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Battlefield 2042 review-in-progress: a solid FPS with great potential

Some initial thoughts on the field of battle.

This Battlefield 2042 review-in-progress is an odd one. Namely because my hands-on time with the game has been dictated by EA, as opposed to actual real-life sit-downs with my own copy of the game. Still, I've largely enjoyed what I’ve played so far and am confident that Battlefield fans will too.

So, here’s the situation. EA invited loads of journalists and influencers to try out Battlefield 2042 over three evening sessions. Each session focused on one of the game’s core modes: All Out Warfare, Hazard Zone, and Portal. This meant we got roughly three to four hours of hands-on time with the game’s various slices, but in a strictly controlled environment. For the most part, it was good! But ultimately, EA decided what we played and when. Plus, progression was turned off. Hence why this is a review-in-progress. I’m running on instinct folks, with some strong impressions nearly fully formed, and others tumbling around in my brain like shrapnel. I need more time.

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Still, let’s start with All Out Warfare, what I’d dub the “Classic Battlefield Experience”. It encompasses two modes: Breakthrough and Conquest. For me, Breakthrough was the standout here. Only a portion of the map is unlocked at the start, and the Attackers must push back Defenders by capturing zones. If they succeed, the Defenders are pushed back, more of the map unlocks, and the Attackers must continue their assault until every zone is theirs. I’m taken by this mode because it’s what Battlefield’s about (to me, anyway). Whatever side you’re on, you’re part of this swarm of bodies all united in a single, simple mission: ATTACK or PROTECT. In all-caps because it’s ANARCHY.

Breakthrough not only gives chaos structure, but purpose. And as you’d expect, it’s great fun in a squad of three other players, as you plan charges or bunker down together amidst explosions. The game’s Specialists (heroes, classes, whatever you want to call them) were okay here, I suppose. I wouldn’t say any of them felt particularly essential to success, as our squad just used whichever folks we liked the look of, and it seemed to work out fine. My fave was Paik, as she had some futuristic glasses that let her see enemies through walls temporarily.

A tornado tears through a small encampment in Battlefield 2042.
The game ran buttery smooth on my RTX 2070 at 1080p. And honestly, it's a real looker.

Not so much of a fan of Conquest, though. This mode sees the entire map filled with zones that both sides must fight to capture and hold. This is Battlefield 2042 as a sandbox, with less structure and more responsibility on your shoulders. For our squad at least, fun wasn’t as readily available in this mode. Unlike Breakthrough, teams aren’t all part of a hivemind, but splintered into squads very much doing their own thing. The zones almost feel like reminders that there’s an objective, rather than being objectives themselves. If you’re part of squad that revels in the free-form playground, you’re in for a great time. But others may find the lack of direction give way to boredom pretty quickly.

Hazard Zone turns up the focus, though. This mode sees eight teams of four players face off in a Hunt Showdown-esque fight over Data Drives scattered around the game’s maps. At two points during each match, there’s a chance for teams to extract with the Drives they’ve picked up. Successfully extract and you earn credits, which can then be spent on better gear going into the next match. Die? Well, you’ll earn nada, zilch, zero.

Overall, I’d say Hazard Zone was inconsistently fun. I can only see this being a whale of a time if you’re playing with mates. Co-ordination is key, and I really liked how much my journo pals and I had to communicate. But Death is punishing, with little compensation for participation. Manage to survive for a while, or even win, and it takes on a different complexion; one of pure adrenaline.

A squad desperately tries to board a plane for extraction in Battlefield 2042.
One of Hazard Zone wins was a mad scramble, to say the very least.

As with all of Battlefield 2042, I need more time with it. In Hazard Zone you can't have duplicate Specialists on a team. Some of them weren’t useful at all, but it did mean having some semblance of a squad setup worthwhile. For instance, I took a bloke who could chuck down ammo packs, but one of my squaddies used a grappling hook to scout ahead, or even fling themselves to the extraction point as the timer ticked down. On the other hand, the whole buying gear thing before matches feels like it needs a bit of a rework. The rich get richer, essentially. Losing begets more losing, as you don’t seem to earn enough money to buy new guns, or really mix things up. If you’re having a bad night, you could end up playing Hazard Zone with the same loadout every. Single. Time.

I’m not sure the maps suited Hazard Zone all that well either. They’re fantastic for Breakthrough and Conquest, with huge expanses and towering skyscrapers and ports offering plenty of room to manoeuvre. But in Hazard Zone, a mode designed for tight-knit skirmishes, it often felt like there was too much open ground. With cover being so scarce, fights were often decided by who saw who first, with little to no counterplay.

An aerial shot of one map from Battlefield Portal.
Given time, players will come up with some outrageous creations in Battlefield Portal. What I sampled was nowhere near what's possible.

Finally we got our hands on Battlefield Portal. This acts as the game’s custom game mode creator and community creation hub. Maps, weapons and specialists from Battlefield 2042, Battlefield 3, Battlefield 1942, and Bad Company 2 can be mashed together in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways. Unfortunately, the hands-on session for clearly didn’t do this zaniness justice.

Battlefield Builder, the level editor, lets you craft some wild things via your web browser. And honestly, it’s a fairly intuitive interface with plenty of options (and if you want to go super deep, there’s a “Rules” section that lets you mess about with logic edits.) Once you’re done, it’s a doozy to import it into your game. So far, it looks pretty good for casual creators and map-heads alike.

As for the custom maps us journos actually got to sample? Not so good. We were first subjected to Courage’s VIP Fiesta and Rob’s Free For All, both of which stripped out any of Battlefield’s identity in favour of plain old shooty-bangs. Yawn. From then on, it was a return to Battlefield maps and modes of yore. More interesting, but certainly lacking pizazz. I wasn’t expecting Battlefield Kart, but at least something a bit different. We weren’t able to browse community creations either. EA’s strict control did them no favours here, as I’m dead certain Portal isn’t as dull as what they made it out to be. Once people get their hands on it, I’m sure it’ll be way more interesting.

But from my brief samples of everything Battlefield 2042 has to offer, I’ve come away with a good feeling. My gut tells me that this is a solid shooter with modes that’ll appeal to plenty of FPS fans. But, despite its comparatively poor showing in the hands-on, it’s Portal that I believe has the potential to be something truly special. Check back later for my full review, which will be with the benefit of play free from EA’s vice grip.

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