Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5 (reviewed), Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Price: $60 ($70 on PS5/XSX)
Release Date: November 19, 2021
Battlefield 2042 transports the long-running shooter franchise into the near future, after a two-game stint in the historical settings of World War I and World War II. Unfortunately, Battlefield 2042's more advanced form of warfare was not worth the wait.
The game takes several seismic leaps forward, but for each new innovation, there’s a fundamental gameplay mechanic that the developers have mishandled or outright neglected. The team at Dice deserves plaudits for tweaking the franchise’s established formula. But the excellent new additions, Hazard Zone and Battlefield Portal, cannot make up for how often actually playing the game feels like a chore. Read on for our full Battlefield 2042 review.
Battlefield 2042 review: Gameplay
Battlefield 2042 is an online-only multiplayer shooter that drops up to 128-players (limited to 64 on PS4/Xbox One) on an assortment of massive maps, and allows them to run wild. The Battlefield series has always provided an unrivaled sense of scale, and 2042 regularly delivers on this front.
At the beginning of a game, you can pause and watch a battalion of tanks speeding over sandy desert dunes, or a swarm of attack helicopters buzzing overhead. During these moments, it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer scale of 2042.
The game's problems become apparent the second you pick up your controller and begin to actually play, though. While Battlefield 2042 has plenty of faults, the most unforgivable one is that the core shooting doesn’t feel satisfying.
Automatic guns have a high degree of bullet spray, which makes accurate aiming far more difficult than it should be. Long-range weapons, such as sniper rifles, fare a little better, but even these weapons don’t feel particularly good to wield. It also takes an overly long time to kill enemy soldiers, which compounds these issues. Ultimately, shooting shouldn’t feel this frustrating in a shooter.
Of course, the lackluster shooting is only a problem if you can actually find anybody to aim at. In Battlefield 2042, that’s often easier said than done. While you can play with up to 128 players on PC and next-gen consoles, the developers have also made the maps much bigger.
This leads to warzones that feel vast, but empty. Prepare yourself for plenty of treks across barren wastelands as you desperately search for someone or something to aim your gun at. A well-placed sniper round can prematurely end these marches across the battlefield, adding to the tedium. At least spawning a vehicle to get around quickly is a simple enough task.
The seven maps available at launch are an underwhelming bunch. There’s a pleasing level of aesthetic variety between them, but most are simply too vast for their own good. They all lack choke points where opposing forces will naturally meet. Kaleidoscope, with its towering skyscrapers and Renewal, which is neatly split into two distinct halves, are the best of the bunch. But even these pale in comparison to fan-favorite maps from previous installments.
The biggest change that Battlefield 2042 makes to the core formula is the removal of squad classes in favor of a new Specialists system. These named soldiers each have a unique ability, but any of them can wield the full array of weapons and gadgets that you’ve unlocked. They represent a clear attempt to morph Battlefield into something that resembles popular hero shooters, such as Overwatch or Apex Legends.
The removal of classes pivots Battlefield away from its roots as a team-focused multiplayer shooter. Most Specialists encourage a lone-wolf playstyle, even though some of the 10 characters available at launch have abilities that focus on reviving or buffing your squadmates. It all serves to make playing Battlefield 2042 feel oddly lonely.
Battlefield 2042: All-Out Warfare and Hazard Zone
Battlefield 2042 splits neatly into three pillars. All-Out Warfare offers the most traditional Battlefield experience. Here you can play either Conquest, which should be instantly familiar to veterans, and Breakthrough, which is a new spin on Bad Company 2’s Rush mode.
Conquest is the most traditional Battlefield mode. You spawn on a gigantic map, littered with capture points, and vie for control of sectors against an enemy team. It’s a classic game type for a reason. But Conquest exacerbates the aforementioned barren maps and lack of incentives to work as a team.
Breakthrough, which casts one team as the attackers and the other as defenders, works a little better. The problems with the core gameplay are still present, but at least in this mode, you’ll always know where to find a firefight.
Hazard Zone is an entirely new mode for the franchise. It places you in a squad of four, and drops you on a map to salvage randomly spawning data drives. All the while, you'll compete against other teams aiming to do the same. These drives are worth points, which you can use to unlock new weapons, gadgets, and perks.
The twist is that when your squad wipes, you’re eliminated and lose all your collected data drives. To bank your loot, you must reach an extraction point before time runs out. The mode offers the same high-stakes risk/reward balance that has made the battle royale genre so popular. Matches are extremely tense, and extracting at the last second with a pocket full of drives is exhilarating.
This mode is also where the Specialist system works best. No squad can have duplicate Specialists, so it’s important to pick a well-rounded team with abilities that complement each other. Hazard Zone is highly focused on teamwork, so squads with voice chat will have a serious advantage.
Hazard Zone does have its own issues though. Its unlock system is highly dependent on successfully acquiring drives, so it’s entirely possible to get matched up against experienced squads with significantly better gear than you. As such, the mode suffers from balance issues.
Battlefield 2042 review: Battlefield Portal
The other core pillar of Battlefield 2042 is Battlefield Portal. This “love letter” to the franchise brings together content from Battlefield 1942, Battlefield Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 3. You can mix and match elements from the three classic games to create nostalgia-fueled mashups.
If you’d rather just play a traditional match of 1942, Bad Company 2 or Battlefield 3 remade in 2042’s engine, you can. But the bizarre community creations are far more fun. I played a match where one team was in tanks from 1942, while the other was equipped with rocket launchers from Battlefield 3. This setup was extremely unbalanced, but it was a great laugh all the same.
Battlefield Portal will likely be the feature toward which longtime fans gravitate. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give the Portal mode is that it makes the 2042 portion of the package look less impressive in comparison. The shooting in Portal generally feels more precise, the maps are significantly better and the class-based system encourages coordinated team play.
However, Portal offers only two maps from each of the previous games, so don’t mistakenly believe that Battlefield 2042 comes with complete remakes of three classic Battlefield titles. Portal is a pretty fun distraction, but it does feel a tad gimmicky. It also might not have much staying power, unless the developers add more content in the future.
Battlefield 2042: Visuals and technical issues
Under the right conditions, Battlefield 2042 is definitely a looker. The much-marketed extreme weather effects don’t have a significant gameplay impact, but watching a sandstorm roll in or a tornado send vehicles flying across the map definitely grabs your attention.
It’s a shame that 2042’s visual splendor runs afoul of one of the worst UIs I’ve ever seen in a multiplayer shooter. The interface is overly cluttered, oddly proportioned and never presents the information you want, where you want it. This design approach applies to the game’s loadout selection screen and main menus as well. Generally, everything takes two more clicks than it should.
Battlefield 2042 also suffers from an abundance of technical issues. I played on PS5, and mercifully didn’t experience the hard crashes that players have reported on Xbox Series X. I did encounter a litany of bugs and glitches, though. These ranged from somewhat amusing ragdoll physics to downright frustrating clipping and rubber-banding problems.
The game’s online servers also appear to be struggling at launch. During one play session, I was completely unable to play Breakthrough. The game refused to even search for an available match. I also experienced a round of Hazard Zone crashing at the last minute, just when my team had extracted, carrying packs bursting with loot. I’m still not quite over that one.
Battlefield 2042 review: Verdict
2021 has been a strong year for multiplayer shooters. The likes of Call of Duty: Vanguard and Halo Infinite (whose multiplayer component came out just days before 2042) have set a high bar for Battlefield 2042 to meet. Unfortunately, the game comes up well short.
There are fleeting moments when everything comes together in Battlefield 2042. Both Hazard Zone and Portal offer something new, which dedicated players will likely come to appreciate in the coming months. However, the core experience is frustrating far more often than it’s actually fun.
At launch, Battlefield 2042 feels more like a patchwork foundation than a finished product. This year, developers have delayed many games until 2022, and I can’t shake the feeling that Battlefield 2042 probably should have been among them. This flawed shooter has potential, but could have done with some extra development time.
After such a rocky reception, a recent report suggests that EA is considering making Battlefield 2042 free to play in an effort to boost its rapidly dwindling player base.