Battlefield 2042 review — An identity crisis

Battlefield 2042 is full of irony. This franchise has focused on small squads working together within larger battles since its creation, but 2042 gives you two assault specialists that can zip around better than anyone else and the rest of the squad can’t keep up. There’s a new mode that’s all about cooperation. 2042 will launch with no voice chat. There is an exciting, new custom games creator. People use it to create their preferred way to play. Battlefield 2042 is chaotic and barren. It’s liberating and constricting. It’s a team game and feels like a solo shooter. It’s buggy. There’s no ‘and’ to go with that. This modern war shooter has an identity crisis and that has created a Battlefield that isn’t worth checking out at launch.

All-Out Warfare is the premier mode that allows a whopping 128 players to fight in enormous maps in two different gametypes – Conquest and Breakthrough. Take Conquest, Battlefield’s staple zone capturing mode. Because of the increased player count, instead of capturing one zone per area, DICE sensibly came up with “sectors.” Sectors can have two capture points per area and in order to bleed the other team’s reinforcements, you have to take all the points in the sector first. Sectors are supposed to spread out combat, but they’re actually more frustrating because people don’t know where to focus. The maps are too big and the sectors are too spread out. Running through every map is daunting. I often experienced analysis paralysis when I looked at the map and wondered where I should go. If I stayed in a zone, there’s not enough people to help defend it and it’ll take them too long to get back if they wanted to. If I leave, someone will certainly capture the point and I won’t be able to get back quick enough. And by the time I approach a new point to capture, my team will have probably captured most of it, making the trip a waste of time.

You can call in vehicles to help reduce travel time but now you’ve contributed to a bigger problem: too many vehicles. Ground vehicles and aircraft constantly invade firefights, unlike previous Battlefield’s where there would be some reprieve after enough vehicles were destroyed. Sure, it’s fun to be inside a vehicle, decimating everything in sight, but being on the other side of artillery hurts, and the hurt never stops when you’re the ground forces. Thankfully, you can’t air-drop a vehicle whenever you want as that would certainly be unbalanced, but the effort to compensate for the bigger maps is already lopsided when anyone can air-drop a vehicle. The solution to the sector and vehicle drop problems would be making the maps smaller and disabling vehicle drops or, at least, making vehicle drops non-weaponized transport vehicles. I know this would work because people are creating this solution in Portal.

Portal is Battlefield 2042’s custom games creator. On a separate website you can create your own customized gametypes based on familiar Battlefield modes. Customization can be as simple as changing how many teammates are on each side or how much damage guns do, or you can attempt more sophisticated ‘if this, then that’ scenarios with the logic editor. Sadly, you can’t edit maps and the logic editor is only available with Team Deathmatch and Free-for-All gametypes, but Portal has, thankfully, allowed people to create entertaining, and functional, alternatives to All-Out Warfare. I played a map that used the Conquest Small mode, which removes some zones and shrinks the available map space. Everything else native to 2042, including 128 players, stayed the same. But what was most interesting was that the creator disabled vehicles. It played wonderfully. Another version did the same thing but used Battlefield 3 classes instead. That felt even better. There was no shortage of action and while it felt chaotic, it wasn’t daunting. You could hightail it from point to point and squads worked together more often. I loved it, which is a damning problem for All-Out Warfare.

The whole idea of Portal is that it includes refreshed versions of Battlefield 1942, Bad Company 2, and Battlefield 3. Each of these classics come with two fan-favorite maps and several guns from their respective era with recreations of Conquest for 1942 and BF3, and Rush for BC2, all redone in the Frostbite engine. I never played 1942, and I’ve only played Bad Company 2 briefly, but I could still feel the nostalgia. It felt good playing with proper classes and getting a taste of what it was like to play these classics.

I am skeptical of how far Portal’s customization can go, though. I haven’t seen anything that mirrors the grandiose and wacky ideas Ripple Effect (formally DICE LA, who specifically created Portal) teased. They feature a game supposedly created by CourageJD that forces Battlefield 1942 against Bad Company 2 in a game of VIP and you’re assigned a random class. Interesting, but not very fun or original. Where’s knives versus defibrillators like we saw in the debut trailer? Where’s 1 Tank versus 20 duck-sized EOD bots, a gametype they hinted at in our review guides? Where are gravity-defying sniper matches (DICE didn’t mention that, I just want that)? Could I create that? Sure. But I wouldn’t know where to start since the tips included in the logic editor don’t give me enough detail to help me through more complex combinations. It’s incredibly intimidating, especially looking at the math section. However, those ideas should have been created and featured to inspire the creativity of the community. I have no doubt the community will create cool things over time, but not seeing these fantastic creations makes me believe that if DICE didn’t create them, maybe it can’t be done.

I wish we could have a user made version of Breakthrough, the other All-Out Warfare mode that’s unbalanced in different ways. Breakthrough sets one team as attack and the other team as defense. The attacking team must battle through one sector at a time before they lose all their available respawns. It’s a thrilling mode that is as wild and crazy as it sounds. It puts you right in the thick of exciting battles. It also removes Conquest’s gigantic map problems because all the players are defending and attacking within one sector. But it introduces a problem with specialists and it also suffers from too many vehicles. No one should be able to call in a vehicle when the combat is centralized on one sector and you can easily spawn in that location. But people do it because they can. It makes matches extremely vehicle reliant.

Specialists are 2042’s version of classes but they can enter fights with whatever equipment they want, minus the equipment and passives they permanently carry. That’s the problem when it comes to overall match balance during Breakthrough, particularly with vehicles. When I gear up for battle, I choose to carry an anti-air rocket launcher. Other players, however, don’t pick equipment that is meant to destroy vehicles, and they’re not encouraged to do so. There is too much freedom, so people prioritize what’s comfortable or what’s fun for them instead of what works for the situations in front of them. That generally means using first-aid kits combined with a favorite gun. But even if you do pick an anti-vehicle weapon, they don’t do enough damage to destroy most vehicles before you run out of ammo, so you have to hope that you’re in a lobby with people who care about taking out vehicles. That’s too big of an ask for matchmade Breakthrough.

That leads to another problem with specialists: they should be more like classes. In Battlefield 1942, the anti-tank class carried a bazooka and a pistol. There was no mistaking the purpose of that class. By giving specialists countless ways to use their equipment, no one specializes in anything. You have to figure out your role, weapons, and the specialist ability you like that’s within your playstyle. Normally I play as a medic and follow people into zones. That worked really well in Battlefield 4 since I could follow people around and keep them alive, but I could also be self-sufficient and capture points by myself. That doesn’t work in 2042. Number one: Specialists are so self-sufficient that it’s hard to keep up with squads because they’re spread all over the map. Teamwork is such a low-value element in 2042 that even if you’re the last person in your squad, there’s no message that lets you know. Number 2: I’ve never been a fantastic offensive player, so I look for ways to help others kill, stay alive, or capture points. I eventually found a role but it took a disheartening six hours to figure out what worked for me. Now I’m pretty much locked into that role until I feel comfortable finding new ways to meaningfully contribute to my team.

Teamplay aside, it’s enjoyable to play as some specialists. I like Casper. He’s a Recon specialist who uses a tiny drone to spot enemies on the battlefield and can detect enemies in his vicinity. He’s the most satisfying class to me since spotting enemies helps players focus and I can visibly see the difference I’m making. Then there’s the Sundance. She has a cool wingsuit that lets her fly over the map ridiculously fast and easily flank enemies. There’s also Irish. He carries drop shields that act as mobile waist-high cover, and an anti-ordnance gadget that miraculously blocks all kinds of explosives. Each of the nine specialists perform different functions but, strangely, no one specializes in blowing stuff up. 2042 could use that. Individually though, specialists can wreak havoc on an opposing team, but when squads work together, there is unquestionably great synergy. It’s fun to spot enemies with Casper’s drone and see a Mackay, who carries a grappling hook, respond to the spot by grappling towards the enemy and catching them off guard.

Specialists shine brightest in Hazard Zone, though. It’s a tension-creating, much slower-paced PvPvE mode where you drop into one of 2042’s maps and challenge six other squads of four in search for valuable data drives. No one can choose the same specialist which forces you to, at least, think about picking one that synergizes with the others in order to maximize the squad’s potential. You can pick Sundance and use the wingsuit but you’re going to be by yourself and open for ambushes. Hazard Zone makes much better use of the giant 2042 maps, too. Because it is limited to 32 players (24 on last-generation consoles), whatever cover is available isn’t overwhelmed by 124 other people, and the open space feels terrifying. During the review event, I didn’t run into a lot of players, which decreased the tension, but since the early access launch, there’s only a handful of times I haven’t run into players. It made matches much more exciting.

But it’s hard to communicate with your squad. DICE won’t have voice chat at launch and Hazard Zone is infinitely more difficult without communication. Hazard Zone is not just about teamwork, it’s about cooperation. Every person in your squad is interpreting all the given information differently. It’s too much to type in chat “I’ve been scanned” and then try to run down the plethora of options to counter. Why voice chat won’t be available doesn’t matter. It’s disrespectful to release Battlefield 2042 with a mode that requires communication without a means to adequately do so.

All-Out Warfare and Hazard Zone can also include giant tornadoes that tear through maps and are supposed to change the flow of battle, but they barely affect matches. They hardly show up and when they do, they rarely move through areas you’re fighting in. It’s just spectacle most of the time. They sound and look terrifying but you basically have to be standing inside the tornado before you’re sucked in and thrown around. It’s a disappointing addition.

There are a meager 22 weapons to unlock between All-Out Warfare and Hazard Zone, but on the bright side, they feel different from each other. I prefer the M5A3 because it’s so versatile, but I also like the DM7 for its ability to hit targets at long-range without the need for a sniper rifle. But something feels off about shooting. With the DM7, for example, you have to lead your shots at longer ranges, but I strangely have to lead my shots with a person that’s right in front of me. It’s the same problem for most guns, except sniper rifles and SMG’s. It might have something to do with the movement speed, which feels faster than other Battlefield games, but I shouldn’t be wondering why my gun isn’t hitting someone. It feels like a bug. They shouldn’t shoot like lasers, but it should be obvious how each gun feels after firing shots during a match that lasts around 30 minutes.

It’s unfortunate to say but Battlefield wouldn’t be Battlefield without bugs, and 2042 has enough of them to make you quit playing. I’ve seen my specialist loadout screen come up completely blank and I couldn’t tell what I was picking. I’ve loaded into lobbies where I can’t deploy. I’ve been unable to revive people, and I’ve been stuck in the revive state and had to quit to the desktop to get out. There are so many more graphical and sound bugs and it sucks more fun out of a game that’s already struggling to be fun.

Performance doesn’t help hide the bugs, either. I don’t think I have a pathetic computer (i7-9800X @ 3.80, RTX 2070, 32GB of RAM, installed on my SSD). Maybe I do. But any game I’ve wanted to run at 144hz, lets me do that, even if that means using low settings. I can’t reach 144 frames per second on low settings no matter what I try, even after an Nvidia driver day 0 update. If I try, performance drops to an average of 18 frames per second. DLSS doesn’t help at all. I can run high graphic settings at 60 frames, but it’s not locked, and I still experience screen-tearing with V-sync on or off.

Podcast Editor | [email protected]

Anthony Shelton hosts and produces the Gaming Trend podcast and creates opinion videos occasionally on YouTube. He carries some of the strongest opinions among the staff and is generally harder to impress. But if impressed, he sings developers' praises just as loudly. He typically plays everything except horror and most RTS, but genres he gravitates towards are platformers, FPS, racing, roguelikes, fighting, and loot-based games. He has quit Twitter and uses Threads. Follow him at iamashelton.


Below Average

Battlefield 2042

Review Guidelines

It’s clear DICE doesn’t know what it wanted Battlefield 2042 to be and couldn’t figure out how to make everything work together. There are too many bugs and too many balance issues. No voice chat at launch to coordinate in Hazard Zone? Unacceptable. It’s not that I don’t have any fun, but the bad constantly intrudes on what fun I do have. Even with Portal and its classic maps, it’s not enough to save Battlefield 2042 from mediocrity.

Anthony Shelton

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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