After a slate of disappointing releases, DICE returns to deliver a Battlefield title that’s touted as a proper successor to the immensely popular Battlefield 4. Sadly, while Battlefield 2042 looks to evolve much of the series’ framework, it buckles under the weight of its lofty ambitions. The result is a game that has potential to be decent down the line, but remains disappointing in its current state.
Battlefield games have always been about the all-out warfare experience that rival series Call of Duty lacks. Massive open maps with tens upon tens of soldiers using varied loadouts to complete objective based modes. That’s all here and more in Battlefield 2042 with its mainstay mode even borrowing the moniker of ‘All-Out Warfare’. This mode sees classic modes like Conquest and Breakthrough return on a set of 7 original maps. They’re all designed to host two teams of 64 players, a new high for the series.
Not so Special(ist)
Where previous titles used classes to balance its gameplay systems, Battlefield 2042 now uses Specialists. These are a set of 10 unique characters that all possess unique gadgets and abilities. Some are movement based, like Mackay who can use a grappling hook to reach new heights. Others are more team oriented, like Falck who can heal teammates from a distance and revive them with larger health pools. The new system has clearly been designed around the new live service which will deliver new Specialists as seasons progress.
However, the Specialists are a far less satisfying system than the classes that preceded them. For one, some of them are far less useful than others. For example, Rao is a Specialist that can hack enemy systems to gain intel on their positions. However, that requires him to sneak up close to an enemy to perform a hack, something that you’ll find is rather tricky. His abilities are trumped, then, by Casper’s remote control drone which can perform similar functionality while letting its pilot remain safe behind cover. In addition, not all Specialists allow for collaboration among squads. Sundance’s glide ability is great for quick traversal, but offers little in terms of teamplay. They’re antithetical to Battlefield’s DNA.
Specialists present other new issues to the table, too. As they aren’t team specific, that means enemy teams can appear exactly the same as your own. It can be quite tricky to ascertain whether the person you’re firing at is friendly or foe without looking at the orange dorito dot above their head. Overall, the Specialist system is reductive and takes the game’s format several steps backwards.
More than it can chew
Another area where Battlefield 2042 takes a step backwards is in its map design. Battlefield has always been about war on a massive scale, but it turns out there is such a thing as being “too big”. Of course, this drastic increase in size is down to the 128 players that now roam each match. While an impressive spectacle, the result is actually harmful to the gameplay experience.
Due to the map sizes expanding to accommodate more players, games never actually feel anymore chaotic than they did with 64 occupying players. So what’s gained? Well, expect to be doing lots of running between objectives. It’s rare for transport vehicles to spawn nearby objective points, so the massive distances between objectives feel painfully long without any action. In addition, the massive spaces feel rather bare. Even building interiors feel basic and unlived in. For a game that’s extremely pretty from afar, closer details are surprisingly ugly. Destruction has also seen a step back with barely any walls and buildings crumbling as you’d expect them to.
Burn baby burn (GPU inferno)
The biggest detriment of Battlefield 2042’s ambition is its performance. It doesn’t matter what sort of PC you’ve got, Battlefield 2042 runs atrociously in its current state. With an i9 CPU and an RTX 3080 graphics card (full PC specs are listed at the end of this review) I was barely able to scrape a constant 60fps at 1440p. When the epic weather events roll in, things only get worse – and as suspected, the tornados are merely a spectacle that only infuriates the gameplay experience.
I suspect that the poor performance is directly down to the game trying to keep up with 128 players on the server. Turning graphics settings down from Ultra to Low only sees marginal gains of around 10fps for an image that looks drastically worse. The Battlefield community has a few fixes out there that involve modifying game files, but it’s unacceptable that players are expected to investigate this off their own backs.
The sluggish frame rate impacts the gunplay significantly with weapons feeling heavy and unwieldy to shoot. Battlefield 2042 sports an exceptionally long time to kill, meaning that enemies often feel like bullet sponges soaking up needless damage. There’s a disappointing number of weapons in the base game, too – a mere 22 including sidearms. Shooting is the number one activity you spend doing in games like these, so when even that’s unsatisfying it’s hard to remember why you’re playing each match in the first place.
What’s frustrating is that Battlefield Portal, 2042’s secondary mode of play, is a shining example of everything that’s wrong with All-Out Warfare. Portal is DICE’s answer to custom servers which were the backbone of the community in the days of Battlefield 3 and 4. It allows players to create and host their own custom game modes, and the tools are amazingly extensive. With a collection of remastered classic maps and weapons, I think that this mode is what most players will end up reverting to.
As it stands, there are a few curated experiences that place players in classic game modes from Battlefield’s history. There’s one that simulates classic Conquest in 1942, another with Rush from Bad Company 2, and finally one that recreates Conquest from Battlefield 3. All of these experiences modernise these classic games while retaining some of that legacy nuance. For example, the ability to go prone has been removed in the Bad Company 2 mode, just like you couldn’t back in the day.
All of the classes have been retained, although everything is unlocked from the start. While this was probably mandatory for the sandbox nature of the mode, it’s disappointing from a progression standpoint. XP earned in Portal currently does not contribute to your overall account level too, so be aware that you’re mostly here for the raw fun aspect rather than for a goal to work towards.
Grenades aren’t the only thing undercooked
However, outside of the curated modes from DICE, there’s not a great deal to enjoy in Portal. At least if there is, it’s near impossible to find any decent matches. The curation experience is frankly awful. At the moment, the server browser is currently flooded with XP farming servers that contain ridiculous rulesets against AI bots. If you’re looking for servers with genuinely decent settings, you’ve got to dig through the server browser filters, and even then there’s no guarantee that you’ll strike gold. Portal is severely lacking a sort of community upvote system that suppresses that junk and highlights the best.
The worst thing about Battlefield Portal is that it exposes plenty of the issues with 2042’s All-Out Warfare mode. The base maps can be used to create custom content and, funnily enough, they perform miles better when there aren’t 128 players running around. What’s more is that the remastered classic maps highlight that the Battlefield formula still works just as well, if not better, with 64 players on tighter maps. It’s frustrating to have a tangible demonstration of how good Battlefield can be while in the same breath also being offered something that misses the mark so drastically.
I wish I could stop there with the issues that Battlefield 2042 presents, but the list sadly continues. Audio is usually an area where DICE excels, presenting a soundscape that’s indistinguishable from something out of a war documentary. The quality of sound effects aren’t necessarily an issue here – whizzing bullets, explosions and humming vehicles are all recorded in exquisite detail. However, positional audio is currently broken beyond belief. It seems that you can hear just about everything within a 50m radius, and it’s near impossible to pinpoint where any of it is coming from. That’s with the audio setting changed to the 3D audio headphones, too. Footsteps in a container that’s 30m east of you can sound as though they’re basically in your pocket. It’s an incredibly confusing experience.
What’s also confusing is the UI design. The neon teal colour scheme makes it difficult to tell whether options are activated or deactivated. If they’re tricky for an able-bodied person to understand, then the game is an awfully poor show for accessibility. Colourblind options and rebindable controls are present, but the decision to make menus stylistic over functional is a huge misstep.
Beyond design errors, there are also plenty of features that Battlefield 2042 is straight up missing. In a game that’s designed around community and teamwork, there’s no VoIP integration. This forces players to either squad up with friends in Discord or rely on text chat while playing with randoms. A ping system is present, but it’s nowhere near as extensive as something like Apex Legends.
In addition, there’s currently no functioning scoreboard in the game – you can only see your squads contribution. This all seems like it’s contributing to DICE’s efforts to cultivate an inclusive community, but it’s a lukewarm means to an end. That goal can be achieved through proper game moderation, not by removing staple features entirely.
Hazard what now?
The lack of voice chat is particularly noticeable in Hazard Zone, the third tentpole of the Battlefield 2042 experience. This mode sees several squads infiltrate one of the new multiplayer maps in search of data drives located in fallen satellites. Squads are working against each other to collect as many data drives as possible before extracting. Successful extractions will earn you credits which then lets you play again with better gear.
It’s clear that this mode is what the Specialists were intended for with each squad only allowed one of each character. While an interesting twist on a Battle Royale-esque formula, it’s not one that I can see sticking around for long. The rewards players earn simply aren’t worth the high-risk stakes you enter when playing Hazard Zone, and the feeling of losing progress is gutting when you take home nothing.
Is Battlefield 2042 worth your time?
After spending time with each of the three modes in Battlefield 2042, none of them are worth purchasing the game for in its current state. All-Out Warfare loses focus of what makes Battlefield games fun and feels lethargic to play. Hazard Zone feels like an afterthought that’s merely included as a box-checking exercise. Portal shows the most promise, but mostly serves as a bittersweet reminder of how great the series once was.
There’s a sliver of hope that Battlefield 2042 could be marginally redeemed by its live service. But as it stands, DICE’s latest offering is a huge disappointment after being touted as one of the year’s most anticipated games. You’re far better off turning your eyes to some of this year’s other shooters, or even turning back the clocks to Battlefield 3 and 4. Those are far more ‘Battlefield’ than 2042 will ever be.
Code was sent to GameByte by EA PR for review purposes.
Tested on a PC featuring:
Intel i9 10900K Processor
16GB 3600MHz Corsair Vengeance RAM
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Video Card
[Featured Image Credit: Activision]