Battlefield 2042 is the first game in which, while diligently sniping enemies across gorgeous digital dunes, I was surprised not by a stealthy tank desperately looking for a high-speed hug, but a sneaky tornado that lifted me up into the air without much effort. After a few seconds of barely riding the wind, my parachute proving entirely unfit to weather its force, I was sent back to the respawn screen with one more thing to dread while trying to live the life of an almost half-decent sniper.
Battlefield 2042 shifts focus entirely towards multiplayer, boasting 13 maps, and three main game modes, each aiming for a different flavor of first-person mayhem.
The impressions below are based on around 12 hours spent playing through all three available modes during a review event hosted by publisher Electronic Arts. Although the build we played was largely identical to the one that goes live on Friday, it had all the items normally locked behind progression readily available and was, ultimately, a controlled environment. We won't score this review until we spend some time playing on live servers, but there's quite a bit to talk about.
A Modern Case of All-Out Warfare
Battlefield 2042 houses its territory control-focused Breakthrough and Conquest modes under the All-Out Warfare umbrella. They're names that should ring a bell to any veteran players and arguably a big reason behind the franchise's popularity.
Breakthrough splits squads into attackers and defenders, tasking the former with capturing sectors by simultaneously holding all available control points. Where attackers have limited tickets, defenders can spawn infinitely and recapture points, but only before the sectors fall.
You would expect a mode like this, that hones in on specific chunks of Battlefield 2042's massive maps, to feel more restrictive due to the relatively smaller play space. Not only is that not felt in the moment-to-moment gameplay, but full matches really make you aware of the map's size, environmental variety, and how they allow for different types of engagements.
After several minutes of medium-to-long-range desert warfare on Renewal, you spend the final moments battling between futuristic buildings surrounded by lush vegetation, attackers initially being funneled through a few tight entry points.
Breakthrough inevitably makes it easier to find hotspots where fights are particularly intense and, to some extent, allows for less tactical planning, rewarding quick decisions. It also makes certain gadgets, like the wingsuits, feel even less useful than in Conquest, but you're likely to care less about it when everything around you is blowing up; what a glorious feeling that is.
As you move from sector to sector, you'll get to fight in close quarters, across large open spaces, or in areas where verticality offers defenders an initial advantage. Battles get especially chaotic when vehicles come into play, or when a sneaky squad manages to flank your position, and it's this chaos and intensity that makes the mode stand out.
Conquest retains much of the same flavor it had in the past, but now supports up to 128 players, with AI keeping you busy while the servers fill up. The AI is very hit-or-miss, being capable of killing you in one shot with a DMR, on occasion, but often not responding properly when it's flanked, so much so that it's obvious you're not dealing with an actual player.
Battlefield 2042's 7 maps are larger and, to accommodate this, split into sectors that house multiple points. Each team must take control of entire sectors to start draining their opponent's tickets, which more or less creates hotspots similar to those in Breakthrough.
Head to a corner of one map and you'll get to fight on top of skyscrapers, while the opposite portion sees you battling it out across flat gardens, or inside an amphitheater that's facing a massive sea of sand. There's often a sensation that you're playing maps-within-maps, which speaks volumes about the variety on offer.
But this approach comes with a handful of caveats, as trekking across these expanses is a considerably lonelier affair, especially if you solo queue and do it on foot. During my time with the game, I rarely encountered other players outside of objective areas. Instead, everything seemed a little too focused on the sectors themselves, which gave the feeling that a fair bit of the map is seldom used.
While Battlefield 2042 looks great, the shift to a modern setting also comes with a more muted color palette, that had me yearning for the yellow rapeseed fields of Arras or the poppies on BF1's Rapture map.
There's definitely color and storms setting in – whether of thunder or sand variety – visibly alter the landscape. Yet, aesthetically speaking, 2042 feels a bit drained when compared to the two previous games. Nevertheless, massive derelict ships in the middle of a desert and tall rockets preparing for liftoff burn into your memory without much effort.
Different spots within sectors also force you to adapt your loadout, often on the go, to fighting at different ranges. The high-magnification scope used to snipe players from atop a tall building won't help you much when parachuting down to defend the control point at its base, which is when switching to a close-range scope really makes a difference. Similarly, the underbarrel launcher of your assault rifle does come with an explosive payoff if you're a good enough shot with it, but also higher recoil when firing actual bullets.
You still need to pre-assign the attachments you're taking with you into battle from the Collection screen that governs loadouts across all modes, but this flexibility makes you feel less helpless than in previous games, without giving you the power to respond to any situation at all times.
Battlefield 2042's on-the-go customization comes alongside a significant shake-up in terms of how it handles classes. Although you can set general loadouts that bear the names of its four traditional roles, their old forms are not part of All-Out Warfare.
Instead, you play as Specialists who tap into BF2042's story of non-patriated individuals forfeiting the idea of country and fighting for the US or Russia after environmental disasters have ruined their lives. You won't see a lot of this story in-game and their backgrounds ultimately feel irrelevant.
Each Specialist broadly falls under a class' archetype and carries a gadget that's exclusive to them. Irish places down portable barriers, Falck can shoot healing darts, while Paik can scan her surroundings, revealing enemies behind cover. They also have a passive ability and, although only medic-type Specialists can seemingly revive other players, any one of them can equip any weapon.
This breaks a barrier that was rather instrumental to the series' identity and, it does feel like this newfound freedom does unnecessarily corrode one of the franchise's most recognizable elements without adding too much to its core modes. Based on the short time I spent with them, placing down a turret behind an ally's barricade can help defend a location but, in the broad scheme of things, these abilities feel a bit too much like gimmicks used by wholly forgettable characters.
Readability is much better than it was in the open beta, thanks to a broader array of character models and markers, but it's really the latter that do all the work and having to kill three of the same Specialist you're playing as, because they have a small symbol above their head, never stopped feeling weird. This is something that may go away with time, but Specialists feel neither special nor necessary, at least in this mode.
On the topic of freedom, vehicles can now be airdropped while out on the field, although it's just as possible to use the static spawn points tied to your deployment area to get into one. Their roster is fairly standard, with an array of transport vehicles, helicopters, jets, and a few armored big boys.
The minigun-equipped hovercraft is a beast in the hands of a capable driver and a decent gunner, gliding across any type of terrain and mowing down infantry, at least until an enemy helo blows you sky high with its rockets. We had more success taming ground-based vehicles than their airborne counterparts, but attack helicopters can apply lots of pressure on ground troops when you're not struggling to figure out how to keep the damn things flying straight.
Just like it's always pushed the envelope in terms of visuals, the series is known for its stellar gunplay and sound design, which Battlefield 2042 mostly nails. The weapons feel amazing to use across the board. Guns pack quite a bit of punch and scoring distant headshots has that special sort of feedback that makes you want to go on a sniper rampage.
On the other hand, you can find yourself hearing a lot of muffled player footsteps that fail to properly indicate where enemies might come from, often making you feel like you've somehow ended up underwater. The characters' barks are a much more reliable tool to figure out enemy locations, which is far from ideal. That is thankfully not the case when you're actually getting shot at and the sound of battle envelops everyone caught in it.
Battlefield 2042 has also done away with the extra animations introduced in Battlefield V. You now enter vehicles instantly and movement feels more streamlined but, nonetheless, fluid. Sadly, reviving other players didn't always work and there doesn't seem to be a way to indicate who you're going to revive next. Spotting is also reserved for a handful of Specialists, everyone else having to rely on pointing out the general location of foes using the ping button.
The series has wrestled with small-scale modes in the past, from team deathmatch to Battlefield 1's ill-fated Incursions mode, but has never quite had something like Battlefield 2042's Hazard Zone. A squad-based mode that revolves around collecting data drives from fallen satellites and making it out alive, it carries some of the tension of a battle royale while emphasizing the importance of teamwork, loadout, and specialist choice. You go in, having to contend with both other squads looking to do the same and AI, which feels more ruthless and competent than its All-Out Warfare counterpart. With only two opportunities to extract – one early on in the match, another closer to the end – the stakes are certainly higher.
You can use a scanner to mark locations that can house data drives, ammo crates, or uplinks that let you call in vehicles or add to your redeploy count. While downed, any squad member can revive you, but dying twice in a row means that you have to rely on redeploy tokens to get back into the fight. When all four members of the squad die, it's game over and you lose all collected data drives, keeping only a meager amount of Dark Market Credits, earned from killing AI soldiers and players.
If Specialists didn't feel necessary in Conquest and Breakthrough, they have the biggest potential to shine in Hazard Zone. A squad cannot have duplicate characters and, since you can't always guarantee you'll have the credits for a medic or ammo crate, having a player who can heal or resupply does make a difference. You can opt for more mobile squads or focus on protection, with Irish's defensive plates and Boris' turret backed up by Falck and Angel to supply the team with health and ammo.
Proper communication does ensure that you'll survive longer. Hazard Zone matches are also not too lengthy, even if you go for the second extraction, while also being prime ground for both squad duels and ambushes. Fair deaths are never guaranteed, as I learned when an AI ran me over with a vehicle after barely surviving a skirmish with an opposing squad and preparing to revive my team, but this is part of what makes staying alive have a thrill of its own.
Hazard Zone does contribute to your overall account progression and will tie into the upcoming Battle Passes, but it also has a separate economy, revolving around a currency called Dark Market Credits. You earn them by killing AI forces, players and, more importantly, extracting with data drives. Spent currency is refunded if you successfully extract, but failing means you lose it forever. You don't have to spend it every match, but doing so it the only way to use anything other than the restrictive free loadout, which includes a single item in each slot and doesn't allow you to use attachments.
The mode also features tactical upgrades that grand additional bonuses – carrying 5 data drives instead of just 3, healing faster – but you can only use one unless you have an ongoing extraction streak with one of your Specialists (streaks apply to individual characters, rather than accounts).
You can certainly pick up gear from fallen opponents, but Hazard Zone has elements that seem to cater more to hardcore players. At the same time, it risks alienating newer or lower-skilled players who might find themselves stuck with repeatedly using the free loadout, conflicting with the short play time of matches that should, at least in theory, make the mode easier to get into than Conquest or Breakthrough.
Although my squad did succesfully extract once – without any data drives – going through losing streaks isn't particularly fun. At the same time, Hazard Zone essentially lets you approach it however you will, so it's perfectly fine to focus on the main objective, play the role of an ambusher scoping out extraction points, or simply use the tactical upgrade that increases Dark Market Credits from AI kills and treat it as a less efficient method of gaining currency for future matches. Ultimately, the mode's unpredictability feels like something that will appeal a whole lot to some players but make others not want to stick around for too long.
Portal to the Past and Future
Battlefield 2042's Portal mode was arguably the highlight of the review session and the one with the most potential. The first taste I got of it involved a small-scale match on Bad Company 2's Arica Harbor map pitting that game's classes against Battlefield 1942's. This duel of Carl Gustavs against Panzerschrecks and XM8's against BARs was more fun than I expected it to be, even if the World War 2 arsenal did feel slightly more limited.
VIP players were highlighted in red and could be seen across the map, the status randomly jumping to others on both teams as these main targets were eliminated. The first team to 15 VIP kills won the match, making it a quick, more focused, and dynamic Team Deathmatch experience that played surprisingly well.
We then shifted to a Free-for-All mode using BC2 classes that removed the downed animations and health regen while adding instant respawns, very fast movement speed, and more lethal guns. It was enough of a showcase to make it clear that Portal lets you tweak traditional modes to get just a slightly different flavor of them, if you so desire.
But you can also do crazier stuff. Using the same FFA template, we then had our arsenals removed, save from a knife and a rocket launcher that came with one missile. The twist was that you could only reload by jumping five times and only after you had fired the rocket. I'll be the first to admit that playing the mode for a whole 40 minutes did drag on a bit, but ideas like these could be extremely fun distractions in between longer bouts of Conquest and Breakthrough, even if the melee system felt really fiddly and lacked accuracy or any real feedback outside of executions.
A developer showed us the exact steps you need to take to build the mode in the editor. It's not effortless, especially if you're just starting out, as you'll need to use blocks representing if statements and variables to get it working, but it also didn't take extremely long.
The icing(s) on the cake were, however, the classic experiences bringing back to life BF1942 and BF3's conquest modes alongside BC2's Rush mode. This is the final piece of the puzzle that makes Portal a viable choice as a main mode. Each experience captured the essence of the three games. The 1942 maps felt a bit more barren and more focused on the combat itself, with a lack of attachments or the bells and whistles of recent releases.
Crossing El Alamein's sand dunes with but a rocket launcher on my shoulder and getting to blow up enemy Shermans was pure nostalgia fuel. BC2 Rush came with no options to strafe or go prone and a lot of killing snipers using rocket launchers, while seeing the antenna on Caspian Border slowly fall to the ground while my squad was fighting its way up the hill was equally great. They're faithful recreations that bring back a portion of those games' arsenals and even retain the way spotting used to work.
I fiddled only a bit with the Portal editor itself and it does look like a powerful tool, even if Conquest and Rush don't support the Rules Editor, which really lets you change things up. That should, nevertheless, make for some very interesting modes and flavors based on the available templates. It is, however, an intimidating tool at first that may be easier to get into if you know a thing or two about programming. Every block does come with help text and you can share URLs to get help from community members, and it will be integrated to some extent in the Tips & Tricks segment of the Battlefield website.
Battlefield 2042's performance was, however, only stable outside of its 128-player modes. On an i7-8700K, 16 GB RAM, Nvidia RTX 3080@1080P, getting 60 FPS on Conquest and Breakthrough was a struggle, even with ray tracing turned off. Although it ran better than the beta, as soon as stuff started happening around us, the frame rate would drop significantly jumping between the 40 and 60 mark with occasional dips into 30 territory. Turning on Ray Traced Ambient Occlusion meant an instant loss of around 20 FPS.
The drop in performance visibly affected both the experience and accuracy while playing Breakthrough, particularly when both teams were desperately going for the control points. The larger play space in Conquest did translate into fewer of these but, they were still there when several players converged on one point or sector, tanks started firing, and debris started falling everywhere. Worse yet, switching settings to low seemed to do very little on a rig that – while admittedly rocking an older CPU – meets the recommended system requirements, as did using the different DLSS settings.
Hazard Zone ran considerably better, likely due to the lower player count, with only a handful of frame drops on Ultra settings, and Ray Tracing/DLSS turned off. The same applies to Portal's small-scale modes and 64-player conquest matches. Your mileage may vary, as is often the case with different PCs, but it's something you will want to be aware of going in.
Battlefield 2042 does feature a series of accessibility settings including menu and text chat narration, alongside various options to aid with colorblindness that include different color schemes for squad, friendly, enemy, and neutral colors. You can also toggle subtitles on or off, choose their text size, and switch between toggle and hold for steadying your scope, requesting or skipping revives, zooming in with your weapon, and more.
Battlefield 2042 boasts a robust launch offering that aims to please both nostalgic players and those seeking something new. Dropping the single-player campaign was clearly the right choice, resulting in three fleshed-out multiplayer modes that provide distinct flavors of gameplay by themselves, but also sees what could be the best multiplayer shooter of the year attempting something new.
It's not without flaws, with Specialists feeling more at home in Hazard Zone than in Conquest and Breakthrough, audio mixing issues, and unstable performance on 128-player maps, but I enjoyed most of the 12 hours I spent with Battlefield 2042 so far and eagerly await the moment early access goes live, so I can hop back in and play some more.
Read our full, scored Battlefield 2042 review for our final verdict on the game's launch version.