Update & Verdict – 14 December 2021
Before we dive into the big stuff, can I just quickly say that I thought I’d eventually come around to 2042’s soundtrack – which is something I’ve had to listen to more than the devs probably intended because the servers take bloody ages to find a match (possibly because players are leaving in droves). But yeah – this is the most muteable music in recent memory. DICE shot for ‘gritty’ and hit ‘screeching metal irritation’.
Secondly, that earlier consternation I had over the uneven, unconvincing tone of this supposedly near future, dystopian title proved to be well warranted. I routinely cringe at the repetitive post-match quips my specialists make. The less said about the forthcoming Santa skins, the better.
More importantly and while DICE has indeed smoothed some bugs and balance oddities out, ridiculous things persist that should never have been present in a major AAA launch. The lack of adequate scoreboarding, decent matchmaking and dedicated servers obviously spring to mind. Those are usually forgivable (and fixable) with a timely patch and a patient playerbase. DICE isn’t seeing that sort of leniency, however, not when all the aforementioned issues are paired with bizarre changes to the fundamentals of the expected Battlefield experience.
Basically, the more hours I spent with 2042, the more it felt like I was fighting through an interactive identity crisis. Complexity seems to be under assault here – so many legacy mechanics (think: infantry maneuvers) and creature comforts have been needlessly stripped away from the previous titles.
Likewise, the decision to limit the arsenal and gadget slots makes for a ho-hum progression path, too. I’m still not convinced the individualism enhancing Specialists route works better than ye olde Class system. Mind you, I may have warmed to it better if there were better ways to communicate effectively with a squad of fellow individuals.
That being said, even the most talkative and tactical infantry team in the world still won’t be able to strategise their way safely through the many flat, flavourless no man’s lands in these maps. At first, I thought it was just me, but no – cover truly is in woefully short supply and certain vehicles (looking at you, hovercraft) are crazy OP. Like, “you can glitch-drive these up skyscrapers and roadkill all day” levels of broken. The current meta is also ridiculous – SMGs will wreck you at a considerable distance, even if you have right of way/benefit of surprise with an assault rifle or DMR.
More and more, I find myself retreating from the unimpressive 2042-era content for the stability and finer crafted fun in the Portal mode when locked to OG Battlefield content. The old gunplay, gear, map designs and some actually impressive destruction/levolution just feel superior when compared to the new offerings. Likewise, being able to replay those beloved locales with crazy max player numbers is a dream come true.
That’s not a perfect dream, though. Those pesky hit reg inconsistencies still intermittently crop up, plus the distance effect of enemy footfalls are wildly inaccurate. Also, the fact that DICE has now said that I can no longer progress unlocks or playercard options in Portal (thanks, XP farmers!) makes me feel like I’m just spinning my wheels here.
At the end of the day, I really wanted to dig Battlefield 2042 and had planned to stay in these trenches for months. Unfortunately, as time has marched on it feels like this is a sequel of muddled ideas that looks positively barebones when compared to the greats that begat it. It’s basically a flawed vision that was too ropey for a 2021 release. For me, the one saving grace is the Portal experience. For most of you, I’d say wait a further six months, at least, for a lot of patching to take place.
Original review in progress follows
Featuring the largest battles seen in the franchise, thanks to a whopping 128 player count, Battlefield 2042 should be nothing less than a sure-fire success. After all, it’s made by a talented developer who’s been at the helm of its own franchise for 20 years. Furthermore, Battlefield 2042 runs on the vaunted Frostbite engine – an abominable beast with the power to give even the pickiest graphics whores chills.
That being said, when this sequel got boots on the ground with its beta, well, let’s just say some laces were left untied. A few stumbles later, several thousand keyboard-based drill sergeants – potty-mouthed ones, like the late great Lee Ermey – took DICE to task. I wasn’t one of them. But it has to be said that when I deployed into this review code, I did so with my rifle (and one eyebrow) cocked.
For starters, let’s situate you into this battlefield proper.
Battlefield 2042 Review
DICE’s near-future is, worryingly, exactly where humankind is headed, unless some of you turn off your damn airconditioners. Resources are scarce and armies are sort of cobbled together masses of disparate folks with a common goal: survive by taking the other guy’s stuff. Doing so while avoiding the odd cataclysmic smackdown from Ma Nature, is also preferred.
The new, Rainbow Six Siege-like specialists represent an evolution of the team-based gameplay that is a hallmark of the series. DICE insists it added a new dimension to the core experience and allow for squads – which probably should have also ballooned with the max player count, but didn’t – to mix ‘n’ match playstyles.
Technically speaking, each specialist has a DNA line to those classic Battlefield classes, but are more of a category for a particular type of gameplay role. Each specialist comes with a speciality trait that may only be used by them that defines their usefulness. There aren’t too many surprising game-changers here, and I felt like one or two of them felt like “specials” that really ought to belong to every player by default. Case in point: the wingsuit.
Personally, I kept gravitating to Angel. Being him allowed my homies to edit their existing loadouts on the fly. I could also call in parachuted ammo resupplies that ensured we could control the positions we wanted (and keep filling heads with lead). What can I say? I’m just a giver.
Every other class seemed perfectly functional but not especially game-changing. The only major balancing issue we had was with Dozer, aka The Shield Guy. Everybody in these 128 player matches seemed to find a natural equilibrium with the specialists and gear on offer, but it wasn’t long before Turtle Boy was recognised as OP to the point of broken. So much so, a gentleman’s agreement had to be struck after a few matches – just nobody pick him. (Editor’s Note – our other review event attendee found that some well placed C4 could stop Dozer in his tracks.)
Looking beyond special abilities, you can obviously freely choose what gat, chuckable pineapple or secondary gadget you want. I messed around with a wide array of specialists, though, in the pursuit of keeping competitive, I only got proper hands-on with 8 of the 10. Which is a damn sight better than the 4 that beta players got to sample.
Speaking of the beta, I did see some improvements to the user interface and menus, but they’re still not quite where they need to be. On the plus side, there was clearer identifying HUD elements for tracking friendlies, foes and a more customisable ping system that made for way better strategising in our squad of four.
On the downside, the handling of one’s four types of gun attachments feels clunky and unintuitive at present. I also think stat crunchers will find themselves wishing for more in-depth data on what characteristics are being changed. And hey – it’s also weird that you can’t tweak your stuff during the long queueing moments for match start. Why am I twiddling my thumbs when I could be tending to the needs of Gladys? That’s my pistol’s name. (Editor’s Note – Your pistol’s name is Charlene!)
Speaking of the attitude adjusters, it’s great to be packing bleeding-edge tech again, though only on paper. It’s a damn shame that the armoury feels so bare at the moment. The world of 2042 must absolutely be going to shit in terms of resources because the quartermaster only gave us access to 4 or so guns per archetype.
I also found – and it seemed to be a pretty common complaint amongst attendees – that default recoil for most of the semi/full auto guns was pretty nuts. These broncos can be somewhat tamed with mods earned via much levelling and time in the trenches. But yeah, expect quite the rifle butt rodeo, right out of the gate.
Progression-wise, DICE’s approach for earning XP is to shower riches on people who play the objective and stick together with their teams/squads. Player level is determined by your overall progression with no separate levels tied to class, and a variety of badges and other cosmetics can be earned for mastering your vehicles and other tools of violence. I was given the keys to everything in the goodie box. There’s some cool stuff to shoot for.
When it comes to milking you for more, Battlefield 2042 will have a battle pass for seasons that will provide free and premium content to ensure the playerbase sticks around. DICE says it’ll be pushing the narrative of this world forward, however, I didn’t feel a huge amount of connection to the wider conflict here.
Don’t get me wrong; the specialists quip a little in the post-match and have decent battle-bantz that offer a sense of who they are. The world around them isn’t really expanded upon beyond a general in-match sense that is: “we’re all fighting over crumbs while Gaia is taking a random wooden spoon to us because we’re brats.” Rinse, repeat shallow scenario.
When it comes to modes, I spent a decent amount of time playing the main ones on offer: Breakthrough, Conquest, Hazard Zone and the history-pretzeling lunacy that is Portal. The first, Breakthrough, puts you in the classic role of either attack or defend. Aggressors have to hold three objectives per sector to secure it, at which point attackers can start conquering sectors (but with limited tickets to do so). Conversely, defenders can suffer infinite losses, but – in many of my experiences – said lives often end quickly as you get spawn-killed to buggery by snipers and helis.
I’d play Breakthrough again, but it wasn’t my favourite. I feel that the introduction of more than two capture points makes pushing as the attacking side quite difficult. In our session, we never once saw defenders walk away with the wooden spoon.
I should also like to mention that many of the map designs sure don’t feel as infantry-friendly as previous Battlefields. Expect to leg it across your fair share of large, coverless no man’s lands – a marathon that shall often come to an ignominious end when you see the (now absurdly obvious) glint of an enemy sniper rifle.
At first, I thought that topographical shift was just me – some sort of trick of the memory – but our server was teeming with Battlefield veterans who remarked upon it as well. Furthermore, by the time our sessions rolled around to using the classic maps, via the Portal mode, it became bleedingly obvious that cover really has been swept away by those tornadoes of 2042.
While I mention those: wind at its most deadly can be a super fun, kinda rare wildcard to use. When horribly outnumbered and flanked, I whipped out my wingsuit and got flung high and far to safety. In another instance, I backed my fat arse tank into one and effectively used it as a moving means to obscure my presence and keep pesky C4 throwing soldiers off my case. Bottom line and not to give away my A-games: there are a variety of clever, table-turning tactics to be discovered here.
Moving on, there’s good old fashioned Conquest. For you newbies: that’s two armies going the tonk, gaining and holding sectors until one side’s reinforcements counter empties. The only major switch up here is 128 players, and I do have to say what’s most likely obvious: those extra bodies do make for extra chaos.
There’s not really too much more to say about this expected mode. Conquest is pretty much as solid as it ever was – though this was the day when many of us experienced some lower than expected performance. A mate and I were running Ultra settings on basically the same specs (think: i7-8700K and a 3070 Ti Founders Editions). In the early hours, we were both plagued with an issue that indicated we were getting 60-ish fps when it was feeling like 40 odd. Fortunately, DICE worked some background magic, and the remaining days were experiences of solid 80+.
All that being said, I still have fond Conquest memories from the maps with quick use zip lines to either whip yourself up to overhead gantries or laterally between rooftop to rooftop. I also found a decent mod setup to tame my AK into something OK. Mind you, I do believe (at this point in time, at least) that the DMR is king.
Mode number three was Hazard Zone, a PvPvE extravaganza that provided the most intimate and intense squad experiences of the bunch. The basic gist: get shown a map of five or so sites, each of them with vague indicators of likely AI enemy resistance and the presence of precious data drives. Interestingly, specialist types can’t be duplicated, data drives locations must be “divined” by somebody carrying a fandangle telescope, and kills are chump change in the face of extracting the drives via a dust-off dropship. As you’d expect, that “last train” draws rival squads into close quarters, like murderous piranha-sardine hybrids.
It’s highly likely that this is the mode I’ll play the most. I love the considered pre-game prep work involved as your squad tries to cover each other’s weaknesses. I dig the risk and reward of picking your looting sites in terms of likely gain versus the natural strategic challenges of the terrain. Also, the intensity of the extraction phase never gets old. Especially when your designated “loot mule” wingsuits from a crane into the cargo bay of the osprey, like Batman, as you light up his would-be pursuers.
The cherry on top of all that: this mode comes with its own currency metagame that assigns value to the data drives. I can see myself getting hooked in a “one more” match loop, chasing yet more hazard zone-specific bucks to score increasingly effective gear. The greed here is good. Losing your shot at more moolah by getting team wiped (again) by some AI using their OP, mini-gun equipped 4×4… less good.
Last but not least, there’s Portal. Excuse the Valve reference, but this is the DIY mode that lets you would-be game designers have your cake and eat it too. On the one hand, being able to knock together a bunch of disparate elements from the Battlefield games I’ve loved over the decades, from 1942 to the present, sure sounds great. Likewise, the finite degree of control you have over every single piece of equipment and ruleset of your cobbled together scenario is truly impressive.
Furthermore, there’s the brilliant convenience of being able to slap all of this together from an out-of-game web portal, and then share it with the world. Who knows? DICE may even select your weird idea to be featured in their curated Community offerings list. I’ve yet to play something in this mode that didn’t start out being fun and novel, before quickly devolving into an unbalanced, purgatorial reminder that game design is, nine times out of ten, best left to the professionals.
Here’s a quick example: we had a match that basically revolved around killing the opposing team’s randomised VIP. The creator was clearly hoping for something zippier and CoD-like, plus randomising starter weapons, no health regen, no enemy gun pickups and fast movement. That could have worked had they not also made it that one team had WWII era pop guns and the other Battlefield 3’s armaments. For those of you new to the franchise, that’s about 70 years of pew-pew evolution.
Honestly, it was a bad first impression of the potential pitfalls of era cross-pollination. I daresay the majority of Portal use will be geared towards the simple recreation of modernised “remasterings” of fans who want to replay beloved Battlefields of yore. I sure love all that old stuff, but much of Portal feels like an opportunity wasted. Here’s hoping some creative, madman genius proves me wrong and builds something truly mindblowing.
Speaking of downsides, I think the framework for one big blast of a Battlefield is here, however, it’s pretty apparent that this grenade needed more time to cook. If you tried the 2042 Beta, I’m thinking that’s not going to come as much of a surprise, either.
My team and I experienced a small laundry list of bugs. Weird crashes that would banish one of us at a critical moment. Also, matchmaking errors related to the crossplay option, overlong queueing moments, getting stuck on the map screen during the first spawn, vehicle loadouts not applying in-game. The more annoying ones: crucial ammo resupplies not dropping, not being unable to rez allies for no discernable reason – the bizarre decision to remove detailed scoreboarding – the list just goes on.
More importantly, in terms of gunplay, there are those issues with both recoil and spread patterns with the so-called near-future weapons. So much so, it felt like joyful relief whenever we got to go back to using the shooters from legacy Battlefields. Those peccadilloes need to be taken with the fact that helicopters are a bit too plentiful, way easier to operate and are generally far too difficult to bring down.
All in all, the aforementioned are wrinkles that I was surprised to find un-ironed in review code that’s had the benefit of a public beta, passionate fanbase feedback and decades of learning.
On the topic of learnings: I honestly feel that I need some more under my belt before passing verdict on Battlefield 2042. Long story short: the roughly 12 hours I was offered across 3 days wasn’t enough to fully gauge what’s here. To make matters worse, chunks of that allotted review time got eaten away by Q&A sessions, verbose presentations and the odd technical hiccup that ground the entire process to a halt.
Essentially, I’m going to spend a few more days in the trenches to get a better handle on what appears to be, at the time of writing, a promise-filled yet obviously imperfect sequel. Hopefully, my observations and anecdotes will have, at least, given you some intel on what awaits those of you who wish to get Oscar Mike ASAP. Let’s regroup on my position in a few.
Adam Mathew attended an online review event as a guest of EA. A digital copy of Battlefield 2042 was provided for this review.