When I nail an MV-38 Condor transport hovering in the lens flare-filled sky with my rocket launcher, Battlefield 2042 is awesome. When my squad bursts onto the climate-torn scene in a massive tank, ramming through debris and blowing up abandoned office buildings, it’s a thrill to return to DICE’s militarised playground. When a round of All-Out Warfare starts up and 63 other internet strangers rush toward the first objective while explosions rain down overhead, it feels like what’s about to unfold next will be something surprising, bold, and special. Instead, it’s a trainwreck.
The chaos that ensues has a somewhat predictable quality to it. Squads split up. Players try to run quickly to where the action is, only to be picked off by snipers or ripped to shreds by flankers. They then rush to respawn because they know nobody’s coming to revive them. Vehicles smash into walls or violently whip around as gunners try to aim without getting nauseous. Eventually a match ends and you win or lose, but this outcome will probably only feel tangentially related to whatever larger struggle transpired.
One of the core issues stems from the fact that Battlefield’s traditional roles have been remixed to hell. Heroes have replaced the assault, medic, engineer, and scout archetypes and you can now mix-and-match perks like wingsuits and grappling hooks with sniper rifles and rocket launchers. It’s liberating and fun to mess around with, but also severely amplifies the existing chaos, especially when it’s not easy to quickly identify the specific capabilities and builds of your surrounding teammates.
Then there are the bugs, glitches, framerate drops, rubberbanding, and texture pop-in. By far the biggest issue is that the most central thing you can do in the game — aim at an opponent and shoot — feels widely inconsistent, at least on console. Sometimes it can feel like it takes twice as long to kill someone as it should, especially when firing at even a moderate distance. Some reviews have mentioned this, and it’s already a meme on the subreddit. Whatever the reason, it sucks. Six hours into the early launch version (the game doesn’t officially release until November 19), the lows have already far outnumbered the highs.
Battlefield 2042 occasionally looks great, even on my Xbox Series S, but it also very often seems unfinished. The series is somewhat infamous at this point for coming in hot, but despite big improvements from the earlier and much maligned beta, the game feels rushed and disorganized, and not in the kind of way where I’m excited to stick around and watch it finish cooking. It will no doubt improve a lot over the next couple of months. By next summer it could even feel like a completely different game. Unfortunately it’s coming out in fall 2021 into an already crowded field of shooters and live service games that’s getting more packed by the day.
Most notably, Microsoft decided to launch Halo Infinite’s multiplayer yesterday, nearly a month ahead of schedule. The first new Halo multiplayer in six years, it’s also free-to-play, and has already started charting on Steam. It wasn’t long until people online jokingly started digging an early grave for Battlefield.
I enjoyed what I played of Halo’s earlier beta, which lives in my memory as a handful of cool moments and exhilarating rallies rather than a morass of mayhem. This is not yet a review of Battlefield 2042, and I’m not going to begin comparing and contrasting them point by point here. But there’s a part of me that’s less than small that’s already ready to bounce from one to the other. Considering that Battlefield 2042 is $US70 ($95) on the latest consoles, it’s not hard to see some people jumping right to the latter.
Maybe EA knew that, and that’s why it originally wanted to get Battlefield out in October (those plans were foiled by the pandemic). Even without competition from Halo and the annual Call of Duty (Vanguard also seems to be stalling), the rest of the space is a live-service minefield. When Battlefield V came out in 2018, it was facing a battle royale frenzy thanks to PUBG and Fortnite. Now online shooters also have to contend with the likes of Apex Legends, Valorant, Call of Duty: Warzone and others, all of which are free-to-play. It’s harder than ever to find time to give games a first chance, let alone a second or third.
That said, I haven’t by any means given up on Battlefield 2042 just yet. I want to love its sprawling All-Out Warfare mode, even though for now it feels more like a botched experiment than the future of the series. Much more promising is the game’s Hazard Zone, a heist competition between squads to collect data and safely extract among hordes of AI-controlled enemies. It’s more focused and higher-stakes (and seemingly borrows a lot from another modern rival, Escape from Tarkov), but is the mode I’ve put the least amount of time into so far, in part because it works best with friends and the game currently doesn’t have built-in team chat.
If there’s a reason to stick with Battlefield 2042 for the long haul right now, it’s the third mode: Portal. Remixing maps and modes from earlier games in the series, it lets players create a greatest hits list that highlights the strengths of Battlefield 3 or Bad Company 2 while adding new twists. The most fun I’ve had in the latest game was playing a round of Breakthrough on Battlefield 1942’s Battle of the Bulge map, except this time the environments were fully destructible and over a hundred players were fighting for ground on the snow-covered fields.
It’s easy to see Portal expanding with new maps and options into an evergreen spin-off in much the way Warzone has, but in the meantime there’s a lot getting in the way of that becoming the focus. Battlefield 2042 feels like it’s currently trying to do too much, and ironically, that might still end up not being enough.