The plan was to open this review with a few witty remarks and a brief story about my long-running love for the large-scale battles and squad-based gameplay of the Battlefield series, but we just don’t have the time. So, grab a helmet soldier, we’re going in. Battlefield 2042 may not have a single-player campaign, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the most ambitious entries in the series. With two huge modes and a third that involves an insane creation suite, has the latest entry into the long-running franchise accomplished its lofty goal or does it buckle under its own weight?
2042’s multiplayer offering is divided up into three distinct pillars that all offer a different experience. The first, All-Out Warfare, is classic Battlefield. Under the All-Out Warfare banner, you’ll find two modes: Conquest and Breakthrough.
Conquest is a fan favourite for a reason. Your standard round of Conquest sees two teams fighting over a number of objective points on the map in order to claim the majority. Whenever one side has the majority, the other will begin to bleed tickets. When one team reaches zero tickets, that’s it, the other team wins. This is all true for Conquest here as well, but, much like everything else, 2042 widens the scope.
The way objectives work has been changed in 2042 to better suit the staggering 128-player count (64 on last-gen). The maps are now divided into sectors, with each sector containing a number of objective points within. Controlling all objective points will lead to your team controlling the sector, with most sectors gaining the lead. This is a welcome change that excellently accommodates the larger scale of these matches and provides you with a sense of accomplishment despite the enormity of the battle.
It may look like I’m running into shipping containers, but I’m actually running into certain death
With vehicles bashing around the map, battles breaking out in every direction and the threat of your tickets expiring, Conquest is a mode that continues to impress. Matches are rather long, clocking in at around 40 minutes usually, but, if you’ve got the time, it’s a multiplayer experience that truly can’t be beaten.
The seven new maps are massive and downright excellent. From the sandy dunes and neon-soaked city in Hourglass to the metropolitan cityscape of Kaleidoscope, every map acts as a playground for vehicular mayhem and widespread chaos. Though all of the locations are large and none focus solely on infantry combat alone (I miss you Operation Metro), the variation found throughout the giant areas means that no matter your playstyle there will be a fight that interests you. Every location is visually stunning as well, with the Antarctic Breakaway map being the highlight, purely because it has penguins.
Those pretty maps obviously don’t stay that way for long, as you’ll tear through them with tanks, choppers and the like, but there’s also a chance that an extreme weather event will cause even more destruction. Happening at random, your game may be interrupted by the presence of a violent tornado that rips apart anything that it touches. Acting as this game’s version of Levolution, these events are a spectacle to behold and they can drastically change the outcome of a match depending on the path it takes. Sandstorms and other weather events can also occur depending on what map you’re on, with each altering the match in different, meaningful ways.
Weather events are visually amazing, but they’re also terrifying
The other mode within All-Out Warfare is Breakthrough. In Breakthrough, one team will be on the offensive, with the other looking to defend. The attackers, armed with a limited number of respawn tickets, look to capture two objective points from behind the enemy line. Once captured, the map pushes back and two more objective points are revealed. If the attackers manage to push the objectives back three times without running out of respawns, they win. The defenders are given infinite respawns and are tasked with, well, defending their points.
Breakthrough is complete chaos. With every player converging on two points, the sheer number of players on screen at once can be overwhelming. There’s a little less in the way of strategy involved here, but that doesn’t mean that cooperation isn’t key. If you and your squad manage to break through that frontline by banding together it feels incredible. I will say though, that the matches that I played as part of the review event felt slightly unbalanced in favour of the defending team, but that’s something that will likely be rectified early on in the piece.
Typically, in Battlefield you would choose from a number of different classes (Engineer, Medic and so on), but 2042 has moved away from that in favour of Specialists. Each Specialist has their own ability and perks that separate them from the rest. McKay, for instance, has access to a grappling hook that allows you to scale the environment and get around more freely, while Casper has a recon drone that can detect enemy movement.
From wingsuits and sentry guns to movement sensors and medical syringe guns, the Specialists wouldn’t feel out of place in a hero shooter or a battle royale like Apex Legends, and this will divide the player base. Each Specialist falls into a class archetype, but that doesn’t limit you whatsoever. Once you’ve chosen your Specialist, you’re free to pair them with any weapon and gadget you wish. The Specialists also deepen the strategy that you can employ with your squad. You can mix and match different combinations until you find the perfect team composition for your playstyle and never feel limited or restricted in any way.
This is just as fun and exhilarating as it looks
The ugly side of Specialists comes when you look at Boris, the bastard. Boris comes equipped with a riot shield that deflects incoming fire, which doesn’t sound all that bad, but he’s the devil. Durable to the point of being invincible, players during the review event almost instantly found ways to exploit it and cause havoc for everyone else. Just like an unbalanced weapon, these Specialists will need to be fine-tuned and monitored to ensure they remain fair. Old school Battlefield fans may not take to this new direction, but the good far outweighs the bad.
Where All-Out Warfare builds upon the established Battlefield formula, the second mode, Hazard Zone, takes things in a new direction. Featuring a smaller player count of 32 (24 on PS4 and Xbox One), squads will be dropped in and tasked with retrieving data drives from fallen satellites that are scattered across the map before heading to an extraction point to claim the collected drives.
Two extraction opportunities are available during each round and, if you miss the boat (plane), your drives are lost. Extraction points are announced just prior to when they appear and only one squad can extract at a time, meaning only two squads can win. Extracting your data drives will earn you Dark Market Credits which are spent on weapons and gear during the setup phase before the round. This incentivises strategy and teamwork, but it also doubles as the round’s progression system. I enjoy the concept, but new players are going to get rinsed by those who have sunk hours into the mode and that will likely be a turnoff.
The smaller player count for Hazard Zone is necessary, as 128 players would be a colossal mess, but it causes there to be a lot of downtime between firefights. There are AI enemies called Occupying Forces that guard the downed satellites which gives you something else to do, but the size of the maps combined with the lack of meaningful loot or side objectives results in matches feeling a bit empty. I’m not saying it’s a terrible mode, because rounds at their best are tense and make you think about every choice you make. But, at their worst, you die moments into the game and get thrown back into a menu to try and find a new game. Hazard Zone knows what it wants to be, but it just isn’t quite there yet.
The real loss is that not one of us in the squad spotted a penguin. Oh, and we lost the match.
The third and final mode is Portal. You’ll likely have seen or read about this mode already as it’s by far the most ambitious of 2042’s offerings. I’ll put it simply, Portal is incredible. This mode allows players to create their own experiences using the new content from 2042, as well as maps, weapons, vehicles and classes from Battlefield 1942, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 3. Through a dedicated website that you can access on your PC or phone, players can mix and match content from all four games to create the ultimate generational crossover. On launch there will be two maps available from each game: El Alamein and Battle of the Bulge from 1942, Arica Harbour and Valparaiso from BFBC2 and Noshahr Canal and Caspian Border from BF3, all recreated in gorgeous 4K and running at 60fps. This alone would be enough to set my world on fire, but that’s just scratching the surface when it comes to Portal.
See, you’re not just able to create excellent what-if scenarios using assets from the games of Battlefield past, you’re able to manipulate just about every aspect of the experience to create your own custom match types, whether they be serious or…not so serious. For instance, the first mode we played in Portal was called VIP Fiesta and it saw the forces from Bad Company 2 duke it out against the WWII soldiers of 1942. In this mode, a player from each team will be appointed as the VIP, with the objective being to protect your VIP and eliminate the enemy’s. When a VIP is killed, the honour will be passed onto a new player and the first to 15 VIP kills win. Oh, and I forgot to mention, every time we respawned we were given a completely random loadout. It was far from your typical Battlefield match, but holy shit was it fun.
I’m creating a battle for my own affection between BF3 and BFBC2. Who will win?
So far so ordinary, right? Well, we then moved on to Rocket Jump, a mode created by the dev team that saw everyone wielding nothing but a rocket launcher with one rocket. Why Rocket Jump then I hear you ask? Well, that’s because in order to reload you would need to jump five times. Yep, it’s complete lunacy and it was fantastic. This mode is possible thanks to the Logic Editor that you can access when creating modes. When I say you can change everything, I mean everything, and despite the fact that you could buy a potato with more coding experience than me, I was still able to navigate the website and create a mode that my friends and I could have fun with. It’s intimidating, don’t get me wrong, but it’s intuitive enough that you can get in and mess around with it and make something great. No doubt it’ll be an absolute meme machine once the community gets their hands on it as well, so I’m looking forward to getting amongst the craziness once it kicks off.
If you’re not the type to bother with creating, Portal allows you to just enjoy other people’s masterpieces, as well as a number of Official Experiences created by Ripple Effect themselves. Key among these are the classic maps and modes that remain faithful to their respective games. I was able to play Conquest on Caspian Border and Rush on Arica Harbour and they both gave me a warm rush of nostalgia. I could honestly talk forever about how impressive Portal is, both as a mode and a concept, but it’s something that you need to experience to fully understand. It could have been crushed by its ambition, but Portal manages to be a near-perfect love letter to long-time Battlefield fans, a history lesson to new ones and a creative outlet for those with more skill than myself.
There’s a whole lot to cover with 2042, but it’s also worth stopping to look at the core gameplay that’s at the centre of the whole experience. Gunplay is as fantastic as ever, with each weapon looking, sounding and feeling unique. A new feature introduced that cannot be overlooked is the Plus System. When you’re in the thick of it, you’re able to hold down the left bumper to bring up an intuitive menu that allows you to swap out weapon attachments on the fly. Say you’re going from a close-quarters fight into an open space, you’re can attach a 4x scope and a handgrip to your gun to better your chances in the coming fight. This quality-of-life feature does away with players being stuck to a certain role, instead allowing you to adapt to each situation and, in turn, be more engaged in every encounter.
Being back on these maps is like coming home after a long time away
Progression is what you would expect; earn XP – level up and unlock new weapons and gear to get back into the fight with, but there’s an added bonus. That bonus is that XP is shared across all modes, so no matter which type of match you’re playing, you’ll be making strides across the board. This lets players freely explore their options without the worry of being left behind elsewhere.
Of course, being an online-only experience, there were a number of technical troubles that I ran into, including some audiovisual issues and a crash or two. But impressively, the game manages to run smoothly despite the amount of insanity that’s happening on-screen once you’re in a match.
With three completely different multiplayer modes, Battlefield 2042 is a gargantuan package that attempts to offer something for everyone. The core experience is as impressive as ever and the All-Out Warfare portion of the game manages to build on the series’ excellent foundations. The uneven Hazard Zone makes the game walk with a bit of a limp, though I have reason to believe that, with time, it’ll evolve into a mode that will interest players more than it will at launch. Ultimately though, this is a two-part presentation, with Portal absolutely blowing expectations out of the water to offer a creation suite that impresses beyond belief. It may not be the tightest title out there, but the areas where 2042 shines are where it matters most.
Reviewed on PC // Battlefield 2042 was reviewed at a three-day event hosted by EA
- DICE / Ripple Effect
- PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X|S / Xbox One / PC
- November 11, 2021