The games industry stops for no one, and just one week after Call of Duty: Vanguard was put out by Activision, Battlefield 2042 is here to try and eat its lunch. What it has to offer, though, could hardly be considered a filling main course. EA DICE has cooked up an excellent starter — sort of like a crowd-pleasing tomato soup — that doesn't quite have the chops to stand on its own. Extensive post-launch support will surely see it fulfil those ambitions, but that content is months or possibly even years down the line. When Battlefield 2042 shows you the bill, it's asking you to buy into what's to come rather than hope you're satisfied with the chef's first dish.
Three modes grace the main menu: All-Out Warfare houses classic Conquest skirmishes along with the return of Breakthrough from Battlefield 1 and Battlefield V. Hazard Zone is an entirely new mode tasking squads with retrieving data drives and then extracting before any other teams can eliminate you, and Portal brings back maps of the past ripe for editing to create custom modes.
Conquest and Breakthrough are where you'll likely spend most of your time, representing the core of what makes a Battlefield title tick. The popular race to whittle the enemy team's tickets down to zero by capturing points on the map has hardly changed. Up to 128 players on PlayStation 5 compete for victory this time around, meaning maps are bigger than ever.
They span the globe of the near future, from the dusty environments of Qatar and beached ships of India to Singapore's outdoor cargo hangers. Each one has the potential to highlight what our own Earth could look like if global warming isn't thwarted as tornados and violent weather destroy the landscape around you, but there's something else linking them together: they're all a bit too big.
While past Battlefield games have always had the criticism of simply running for a few minutes to find the action and then dying as soon as you get there thrown at them, there have always been ways of getting around it. Whether that's hopping in a vehicle, spawning on teammates, or properly reading the map to see where the action will be headed next. This time, however, while those options still exist, so much barren space separates the objectives from one another that the game feels like just as much of a running simulator as it does a shooting one. These periods of boredom are something you'll just have to accept as part of the flow if there's nothing nearby to transport you to the next objective or a friend who can pick you up.
You're also likely to encounter the same maps over and over again since there aren't too many of them at launch. Only seven, in fact. Obviously, you're at the mercy of matchmaking, but it's all too easy for the game to load up the very same map twice in a row. You've already taken a hammering there once; you don't want to do it again.
At least the shooting is its usual solid self. Battlefield has always been a series that actually makes where you place the iron sights matter, with the likes of bullet drop to take into account before taking your shot. Things are no different in the near future as a large range of weaponry caters to the needs of assault rifle users, close-quarters SMG experts, and long-range masters with a snipe rifle in their hands.
They're complemented by gadgets like the grappling hook, ballistic shield, and sentry guns for rounding out your loadout. Tied to the Specialist you choose to play as, it's here where Battlefield 2042 moves away from the class system of old. Repair tools, ammo and medical crates, and insertion beacons can be equipped by anyone, blurring the lines between the traditional roles previous titles have subscribed to. Each Specialist has their own unique perk, but they're hardly a replacement for the defined tasks of soldiers past. While you could argue this is a more freeing implementation, it also means those all-important tools could be left behind. If you're not communicating in a squad, something like the rocket launcher or armour plating will likely be your first port of call. It's not a change for the better, we'd argue.
It all amounts to a Conquest mode that repeats the same old: exciting and intense in fits and starts, but also a little dull at times too. Breakthrough is where you go for the action. With just two objectives to focus on at any one time, the chaos is focused around specific parts of the map, meaning you'll always be right in the thick of things. This is where you go for the fun; most of our playtime was spent there.
But this is still Battlefield. It continues to be a game where getting just one kill feels like an achievement and taking back an objective warrants a war medal. As rare as it may be, going on a tear and eliminating an entire enemy squad to squash their chances of turning the tide of battle puts you on top of the world. There's still so much satisfaction to be had here, even if changes made under the hood mean it won't quite feel like home. In the heat of the action, it feels fantastic to play.
Then there's Hazard Zone, which has to be the weakest part of the package. It's high on intensity and low on respawns, asking teams of four to search maps from the standard multiplayer for data drives and then extract with them. If your squad is killed off, you're out of the match for good.
The mode is pitched as a slightly more casual take on Escape from Tarkov, but it's all so uninteresting. Since you're playing on the gigantic maps used by Conquest and Breakthrough, you'll once again encounter the cliché of a lot of running without much gunning. This time it actually happens in practise, though, making for a dull mode we will rarely return to in the future. It would be of no surprise whatsoever if Hazard Zone goes the same way as Battlefield V's Firestorm mode and receives very little love after launch.
Portal will be what excites long-time fans the most, remastering beloved maps from Battlefield 1942, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and Battlefield 3 for an experimental mode where you're the judge of the objectives and physics. The mode absolutely fulfils the fantasy pitched prior to release: revisit the likes of Arica Harbor, Caspian Border, and Battle of the Bulge fully remastered for the modern age with fun tweaks and changes. While you do have to visit an external website to make your creation a reality, browsing the in-game server list will always throw up some inviting prospects with custom rules and regulations.
It's these that will turn your nostalgia trip into much more than a brief vacation as enjoyable variations throw up interesting scenarios like pitting two armies from different periods of time against one another, or changing your loadout every time you spawn.
There are limitations, of course, but what's already there has us coming back for more and theorizing what could come back next. Operation Metro, anyone? Despite putting EA DICE in a bit of an awkward spot, we've had just as much fun revisiting these older maps as learning the new ones.
However, a Battlefield release is never without its problems and Battlefield 2042 is, unfortunately, no different. Features like a scoreboard and squad voice chat are missing. Then there's a long list of technical flaws mostly revolving around graphical glitches. Aircraft can become suspended in mid-air, vehicle pieces float in the air once they've been destroyed, and dodgy killcams fall underneath the map. Matches become stuck on the map screen and never start, redeploying in the middle of a match is prevented by bugs, and even Trophies don't unlock correctly. That one's a cardinal sin. The UI sometimes indicates the wrong objective to attack and the lack of a stats screen means there's no way to track your wins and losses.
Battlefield 2042 is missing core features that make multiplayer titles what they are today; it shouldn’t have released without them and that's not even factoring in the long list of glitches at launch. They're not even just minor distractions: we were literally unable to join matches because the game suddenly decided to randomly break on us. Backing out to the main menu and restarting matchmaking fixes most issues, but that's not the point: the game shouldn't be in such a position in the first place. It was already delayed once — maybe the title needed one more.
Battlefield 2042 is disjointed and incomplete at launch, but it's impossible to deny it still has that magic spark that made past entries thrive. There aren't enough maps and one too many bugs and glitches get in the way of the fun. However, with the excellent Portal mode to bolster it, Battlefield 2042 does just enough to get us on board. While we wish so many things were better, nothing else does it quite like Battlefield.