Battlefield 2042 Review
Battlefield 2042 moves the franchise back to the future after a pair of entries set in the past. The year is, you guessed it, 2042, and climate change has led to severe food and water shortages, igniting a catastrophic refugee crisis. There’s nowhere for the refuges to go, as even the richest, most developed nations are feeling the pinch of the climate crises. These refuges become none as the Non-Patriated, or No-Pats, since they are without a country to call home. When the worsening crisis leads to war between the US and Russia, both nations fight the war with mercenaries instead of their own people, supplying Non-Pats with the latest weapons and tech and sending them off to do battle.
This is pretty much all the story that you’ll get behind Battlefield 2042. It’s not developed beyond providing enough story for a background trailer, but since there’s no campaign or any single player focused content it really just serves as a reason for pitting American machines of war against their Russian counterparts. Pretty much all that you need to know is that t’s Americans versus Russians in near-future combat and just go with it.
Battlefield 2042 features three modes of play, and when you connect to the game’s servers the first thing that you’ll do is decide which of these that you want to play. The first mode is All-Out Warfare, and if you’ve played Battlefield games in the past this will be the one that’s most familiar to you. It consists of two match types, Conquest and Breakthrough, which are both objective-based battles between two teams of up to 128 players each. In both modes, the maps are divided into sectors which each consist of a couple of objective points. If a team captures both points within a sector, it captures the sector. In Conquest, both teams have a limited number of respawn tickets. If one team captures a majority of the sectors, the ticket count of the opposing team begins to drain. A team wins when the opposing team has run out of respawn tickets. Breakthrough designates one team as the attackers and the other as the defenders. The attackers must capture sectors by controlling all of the control points within a sector When they do, they capture the territory and the battle moves to the next sector. In this variant, the defending team has unlimited respawns, but the attacking team has only a limited number. For the attacking team to win, they need to capture all of the sectors before running out of respawns.
Not surprisingly, since the maps in the game are designed for 128 players they’re huge. The variety of environments is impressive – not just between the maps, but within a single map as well. Within the course of a match you may find yourself fighting in open fields or broken desert terrain, mazes of shipping containers, and the tops of huge skyscrapers. These large maps come at a price, though. There’s a lot of terrain between the objectives, which means there’s a lot of terrain to cover between the objectives. The map sizes look impressive, but in practice they are too large, even for 128 players. You’ll spend a lot of time in empty space trying to get somewhere where there’s some action. One of the maps even features a long tunnel between sections that you don’t want to have the misfortune of spending the minutes it takes to get through on foot.
Vehicles certainly help with that, but the limit on the number of active vehicles of each type is set too low. Trying to spawn into a vehicle is like playing the lottery, and at times it seems you win access to a vehicle just as often. Battlefield 2042 lets you call in vehicles from the field, but these vehicles are drawn from the same pool as those at the base spawn point so they’re rarely available.
The large maps also mean that very little of what occupies them is destructible. I’ve spent at least a little time with most Battlefield games in the series and 2042 strikes me as one of the least dynamic games in that regard. Sure, you can knock over a streetlight with a vehicle or pockmark the ground with some explosive craters (and to be honest, I’m not even sure if those are persistent), but you can’t use a tank to lay waste to the cover being used by a squad of enemy infantry. Even the random weather events added to the maps – sandstorms and tornadoes – don’t leave a mark on the map. And frankly, the maps are so large that actually getting caught by the tornado is a rare occurrence. I played the game for over a week before writing this review and never once got close enough to a tornado to be threatened by it.
The game uses specialists as opposed to character classes, with the only real difference between the specialists outside of their skins is the unique piece of gear they carry into battle. Some are mobility-focused such as the grappling hook and wingsuit, while others like the sentry gun are more offensive-minded. Any specialist can select any loadout – the four loadouts being assault, medic, engineer, and sniper kits – which makes it a bit difficult to know what your squad is bringing into the battle unless you’re chatting with them using a service like Discord because surprisingly there’s no in-game chat in Battlefield 2042. Furthermore, you can edit any loadout to change the weapons, gear, and lethal, so there really, really aren’t classes in the game. Oddly enough, the default sniper kit includes the vehicle repair tool rather than the engineer’s kit, so you’ll probably want to edit the loadouts right away unless you want to play as a sniper who follows vehicles around rather than sniping. While weapons can be customized with attachments, there are very few weapons available in each weapon class and it will take you a while to reach the level requirements to unlock them all. Be prepared to spend a long time wielding the same weapon before you can try something new.
Another odd design decision is the lack of any kind of scoreboard or statistics report after a battle. The game is obviously tracking extensive stats as evidenced by the post-match MVP awards and squad ranking, but all that you’ll ever see is one stat line for yourself and four squad aggregate totals. And the stat the game decides to provide you with seems pretty random. Why would it decide to report that you led your squad with one revive when you did so much else in a battle?
You can still have some fun in Conquest and Breakthrough in Battlefield 2042, but it seems that the game’s new additions are not completely thought-through or don’t really bring much to the game. And these additions came at the cost of some of the things that really made Battlefield enjoyable in the past.
Battlefield 2042 adds an additional mode, Hazard Zone, that’s new to the series and that is accessed from a separate matchmaking menu from Conquest and Breakthrough. Hazard Zone is a team-based mode in which squads of four compete with each other to collect hard drives from fallen satellites, and then successfully extract from the map with those drives. There are two map-wide extraction opportunities, and if a squad missed both they lose everything that they’ve gathered. There are also no spawns in this mode, so when a member is downed a squadmate needs to revive them before they bleed out. You can also find team redeployment items that will let you call all fallen teammates back into the game. If the whole squad goes down, though, they are eliminated from the game.
In addition to enemy squads, you’ll also have to contend with AI-controlled forces that tend to patrol the areas around downed satellites, but also move around the map in vehicles. The AI is more challenging to contend with than you’d probably guess – one way to determine quickly whether you’re facing an enemy squad or the AI is that the AI soldiers are significantly better shots. The matches in Hazard Zone are played on the standard maps, and the reduced player count makes for a lot of time spent on your own, even with the addition of the AI forces.
After a match, each squad is awarded Dark Currency based on their performance, with the most going to any team that successfully extracted while carrying drives. Dark Currency is what’s used to purchase weapons and equipment before entering a match, so success in one match begets success in the next.
There’s room in Hazard Zone to experiment with a number of different strategies and loadouts. Some basic approaches include using mobility to grab drives quickly before the other squads, using firepower to farm currency through AI kills, or using a defensive team to set an ambush at the extraction point and collect the drives from fallen players. This all requires a good degree of communication to be successful, which means the players who will do best in this mode are those who match-up beforehand and communicate throughout the match on Discord or some other similar channel. Relying on matchmaking to team you up with random players who you can’t communicate with will often just lead to frustration – will struggle to get on the same page as much as you struggle against the other teams. There’s some fun to be had if you do manage to put together a squad that can work together well, but even in this case Hazard Mode feels more like an occasional diversion than something you’ll spend a significant portion of your Battlefield 2042 game time with. At best, Hazard Zone will probably prove to be a niche mode. I just don’t see it becoming anyone’s primary mode or generating enough interest to remain a significant mode over Battlefield 2042’s lifetime once everyone’s given it a shot and the novelty wears off.
Battlefield 2042’s final mode of play is Battlefield Portal. The purpose of this mode is two-fold, the first being to give players the chance to play classic maps from Battlefield 1942, Bad Company 2, and Battlefield 3, all given a graphical overhaul to take advantage of today’s hardware. When you play these matches, you’ll find everything remains faithful to the original games – classes, weapons, and even capabilities such as being able to go prone. The experience that you earn playing these matches will be applied to your overall player level, so while you won’t get any progression benefits in Portal, when you return to Conquest or Breakthrough you may find that you have unlocked access to new weapons or equipment. I enjoyed playing all of these modes, their gameplay has stood the test of time and they each feel unique from each other. In fact, I found that I had more fun playing the throwback modes than I did Battlefield 2042’s signature Conquest and Breakthrough modes, which is an indication that the changes that Battlefield 2042 brought with it don’t quite work well enough to move the franchise forward in a compelling direction.
The real power of Portal, beyond reminding you that some older Battlefield games are more fun to play than Battlefield 2042, is that it allows gamers to build their own game modes and share them with the world. Anyone with an EA account can access Portal’s web-based tools and use the interface to select which classes, weapons, vehicles, and everything else that are allowed in the mode. Mode designers can select these not only from Battlefield 2042, but from Battlefield 1942, Bad Company 2, and Battlefield 3 as well. Want to see how World War II allied forces would have fared against modern Russian forces? You can do that. Want to level the playing field a bit by arming the Russians only with pistols? You can do that, too. The tool goes beyond that, though, offering access to a powerful rules editor that allows you to change the nature of the game. I had the chance to watch a developer create a mode in which players were armed only with rocket launchers and had to jump five times to reload it, and he was able to create the mode have it ready for player in a matter of minutes.
Of course, powerful tools do not necessarily lead to good mode design. The rocket jumping mode was novel, but the novelty wore off quickly. At launch, Portal is featuring a mode created by CouRage called VIP Fiesta. This is a World War 2 versus modern forces game in which each team is given a VIP assigned at random that the other team must eliminate to score, and in which you spawn into the game with a random loadout. Frankly, this mode feels unbalanced and uninspired, and a couple of matches were enough for me. The tools provided are powerful enough, though, that given time there will certainly be more interesting game modes available through Portal.
You can find player-created modes through a server browser, but the information that you’re given for each one is somewhat limited so you’ll have to jump in to see what each one is like. Players will be able to rate the creations that they play, and supposedly the developers will highlight the most popular creations in the future. While you can unlock achievements while playing Portal modes, only those blessed by the developers will earn you progression XP. Keep that in mind when you see a server listed as an “XP Farm” or something similar.
Before I get to the really bad news, let me give you a little background on my time spent with the game. I played it on PC during the three-day press early access event, and then over the course of a week on an Xbox Series X once public early access began. For the most part, the press access period went smoothly. There were some connection issues, but it seemed that at least some of these issues were related to the nature of playing on a server with limited access and the developers worked on them in real-time. The transition to public early access did not go smoothly, though. It took two days before I was able to connect to the game service with any consistency, and even after that I would be put in a match only to be kicked back out to the menu when the countdown timer reached zero. I expect these issues will be eventually ironed out, but there may still be some rough times ahead when the game goes into full release.
Unfortunately, the game’s issues are not constrained to connectivity. There are still plenty of bugs, and some of them occur with such regularity that quite frankly they should have been discovered and fixed a while ago - I encountered some of the bugs on both PC and Xbox, so they are platform-independent issues. I’ve fallen through the bottom of the level geometry on more than one occasion, left falling through space as I watch the battle recede into the distance above me. Luckily a redeployment will get you back into the fight after that happens. On several occasions after being downed, the bleedout timer has gone straight to zero and left me with no option other than to leave the match entirely. This one is particularly frustrating because you could have put twenty minutes into a match and then lose all of the experience that you’ve accumulated in that time. You’ll suffer a similar fate if the game crashes on you as well. There is a myriad of other frustrating bugs, such as not being able to select a loadout at the start of a match, spawns that drop you next to enemy soldiers, and a whole host of other annoyances I won’t take the time to catalog at the moment. Suffice it to say that the game isn’t ready for launch – it’s at the level of an early beta build at best.
Battlefield has had some shaky launches in the past, and there’s no reason not to think that things will eventually be smoothed over in Battlefield 2042 over time. However, Battlefield 2042 is also weighed down by design issues and missing features. You’re going to want to wait on this one, and even then give some though to skipping this iteration in the series.
Final Rating: 58% - A strategic retreat is in order.
Note: A review code for this game was provided by the publisher.