Full disclosure: We Got This Covered passed on the opportunity to participate in EA’s “review event” for Battlefield 2042, which consisted of three 3-hour windows, one for each of the game’s modes, opting instead to wait for the early launch window, when I could play the same game consumers would be. The first thing I was greeted with was a news window telling me that one of the Specialists’ signature abilities had been disabled due to a bug. Great.
During the beta, I mentioned that Battlefield 2042 was coming in hot, to say the least. Optimization was poor, bugs were prominent, and core design principles left me scratching my head. I can say that the overall performance has improved somewhat (but it’s far from perfect), but bugs are still present. It’s hard to put my finger on, but the gameplay at large in the signature All-Out Warfare mode feels sloppy. From sluggish controls to persistent frame drops, it’s a far cry from the polished and free-to-play experience of the newly stealth-launched Halo Infinite multiplayer, which is what I would much rather have been playing.
I digress, Battlefield 2042 isn’t trying to be Halo. Unfortunately, it also isn’t trying to be Battlefield. The loss of the classic roles in lieu of Specialists leaves the game in this kind of hero-shooter-milsim purgatory, where any combination of gadgets and weapons means everyone is a milquetoast lone wolf. There’s little need to pay attention to squad composition when anyone can run anti-air, health kits, or ammo. It leads to pure chaos, and it strips Battlefield 2042 of any real sense of camaraderie with random teammates. But hey, I can strap on a wingsuit and rocket launcher and get some sick Reddit upvotes. Too bad it doesn’t help my team win games.
The loss of a campaign in a Battlefield game came as a more divisive blow to the community than I would’ve expected, especially given how bland even the most campaign-focused offering, Battlefield V, had been. But upon being lore-dumped for three or four minutes about a future climate crisis, no-pat soldiers, and global warfare, I thought something interesting could’ve come from the premise. If there were going to be a single Battlefield game with an interesting campaign, 2042 would’ve been it.
The storm events, the game’s main marketing material, kinda rule. I’m not going to deny my awe at looking up at a cacophonous tornado barreling across the map, scooping up friend and foe alike on its indifferent warpath. The weather is believable, and it is massive. How much of an impact it actually has on gameplay is a different story, as I rarely found myself actually focused on the trajectory of a storm, and unless it was directly on top of me or obstructing my visibility, I mostly put it out of mind.
I think the most frustrating feeling, besides this overwhelming sense that the game still feels like a technical preview, is the inability to parse the utter chaos unfolding in any given game. 128 players on massive maps sound good on paper, but it feels like a mess. “Play the objective,” the mantra of Battlefield, feels less like a creed and more like a loose suggestion. Sectors rise and fall, but with so many long sightlines (the maps are largely flat, rectangular spaces with little terrain variation), a battle of attrition usually ensues.
The most irritating quirk of Battlefield 2042, to me, is all aspects of its audio design. It sounds like the battle is taking place a hundred miles away while simultaneously giving the impression that you’re doing the tango with four enemies in a broom closet. It’s disorienting and actively makes it harder to determine where enemies, and action, are.
Another qualm I have with the audio is the decision that someone, anyone, needs to be talking or yelling at all times. Every time I died, my favored specialist, Falck, would scream out “DO NOT ASSIST ME” or “REQUESTING MEDICAL AID.” Her shrill voice seared into my mind, along with the constant barrage of announcers spewing meaningless dribble into my headset as the match progressed. I was promised moments of quiet, meditative tension between a couple of squads for smaller control points. Unfortunately, this is spoiled by the atmosphere-sucking voice acting, with lines that are repeated nauseatingly often.
There are a few positive additions to the formula, such as the Cross Menu, an in-game overlay that lets you change your attachments and scopes on the fly, as well as the vehicle call-in menu that drops a war machine right to your location. At least, I think these would be good additions, if they didn’t further incentivize what I can only dub “Overwatch hero syndrome.”
Each Specialist has a signature ability, can use any weapons and gadgets, and has the power to change attachments and call in vehicles on the fly. What this ultimately leads to is chaos compounding chaos — gone are the thoughtful exchanges of resources in the form of troops which create balanced squads working as a large, inseparable unit. Now every player, should they wish, can get across the map in mere moments, and are given no reason to believe they can’t go it alone. The siren’s call of “player choice” has paved the way for a disorderly online experience, with 128 individuals choosing playstyles that are, more often than not, against the best interest of their team. The beauty of limitations and thoughtful class choice is gone, and instead, everyone can use an SWS-10 and auto-turret.
Battlefield 2042 works against itself in almost all aspects of its design. Visually stunning maps are let down by boring level layouts and near-meaningless dynamic events. The game’s audio makes it actively annoying to play at times. Bugs and sluggish performance had me feeling like I needed to retire — that is until I booted up Halo Infinite and remembered that shooters are supposed to be responsive and tight. There is nothing here for me, and I no longer have the desire to see this project realized. If Battlefield 2042 launched a year from now, with massive community feedback and re-tuning, it might’ve stood with some of the better series entries. As it is now, however, 343 and Microsoft just ate EA’s lunch.
This review is based on the PC version of the game. A code was provided for review by Electronic Arts.
Battlefield 2042 mixes muddy combat, poor performance, and bind-boggling design choices for one of the series' most underbaked offerings yet.