, old, and custom rule sets that serve as a reminder of how far the franchise has come — and how some of its changes are not for the better.
It’s muddled, messy, and yet somehow still recognizably Battlefield at the end of the day. But Battlefield 2042 has a long way to go before it matches the heights of its past.
Chief among the reasons why is the inclusion of Specialists, hero characters who have their own quips, unique gadgets and abilities that replace the longstanding class system. That’s not to say the class system is gone — each character falls under certain archetypes, such as Boris’ engineer focus — but specialists do not smoothly recreate the roles that so defined previous classes. This is partially because anyone can equip any loadout or tool from any class, and considering the small size of the current loadouts, everything starts to feel the same and lacking in depth.
More to the point, not all specialists are created equal. Boris has the ability to place an automated turret down, which is both easy to understand and use. Meanwhile, Sundance has a wing suit that replaces the normal parachute, allowing for fast traversal of large areas. And then there are specialists like Rao, who can hack into enemy vehicles as well as environmental objects, who feel comparatively lacking. This results in a very limited set of usable characters that results in squad composition feeling less important than before.
Speaking of squads, it’s disappointing to see that I cannot leave and join other squads of my choosing. It is one of many small changes that leave me scratching my head as to why DICE designed Battlefield 2042 this way. There’s currently no in-game voice chat, which prevents teamwork from developing unless you run a premade squad. The scoreboard is missing, which ostensibly was cut to encourage squad play but runs counter to the rivalries and comrades you make as you play on the same server for any notable length of time. And why was the option to have medics ping downed players to tell them that a medic is on their way removed? It’s a feature that I welcomed in previous games, yet it’s absent here.
The design choices are half-baked, but at the same time, many of the small changes are smart. The ability to call in vehicles at any point on the map adds a great deal of flexibility to the standard Conquest and Breakthrough modes. Many of the new gadgets and tools are really fun to use, such as the grappling hook and the aforementioned wing suit. The ability to customize a gun’s attachments on the fly is great. And the inclusion of an armoured hovercraft that lets you run circles around players and vehicles provided some of the most fun I’ve had playing a multiplayer game this year.
However, though there are small changes that are baffling and praiseworthy, the game modes themselves are at the forefront of Battlefield 2042’s mixed design. The signature mode is All-Out Warfare, which features a massive 128 player maps set in near – future war zones that have been torn apart by climate change. The setting itself serves as an interesting albeit insignificant backdrop, and many of the maps feature some great design. The mixed terrain of the Antarctica based Breakaway and the desolate ship hulls on Discarded are a joy to play in — mostly.
“However, though there are small changes that are baffling and praiseworthy, the game modes themselves are at the forefront of Battlefield 2042’s mixed design.
Other maps, and even parts of the aforementioned ones, feel too big and vast for their own good. Many maps feature wide open spaces with barely any cover or foliage in sight, and the distances between capture points are so vast that you will be running for minutes on end until you get shot by a sniper or tank, requiring you to respawn and complete the long trek all over again. The maps are designed with vehicles in mind, but good luck if you’re unable to hop a ride on a passing helicopter or jeep.
The distances, coupled with the sheer number of players, mean that both armies tend to gravitate to one or two locations that turn into chaotic messes — and not in terms of classic Battlefield chaos either. Unless you are playing with friends, it’s frustrating to interact with the world at large. If you are playing with friends, you will have a great time, both because playing with friends inherently makes everything more enjoyable, but also because Battlefield 2042 does facilitate squad tactics rather well. But since there’s no in-game voice chat, you’re not going to be able to coordinate unless you’ve got your own team already invested.
A pre-existing squad is also needed to fully take advantage of Hazard Zone, Battlefield’s answer to smaller, more intricate and slower paced shooters. Here, your squad drops into a map and is tasked with picking up data packs from crashing satellites while seven other teams do the same and AI defenders guard set locations. Every so often, an extraction chopper arrives to pick up players, and successfully boarding one earns you currency that you can use in your next Hazard Zone game for improved weapons, abilities, and so on.
Hazard Zone is where specialists shine, as each character’s kit has useful applications in this more constrained mode. I just wish that the maps reflected that, as each map is taken from the ones found in All-Out Warfare. These maps are not designed around small teams, lacking in enclosed spaces and areas that take advantage of smaller scope. It’s enjoyable enough on its own, but I don’t think it has staying power.
“Fortunately, Battlefield 2042’s Portal mode is a reminder of what makes Battlefield great in the first place.”
Fortunately, Battlefield 2042’s Portal mode is a reminder of what makes Battlefield great in the first place. Portal brings classic maps, classes, and rulesets from older games in the series, such as Battlefield 1942, Battlefield Bad Company 2, and Battlefield 3, and lets you customize them to your will. Make it so you get a random loadout every time you die, have World War 2 era planes go up against modern jets, and change up the parameters as you see fit.
While there is still plenty of time for new game modes to arise, what makes Portal such a blast to play is the opportunity to play a curated selection of maps using their original rule sets. Driving across the desert in the Battle of El Alamein, playing Rush on Arica Harbor, and diving into Caspian Border with Battlefield 3’s classes are some of the most enjoyable times I’ve had in Battlefield 2042. The main concern I have is whether or not the player base will be stretched too thin across all the different game modes — there’s a lot on offer here, and there are times when you’ll see plenty of bots fill in the empty spots on your team.
If there is one commonality between the different modes, it’s the presence of bugs and technical issues. Though it’s not quite at the level of Battlefield 4’s launch, it still detracts from the game. Patches have helped, somewhat, but my friends and I still encounter a pervasive bug that causes mouse and keyboard inputs to stop working. This will be improved in time, but it’s disappointing to see these issues all the same.
But that is to be expected of a Battlefield launch. If that was the only problem I had playing Battlefield 2042, I would be much happier with the game’s state. Yet design wise, it feels more confusing and at odds with itself than any previous entry in the franchise. Choices both large and small leave me wondering whether or not DICE has a plan for the series, as it currently seems to be stuck at a crossroads between its past and its future. Battlefield 2042 is a fun enough time, but DICE needs to work hard if it wants to take the unrefined ideas found here and turn it into something that feels like a worthy successor to the Battlefield legacy.