‘Battlefield 2042’ review: love cannot bloom on this battlefield

Battlefield Portal could be the only glimmer of light for franchise fans

The Battlefield franchise has always been about finding your own fun. That’s important, because with Battlefield 2042, it feels like the game itself is working hard to cut as much away from the game as possible, offering up a game crammed with weird new systems that feel like they’ve been shoehorned into a franchise that, really, doesn’t need them.

After 12-15 hours of playtime at the private (digital) review event held by EA ahead of the game’s release, I said in my review in progress that it was hard not to view Battlefield 2042 as one of the year’s biggest disappointments. I’ve softened on this and, with the servers full of Battlefield fans and after some time on with the progression system, I think it’s playable, but still a huge misstep for the Battlefield franchise.

At the simplest level, Battlefield 2042 just feels like a chore. Customising loadouts is hard work, getting your hands on a vehicle is hard work, working out what you’ve unlocked is hard work. You’ll spend a lot of the time trying to escape death by helicopter as the skies are full of them, but if you aren’t careful while running away from them, you’ll be killed by hovercrafts, a “light” vehicle that still has enough armaments to single-handedly invade Iceland. Elsewhere, every gun in the game is, well, a bit shit and the only way to resolve this is to get kills with them to try and earn the attachments that will make them slightly better.

When the game works – and occasionally, in spite of itself, it will – it’s hard not to enjoy the sheer “Battlefieldiness” of the whole experience, giggling with friends as your little AA tank trawls through skirmish after skirmish, shooting down helicopters and fleeing the “real” battle tanks that can very easily put a hole in you. Similarly, when it sheds these bizarre additions, and you can play the traditional class-based Battlefield in the Battlefield Portal, it works. It really really works.

Indeed, before I get on to everything that doesn’t quite work right in 2042, it is worth giving a shout to the graphics, performance and sound for being solid. It’s a stunning game – and performs well at 4K on my machine no matter how many explosions were going on, probably the result of EA skipping over ray-tracing and instead including Nvidia’s DLSS rendering tech. While it’s not common to get caught in Battlefield 2042‘s weather effects directly, it does look the part, and whatever complaints I do have about the game, looks aren’t part of it.

Battlefield 2042 tornado
Battlefield 2042. Credit: EA.

With that praised, it’s time to touch on the most heinous crime of Battlefield 2042 – the removal of the class and loadout systems, both replaced with Specialists instead. These Specialists are grouped, loosely, into the classes of old: Mackay, a character tooled up with a grapple hook and a baseball cap nice enough to appear in an episode of Succession, is technically an Assault, for example. However, every Specialist can equip every weapon, gadget and piece of equipment.

As a result, Mackay isn’t really an Assault. He’s a man with a grapple hook, and so he can be played by anyone that wants to use that, whether that’s equipped with an assault rifle, light machine gun or anything. That means that the class-based multiplayer that’s at the heart of Battlefield is eroded by this, as 30 people with grapples run into every fight, often equipped with a kit designed to give them what they need: that sniper on a nearby mountain can now take ammo with him, resupplying himself until the heat death of the universe. Suddenly, instead of a team of people surging forwards, ammo bearers tossing out supplies as medics follow at the tail end, reviving fallen players, you have 128 disparate players (64 on last-gen consoles) all charging around doing their own thing.

Every operator in the game has their own ability and while I didn’t rate them at the review event, with a bit of time I’ve come around to them. My favourites are Boris, who has a little turret that is more effective when he’s close to it, and Sundance, who has a pocket full of different grenades that will recharge over time. One of these grenade-types is a brutal anti-vehicle smart grenade, which has managed to come in clutch on a number of situations. Still, it feels like yet another concession to letting every character play every role, even though specialists all have differing strengths. Was this what we lost a class system for? It feels unnatural and the game design resists this, like Battlefield itself is trying to throw off the hero-shooter cloak EA has thrown over it.

Sadly, the heroes seem to be added for the benefit of the new headline mode, Hazard Zone which feels like the futuristic war-skinned version of Hunt: Showdown that no one was clamouring for, and fails to do enough at any point to break out of that mould. Here, your end goal is to make a stack of credits, so you have as much money in your account as possible to let you buy the best gear. In Hazard Zone you’ll queue up with four people and then buy a loadout with credits, before dropping in to a repurposed multiplayer map to try and hunt down data drives against several other squads, while AI soldiers act as a tiny speed bump to your plans.

Battlefield 2042
Battlefield 2042. Credit: EA.

Get these data drives and your surviving squadmates into one of the helicopters that lands at random points for extraction, and you’ll get out of there, get a bunch of credits, and a refund for the items you took in. Die – which is pretty likely, based on our squad’s experiences –  and you lose everything.

As you can imagine, this means it’s very easy for you for players who are dominant in their earlier games to snowball out of control, especially as each successive extract means they can equip even more

It’s overly complex compared to Battlefield’s usual explosive fare, and I’m not sure if it’s a worthy addition here. Death comes pretty quickly as the time to kill is low, and you’ll basically be avoiding getting caught between two groups and picked apart. The difficulty is that when you do smash it and seize victory, you just get a slightly larger pile of credits. On the flip side, when you lose you have to fight through tons of different screens and admin to get back in. So, when you win you get nothing worthwhile – but when you lose it’s miserable.

Get past Hazard Zone and the Operators in general, and you have to fight with several other systems that seem to be a weird fit: weapon customisation is awkward. You can change stuff in-game on the fly which feels like it’s another concession to letting players have all of the power without having to specialise at all. I don’t really use it, and I’m not sure if many players will down the line – but it does theoretically allow you to carry around a rifle with 3 different sights, or the opportunity to attach a silencer or flashlight on the go. This means you can chop and change to cover up any shortcomings so that you can be carrying a close range weapon and long range weapon at the same time, with just a couple of button presses to switch between both.

battlefield 2042
Battlefield 2042. Credit: EA

If you don’t fancy this, customising your weapons (and the cross system itself) is an exercise in pain. The menu – and all menus in the game, really – seems like it’s been precision engineered to be as confusing as possible. To my shame, I spend hundreds of hours a year playing multiplayer shooters and navigating the rolling tide of upgrades in each of those games. It shouldn’t be as difficult as it is in Battlefield 2042. 

The new Battlefield mode, Breakthrough, feels like a worse version of Battlefield Bad Company‘s Rush mode, with the two bombs replaced by two capturable points. Snag both of these and you’ll capture the sector, while the enemy will be pushed back. I quite like this, although it’s hard to play it and not just… think about the superior Rush mode. It mostly suffers because in Battlefield 2042‘s Conquest and Breakthrough modes, vehicles are both incredibly powerful and remarkably numerous. I’ve seen the start of a Breakthrough round have 4-5 helicopters in the sky ready to attack, and when even a Hovercraft will take 2-3 rockets to reliably destroy, having to fight off pairs of them every couple of minutes grates quickly.

You’re often not even limited to grabbing these from back at the spawn, either. Tanks and other vehicles (and stupendously powerful robot dogs with machine guns bolted to their back) can be called down when available from anywhere in the field. This means rooftop defence points will often have a Humvee called in on the roof, minigun watching the skies for aerial invaders. Again, it feels like the game never wants you to have all of the options all of the time and just keeps ceding power to you.

The shining light at the moment seems to be the Battlefield Portal, which is good enough that it makes the game almost worthwhile. Battlefield Portal allows you to make your own game modes. They all tend to be a little sillier, and function well as a sort of warmup / cooldown for 2042‘s more intense battles. A quick blast of gun game doesn’t feel like Battlefield, but it’s a passable enough way to spend the time.

Battlefield 2042 beta dates
Battlefield 2042. Credit: EA DICE

In fact, given enough time it’s not hard to believe someone in the community will create something so popular that becomes what Battlefield 2042 is known for – just as DOTA was born from Warcraft 3, or PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds came from (sort of) ARMA

In reality, the big selling point right now is the semi-complete remakes of Battlefield 1942, Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 3 contained within. Battlefield 1942 feels like how I remember Battlefield 1942 feeling, with the 2042 engine providing smoother movement, punchy shooting and the graphical grunt to have sand kicking up as I drive Panzer tanks around the desert.

Again, Bad Company 2 is flawless: it’s a solid remake and apes the movement from Bad Company 2, so there’s no ability to prone and you can no longer strafe to the sides. The only disappointing part is that it’s not a full remake, because it feels far and away like the best part of what we’ve played so far.

Unfortunately, these are still so fun at this stage that it just throws some of the issues with the game in general under the spotlight. While 2042 is quite a frustrating experience, all of these pain points melt away as you toss TOW missiles at humvees in Arica Harbour. The group I’ve played with during the launch weekend all had their own problems with the game – all of those complaints stopped playing the earlier games, which it would be easy to notch up as a win for Nostalgia except for the fact that Bad Company 2 launched 11 years ago, and I was the only one that had really played it before.

The worst part – at this stage – is that Battlefield 2042 is the game that’s appeared, rather than full remakes of Battlefield 1942, Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 3. All of which feel just as good as they did back in the day, easily going toe to toe with today’s shooters. If EA wanted to bring back the weapons and maps from every Battlefield game back into Battlefield Portal and sell them as DLC, they’d make a mint.

Sadly, while these are iconic shooters from a once-legendary shooter, Battlefield will be best remembered as an example of how not to make a Battlefield game.

Battlefield 2042 is out now, if you’re willing to pay enough money. For everyone else, it’ll release on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, the Xbox One X, Xbox One S and Xbox Series X & Xbox Series S on November 19. PC version tested. 

The Verdict

Battlefield 2042‘s biggest problem is it tries to deliver power to the players at the expense of everything else. However, when every player is exceptional all of the time, the end result is that everything just appears altogether ordinary. Beautiful graphics and some incredibly well-done remakes of earlier games can’t stop this Battlefield from being a disappointment.

Pros

  • Beautiful graphics and weather effects
  • Deep and faithful remakes of Battlefield 1942, Battlefield Bad Company 2 and BF3
  • Interesting map-design

Cons

  • Terrible guns
  • An abundance of vehicles
  • Hazard Zone is dull and unrewarding
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