Review: Battlefield 2042

Posted 2 weeks ago by Jordan Devore
Battlefield 2042 review

Growing pains

Battlefield fans have been through troubled launches before, and while I hoped that things would be different for Battlefield 2042 as a multiplayer-only experience without a half-baked story campaign eating up development resources, it just wasn’t meant to be.

While DICE has nailed a sense of spectacle with tornadoes and sandstorms sweeping across huge maps with 128-player skirmishes, and there’s a lot to love about its Battlefield 1942, Bad Company 2, and BF3 revivals in the Portal suite of player-customizable modes, so many grievances are adding up to spoil this game. When the stars align and the game works as the designers intended, I like it fine — but I don’t love it, and with all of the hopes that this would be a confident step forward for the modern series, that really stings.

I’ve seen worse launches, but I expected better from Battlefield 2042.

Fire and ice in the frigid Battlefield 2042 map Breakaway

Battlefield 2042 (PC, PS4, PS5 [reviewed], Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
Developer: DICE
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: November 12, 2021 (early access) / November 19, 2021
MSRP: $59.99 / $69.99

When your hopefully tight-knit squad and your dozens of other teammates are out there supporting each other with objective capturing and defending, and the servers are holding up enough to keep the rubber-banding at bay, Battlefield 2042 is genuinely good fun. It can feel like the “big new take on modern Battlefield combat” you have in your mind’s eye.

Wingsuiting off the tops of skyscrapers, drifting along the dunes in a heavily-fortified hovercraft, rushing out of cover to pop an intimidating tank with explosives because it’s still one of the most satisfying thrills in multiplayer gaming — these are the moments.

Many of the things that make the Battlefield series special are present in 2042. But too many of them aren’t. It once again feels like we’ve taken a (temporary?) step back.

Without even going into the sprawled-out and too-empty map designs in Conquest (and to a lesser extent Breakthrough), or the arguably flawed “specialist” character system that has taken the place of the traditional Battlefield classes, 2042 simply feels rushed. As I said in my review-in-progress, even when I’m having a decent time, it can be so uneven.

I’ve noticed inherently better teamwork dynamics as the days have gone on, which is to be expected as we all figure out each map’s hotspots and fine-tune our loadouts with slow unlocks. That said, I feel like parts of 2042 are fundamentally at odds with how real-world players will use the tools — and newfound freedom — that’s available to them.

There are ways to play Battlefield 2042 that result in an engaging, thrilling, and surprising “I can’t believe that just happened!” FPS experience; it comes down to using the right weapon for the right situation and knowing when to be patient and when to take chances. You can do your best as a cog in the war machine, and you need to rely on other cogs, too.

On the flip side, there are a hundred ways to not play this game. I feel like that has been true of Battlefield before to an extent — you’ve gotta stick to the objectives and roll with your squad — but here, it feels like the onus is almost entirely on players to not be selfish.

Instead of naturally encouraging players to synergize and strategize, the game design seems too indifferent — as if the maps, modes, character roles, and equipment were built separately rather than in tandem with one another. In the worst-case scenario with up to 128-player firefights on PS5, PC, and Xbox Series X/S, you might be constantly picked off and spend a huge chunk of your time waiting to respawn — or run, drive, or fly — to the next point of interest only to immediately die again before getting even the most minimal lay of the land. The odds can feel stacked against you in Conquest like never before.

While it helps that you can pretty regularly summon vehicle air-drops even after you’ve deployed on the ground (as well as call in a freaky “Ranger” robot dog that runs by your side and takes potshots at god knows what), there’s no getting around the scope of All-Out Warfare in Battlefield 2042. There’s too much wasted space in the sprawl, and that feeling is exponential if you’re traveling on foot. I understand that there needs to be enough room for everyone’s antics with tanks, choppers, jets, and hovercraft, but too many of the seven All-Out Warfare maps at launch feel less than ideal. I’m curious if the solution might be to trim sections of these gargantuan maps or add more noteworthy locales to the barren areas. It’s hard to say for sure, but it definitely feels off right now.

Renewal is one of the seven Conquest maps at launch in Battlefield 2042

Plenty of Battlefield games have come out of the gate with clear flaws only for them to be addressed after launch, and while it can be dreadful in the meantime, they ultimately end up in a great spot when the dust finally settles. In an ideal world, DICE would come off of the last game and only build on its momentum to reach new heights we haven’t seen before. Instead, history keeps repeating itself with all-too-common problems we thought were ironed out multiple games ago, to say nothing of new-to-this-game setbacks.

It’s a combination of technical struggles, basic missing features like voice chat and a useful scoreboard, and an overall vision for the game that feels incomplete. Even though I feel like a lot of positive progress was made after the open beta, I’ve still had a rocky experience with the publicly available “one week early” version of Battlefield 2042. We’re in an era where it pays to hold off getting big new releases, and even from that it’ll-be-a-little-rough-at-launch mindset, this is a letdown for a $60/$70 multiplayer game.

Some of the issues — like buggy revives that make your teammates think you’re a total prick — could be short-lived. Other woes, like wonky mid- and long-range shootouts with certain weapons suffering from bizarre bullet spread, or poor UI decisions leading to a bogged-down and confused user experience, might be here to stay for a while longer.

There’s also the audio, which is usually an undeniable high point for the series — like much of the 2042‘s content at launch, it feels weirdly understated and barebones.

A soldier striking a funny pose during a sandstorm in 2042's Hourglass map

Originally, I was skeptical of the “hero shooter”-style specialists in Battlefield 2042, but the more I play, the more I’m at peace with them. Yeah, some of their unique gear-based abilities aren’t super useful (expect to see a lot of wingsuits and sentry guns), and it’s also tough to gauge who’s under- and overrepresented on your team in big battles. But I don’t think DICE needs to strip out or overhaul the specialists. Refinements can be enough.

The main thing you need to know is that you’re going to see the same faces again and again (at least until more specialists are added and more players unlock cosmetic items), which can be jarring. And even though a specialist might be classified as a healer, they can still bring in a sniper rifle, or C5, or whatever else on top of their healing syrette pistol. These named characters have a couple of unique-to-them perks to consider, but beyond these specializations, everyone can rock everything in 2042‘s All-Out Warfare modes.

At launch, I think seven maps is enough — or rather, it would be if I dug them all. I wish we had another main mode beyond Conquest (which I usually like but feels too unfocused here in 2042) and Breakthrough (which captures some of the same spirit and momentum as Rush but isn’t a complete replacement). If you’re bummed out by that lack of options, you’ll need to dig into Portal, which is where all of the custom games and legacy Battlefield experiences live. There’s also Hazard Zone, the third slice of 2042, but you need a good, communicative squad to stand a chance at staying alive, much less catching one of two rides off the map with your “data drive” goods in hand. I’m skeptical of its longevity.

I can see a passionate community forming around Hazard Zone, or I can see it petering out. If you want a more focused, intense, teamwork-oriented experience, try and group up with folks you trust over Discord, rather than randoms via matchmaking. There are some interesting progression choices (the idea is to perform well so you can afford better guns and gear in the next round, and it pays to have a hot streak), yet I can’t shake the feeling that this is a flavor-of-the-month answer to the battle royale trend. (Hey, at least it’s not Battlefield V‘s Firestorm.) Either way, it’ll be my least-played part of Battlefield 2042.

Revisiting the Battle of the Bulge with modern weaponry in Portal mode

Straight up, and I say this as someone who can still enjoy All-Out Warfare despite the many small and not-so-small annoyances, Portal is where it’s at. For some people, it’ll be the only attraction; for others, it’ll be just as important as the “real” 2042 modes.

If the Battlefield community comes out with great custom modes using the Battlefield Portal logic editor, by all means, go for it. I think folks will work wonders; they almost always do! But even if they don’t — or some of these wacky creations are too niche to support a full server — then at least we’ve got recreations of select maps and gameplay from Battlefield 1942, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and Battlefield 3. You can easily jump into these classic experiences via big menu banners, and the iconic classes, weapons, and gear loadouts are back. Even with just two maps per game, I’m already having a blast. There’s whiplash going from 2042 to these chaotic time-tested maps where you’re never more than 15 seconds from a cool setpiece moment or a satisfying shootout. It’s the norm.

If you don’t have nostalgia for the classics, I still believe you’ll have fun with Bad Company 2‘s Rush and 1942 and BF3‘s Conquest. These particular gameplay loops really hold up.

To be clear, I’ve had good times with pretty much every Battlefield, so when I say that Portal captures the magic again, I’m not coming from a rigid mindset where I think that DICE shouldn’t deviate from the old Battlefield formula. I like risk-taking within reason, I just think that right now, at launch, the classic games in Portal are generally tuned better than what’s in All-Out Warfare. If we can get Battlefield 1 content too, that’d be swell.

I would advise caution if you’re on the fence about 2042 and Portal is the only thing about to push you over — it’s still relatively limited as far as the whole package goes, and it’s unclear how much more legacy content will be added (and how far away it might be).

Looking down at the rain-soaked Kaleidoscope cityscape in Battlefield 2042's Hazard Zone

Aside from UI annoyances, hit-or-miss server woes that sound like they’re widespread on all platforms, and some draw-distance silliness with character animations, I’m satisfied with the performance on PS5 given the scale of everything. The escalating weather events look dramatic — especially as explosive player-led chaos is popping off in all directions — and the frame rate is as smooth as I’d want it to be. That counts for something.

It’s unfortunate that Battlefield 2042 wasn’t able to build off the mechanical highs (and lows) of Battlefield 1 and Battlefield V with a killer day-one release. This doesn’t feel like an extension of where those games ended up after lots of feedback and patches — instead, it’s trying out some new ideas and ditching a bunch more. I can’t fully wrap my head around it yet. I keep coming back to the notion that the near-future vision for 2042 was shaky, and that the ensuing game was rushed out for the holidays. I just feel it as I play.

I still support the decision to forgo a story campaign, and I’m okay with the more hardcore Hazard Zone mode potentially not panning out long-term. Portal is as fun as everyone hoped and expected, to the point where Battlefield 2042 would be dire without it. As for the main Conquest and Breakthrough modes in All-Out Warfare, they’re decent fun at best, and mildly frustrating at worst. Those staple unscripted “only in Battlefield moments” are still here — but they’re not nearly as prevalent as they should be.

All told, I’m really mixed on this game. With more time and testing, I think 2042 could’ve achieved the best of both worlds and resonated with fans who didn’t fully click with Battlefield 1 or Battlefield V despite their intense combat and immersive traversal. I suspect DICE will be able to make up a lot of ground in the weeks and months after launch (in terms of missing features, bugs, and hopefully some design changes), but that doesn’t excuse the current state of the game. It also doesn’t help the early players who have to try and work within these confines and quirks to have a consistently enjoyable experience.

Battlefield 2042 feels like it could become a cool game, but it’s tantalizingly out of reach today. There’s enough promise with the satisfying-when-it-works gunplay, large-scale chaos (that’s starting to feel more controlled over time), and fantastic legacy Battlefield content in Portal that I’ll stick around for a bit. It didn’t have to be this way, though.

[This review is based on retail builds of the game provided by the publisher.]

6

Alright

Slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.

Jordan Devore
Jordan is a founding member of Destructoid and poster of seemingly random pictures. They are anything but random.