Battlefield 2042 Review: Battling for Relevancy
Battlefield 2042 is a mess. It can be an enjoyable mess or sometimes a hilarious one, but it doesn’t so much have rough edges as it has rough everything. Buried far underneath it all is a solid shooter whose fundamentals are a great starting point for a full-featured next-gen shooter.
That isn’t what we have, though. Battlefield 2042 is instead a hodgepodge of disparate ideas, some of which work, some of which don’t, and others that currently serve no real purpose. It’s also unbalanced, buggy, unoptimized on PC, and attempts to chase trends instead of blazing new trails.
I also can’t stop going back to it. No other series creates the cinematic “Battlefield moments” at such sheer scale or frequency. In Shooter Season 2021, there are better games to play. There is a backlog that needs trimming. There are Skyrims to mod.
Yet here I sit, hopping into 2042 every night despite myself.
Battlefield 2042 Review: Battling for Relevancy
The gameplay in Battlefield 2042 is very good, taken in isolation. The gunplay (when the hit detection and bloom are on your side) feels satisfying. The movement, too, has more depth than “sprint in a direction.” Understanding how to approach a particular portion of a map demands care and experience. Even the Specialist system, while not as series-defining as having specific classes, unlocks more freedom while still allowing you to fill a particular role in a match.
I’m willing to forgive the lower number of available guns so long as they’re all fun to use. I don’t mind some gun imbalance if winning at a disadvantage gives me a feeling of overcoming long odds — quality over quantity.
Here’s the problem: only a few guns are actually fun to use. The ones that are fun to use are either laughably broken or genuinely balanced, making them good at almost nothing but bad at even less. Success with the bad weapons isn’t enjoyable either. You have to work much harder with a lesser gun to accomplish half of what a good one could do.
Balance and fun factor aside, mechanically, the weapons in Battlefield 2042 are quite nice to shoot. There’s plenty of punch when you fire, there’s plenty of recoil, and only a few guns feel impossible to control. The crunchy feeling when you get a kill and reload for the next fight is intoxicating. Taking down a vehicle also provides a shot of endorphins whether you’ve done it once or a hundred times.
Then, when you’re actually in a vehicle, you have the opportunity to feel like a god. Helicopters, tanks, hovercrafts, LAVs — all of them can mulch dozens of enemy troops in the span of a few minutes. I think 2042’s vehicles are the strongest they’ve ever been. You could get away from, or even juke, a tank or a helicopter as infantry in previous games.
Not so here. If you have the frequent misfortune to be on foot when any vehicle rolls up, you are dead almost every time. That goes for air or land-based vehicles. Helicopters have vast supplies of missiles, and their machine guns will shred you about as fast.
That’s not to say you can’t counter vehicles as a footsoldier. Every specialist can equip explosives, but you don’t get many, and vehicles seem sturdier in 2042 than in previous entries. Their ability to regenerate armor like a soldier regenerates health doesn’t help matters.
In previous titles, vehicle supremacy was tempered by static spawns. In 2042, you can summon light and heavy tanks, hovercrafts, and armored trucks anywhere on the map. Battlefield 2042’s maps might be bigger than almost any in series history, but vehicle dominance tends to be suffocating.
The maps themselves aren’t particularly good, either. There are only seven available at launch, and half of them boil down to “big field with occasional stuff scattered about.” The others offer some more verticality and variation in engagement types, but their size all but mandates vehicles to get anywhere at any workable speed.
Compounding the issue is the dearth of game modes. In core 2042, there’s Conquest and Breakthrough. The first is as you’d expect: capture points, kill enemies, and have the most tickets at the end. Breakthrough is an evolution of Operations from Battlefield 1: sets of capture points must be secured in sequence. A solid idea if it weren’t for troop concentration.
Conquest works with 128 players on a map. Objectives are widely spaced and take long enough to capture that even if 30 people are on a point, they won’t be in a few minutes. In Breakthrough, once there’s only one objective left to take, suddenly 128 people are fighting over a small garden. It’s as chaotic and poorly planned as it sounds.
128 Problems and Player Count is Just One
Breakthrough, like so much of Battlefield 2042, works so much better on paper. There are a lot of interesting, or at least novel, ideas present in the game overall. Very few of them work in execution. Or they could work with more thought and time put into them.
Start with weapon balance. The SMGs are incredibly powerful up close, and the PP-29 is so out to an absurd distance, but they become useless much past their intended range. And remember that most of the maps are giant fields with little cover. Enter sniper rifles, right? Nope. Snipers of any caliber are only one shot kills from the upper chest and up, or through headshots only for the faster firing ones.
Add in the SVK, a two-shot DMR from effectively infinite range, and it’s hard to justify using almost any other gun in 2042. You can even make it a close-quarters weapon by changing the sight. If your aim’s good enough, the SVK will carry you no matter where on the battlefield you play.
The on-the-fly attachment concept is another issue. Locking yourself to a specific loadout was part of the game in previous entries. Now you can set yourself up to be viable at any distance, in any environment. As we covered in our attachments guide, the additional menu creates significant complications for larger loadout swaps. The idea, like all the ones we’ll talk about next, is simply half-baked.
Over Battlefield 2042's Early Access period, a lot’s been made of the Battlefield Portal feature. I’ve wanted a return for Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 3 for years, but there are two problems with the current implementation.
First, as with the main game, there is a severe restriction on game modes. At launch, you can only create a custom server with Rush, Conquest, and Conquest Large. Perhaps the greatest sin 2042 commits with Portal is adding back Noshar Canals but not letting us play Team Deathmatch from the start.
DICE seems to have also not considered how players will use whatever means necessary to bypass leveling systems. Within hours of 2042 going live, Portal’s server browser was full of “Fast XP” servers where you could level up quickly and get access to everything for use in the base game.
Now opening a game in the same server browser offers no experience for your weapon or otherwise. You’re playing on a minimal selection of old maps for no other reason than nostalgia. You can play the matchmade playlists for XP, but you won’t be able to level up any of the core game’s weapons, removing another reason to play.
Nostalgia is, of course, Portal’s reason for existence, but it suffers from many of the same issues plaguing 2042’s standard modes.
Perhaps worst of all, none of the weapons, maps, or animations have as much style or character as the previous games. The XM8 Prototype, maybe the best SMG in BC2, looks better in the original game than it does in 2042. I should mention that Bad Company 2 came out in 2009. The same is true of the Battlefield 3 assets. The M16 and M4, both flagship weapons for that game, look, sound, and handle worse in Portal.
Of course, DICE has never been one for flashy animations, but their sound design has always been world-class. Once again, not so, at least in Battlefield Portal. The punch and feedback of the main game aren’t present in any of the classic remasters. Tanks and choppers don’t sound intimidating, and they couldn’t even get something as common as a reload sound right.
Don’t get me wrong. I love playing on Arica Harbor, Valparaiso, Caspian Border, and Noshahr Canals again. These are maps with variety, unique aesthetics, and fantastic flow. 2042’s maps, like so many AAA shooters of the past few years, focus on reimagining and reinventing the design philosophy that created the same classics they’re now relying on for content.
Hazard Zone technically exists to try and mix things up, combining a little bit from Escape from Tarkov, a little bit from Warzone, and a fair bit from 2042 itself. I wish it were as engaging as its premise, but it has none of the pressure of Tarkov, none of the looting experience of Warzone, and all the problems of Battlefield.
Battlefield 2042 Review — The Bottom Line
- Solid gunplay
- The return of classic maps
- Lacking content
- Unbalanced, unoptimized, buggy
- Much of it lacks purpose
- Too many ideas that work better on paper
My greatest fear for Battlefield 2042 is that it will only take up space on people's hard drives. There isn’t enough exciting content here to last more than a couple of months, with some players already at level 60+. The early part of next year is packed, and unless the next 30 days bring some significant updates to 2042, it will be relegated to a momentary blip on the radar. Another disappointment with good ideas quickly squandered.
It’s a fun game if you can look past all the needless changes and poor execution. The potential for something great exists, hidden beneath a couple of miles of smoldering debris.
In short, I don’t recommend buying it now. Come back in three months. Or play Elden Ring then. That works too.
[Note: EA provided the copy of Battlefield 2042 used for this review.]