Battlefield 2042 Review
Not going the distance
Battlefield is struggling to keep up. The shooter franchise should be running lockstep with Call of Duty, just with more time between releases and a different arsenal. But the games have been inconsistent. New entries almost start afresh, losing features that were in previous iterations. Battlefield 2042 drops more features than ever before. It also changes the franchise significantly, with twice the player count, specialists instead of classes, and no campaign. But the oldest games in the franchise lacked a campaign too, so this omission could have been a net positive: giving the developers more time to add multiplayer content and reduce bugs. But neither has occurred. Battlefield 2042 is in a poor technical state and its content is underwhelming. And if this was not enough to dissuade players, the game has balance issues, weak map layouts, and clunky gameplay that holds back an experience that is too rarely like the Battlefield of old.
Battlefield 2042 finds itself in bad weather often
Battlefield 2042 changes its traditional structure to become a hero shooter, complete with characters that have silly one-liners. The four traditional player classes have been replaced with ten specialists, but there are still squads of four players in all online modes. According to the lore, the specialists became dissociated from their respective nations and are called non-patriated. And in this war, between US and Russia, these ‘no-pats’ fight on both sides. It is a poor way to explain what is a franchise chasing the hero trend.
The ten specialists still lean into the traditional class roles. Each specialist has a trait, like explosive damage resistance, and a fixed gadget, such as deployable cover. Some provide the team with intelligence, via a spotting drone or the ability to tag enemies through walls. Two others fill the classic support role, being able to revive any soldier and then either heal or give ammo. Then there are a few aggressive types, one has a wingsuit and another has a grapple. The setups are not that far removed from the classes of yesteryear, just in a different package, with some influence from other shooters.
Every specialist can equip one additional gadget, available to all. These gadgets are typically the same ones from previous Battlefield games that were locked behind a class: anti-tank launcher, mines, ammo crate, AA rockets, repair tool, etc. This allows players to double-down on their specialist role or mix it up. Put a med crate on the spotting drone and heal teammates from range. Place a spawn beacon atop a skyscraper and glide across the map with the wingsuit to die in a failed attempt to destroy a tank, and then try again. However, the gadget balance is uneven, because both the anti-tank and anti-air rocket launchers are consistently the most useful. With some tweaks, the setup could be as good as the classes of old. At least there is a lot of flexibility and most specialists are fun to utilize.
Using the wingsuit is pretty fun at least
All specialists can equip any weapon, along with a grenade and a pistol of their choice. Overall, the gunplay is clunky. General combat actions are unwieldy, like swapping weapons, equipping gadgets, or throwing grenades, and getting caught on the world is too common. Most guns feel okay when it comes to actual shooting, although there is not a huge variety. Weapons can be customized, but unlocking attachments is slow and unsatisfying, and there are only four gun parts to modify. Individual parts can be equipped via the menu, like normal, and added to a new ‘plus’ system that lets you swap them out during the action. It takes too long to unlock things in multiplayer and many are unexciting. To unlock attachments quickly, you are better off playing against bots.
Before jumping online, 2042 does bring bot match back for players who prefer to take it easy. Their AI is fine, and they even take cover and strafe, although they ignore basic requests for health or ammo, like some real players. When you’ve had enough target practice, there are four ways to play against real humans. 128-player matches can be found in either the Conquest or Breakthrough modes, and both involve territorial control. Hazard Zone drops the player count to 32 and combines battle royale sensibilities with the hunt for data drives. These three modes can only be played on seven new maps, which is a disappointing number, even if they are large. And finally, there is Portal, which is a little slice of older Battlefield games and customized experiences.
Dynamic weather is a feature of the new maps. The most prominent event is a tornado that moves across levels and sweeps infantry off their feet. This tornado does not appear every match and its path is random. Although the associated rainstorm effects are impressive, the wind at the tornado’s base does not produce much destruction. After seeing it a few times, it just becomes something to avoid. The only other extreme weather event is a sandstorm, found in one map, which changes the lighting and reduces visibility. Battlefield 1 had a better implementation of dynamic weather (with fog and rain) and the tornado in 2042 is mostly just a gimmick.
Map layouts are too open with big spaces between objectives
The new maps flow poorly in Conquest with 128 players. The levels are enormous, and the flags are far apart. Renewal is a flat open map, and it only has the same number of flags as Gulf of Oman, from Battlefield 2, despite having far more land area and more players. Breakaway is one of the best maps due to elevation changes and flag structure, but it could fit the entirety of Caspian Border, from Battlefield 3, in one of its unused corners. This might be why some sectors have flags clustered to facilitate infantry battles. Usually there are only a few good clusters per map, like the stadium in Hourglass or the beached tanker in Discarded. The upside is that you can spend the entire match in one place and have a decent time, but it is such a waste of space.
Travelling between flags is often not worth the effort. Even if you make it there, many enemies will spawn in to kill you while you wait within a tiny objective area that takes forever to neutralize. And so teams naturally bunch together, while the rest of the map is a barren wasteland that no-pats fear to tread. Vehicles congregate where the infantry are fighting too because they get easy kills around the perimeter, especially when the horrible spawns dump troops out in the middle of an open field. It is disappointing that on such big maps, with so many players, the distribution of action is poor and going on foot is ill-advised unless the entire team is pushing together.
There are not enough transport vehicles because every Conquest round starts with dozens of players running across the great expanse to the first objective. Capturing flags does not spawn allied vehicles, like in the old games, and neutral vehicle options are limited to a few coffins disguised as pickup trucks or tuk-tuks. Allied vehicles get taken quickly from the spawn screen, so piloting a tank or chopper is rare when there might only be a few of each. Ground vehicles can be dropped into the action via a handy call-in system, although they are not always available.
Choppers rarely get tired of killing infantry to focus on each other
Vehicles dominate infantry often. They persist because of an auto-heal system that makes the repair tool unnecessary. It is possible to remain in a vehicle for a while, if you have a proficient gunner and some ground backup. But if the other team is halfway competent, piloting one (especially aircraft) into the action could result in endless lock-on sounds and a swift death. With more players, the vehicles are tuned to endure more pain but this makes them overpowered in micro skirmishes and untenable in hectic areas. And since vehicles are a huge part of Conquest, which has uneven soldier distribution, the mode struggles to find its balance.
Breakthrough is more chaotic than Conquest, but at least it is consistent. It is the equivalent of Rush with more players. The attacking side must hold two flags at the same time before the next sector is opened and they do it all again. With 128 players fighting over just two capture points, the action is incomprehensible and ridiculous. The attackers can endure many deaths too, so it is typical that the game progresses through a few sectors via attrition, which is probably better than some Rush games in Bad Company 2 but not always more fun. In any case, Breakthrough is a mindless meat grinder and only tolerable when you are doing the grinding.
Hazard Zone is a quieter experience that only involves 32 players. The action takes place over the same seven maps, but every squad (of four) is out for themselves, and if all squad members die, it is game over. Only one of each specialist type is allowed per squad. Before the game begins, players can buy weapons and gadgets with currency earned from previous attempts. The goal of HZ is to find data drives and then extract them via aircraft. A scanner can tag drives, even the ones that other players are carrying. Some areas are protected by AI soldiers that are easy to kill, but the act of shooting makes your presence known. Dead squad members can be redeployed, but this action alerts other players too.
Extracting can be quite satisfying in Hazard Zone
Although it is rare to successfully extract, the lower pace of Hazard Zone is a good reason to keep trying. There is calmness when your squad moves through desolate areas, and it allows players to enjoy the map ambiance. It is a decent mode because it focuses on survival, infantry combat, and intimate teamwork. But your squad can die quickly and it can take a long time to get back into a game, due to long matchmaking times and the extra preparation stage. With some tweaks, Hazard Zone could be a strong addition to the franchise.
Portal is where you go to remember what Battlefield used to be like. The mode has six maps from three older games in the series: Battlefield 1942, Battlefield 3, and Bad Company 2. The maps for BF1942 have had significant visual upgrades and added destruction. Actually, the first thing you will notice about Portal is how much complex destruction is in these levels compared to the new maps. These old games are typically more enjoyable than 2042 because of careful vehicle balance, class interplay, infantry focus, and tight maps. 16v16 Rush on Valparaiso (BC2) plays better than 64v64 Breakthrough because the action is coherent. The downside of Portal is that, with just two maps per game, it gets boring fast if you have already played the old titles to death.
Portal is not just for reliving the glory days, as it has custom modes. Try the zombie infected mode for light entertainment or consider the 64-player versions of the new maps. The newly released BF3 vs. BC2 TDM mode is excellent and it makes it more apparent that 2042 needed to emphasize infantry battles and slow down its pace. There are quite a few servers running hardcore rules, reducing health and removing the mini map for a classic feel. It’s a pity many servers are designed for XP farming and that Portal’s current XP rewards have been limited to counter it. While Portal has potential, there are lots of underpopulated servers and it might be hard to get exactly what you want.
Portal showcases destruction that should have been in the new maps
Regardless of your chosen mode, bugs can make for a horrid experience and they are found everywhere. The technical side is not as bad as Battlefield 4 was at launch, but it is still quite grim. You might not be able to revive a teammate in Hazard Zone because he fell through the map. Allies show up as enemies and the HUD can show the wrong information about gadgets. The spawn screen might not even let you select a loadout. A revive bug means you are stuck in a downed state, until you quit the server, and plenty of enemies froze in an action pose on death. Ragdolls get stuck in walls and there are so many clipping issues with soldiers. Even shooting and crouching might temporarily stop working. Some work behind the scenes has already reduced the frequency of the horrible rubber-banding movement lag. There is still work to be done, but things are moving in the right direction.
The user experience will take more time to fix. There are many missing features compared to the previous games. There is no scoreboard with all players listed. In fact, there is no scoring system at all, just XP. And it has no feedback on vehicle damage, infantry damage, or heal amounts. There isn’t even a crude stats page. Squad features are lacking too. There is no way to set objectives via the map overview or even zoom in on the map. You cannot create squads, join a specific squad, make them private, or do any of these basic things that have been in the series for ages. The game does not have voice chat, which hurts the most in the Hazard Zone mode. The ping/spotting feature is still ineffective, like it was in Battlefield V. And aside from Portal, there is no server browser, so if you join a game without enough players to start, there is no indication of how many are connected or how long you must wait. With all the bugs and missing features, 2042 has done the franchise a disservice.
Typically Battlefield has been a visual and audio treat, but it is a mixed bag this time around. The audio side is underwhelming, as battles sound muted or oddly balanced, with quiet vehicles and loud footsteps. Even music and character voices are out of place. On the graphics side, the game has great draw distance and decent textures. The rainstorm effects are good but without variation, and the random tornado looks cool. Interiors are often poorly lit or bland, although the latter helps with target acquisition. And as mentioned, the new maps lack dense and meaningful destruction. Despite these underwhelming visuals, the game has mediocre framerates during intense combat, no matter what settings are used.
Visual presentation is not great considering the performance
Battlefield 2042's debut is disappointing, and it is not just because of the technical issues or missing features. There are some deep gameplay problems relating to map design and vehicle balance. Many originate from the increased player count and map structure. That is not to say there is no fun to be had. The specialists are not an improvement on classes, but they are interesting to use in different ways and still promote teamwork. The tiny sections of maps that are built for infantry battles can be intense, in a good way, when the forces are matched. Many key elements of the series are still inside Battlefield 2042, but they’re often too far off in the distance for it to matter.