Battlefield 2042 review: Aimless and shameless

EA and DICE have formally released Battlefield 2042 into the wild but failed to inform potential customers that this game is anything but a complete, cohesive product.

9

Sometimes, the worst pain comes from those you expected so much from. Clearly, publisher EA expected much from Battlefield 2042, positioning it as the company’s showcase release for the 2021 holiday season. EA’s expectations were evidentially not based on reality, as the publisher opted to release something to cash in on its investment instead of letting the project come to a natural conclusion. Battlefield games have always launched with bugs and unintended quirks, but the core design and gameplay helped to carry them to great heights. Battlefield 2042 brings all of the bugs and problems you’d expect at launch, but it further collapses under the weight of its befuddling Specialist system and uninspiring maps. 

The next generation of first-person shooters?

The EA hype machine has been working hard on selling Battlefield 2042 to the gaming public since its debut earlier this year. As the first game in the series to appear on the new consoles from Microsoft and Sony, expectations were high for a franchise that has historically ushered in new graphical, audio, and immersion benchmarks. While the scale of battles can certainly be larger on the new consoles and PC, 2042 remains a cross-generational product, meaning it also needs to run on the ancient Xbox One and PS4 consoles. The biggest difference between the older consoles and new consoles is player count, with the new machines supporting matches with up to 128 participants.

These newer, larger-scale conflicts would understandably need fresh maps designed to accommodate the chaos. 2042 packs seven new playing environments for use across its modes. The playable area and layouts in these maps adjust slightly depending on player counts and modes. Most of the time spent on these maps will come by way of 2042’s All-Out Warfare mode that includes traditional Conquest gameplay along with Breakthrough, which returns from Battlefield 1 and offers a super-sized take on the popular Rush game type.

These new maps are big and, for the most part, sparse. Each has points of interest and cover scattered near capture areas, but they all have massive swaths of land that are painful to traverse outside of a vehicle. Yes, you can choose to hoof it, but any decent pilot, buggy driver, or sniper will have little difficulty snuffing you out. This naturally leads to big clumps of action concentrated in tiny pockets of an otherwise empty map, with Conquest matches devolving into nonsense even faster than Breakthrough. 

Many of the maps, like Breakaway and Kaleidoscope, feature urban metropolitan locales with imposing skyscrapers. The idea seems cool at first, but in practice, it ends up with repeated runs up an elevator to be murdered by defenders camping the doors or watching selfish teammates take choppers solo only to use them as a cheap shortcut to a roof. Everything that isn’t the skyscrapers is just kind of barren. Other maps like Renewal, which sports a large wall dividing a desert and agriculture installation, offer some slightly more compelling combat in Breakthrough. 

I still have yet to see either Manifest or Breakaway during my time playing, which leads me into Battlefield 2042’s awful menus, UI, and matchmaking. If you want to play All-Out Warfare for either of its two modes, you will be matchmaking only. There doesn’t seem to be any server browser or way to steer yourself towards specific content (except for the server browser DICE built for Portal - why can we not have this for all modes?). You can choose to queue for Conquest or Breakthrough. The times when my client did get connected to a game, it was almost certainly dumping me into a match on Breakaway that would be followed with Kaleidoscope. By this time, my client would have crashed, so I’ve yet to get any meaningful time with these new maps, but all of them I have stepped onto left me with an incredibly poor first impression.

Those bad vibes continue on into the weapon attachment and loadout system in Battlefield 2042. Referring to it as a system might be too generous because that would imply that the grand plan all along was for the game to ship like this (and I don’t believe that to be the case). In the main menu or on deployment screens, you can browse your unlocked equipment and then attach sights, barrels, and more to your weapons. It sounds simple enough, but in practice, new players will spend lots of time with trial and error until they can get a basic sight on their SMG. These loadouts also don’t seem to be global across the game as my configurations did not carry over into Battlefield Portal instances when 2042 rules and equipment were in use.

You need to manage separate loadouts for the various Classic Battlefield variants in Portal, though managing your weapons seems to work a bit differently than in the main game as the hotkey to change attachments doesn’t work with Classic modes (despite many of 2042’s other mechanics being left in those modes). Some parts of the UI need to be right-clicked while others need to be left-clicked. Nothing about it is intuitive and the hideous neon teal color theme that permeates the menus and UI makes things worse than they need to be.

Just like in the beta tests, understanding which options you have enabled or disabled within the game’s menus is never quite clear. Even reading text in menus and gameplay can be tough in the moment as the UI elements will distort or pixelate like you were operating a robot with a video display instead of eyes. 2042 does offer some welcome accessibility features the first time you run the game, but it doesn’t let you make adjustments to graphics, sound, mouse, or controls until after you get auto-dumped into a tutorial match. There is some sort of ping system within the game, but I still don’t fully understand how it works or how to use it. I’m not sure how the ping system from Apex Legends is not the starting point for which all other shooters begin their ping endeavors.

Speaking of the audio-visual presentation, Battlefield 2042 contains state-of-the-art effects and techniques, but somehow the final result manages to fall short of the sum of its parts. When you take each of the fancy shaders, post-processing effects, or textures into account, the results are impressive. Actually playing the game, especially on the new maps, never actually feels next-gen or even like you are in a AAA showcase title. I’m not sure if it's the design of the future cities, but casual glances around the maps only seem to offer bland shapes and vistas. Many of the structures don’t even appear to be textured at all and the non-stop weather effects obscure any other detail that might be present. Any moment that is not at high noon on a cloudless day makes picking out enemies on-screen difficult. I’d argue that the fancy weather stuff is a step down from previous games. In Battlefield 4’s Gulf of Oman remake, the dust storm would change the map landscape mid-match. 2042’s Hourglass map just gives us the post-storm environment and it is dull and lifeless.

Oddly enough, I found the older maps included with Battlefield Portal to do a much better job of showcasing the power of the newest Frostbite engine updates. For the most part, buildings and structures seemed to be using the models from the original games. The art choices here seem to mesh much more cleanly with 2042’s visual effects, even though they were originally designed years ago. Even spotting enemies was so much easier thanks to the lack of overly-contrasted effects and solid character design on the classic models. There is never a question of what your teammate is and what they can do while playing BC2 Classic. One area that remains strong from previous Battlefield titles is the HDR implementation. The more natural-looking lighting of the 1942 and BC2 maps was further enhanced by HDR’s expanded range and the highlights from explosions pop right off the screen.

The audio portion of the presentation is just about as wonky as the rest of the game. Footsteps here almost kill the experience. You can hear combat boots pattering around everywhere. There is no way to tell when someone is near you or further away because the boot sounds will all come at the same volume from random directions. Nothing else about the aural side of things stood out for me, which is a big shock as Battlefield games almost always push the boundaries of sound on release. I noticed that many of the original voice lines from the Classic modes have been re-recorded this time around and sound pretty good. The voice lines offered by your Specialists post-match are dreadful across the board. Be it the direction of the voice actors or the lines themselves, it’s hard to get through a post-match screen without cringing.

This brings me to the Specialists. Battlefield has always been known as a class-based shooter sandbox but now DICE has chosen to throw all of that out the window for these new...things. Players can pick any Specialist (along with their associated special ability) and then equip just about any gear they want. At first, it sounds liberating. Once in-game, the ramifications of this system work to almost completely break the Battlefield experience. 

When playing, all opponents look like these specialists. You have no idea how your squadmates or teammates are equipped. During play, there is no way to tell who has healing kits, who has ammo, who can repair machinery or anything. You can press the tab key to get a rudimentary scorecard for your squad, but it is just as unhelpful as the rest of the game’s UI since it offers no usable information like squad class choices, ping, or player counts. This oversight also helps to hide the propagation of bots into multiplayer matches. Every session is a total free-for-all and any semblance of tactical squad play is absent because the design of the game does nothing to reward or entice the general player population to play objectives as a cohesive team or squad. It is already well-known by now that there is no voice chat in the game at all. With an emphasis on crossplay, this makes Hazard Zone matches nearly impossible with pubs. 

In Hazard Zone, the Specialists make a bit more sense, but this mode feels just as borked as the rest of the 2042 content. Players must work to win as many times as possible in succession in order to get new cosmetics for their Specialists. The only other incentive to the mode is to earn more credits to enter matches with upgraded gear. I get the feeling that the new maps were designed to use this mode and Conquest/Breakthrough were stapled on later. I spent more time wasting AI soldiers and extracting with no conflict than seeing anything compelling. The few times I did come across rival squads, the conflicts felt better than the large-scale modes, but I’d rather not play this diversion. I'm sure this mode ties into the confusing narrative the game attempts to present where you battle as non-patriated refugees. Even this stuff feels odd as all the actual matches are listed as US versus Russia, though the game reminds you that everyone is actually an ex-pat fighting a shadow war on behalf of either side. Things make less sense the longer you think about them.

Battlefield Portal is the third of the game’s three main modes. It offers the community the chance to build their own custom multiplayer instance using a special toolset that is used from a web browser. Anything from light tinkering with existing modes to entirely new experiences are theoretically possible. A smattering of classic Battlefield soldiers, equipment and maps are also available to be used in Portal. DICE even created a few Portal playlists for everyone to join that mimic the older titles. These Portal-created throwbacks don’t actually feel or play like the original games, but this is where I consistently had the most fun in 2042. Even with only 32 or 64 participants, these maps just feel like better designs than their contemporary cousins. 

I dabbled in a few different custom modes and found a mix of bad ideas and ideas that need just a bit more time in the oven. One standout was a server that aimed to mimic Insurgency’s main game mode and pitted real players against teams of AI-controlled enemies protecting capture points. Respawns were only granted if the attacking team could capture a point. It had problems and lacked the balance and nuance of Insurgency, but for something a community member made in the first two days of release, it bodes well for the future of Portal.

The foundation of a great game clearly exists underneath all this mess. The gunplay is relatively tight across the board, despite the awful attachment system/UI. Things load fast and they often explode real nice as well. Player movement works well enough, but I found it disappointing that all the awesome movement abilities, including the prone position adjustments introduced in Battlefield 5, are nowhere to be seen. I also got strong average fps on my main PC, though the entirety of my play was plagued by stuttering that I could not remedy with settings adjustments, driver swaps, a Windows installation format, or trying on a second PC. Even at 720p on the lowest preset, I couldn’t get a stable framerate. It will drop from 150fps to 5fps in the blink of an eye over and over. It doesn’t matter if I look at a blank wall or 127 fighting soldiers.

This bird ain’t cooked through all the way

This game is not ready for prime time. EA is selling it as a full, complete game, but it is anything but. Even calling this early access would be a bit disrespectful to many of the better early access titles I've played. Almost everything I had issues with could be remedied with patching, but there are no guarantees. This is not a new development from the publisher and, if anything, they have been rewarded for this behavior over and over with record profits. Buying this game at launch and rewarding this approach will only make things worse. They will say the right things and promise the world in response to the community backlash, but time has shown us that the next quarter’s financial results are the only metric that matters. Releasing well-produced, polished games doesn’t offer a clear and obvious financial benefit to the publisher, so this will happen again.

The internet likes to joke about what happens to studios that come under EA control. We all cried for Bullfrog, Westwood, BioWare, Origin Systems, Maxis, and Visceral. DICE belongs on this list. It feels like this has been a forgone conclusion for a long time now, with the Swedish studio acting as engine supplier and support team for just about everyone under the EA umbrella. Battlefield used to be DICE at its best, now it just feels like a side gig.

Battlefield 2042 has a serious identity crisis. It clearly wants to be like Call of Duty: Warzone, with its overreliance on fast-quip Specialists that will serve as mannequins for endless cosmetic microtransactions. It also wants to grab some of the audience who religiously play Hunt: Showdown or Escape from Tarkov with its undercooked Hazard Zone mode. Finally, it also wants to be Battlefield to what’s left of a dedicated fan base that’s been left to watch the franchise chase the tail of its competitors for years. We loved Battlefield because it wasn’t Call of Duty or Counter-Strike or Fortnite or Apex or any other popular shooter. This mismanaged project clearly needed more time in the oven and a cohesive design that works to Battlefield’s strengths rather than a game attempting to be multiple things to multiple audiences. In a year where so many releases have been marred by a lack of polish and bugs, Battlefield 2042 may be the biggest offender. 5/10 awful Specialist one-liners


This review is based on the PC Origin release. The game key was provided by the publisher for review consideration. Battlefield 2042 launches for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC on November 19.

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

Review for
Battlefield 2042
5
Pros
  • Battlefield Portal offers a remix of classic franchise gameplay
  • Portal offers basic server-browsing functionality
  • Crossplay-enabled
Cons
  • Lack of cohesive design between story, modes, and maps
  • Specialists replace the tried and true class system
  • New maps feel less interesting than Portal Classics
  • Inconsistent UI is tough to parse at best
  • Visual, sound, and optimization bugs
  • Loads of missing features from previous Battlefield games
From The Chatty
  • reply
    November 19, 2021 6:05 AM

    Chris Jarrard posted a new article, Battlefield 2042 review: Aimless and shameless

    • reply
      November 19, 2021 6:17 AM

      I don’t disagree with any of this, but me and some friends are having a hell of a lot of fun with Portal. Definitely with the 15 bucks I paid for EA Play Pro just for Portal alone.

      It’s cool to play the new maps with 128 players and the BF3 classes.

      I don’t know what it is about this game that is clicking with me, since I haven’t really enjoyed a battlefield since BF3. I think it is the stripped down simplicity off some of the portal game modes like 1942 classic conquest, and just the possibilities of portal itself. It’s only going to get better.

      • reply
        November 19, 2021 7:23 AM

        yep, Portal "saved" this one for sure.

      • reply
        November 19, 2021 9:22 AM

        I would like to believe it will get better, but BF5 got worse in a lot of ways over the course of its truncated support life

    • reply
      November 19, 2021 7:47 AM

      Appreciate the honest review. Unfortunately some people will be lumping you in with the rest of the "toxic community" after this.

      Did you not experience any hit registration issues? For me that was worse than anything, gameplay felt straight up broken at random. Even worse than the early BF4 netcode with the its constant super bullets and kill trading. You just fire away at enemies and nothing fucking happens, and then you die.

      Shit is getting hammered on Steam, yikes. Currently 21% positive. People can't review if they refund or cancel their order as well, right? Imagine it would be even lower. I know after the trial, mine would have been mostly negative as well.

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        November 19, 2021 8:52 AM

        yep. it's fair major criticisms, to counter, it's going to need massive ongoing major fixes.

        I'm still in awe at how they removed squad/friends functionality from a fucking battlefield game, where the entire point is to squad up and tackle huge maps with ongoing objectives.

        many many heads should roll, especially the ones that had a VERY tight team/squad based game devolve into "fuck it, it's BR chaos, the players will adjust" type of game design.

      • reply
        November 19, 2021 10:06 AM

        We're not part of the toxic community making up dumb memes and yelling in videos. Chris pretty much summed it up why this game needs more work. Too bad they didn't realize portal was a game in itself.

        • reply
          November 19, 2021 10:10 AM

          People just looking at the low score or bulletpoints on sites like metacritic and so on definitely will.

      • reply
        November 19, 2021 11:10 AM

        Hitreg is honestly the worst I've ever experienced in a game.. Like the only time I can think of it being worse is before the modern era of online games like 90s shit.

    • reply
      November 19, 2021 7:50 AM

      Sounds like I’ll wait for this to come free on EA Play

    • reply
      November 19, 2021 8:32 AM

      Yeah, but still a blast to play in Portal

      • reply
        November 19, 2021 8:49 AM

        Portal still shares some of the online issues with the netcode and hit reg, and mechanical ones, like the movement feeling sludgy and stiff, aiming feeling off and laggy. Aside from 1942, which is a clear improvement no matter what over its extremely dated netcode and infantry and gun mechanics (although the major changes to the vehicles like tank shell trajectory I'm not too keen on, but still make some sense with the lack of heavy distance fogging), the original games of BC2 and BF3 being recreated in Portal feel off at the core. It's bizarre. The originals felt so much snappier and more precise in many regards.

        The most annoying glitch I ran into was 3D spotting not working while in a vehicle, in the Portal modes that offered 3D spotting like the originals. Worked well enough on foot, but in a vehicle, you cannot point out targets to your team. Nothing happens. I don't remember BC2 or BF3 having restrictions like that, so assumed it was a bug. A small one, but significant.

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      November 19, 2021 9:57 AM

      Great review, Chris

    • G D mercury mega
      reply
      November 19, 2021 11:01 AM

      https://pbs.twimg.com/media/FEkTIL1XoAgp-yI.png

      Noisy Pixel? Actugaming? Cogconnected? What fucking internet are these from?

    • reply
      November 19, 2021 12:43 PM

      Great review, Chris.

      BF 2042 is weird for me because I love it. There are bones under all this new nonsense that remind me of what BF is, and when you find those moments it's a lot of fun. I'm concerned they can't save this because the Specialists feel like a massive miss, and I'm not sure that's something they'll go back on.

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        November 19, 2021 12:59 PM

        I'm digging them more after playing a few days last week. Once the playerbase knew how to use them effectively, I was getting heals, ammo drops and suppressive fire in my favor.

        I think the playerbase will do that again for the wide release. it takes a bit for the systems to mesh as they are right now, but the new folks will learn and adapt.

    • reply
      November 19, 2021 5:49 PM

      I agree, I think it's a bad game, and Portal is the only positive part but there isn't enough content in it to warrant the price tag

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