Battlefield 2042 review: an FPS that doesn't feel ready yet
Portal could still be something great
I’ve spent some more time with FPS Battlefield 2042, having freed myself from EA’s vice grip. And it’s safe to say the fields of battle have taken on a vastly different complexion now it’s largely in the hands of many more players. Compared to my three-night imprisonment alongside other journos and influencers, my feelings have definitely levelled out.
The honeymoon period is over, basically. My relationship with the game in the real world, outside of EAs strict boundaries has lessened. I’m sorry to say it, but we’ve grown apart. Things are average between us, and perhaps only Portal, the game’s custom mode creator, can salvage things.
Battlefield 2042 is a hefty package split into three chunks: All Out Warfare, Hazard Zone, and Portal. All Out Warfare comprises Conquest and Breakthrough, the game’s ‘classic’ modes. Breakthrough was a favourite of mine during the controlled review sessions, and it remains so. Trying to hold the line as the Defenders, or push through to open up the map and claim all zones as Attackers, can be super satisfying. You always feel that you have a clear objective despite the havoc of battle, and being part of a huge team effort adds that sense of comradery few games other than Battlefield can deliver.
As for Conquest? I remain unconvinced. In this mode the entire map’s unlocked from the get-go and there are a bunch of zones that need capturing dotted about. The team that holds the most zones for the longest time wins. This is Battlefield 2042 without the leash, letting you run wild with your pals in its vast playgrounds. With a limited number of journos and influencers, it felt a bit quiet. But with maxed-out lobbies, it’s certainly teeming with tanks and tangos.
If you’ve got a plan of action to tackle said tanks and tangos, great! But for someone like myself, who never does, Conquest can be a struggle. You have to approach each match with a clipboard and set yourself achievable goals. You have to carve your own path through the 128-player crush otherwise it can quickly morph from overwhelming to plain boring. Longtime fans will most likely enjoy this mode, but it’s definitely one brought to life by bringing some mates on board.
The same is true of Hazard Zone, the second Hunt: Showdown-esque component of Battlefield 2042. 32 players, divided into teams of four, compete to extract as many data drives from a map as possible. There are only two windows for extraction, so if you don't risk hoofing it out with your drives and cashing them in for credits, you could emerge totally skint. And you need those credits to beef up your loadouts for the next match.
I was worried in my previous hands-on time that this economic structure would lead to an ouroboros of suck, where losing only leads to more losing. And guess what? That ouroboros still whizzes round and round. Look at it, loves the taste of its tail, it does. Grow up.
Portal, Battlefield’s custom mode creator and community creation hub, was the mode I thought had the most potential. Maps, specialists and weapons from many Battlefields of yore can be mixed and matched here. Alternatively, you can just revisit traditional modes from your golden oldies, like Conquest in Bad Company 2, for instance. And man, are these far more colourful and vibrant than 2042's offerings. They’re a great way to relive the good times and serve as a reminder that the classic Battlefield formula works. Perhaps 2042 can still learn something from its predecessors.
But if you'd like to create something fresh, Battlefield Builder is the browser-based platform from which you’ll export your creations. It’s easy to navigate, intuitive, and despite looking relatively simple on the surface, actually has a wealth of options to tinker with. For those who’d like to crank the options up a notch, there’s a “Rules” section that lets you snap together logic edits.
Seeing as the custom modes us journos got to sample at EA's event weren’t great, I was hoping that time out in the wild would land us some gems. That’s not quite what’s happened, unfortunately. So far, Portal’s server browser is rammed with XP farming servers and uninspired Team Deathmatch modes. I tried a zombies thing hoping for fun antics. It was a bit naff. Then I tried a gun-game. It was better. None of it represents what’s possible, though. I still reckon there’s great potential here, but it clearly needs even more time.
But there are larger problems that can’t be fixed by community engagement. For one thing, the maps work inconsistently with different game modes. On one hand, I’m a fan of how Breakthrough can feel like a journey through a changing landscape. You’ve got Hourglass which kicks off in the desert sands, then shifts into the city with its towering skyscrapers. Discarded has you fight amongst barren grassland, before pushing you into a shipyard scattered with colossal boat remains. If it's all running smoothly, these twists and turns don’t only make for nice scenery, but also a pretty enjoyable playground.
They now support up to 128-players and that’s great, but I’m not sure I notice the bump in bodies. Sure, things are chaotic, but the maps are so vast to make up for it that the pockets of violence remain similar to previous, smaller entries in the series. And I just don’t think many of the maps have been built with Hazard Zone in mind. So many scraps take place in open fields with only a few pebbles for cover, and this means they’re often decided in a few seconds as one team mows down the other with zero counterplay. The mode is crying out for bespoke maps with dense spaces designed for close-quarters showdowns.
“Specialist” is a very loose term here, and they certainly blur into irrelevance in the great mash that is All Out Warfare
Specialists, the game's different character classes, are also only variously effective. In some modes it feels completely unimportant which character you or anyone on your squad takes into battle. The Specialists do at least feel like they belong in Hazard Zone’s tight-knit skirmishes, more so than do in any other mode. Aside from looks, the only thing that separates Specialists is a single ability. Things like drones that can scout the environment and spot enemies, big shields, or scanners that can see enemies through walls are the ones that actually come in handy, especially when the player count drops.
Unlike previous Battlefield games, there are no restrictions on weapons and tools. Choose the Sniper class and you can still outfit them with an assault rifle if you’d like. Hey, you can even give them medi-packs or ammo crates too. “Specialist” is a very loose term here, and they certainly blur into irrelevance in the great mash that is All Out Warfare.
There’s one isssue that plagues everything in the game, and that’s dodgy performance. It washes over it all like a murky slush. I’m running the game at 1080p on an RTX 2070, which should be more than enough to do the job, and yet my frame rates jitter and jolt all over the place. It’s also an inherently unstable game right now, with frequent crashes to desktop and weird glitches and matchmaking issues. One time a friend and I went from trundling along on a quadbike to being sucked under a map and into a white, milky expanse. Thankfully I was put out of my misery, but my friend was stuck in a swimming animation, watching all the action happen from above like a sad shark.
Promised updates will hopefully iron out many of the game’s performance issues, but even the game’s look is disappointing, and I don’t know if that can be hotfixed. It’s hard to sum-up, but there’s a flatness to the aesthetic. That’s not to say maps don’t have moments of “Cor, that’s nice”, but more often than not they're a thick spread of grey or brown and sometimes green. It's particularly noticeable in Portal.
I really wanted to like it, but right now I see Battlefield 2042's little logo and I simply don't trust it. This game needs time. Time to untangle those performance issues and perhaps tweak Hazard Zone’s economy. Portal needs time to save it from the maw of XP farming servers. Whether I’ve got the patience is another matter, entirely. Simply put: this is a game that doesn't seem ready yet.