Battlefield 2042 Review in Progress
128 players simultaneously running into Battlefield 2042’s crowded warzones is a great example of why bigger can be better, but isn’t always. While chaotic gunfights are undoubtedly part of Battlefield’s charm, massive lobbies with that many players eventually became frustrating instead of fun – even in the limited time I was able to play during a three-day “virtual review event” held by EA earlier this week. Thankfully, its tense new Hazard Zone mode provides an interesting strategic alternative on a smaller scale, and its customizable Portal mode tools are an exciting glimpse at how its future could thrive. But 2042’s flashy, large-scale battles have left me wanting so far – but I have a ways to go before I’m ready to score it.
To pull back the curtain on what reviewers had access to before launch, I was able to play about 12 hours of Battlefield 2042 spread across three days, meaning I couldn’t just queue into any mode I wanted and was restricted to what was available that day and hour. For example, we spent one day playing just the All-Out Warfare modes, and only had about an hour to play Breakthrough on the first day and another chunk the next day. In that time, I only barely experienced the massive new weather system – I saw one tornado, but it didn’t make it across the map to me. So I’m still chasing the storms.
That means this review event felt more like a small window into each of Battlefield 2042’s modes rather than a full experience of it, so I’ll be waiting to do a full review until I’ve spent more time with it on live servers. Look for that next week! That said, I did play more than enough to form some initial impressions on what it has to offer. Most notably, its traditional All-Out Warfare mode feels underwhelming compared to the pleasant surprise that is the unconventional Hazard Zone, its customizable Portal is an absolutely incredible window into game development, and it basically throws the conventional class system out the window – and not entirely for the better.
Not So Special(ist)
At first glance it appears that Battlefield 2042 has a roster of 10 Specialists that are based off of the original four Battlefield classes: Assault, Support, Recon, and Engineer. However, unlike the previous Battlefield games where classes had very specific jobs and skills, 2042’s Specialists’ skills don’t really change a team’s dynamic much. For example, I first decided to go with Support Specialist Maria Falck to act as the team medic. Her Specialty skill arms her with a Syrette Pistol that fires syringes which heal allies and herself, but damage enemies. I initially thought Falck would basically be the only option for someone who likes to play as a medic, but it turns out that anyone can go in as a healer if they equip the medical crate gadget which lets them throw out the typical Battlefield area-of-effect healing box. And while Falck’s Specialist trait allows her to revive downed teammates to full health, anyone can revive their teammates and can provide healing.
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Similarly, anyone can hold a repair tool, so that’s no longer specific to Engineers, and any Specialist can even equip any gun. There are Specialists who have more unique abilities, like Casper getting an OV-P Recon Drone and Sundance getting a wingsuit instead of a parachute, but overall the Specialists’ loadouts don’t feel as distinctive as the roles we played in previous Battlefield games. I eventually found myself primarily picking Webster Mackay, whose Specialty is a grappling hook, and equipping the medical crate to get maximum mobility while still being able to play support.
Not having the usual class items exclusive to specific Specialists makes selecting a class feel less restrictive, but it struck me as odd that there also isn’t really any reason for a team to all go with separate classes when anyone can repair, heal, use anti-aircraft and anti-artillery equipment, and deploy ammo crates.
Specialists are basically just an extra skill that you can pick to augment your playstyle further.
That’s a fun addition, but this 2042 roster fails to really bring in the importance of individual classes as a result – everyone is a Jack of all trades, which lessens the need for coordinated squad building and teamwork. It can still be done, but the community will have to come up with a shorthand for each role instead of just saying “We need someone to play Support!”
There are three game types in 2042, and your leveling is shared across the board. The main event, All-Out Warfare, has within it the Breakthrough and Conquest modes, which both live up to that label with a whopping 64 players on each team. With that many people gunning for each other on one battlefield everything feels chaotic, even spread out across the impressively huge and gorgeously detailed maps that have been made to better accommodate that player count.
Conquest is the traditional Battlefield mode where you compete to capture and hold multiple points spread around a massive map at the same time, only this time the map size and player count is turned up to 11. As much as I wanted to like Conquest here and certainly have enjoyed it in past Battlefields, this my least preferred mode in 2042 so far – during the review event, it felt like every point I went to try to take had the entire enemy team defending it because there are just so many players and only a few points that are easily reachable. It’s the kind of problem that takes a huge amount of teamwork to solve, and with the teams as big as they are that’s very difficult to pull off.
At the same time, the map is big enough that you don’t always run into anybody else in the vast spaces between points, and that leads to a problem where you’re just stuck running for excessive periods if you don’t have a vehicle drop-in available and if your team spawns are far from another point. It’s a bigger inconvenience than it was in Battlefield 5, where I didn’t feel as if I was running forever just to get to another point and the matches felt pretty evenly paced without so much dead air.
Breakthrough returns in 2042 as well and it doesn’t see many changes from previous games. It puts your team on either attack or defense, but with the catch that each zone the attacking team captures can’t be recaptured. That means the defending team is pushed back to the next point, becoming increasingly desperate to hold onto the last one until respawn tickets run out. Again, it’s hard to execute any kind of real strategy this time around since your team is so big and there’s no clear leader – but when all of the action is focused on a single target, it can still be a lot of fun to run through the middle of this war to defend or attack a zone with the utter chaos of explosions and rampaging vehicles all around you.
It’s hard to execute any kind of real strategy since your team is so big and there’s no clear leader.
I’ve actually really enjoyed my rounds of Breakthrough because of that desperate tension when trying to hold a point and keep it from falling under enemy control with no way to get it back. It adds an extra layer of motivation to fight for each point. However, in my matches so far I’ve definitely noticed a problem with the balance favoring attackers. Because defenders can only spawn in the zone currently being attacked and can be easily surrounded by the attackers, I’ve already seen way too many hectic spawns where my teammates and I get obliterated by a tank immediately after coming back onto the map.
The All-Out Warfare modes may be returning versions of Battlefield mainstays, but Hazard Zone is a brand-new game type that currently ranks as my second favorite of Battlefield 2042’s options. It’s not quite a battle royale, but if you do get killed you won’t be able to respawn unless a teammate is able to secure a respawn uplink to get you back.
Hazard Zone is basically Dice’s version of Escape from Tarkov.
Each match has 32 players (unless you’re on last-gen consoles, in which case it’s 24) group up in teams of four to scour the map for data points, taking out both small swarms of AI soldiers and each other as they go, before extracting from the map.
It’s not all about data points, though – throughout a match you can also loot Uplinks that allow you to call in Rangers (the robot dogs that are totally not inspired by Boston Dynamics own robots), a LATV4 Recon Vehicle, and Team Redeploys that allow you to bring back any dead teammates all at once. (I greatly prefer that to games where I have to revive them one at a time!) If you didn’t bring these with you, Uplinks can be lifesavers and create exciting moments – if you’re the last one standing on your team, a nearby Team Redeploy will be pinged on the map for you to run to and loot for a dramatic save.
What’s great about Hazard Zone’s long-term appeal is the sense of progression: when loading into a match for the first time you can pick any Specialist (such as Falck the Healer and her healing syringe gun or Casper, the recon Specialist with his drone) but your loadout of weapons, gadgets, and tactical equipment is limited since you won’t have enough credits to get anything other than the freebees. Play a few more matches, though, and maybe even successfully extract once or twice, and you’ll earn enough credits to buy some sweet items for your next drop, such as any weapon of your choice that you can customize with attachments and increased data storage in your tactical slot, allowing you to carry and extract with more data points. My favorite weapon in Hazard Zone was the M5A3 assault rifle with two scope attachment options for a 1x close range option and 2x at slightly further range.
The clever part about this is that the stakes keep rising higher as you go thanks to Extraction Streaks, where if you manage to extract two or more times in a row you’ll unlock an extra Tactical Equipment slot for the next match. If you lose that streak, however, you revert back to only one slot, and having something to lose ratchets up the tension a couple of notches when you’re wondering if you can take on that group of soldiers up ahead. Each streak is attached to the Specialist you used for the previous match as well, so if you switch from one Specialist to the other, you’ll lose that extra Tactical Equipment slot for the newly selected Specialist and essentially start over. This didn’t seem like a huge problem since the need to switch Specialists doesn’t really come up too often in Hazard Zone, but establishing the Specialist you want to use throughout the mode early is probably best. I found that Casper and his OV-P Recon drone was pretty handy to have on your team, especially since he could scope out areas with Data points and see how many hostiles are around.
The teamwork needed to survive and go from one data point to another is crucial, and since there are “only” 32 players in a match it felt slightly better paced and deliberate than All-Out Warfare’s chaos. I found myself eager to queue in for another match of Hazard Zone even if I had been absolutely demolished at the beginning of a previous game because I wanted to rack up points to get my best loadout in the next round.
The one thing that bugged me while playing these two different game types was that the time to kill has felt incredibly inconsistent.
I don’t know if it was a bug or what, but no matter what weapon types and attachments I tried, it felt like I often had to continue shooting an enemy for a few bullets longer than I should’ve needed to to down them. That got frustrating quickly, especially when some enemies seemed to be able to down me just about instantly while I was at full health. The TTK in the custom Portal modes I got to play felt fine since they worked off previous Battlefield games’ TTK speeds, but it stood out enough elsewhere that I’ll be testing it a lot more and getting other IGN editors’ impressions before my final review.
In All-Out Warfare, the long TTK didn’t bother me too much since you respawn pretty quickly and can get back in the action, but in Hazard Zone it felt especially punishing since it’s a squad-based game and you stay down until you can be revived. Unlike Apex Legends or Call of Duty: Warzone where you can potentially take on three enemies at once if your teammates are downed, it feels nearly impossible in Battlefield 2042. Being surrounded by even two enemies always felt like a death sentence.
Another problem was an ongoing bug where I’d occasionally run over to revive a downed teammate only to find that they’d already chosen to die and spawn back in, yet their bodies remained on the ground like bait in a medic trap. Being downed seems to be buggy in general, because other times I’d be waiting for a revive but my teammate wouldn’t be able to get a revive icon on me, so I’d just have to accept death and respawn. But on the whole, the technical issues I saw weren’t too bad, especially when compared to the worrying bug bonanza we saw during the beta a few weeks back.
The real treasure of Battlefield 2042 is Portal.
More of a massive playground than a set mode, it lets all of us create our own experiences, game modes, or even just new game rules in general. It lets you tailor what kind of Battlefield you want to play, packing loads of the series’ long history into one great big developer toolset.
It includes three full classic Battlefield games that you can customize: the original Battlefield 1942, Battlefield Bad Company 2, and Battlefield 3. There are maps, weapons, classes, and equipment available from all these plus (naturally) 2042. There are a few preset, dev team-curated modes that you can jump into, including Battlefield 1942 Classic Conquest, Battlefield Bad Company 2 Classic Rush, and Battlefield 3 Classic Conquest. Playing Battlefield Bad Company 2’s Classic Rush mode in a match with 64 players using that game’s actual ruleset and maps felt so, so good, and it was a stark difference from how I felt about playing All-Out Warfare in Battlefield 2042’s main game mode list. I’ve only dabbled in 1942’s Classic Conquest mode so far, but sniping there is fantastic. Playing these games in Portal reminded me of how fun Battlefield can be, especially with the classic modes where classes actually matter to team balance compared to 2042’s new Specialists.
Battlefield Portal – Menu Screenshots
But the real fun comes from tweaking things yourself. In Portal, you can change anything from if Friendly Fire is on for a team, to how much headshot damage multipliers are valued at, to if you take fall damage, and more. Basically anything you can think to change in a game, you can. Not only does it let you create entirely unique Battlefield experiences and game modes, but it could also be a tool to provide a more hands-on understanding of game development and what goes into game balancing.
Portal can also be used to make incredibly silly stuff, like one dev-created mode I played where you have a single rocket in a launcher as your primary and a knife as your secondary; in order to reload you have to jump five times. Why? Because it’s goofy madness and there are no rules in Portal, that’s why.
The tools that Portal gives you can be overwhelming to look at because it goes all the way down into the skeleton of game development tools – that’s an incredible level of freedom, but it also means it isn’t necessarily the most accessible custom mode maker an FPS has ever seen. (I wasn’t able to mess around with Portal’s tools myself during the review event, but a page went live on Battlefield 2042’s site that allows you to test out all the settings it has available.) And the good news is that you don’t need to learn any of it to enjoy the smartest and craziest stuff out there, because finding community-created modes has been made easy – there will be featured custom modes available at launch and a rotating selection that could be seen by the community on the front page of Portal.
Back to The Future
After a dozen hours with Battlefield 2042, it’s clear not all of its new ideas are entirely successful, but the ones that are can be seriously impressive. The 128-player matches of its All-Out Warfare modes definitely feel like too much for their own good a lot of the time, but its more strategic new Hazard Zone mode is incredibly fun – and the customization tools Portal provides absolutely take the cake in terms of what could keep me interested long-term. I still have a lot more to play before I’m ready to put a final score on my review, but I’m at least excited to keep playing.
Stella is a Video Producer, Host, and Editor at IGN. Her gameplay focus is on competitive FPS games and she is also a shoutcaster/host on Apex Legends tournaments outside of IGN. You can follow her on Twitter @ParallaxStella.