Gun shoots good.
I’ve been informed by my editor (say hello, Elise!) that I need to actually elaborate, so let’s try this again.
Battlefield 2042 is developer DICE’s attempt at capturing that perfect balance between squad-focused gameplay, mechanized death machines, and the zaniness of how players utilize the many tools offered. Set in the not-so-distant future, 2042 is a world rocked by destructive storms and an all-out war between Russia and the United States. There’s a nugget of social commentary here about the dangers of climate change and nature’s destructive power, but do you really care about any of that in a Battlefield game? It’s set dressing, even if DICE is clearly angling to try and tell a larger story in the coming months.
A flimsy story that barely scratches the surface of a meaningful thought — particularly about one of the biggest topics of my lifetime — would normally be a pain point for me. Yet, Battlefield 2042 isn’t a game that really cares enough to dive deep into the nuances of climate change and simply uses this theme to explain why massive superstorms roll in every match. It’s visually awesome, even if comprehending the actual reason the massive tornado just ripped through Songdo, South Korea in the game’s lore is overwhelmingly grim.
There’s something awe-inspiring about watching a giant twister rip through the heart of an ongoing battle. All of our advanced weaponry, gadgets, and vehicles are useless in the face of nature’s uncompromising power. But it’s more than just a striking visual image, as these storms fundamentally alter how battles take place. The path and timing of the storms seem entirely random, meaning you could be participating in a normal firefight one moment and blinded by a raging sandstorm the next. It’s a terrific way to keep repeated fights on the same map from going stale, even if there’s little variety between storm types.
However, none of this succeeds if Battlefield 2042’s moment-to-moment gameplay isn’t as chaotically satisfying as previous entries. While it still presents enjoyable gunplay, DICE has decided to shy away from the traditional four classes (Engineer, Recon, Medic, & Assault) in favor of Apex Legends-esque heroes. Dubbed “Specialists,” these ten soldiers are all unique characters that each have a special passive and active ability. For example, Maria Falck possesses a syringe pistol that allows her to heal at range. She is also only one of two Specialists that can revive anyone on their team, making her invaluable in big game modes like Conquest or Breakthrough.
It’s a risky choice, as Battlefield has always leaned on its traditional class system in previous installments. Unfortunately, most of the Specialists only really feel unique and impactful in 2042‘s newest game mode, Hazard Zone. Even though you can certainly make flashy plays from time to time, their gear is just another tool for niche scenarios. They hardly feel (forgive me) special, mainly due to how any weapon, gadget, and throwable device can be equipped to them. Instead of tying a special class to a couple of weapon archetypes, DICE has opened the floodgates for players to craft their character how they see fit. On paper, this is a terrific idea, but in practice, it just becomes a muddled mess.
With everyone able to use whatever gun they desire, players turn to long-range options like marksman and sniper rifles. This could easily lead to stagnation, where players only use a very small handful of weapons instead of learning the firearm assigned to their specific class. Much of this is due to the sheer size of Battlefield 2042’s maps, many of which favor long sight lines with minimal close quarters options. All the maps are absolutely gorgeous, with Hourglass’ sandblasted city acting as a standout among the collection. However, the sheer scope of these levels causes entire areas to become ignored during matches of Conquest. Unless you are playing Breakthrough, which confines battles to specific areas, you may often find yourself aimlessly wandering around looking for a fight.
Things do get shaken up a bit thanks to Battlefield 2042’s new mode, Hazard Zone. Embracing the design of games like Escape from Tarkov and Hunt: Showdown, players are grouped into squads of four and tasked with retrieving data hard drives from crashed satellites. The catch is, players only have one life and if they die they either wait till their team is killed or are respawned via one of the very scarce redeploy laptops. Almost every weapon and item must be purchased before entering the match and death means you earn almost no money. It’s perhaps the best new addition to Battlefield, as Hazard Zone provides exhilarating firefights and tense decision-making that the core experience lacks.
Since the only way to survive in Hazard Zone is to extract via one of two timed helicopter arrivals, the last few minutes transform into all-out war as the last remaining squads battle to be the only ones limping across the finish line. This is only enhanced by the Specialists, who were clearly more designed for this mode than the core experience many pick up Battlefield for. Every single one feels meaningful and with only one of each Specialist allowed per squad, understanding how they synergize with one another is key. Hazard Zone also solves the massive map problem by funneling teams after specific objectives and giving them a device that allows users to track hard drives — even if another team scooped one up!
All that being said, the rewards for Hazard Zone are abysmal. Outside of acquiring more cash, there’s essentially no incentive to really go for the win. No special cosmetics outside of a few calling cards are tied to this mode, which is surprising given it’s 2042’s star attraction. Sure, you earn experience towards unlocking new weapons and gadgets, but once you hit the level cap I worry this mode will die out quickly. It has a solid foundation, but DICE desperately needs to build it into something more fleshed out and meaningful.
Almost done, I promise.
Still with me? Cool.
Rounding out Battlefield 2042 is Battlefield Portal. Perhaps the most curious addition, Portal (no, not that one) is a game mode creator that allows players to tinker and craft their own experience with a remarkable level of detail. While you cannot outright edit a level, Portal users can edit game states, what players spawn in as, and a comical amount of other conditions. It’s comprehensive, a bit overwhelming, and just like other game editors, it will take time to really develop a collection of terrific modes to experience.
Unfortunately, absolutely no one is playing Portal to make game modes because you can play mini remastered versions of Battlefield 1942, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and Battlefield 3. I say mini because these only include a couple of maps and modes each. Offering (mostly) the same gameplay experience with updated visuals, Portal allows players to step back in time to see how this franchise has developed over the years. Fighting over a bomb site in Bad Company 2’s Atacama Desert is still as thrilling as it was in 2010 and has the unfortunate side effect of making Battlefield 2042 feel even emptier. There’s something thrilling about starting a match in a quaint desert town only to see it utterly reduce to rubble and cinder when the Victory menu appears.
Whether Battlefield 2042 is worth your time is entirely dependent on what you are looking for. There’s a lot of fun ideas, but the game still needs time to balance and develop them. In a sea of multiplayer FPS games, Battlefield 2042 is still one of the best at offering big vehicular chaos on a grand scale, but in the process of growing it lost some of what made this franchise feel so unique. I’m not entirely convinced this entry will attract droves of new players. The menus are sloppy, the maps are often too big, and the Specialists take away the core class system many adore. But the gunplay feels rewarding enough and watching a tornado throw tanks around like they’re Hotwheels might be just enough to capture the faithful vision of Battlefield.
Worst case scenario, you can always just hang out in Portal and play Battlefield: Bad Company 2.