Battlefield 2042 marks the return of EA Dice's military first-person shooter franchise in a near-future setting. Whether it can live up to its predecessors, however, is a question with no clear answer.
It's been three years -- nearly to the day -- since the launch of the previous game Battlefield 5. The franchise has spent the last several years quite literally in the trenches with Battlefield 1's focus on World War 1 and Battlefield 5's focus on World War 2. Now, Battlefield 2042 returns us not only to a modern setting -- it's taking us into a near-future where hundreds of millions of people have been displaced due to worldwide catastrophes.
I went hands-on with the game at a multi-day remote press event in the lead-up to its Early Access launch. My first few hours with the game were promising, but I had a lot of unanswered questions. After spending 33 hours (and gaining 29 levels) during the Early Access period, I've come to the conclusion that it's going to take a lot of work to get Battlefield 2042 up to par with the previous games.
Battlefield is as Fun as Ever
The core mechanics of a Battlefield game are all there in Battlefield 2042. There are ground and air vehicles, a decent variety of weapons (albeit a less robust selection than some might like), and the same great Conquest and Breakthrough gameplay that longtime veterans of the franchise love.
That's not to say there have been no changes, mind. New to this franchise is the introduction of Specialists, a replacement for the traditional Class system of earlier games. Gone are the faceless soldiers with names like "Recon" or "Support" -- now you'll choose to play as the medic Falck, the defensive expert Irish, or any other one of the ten Specialists on offer.
At first glance, everything seems great. Wiping out a squad with a well-aimed frag grenade or blowing up a tank with C4 (or rather, C5) is as thrilling as ever. Gradually, the fun was tempered by an escalating series of disappointments.
Cracks in the Foundation
An online-only, AAA game rarely launches without some kind of problem and Battlefield 2042 is no exception. I first played the Early Access version of the game roughly 15 minutes after it was released and things seemed fine, but that was at 3:00 in the morning.
Map rotations weren't the only thing missing in action -- several core Battlefield systems are present but with fewer features.
All hell broke loose later in the afternoon. Battlefield 2042 suffered the first of what would be many server outages. Players would be plagued by vague error codes with no description, although they did have meaning -- the game you just queued for wouldn't start. It often took several tries to get into a game. If you did manage to get in, you may find yourself confronted with seemingly random (and rather severe) input delay or find yourself completely unable to die after being downed, forcing a restart of the game.
This was exacerbated by the first of many missing features compared to previous titles: upon completion of a game, you get punted back to the main menu. Gone are the days of blowing an entire evening playing with the same group of random people on multiple maps. This lack of continuity also means that you run a higher risk of playing the same map twice. In the most ridiculous cases, I found myself cursing whatever map happened to show up for the fourth or fifth time in a row.
Map rotations weren't the only thing missing in action -- several core Battlefield systems are present but with fewer features. You cannot truly form a new Squad; instead, you can only move to another one. There is no built-in voice chat whatsoever, and that means you have to rely on the ping system.
Unfortunately, the ping system feels janky as all hell -- for some reason, pinging an enemy soldier or vehicle would also leave a waypoint on the screen. It's particularly odd that the ping system was released in this state; they got it right in previous games. Furthermore, Apex Legends -- which is also published by Electronic Arts -- should have served as an example of how to do a pinging system right.
The lack of a traditional scoreboard with a kill:death ratio and other key stats are one of the many other ways that players are underinformed about their skill level. There is a lack of stat information in general -- a strange omission in an increasingly data-driven world.
Let's not forget about vehicles. I've loved piloting vehicles in combined arms games ever since I first experienced it in Battlefield 1942 and games with similar themes such as Starsiege: Tribes and War Rock. Battlefield 2042 has shipped with no built-in joystick or HOTAs support which meant that my joystick sadly sat on my desk collecting dust. I briefly considered using an Xbox controller emulator to get it to work, but I didn't want to run the risk of Easy Anti-Cheat booting me from the game -- and I doubt it would have worked as well as native joystick support.
Guns, Guns, Guns
Battlefield 2042's guns are a mixed bag. Even if you don't get confronted with a hit registration bug, some of the guns have such awful bullet spread that they're barely effective beyond 50 feet. It's no surprise that I observed players gravitating towards the handful of guns that didn't suffer from severe bullet spread such as the DM7 and the PP-29.
As with most modern multiplayer shooters, Battlefield 2042 features a progression system. The way this progression is laid out can only be described as haphazard. On some guns, you'll unlock a suppressor after only five kills. On other guns, you'll have to get dozens or hundreds of kills to unlock a suppressor. The same absurdity applies to sights, ammo, and underbarrel attachments.
The oddly-paced progression is silly in its own right, but it gets worse when you look at the barrel attachments. There may be two suppressor designs, but they effectively have the same stats. That means that you might have to unlock a functional attachment and what amounts to a cosmetic variant or two before you can actually get to the attachment you might want.
On some guns, you'll unlock a suppressor after only five kills. On other guns, you'll have to get dozens or hundreds of kills to unlock a suppressor.
I was also confronted with the question of which gun was the best for my playstyle. Unfortunately, I found no easy way to get an answer -- there's no built-in firing range or any way to test out the guns before you've actually unlocked them. This is a problem considering the fact that you have to invest time with a gun to unlock its attachments and get it set up the way you like. You'll have to get to around Level 30 to even hit the halfway mark on gun unlocks, and the final unlock is all the way at Level 60.
Venturing Into the Hazard Zone
I wanted to experience a little bit of everything in Battlefield 2042 and the new "Hazard Zone" game mode was one of the things I was most excited about. Combining the point-buy system of Apex Legends Arenas and the scavenging/PvPvE gameplay of Escape from Tarkov, Hazard Zone represents one of the most ambitious departures from what has traditionally been offered in a Battlefield game.
In Hazard Zone, you and your three companions are one of eight squads attempting to secure as many Data Drives on the map as possible and successfully extract. There are only two opportunities to make it to the Condor and get away with your spoils. Succeed, and you'll earn Dark Market Credits for each Data Drive you've secured (and a refund on the gear you bought, too). Fail to extract or get wiped out and you'll lose everything save for the Dark Market Credits that you earn from killing NPCs and enemy players.
Unfortunately, Hazard Zone is the perfect arena for showing why communication in a game like this is essential. The weak ping system combined with the lack of voice chat meant that text chat was the only option -- not an ideal choice in the middle of an intense firefight. I am unlikely to play it again until voice chat is in the game or I go in with a full premade squad.
Even when things do work well, there isn't much of a point in investing serious time in this game mode just yet. Hazard Zone has its own sort of sub-economy with Dark Market Credits which are used to buy guns and equipment prior to every round. You could earn thousands of Dark Market Credits and it's all for naught; there's no cool rewards or cosmetic skins to spend them on, nor are there any significant accolades to earn save for a handful of achievements or the occasional Tag or image for your Player Banner. It works well in concept, but Hazard Zone needs some kind of rewards for players to work towards.
Thinking With Portals
Hazard Zone isn't the only promising addition to Battlefield 2042 that falls short of its potential -- the Battlefield Portal can provide you with a variety of novel ways to play the game, albeit with some limitations.
You can't set map borders, place objective markers, or tinker with the mechanics at anything other than a surface level.
The Portal is effectively split into two halves: recreations of older Battlefield games and custom games cooked up by the playerbase alongside one or two highlighted custom games that were approved by EA Dice. The first week offered up VIP Fiesta, a game mode that pits Battlefield 1942 soldiers against Battlefield: Bad Company 2 soldiers in a battle to become the first to kill the enemy VIP 15 times. It's fun for what it is and ends up being surprisingly well-balanced, a testament to the solid shooter mechanics of the franchise.
The player-made games, as one might expect, vary wildly in quality and playability. Gun Game and Infection variants are popular, as were high-ticket or "hardcore" (that is to say, without a HUD and/or with different gun mechanics) gameplay modes.
I nonetheless saw a surprising amount of creativity on display from people who have barely owned the game for a week. I'm sure I would have seen even more impressive stuff if it weren't for the fact that the Portal Editor is woefully restricted. You can't set map borders, place objective markers, or tinker with the mechanics at anything other than a surface level (such as by giving a soldier three Gadgets and a pistol). These custom games will fail to be truly revolutionary until the Portal Editor is allowed to spread its wings.
Everything Old is New Again
Mind, user-made games are just half of the equation. The Battlefield Portal also features content from past Battlefield games, starting off with Battlefield 1942, Battlefield 3, and Battlefield: Bad Company 2.
Ironically, the opportunity to play these facsimiles of older games in the Battlefield franchise also serves to highlight the missteps of Battlefield 2042.
It was interesting to see Battlefield 1942 in this new engine, but it's been ages since I've played it and it is but a distant memory now. Battlefield 3 and Battlefield: Bad Company 2, on the other hand, were the source of many a wasted evening in my youth. I particularly enjoyed jumping back into Bad Company 2 -- boot up a game of Rush and I'm instantly catapulted back to a decade ago.
Ironically, the opportunity to play these facsimiles of older games in the Battlefield franchise also serves to highlight the missteps of Battlefield 2042. There is no comparable experience to the massive tank battles of El Alamein in the core of Battlefield 2042. The better building destruction of Bad Company 2 is lacking in the newer game. And as a veteran of Battlefield 3, I sorely miss the infantry-focused maps such as Metro -- a source of dozens of hours of fun.
Battlefield 2042 Review - Final Thoughts
After spending a fair amount of time in Battlefield 2042, I can say that it ultimately fails to make the most of its ambitious design. Even so, I still think that Battlefield 2042 can eventually realize its vision and become one of the better shooters on the market.
Problems such as the oddly-paced progression for weapon attachments are probably not too difficult to fix. Other issues such as the lack of HOTAS support or the ridiculous bullet spread might take a little more work. Many of the more serious issues -- such as the disappointing lack of building destruction -- may take months to sort out (if they're fixed at all).
Despite all of these problems, I still believe the Battlefield formula works and that this game could be great. I had a lot of fun and will continue to enjoy it in the coming months. Battlefield 2042 will be a fantastic first-person shooter one day, but that day is not today.
TechRaptor reviewed Battlefield 2042 on PC with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.
- The Battlefield Formula Still Works Well
- Specialists Abilities Are a Fun Change
- Loadouts Provide a Lot of Flexibility
- Older Battlefield Portal Games Add Variety
- Completing a Game Returns You to Main Menu
- Weapon Attachment Progression Makes No Sense
- Hazard Zone Feels Unrewarding
- Portal Editor Lacks Robust Programming Options
- Key Features (Such as Voice Chat) Are Absent at Launch