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Battlefield 2042 Review: Gameplay Impressions, Videos and Esports Appeal

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistNovember 19, 2021

EA and DICE

Battlefield 2042 is an apt name for the latest effort from developer DICE as the series attempts to seize the future.  

The vaunted first-person shooter franchise returns to a modern backdrop after 2018's Battlefield V dabbled in the World War II setting and struggled out of the gates with issues.

But that's the least notable change in 2042. DICE has gambled with the removal of the traditional player classes that have defined the franchise, instead leaning into bits and pieces from other shooters with interesting results. 

There's also nothing to the 2042 package besides multiplayer. But the three hubs found within the release offer dramatically different experiences and, on paper, could classify as whole games themselves. 

Released with some of the launch issues that have come to define the series recently, 2042 gambles on the innovations keeping players around while some of those problems get ironed out post-release. 

      

Graphics and Gameplay

Battlefield 2042 is a treat from an immersion standpoint, mostly thanks to jaw-dropping draw distances across a variety of locations that serve as hubs for all-out war. 

When taking into account some of the classic maps added to the Portal section of the game, 2042 runs the gamut of beautiful locales. There are a lot of modern settings, but also more nature-minded romps through lush foliage and even a trip to a vast desert. 

As a whole, visuals are stunning in most respects, with weather effects particularly good. Sheets of rain, sandstorms and actual natural disasters like tornadoes change the complexion of a battle at a moment's notice. As usual for the series, so does the destruction of environments once vehicles start blowing holes in walls. 

At times, though, the size of some maps is a negative, as wild as that might sound for a game that can lobby 128 players together. But gameplay as ambitious as this needs to walk a fine balance, and some maps are too big with so little in the way of cover, making it feel like a battle royale as opposed to what it really is. 

But it's clear 2042 attempts to mitigate this issue some with the arrival of a tablet feature that lets players summon vehicles on the fly, which makes things flow a little better. And in a testament to some solid map design, clusters of buildings are smartly positioned to let players maximize new abilities like grapple hooks and wingsuits. They generally work well as, say, attackers progress across a massive patch of land in a mode like breakthrough. 

If there's a big negative at launch, it's the sound design. Something is off. Directional audio is nearly impossible to rely upon, with teammates' footsteps too loud, far-off gunshots sounding very close and the actual direction of those hard to discern, even with headphones. 

That puts a (likely temporary due to patches) damper on the expected superb gunplay. The arsenal at a player's fingertips offers great feedback and punch with realistic recoil patterns to master. Weapons are realistic in the sense a player won't be getting long kills with close-quarters weapons and sniping long distances has bullet drop to consider. 

Unfortunately, that is easy to overlook because time-to-kill seems almost random. Whether it's a glitch, connection issues or something else is hard to say, but players are often left feeling like opponents take a long time to kill, while the player seems to die instantly. 

There's a very real PUBG (PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds) feel to the attachment system, which is brilliant. Clicking and sliding new attachments onto a weapon on the fly is a no-brainer for the series. Fighting from elevated range with a scoped rifle, only to swap the scope for a holo sight while working down toward a mess of buildings and close combat is a real *chef's kiss* moment of evolution for the series. 

Player movement is smooth and the new use of things like grapples to navigate the maps is helpful. Movement abilities from specialists feel like a natural progression to the gameplay. 

It wouldn't be Battlefield without an array of vehicles to choose from. Jets, helicopters, tanks etc. all feel great in a difficult-to-learn-rewarding-to-master sense. It's a thrill to practice and eventually master an attack helicopter and go on a massive spree in a 128-person lobby. It's unparalleled in gaming, though it continues to be a game of chess as other vehicles and any players with anti-air equipment can counteract it quickly. That said, some post-launch tuning might be necessary with how overpowered a good player in a vehicle can feel at times. 

As a whole, what 2042 brings to the table in this area is both expected but welcome. Those who want a more bird's eye take on a war compared to Call of Duty will love what's presented here. 

     

Specialists, Multiplayer modes and More

The biggest talking point for longtime fans will be the removal of the typical four specialist classes that made the series what it is: Assault, Support, Recon and Engineer.

Support players, for example, used to be critical to a squad and overall team's success. They were the only players able to throw down healing packs and break out the defibrillators for a revive. And while some of the medic-based specialists have special perks in 2042, all players can equip a healing gadget now or revive players.

Engineers used to be the only players capable of healing vehicles, but now anyone can equip a repair tool. It's a paring down of what made squad-building and communication so important for the series in exchange for some almost Call of Duty or Overwatch-styled individual characters with personality, which includes quips and postgame scenes for MVPs now. 

The other problem is that some specialists will end up more popular. The one with the grapple gun, which lets players zip around the map and come up with unexpected firing lanes, ambushes and more, is sure to be a favorite. The character with the wingsuit, which allows unprecedented movement for the series when mastered, has already dominated the game during early access. 

Making matters worse (besides the lack of factions, which means both teams get the same recognizable characters now), the specialists invite some second-hand embarrassment, especially in postgame scenes. The series, and even 2042's opening cutscene, paints a realistic picture of war. Yet these characters are goofy with odd quips that are out of place. They belong in Apex Legends or something where, tonally, the happy-go-lucky "Come on, this is too easy!" quotes and expressions make more sense.

Players will use this revamped approach to specialists across three main pillars of game modes. One is All-out War (128 players on PC and next-gen consoles), which features series classics Conquest and Breakthrough. 

While the former is more recognizable (capture and hold the zones to bleed enemy resources), it's the latter that really shines. It can, at times, capture the ebb and flow of an actual battle, where one side goes on the offensive and attempts to push through a series of enemy strongholds across a battlefield, while the defenders get more and more desperate at each point. 

The game drops bots into these matches to fill out lobbies if necessary. And while they're not groundbreaking by any means, they flesh out the gigantic battles in a way that most games never achieve. 

That said, the move to 128 players doesn't do much. There's often too much downtime on maps that are too big. It might leave players yearning for past releases where cutting the player count back by half on smaller maps flowed so well. 

The second pillar is Hazard Zone, an innovative take on a battle royale mode. It features 32 players split into squads of four. Unlike other modes, 2042 restricts squads to one of each specialist in Hazard Zone, which makes squad composition and communication critical. 

Those teams search for data from crashed satellites while fighting A.I. soldiers and other players. There's an element of battle royale loot systems here. Team Redeploys (revives) have to be earned, and the goal is to escape at the extraction point with as much of the data as possible. Seeking out that data while sparring with other squads and enemy A.I. is a blast.

There's a solid progression system. It doesn't do anything majorly new—earn credits in a run that means purchasing better items and perks for the next run—but it makes sense. There's no grander progression system or customization though, so earning more money to keep playing is the cap. It's not a new player-friendly mode, though, and this probably won't change the minds of players who don't like battle royales.

The third and maybe best pillar is Portal. It's where longtime fans of the series might spend the most time. There, classic modes and maps from past greats in the series are available on servers for players to hop into at any time. 

It's great to load up Battlefield Bad Company 2 Classic Rush and enjoy it again. Or Battlefield 3 Classic Conquest. The classic specialist systems, maps and everything else are in place, albeit with the upgraded visuals and presentation from 2042. 

The game also gives players an unprecedented level of developer-stylized tools to mess with while creating custom games and lobbies. 

There will be very creative lobbies that become favorites of the community. The list of customizable options is immense. You can tweak headshot multipliers, starting weapons (rockets only in a small space, anyone?), when and how a player can reload, etc. 

Of course, when leaving things in the hands of players, it's not all good. Early after launch, it wasn't hard to find any number of simple XP farming servers that let players slam through progression levels quickly. 

Overall, though Portal is surely going to be the place most players land and don't stray from too often. Having the tried-and-true classics (surely with more on the way) and must-play favorites developed by the community in one place makes Portal an almost standalone release.  

As for the negatives, the list is extensive out of the gates for the early access period, starting with performance. The game struggles to keep a consistent framerate on PC and will stutter randomly, even on medium settings.

And the list of glitches is massive, whether it's bodies zooming off awkwardly after death, the game spawning players in restricted areas that will kill them, guns not loading in the arms of characters in postgame scenes as well as visual and sound bugs. Dead bodies that can't be revived and teammates in rare instances spawning looking like enemies that creates friendly fire situations popped up, too. 

The game is missing voice chat with DICE planning to add it at a later date. That's fine for players who can pop open a Discord channel to work around the issue, but it's otherwise a big red flag for a game that excels when players are able to openly communicate with one another on a...battlefield. 

Rocky launches are nothing new to the series at this point, and many of the issues will likely get ironed out over time. But it's unfortunate the trend continues here, as the package is a strong one otherwise. 

      

Esports

The Battlefield series has always had a smaller, competitive esports scene, and that won't change with 2042. Whether it was smaller skirmishes with intense teamwork and gunplay or grander battles, past games like V have put on entertaining showcases over the years. 

There's a bit of a give and take with 2042, though. At launch, the game doesn't feature an esports or ranked mode. That means a competitive ladder that could end up supplying an actual esports scene just isn't there. 

But there's also Portal mode. 

The freedom Portal mode allows within custom lobbies would only require an esports league to oversee organizing tournaments and the like. And with some of the best old-school esports games, maps and loadouts already available, a would-be competitive scene could lean into some of the greatest hits of the past. 

With Portal offering "arena-sized" sections of maps with each of the bigger maps, it would seem to hint that developers wanted to give esports some love. Those could be a proving ground for an eventual long-term scene that draws plenty of eyeballs because the communication and skill needed to excel would be fun to watch. 

If nothing else, 2042 has the most esports appeal of any Battlefield release to date thanks to Portal. Whether it realizes that potential will hinge on continued developer support and a healthy community making the most of the tools. 

      

Conclusion

Battlefield 2042 has a serious identity crisis. The removal of series-defining characteristics leaves it feeling like any other shooter in most respects besides player count. And the strange tone of characters and lack of non-Portal game modes almost makes it feel like the game originally started out as a battle royale. 

Not that the Battlefield series is new to chasing trends in the industry, as Call of Duty has done the same in recent years. But it always managed to keep its identity intact at the same time, giving players a reason to seek it out. 

While 128-player lobbies can be fun at times, it's a fleeting thing. There are just two game modes there, one battle royale-lite and a Portal section that brings back multiple classic experiences. 

The expected solid gunplay returns and some of 2042's innovations stick the landing—like the new attachment system and being able to call up a vehicle on the fly. But old adages like "less is more" and "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" come to mind for the latest effort in the series. 

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