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 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.
Completely focusing on multiplayer harkens back to the series’ earlier entries and, with 13 maps across its three main game modes, there’s quite a bit to see. But as much as Battlefield 2042 tries to appeal to both new players and veterans, the tweaks and additions it brings to its tried and tested formula don’t always work in its favor.
A Modern Case of All-Out Warfare
Battlefield 2042 houses its two territory control-focused modes under the All-Out Warfare umbrella. 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 on the game’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 surprisingly make you aware of the size of these maps, their environmental variety, and how they allow for different types of engagements.
“There’s often a sensation that you’re playing maps-within-maps, which speaks volumes about the variety on offer.”
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 but allows for less tactical planning. It also makes certain gadgets 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, alongside how well it uses the game’s maps that make Breakthrough stand out.
Conquest retains much of the same flavor it had in the past but now supports up to 128 players, with hit-or-miss AI keeping you busy while the servers fill up. Battlefield 2042’s 7 new 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. The more you play, the more the empty, flat areas between control points invite boredom. Encountering other players outside of objective areas is rarer than before and the overly open nature of these maps makes you an easier target for snipers. Everything is a little too focused on the sectors themselves, which translates into a more fragmented pacing to battles, ultimately hurting map flow.
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 the thunder or sand variety – visibly alter the landscape but without significantly impacting gameplay. Yet, aesthetically speaking, 2042 feels a bit drained when compared to the two previous games, even if massive derelict ships in the middle of a desert and tall rockets preparing for liftoff burn into your memory with ease.
Different spots within sectors also force you to adapt your loadout, often on the fly, 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.
You still need to pre-assign the attachments you’re taking with you into battle, using a menu that’s not particularly intuitive despite governing loadouts across all modes. Nevertheless, 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 also 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.
“Having to kill three of the same Specialist you’re playing as, simply because they have a red circle above their head, never stops feeling weird.”
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 outside of flavor text for certain cosmetic unlocks, which make 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 defensive barriers, Falck has a gun that shoots 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 revive players outside of their squad, any one of them can equip any weapon.
This breaks a barrier that was rather instrumental to the series’ identity and this newfound freedom does feel like it unnecessarily corrodes one of the franchise’s most recognizable elements without adding too much in exchange. Placing down a defense system that destroys incoming projectiles can save your life, but its tactical use is limited when enemies attack you from multiple directions, or a tank rolls over. Among Battlefield’s trademark chaos, they feel like gimmicks struggling to force identity into bland heroes.
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 most of the hard work. Having to kill three of the same Specialist you’re playing as, simply because they have a red circle above their head, never stops feeling weird.
Teamwork also feels like it’s at an all-time low. Coordinating loadouts with your squad is harder to do and, since there’s no way to tell someone you’re about to resurrect them, you’re more prone to have them give up on waiting just as you get to them. There was never a moment when I was thankful that I had a certain Specialist on my squad and the benefits of their gadgets are too small to make them feel significant in the grand scheme of things.
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 that can spearhead pushes.
Their availability is rather limited, giving you plenty of time to spend staring at sand dunes as you painstakingly cross them before getting killed from miles away. Hovercrafts can also climb pretty much everything, for some reason, although I’d like to think that it’s a feature powered by some sort of near-future techno-magic, rather than a hilarious bug.
Destruction, on the other hand, has taken a step back in Battlefield 2042. Although you can still bring some walls down by ramming into them or blowing them up, I can’t recall seeing a single building go down or scoring a single kill using debris. While we may never level entire blocks again, as we did in Bad Company 2, the whole system feels like an afterthought in this iteration, which is a sad state of affairs for a series that previously made it an important part of its combat.
For the most part, the gunplay and gun sounds in Battlefield 2042 are great, with a few exceptions like the AK-24, whose recoil is off the charts, and the shotgun that never quite finds its place in the game’s large maps. 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, the directional audio is seriously botched. Muffled player footsteps fail to properly indicate where enemies come from, serving a good dose of paranoia while 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, given how the enemies now have the same voice lines as your allies.
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. The traditional scoreboard is gone, replaced with an overly crowded menu, while vehicle loadouts have a nasty knack to not be there after you’ve quit.
Sadly, bugs also stop you from reviving other players or even issuing squad orders at times, further impacting teamplay, especially since VoIP isn’t available at launch. 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.
“If Specialists never feel at home in Conquest and Breakthrough, they really shine in Hazard Zone.”
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.
In it, you face both players 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, at least in theory.
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 never feel at home in Conquest and Breakthrough, they really shine in Hazard Zone. A squad cannot have duplicate characters and, since you can’t always guarantee you’ll have the credits for a full loadout, 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 against 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 seems to lean more towards catering to a hardcore audience while also not completely looking to alienate less dedicated players. The economy is currently balanced so that even a few AI kills can get you enough credits for a proper primary weapon in the following match, which is good news if you’re new to the mode or not quite an elite marksman yet.
Hazard Zone’s unpredictability is, however, a double-edged sword. Making it out alive from a three-way duel that got broken into by a roaming band of AI riding in their vehicles is exhilarating, but you rarely get these moments without a full squad that communicates.
Some matches will also inevitably see you biting the dust early on. The XP gain in these cases is low enough that, without something else to work towards, losing streaks have all the potential to make you not want to touch the mode too often.
Portal to the Past and Future
Battlefield 2042’s Portal mode left a great impression after playing it during the review event and, while it’s just as great in the live game, its full potential will take time to unlock. Small-scale modes like VIP Fiesta, which is a fast-paced variant of TDM that highlights random players in red for their enemies to see at all times, do act as welcome distractions.
The tweaks Portal lets you do to traditional modes also mean that you can tinker with settings like damage, movement speed, respawns, and loadout limitations. You can even pick which Battlefield era playable soldiers come from to successfully get different flavors of these modes.
As we were shown during last week’s review event, you can also do crazier stuff. Using a more fast-paced Free-for-All template, we played a mode in which everyone started with a knife and a rocket launcher loaded with a single rocket. The twist was that you could only reload by jumping five times and only after you had fired the rocket.
The icing(s) on the cake, at least at launch, are the classic experiences bringing back to life BF1942 and BF3’s Conquest modes alongside BC2’s Rush mode. With enough post-launch support, this alone could establish Portal as a viable main mode, even with its capped XP gain. Each experience captured the essence of the three older titles. The 1942 maps feel a bit more barren and more focused on teamwork and combat itself, with a lack of attachments or the bells and whistles of recent releases.
Crossing El Alamein’s dunes with but a rocket launcher on my shoulder and getting to blow up enemy Shermans was pure nostalgia fuel. BC2 Rush is an instant blast from the past, coupled with plenty of opportunities to take out snipers using rocket launchers. 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. It’s also a bit intimidating, at least to someone who doesn’t know a lot about programming, but patience and the included help text should see you through.
At the moment, however, there aren’t that many interesting custom game modes and the ones that you do encounter, like Gungame, run into connection issues about half the time. A developer explained, during the review session preceding our time with the live game, that custom experience servers stay online until the last human player leaves, yet I got kicked several times because their creator seemingly deleted the experience. I was also unable to host my own so far, running into constant error messages.
At launch, Battlefield 2042’s performance is 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 is a struggle, even with ray tracing turned off. A soon as stuff starts happening, the frame rate drops significantly, jumping between the 40 and 60 mark with occasional dips into 30 territory. Turning on Ray Traced Ambient Occlusion means an instant loss of around 20 FPS for minimal gain.
The drop in performance visibly affects gameplay while playing Breakthrough, particularly when both teams are desperately going for the control points. The larger play space in Conquest does 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 does very little on a rig that – while admittedly rocking an older CPU – meets the recommended system requirements, as does using the different DLSS settings.
64-player modes and their small-scale counterparts do hit that 60 FPS sweet spot on Ultra, with few drops. Your mileage may vary, as is often the case with different PCs, but it’s something you will want to be aware of. It’s, nonetheless, disappointing to see the game launching in this state, continuing what’s now becoming a bothersome tradition for the series.
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 VERDICT
Taken as a whole, Battlefield 2042 sports a robust launch day offering if you’re willing to jump between its three modes. But questionable design choices alongside noticeable performance issues take away from its strong enough core formula that continues to carry the game on its back. While you’re still prone to get those epic moments in which you down a helicopter with an unguided rocket launcher, or make your way behind enemy lines ann help capture a point that wins you the match, battles don’t necessarily feel bigger, despite the larger number of players.
The lack of a traditional scoreboard and always visible fire mode icon may be minor issues, but they’re compounded by an unstable frame rate, Specialists that only feel at home in Hazard Zone, a poorer map flow, and bugs that range from you paradropping through buildings, to being unable to do redeploy, forcing you to quit the match altogether.
Battlefield 2042 should have been a massive, triumphant return for the series but, as much as it scratches that itch for both small and large scale combat, it brings some unnecessary changes to its core formula while missing the mark with some of its ambitious new features. With enough support, the great first-person shooter underneath might fully surface in a few months’ time, but properly enjoying it at launch requires jumping through several hoops.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Replaying the older games’ maps in Portal and getting to run across El Alamein’s dunes with just a rocket launcher on my shoulder.
Three game modes that aim to provide different kinds of experiences
Despite its unintuitive UI, the Plus system adds welcome flexibility with its Crysis-style gun customization
The core formula stand strong, despite tweaks that don't always hit the mark
Most guns feel great to use
Varied maps that accommodate different types of engagements
Specialists, in Hazard Zone
Maddening, muffled footsteps that fail to indicate nearby enemy positions
Specialists, in All-Out Warfare
A plethora of minor and major bugs that impact the experiences
Poorer map flow with too many dull, empty stretches
About Bogdan Robert Mateș
When not brewing coffee or debating serious topics with my cat, you'll either find me playing video games or writing about them.