The Good: Video engine looks very nice. Lots of stuff can be destroyed. Hazard Zone is interesting. Portal is zany fun. 64v64 chaos.
The Bad: 64v64 chaos. Classes are no more. The weather stuff is an overhyped bust. Weapons feel just OK.
The Ugly: No single player content at all. No match browser.
I’m going to come right out and say it – to me, bigger isn’t better. My Battlefield experiences, and I’ve played I think just about every game in the series, have always been with friends. Smaller engagements, 8v8 or 16v16, battles in which you could experience some level of teamwork and strategy. 64v64 is nothing but a bullet frenzy, a collision of aircraft and vehicles and infantry consisting of 128 lone wolves doing their own thing. They’ve done away with the classes which I think made players really consider their character choices and replaced them with a weak tea called specialists, and eliminated any single player content. The game also has a pretty limited set of multiplayer modes – four to be precise. Two are termed all-out war, which includes Conquest and Breakthrough modes, a game called Hazard Zone, and another called Portal.
Far and away the one I liked most is Hazard Zone. In it, teams of four are dropped into a map with up to 8 other teams. The object of the game is to retrieve data packs that appear periodically around the map and get them to an extraction point in time. The map is also populated with AI soldiers who will shoot at anyone approaching a data pack. You don’t know in advance where on the map the pack will appear, so there’s something of a scramble when it does, and there is strategy involved in recovering the pack, getting to the extraction. Rush towards the pack and you could be killed by a team lying in wait. Wait too long, and another team could get it first (though you can kill a team and take the packs they have recovered). And there are the enemy AI soldiers to worry about. Teams of four who do not learn to work together will quickly lose to teams that do – though overall there is a pretty steep learning curve, so be prepared to lose your first several matches just trying to figure it all out. I can’t help but think that Hazard Zone would have made a great game for either single players or a single team against a bunch of AIs. A missed opportunity there.
For both Conquest and Breakthrough games there is no match browser, so when you join a game, you join whatever game has an opening at that moment, I suppose. About half the time I joined a game just as it is starting. The other half I ended up joining a game in the last few minutes of play in which one team is just about to lose or well on its way to losing, and three guesses which side you end up on. What I suspect is happening is a lot of players on the losing team abandon the match, so the system plucks you out of the match queue and sticks you there. If you hang around until the match is over, when the next match starts, you’ll jump in at the beginning. In Conquest the object is to control key points on the map while trying to run out your enemy team’s reinforcement allocation. The maps are really, really big, and if you don’t manage to climb aboard one of the slim pickings of vehicles around, you could be in for a very long walk to get to the action, and by the time you get there, the action may have moved somewhere else, though sometimes you can find yourself in a pretty stacked fight around a single control point. Also, when you die, you can choose to deploy directly into a control point in conflict, though you may not last long if you do. More than once I’ve been sniped while hanging from my parachute to deploy, or appeared basically under the treads of an enemy tank. I will say that the maps on the whole are well-designed, with interesting features like Conex box stacks, cities in ruin, and skyscrapers (though the skyscrapers are kind of a cheat in that they have only a few floors of lobby, and then an elevator that takes you all the way up to a few floors at the top, and nothing in between). Breakthrough mode has a team of attackers trying to push defenders back, taking control points as they go. Of the two, this mode is more intense as combat is focused on a single point at a time.
Portal is an interesting game concept in which you get to set up new games using the maps, classes, and weapons from Battlefield 1942, Battlefield Bad Company 2, and Battlefield 3. There is an online tool to help you configure these games, and the number of options is amazing. Want to make a game with nothing but medics driving tanks? You can! Want to give everyone nothing but grenades? Have at it. And here is the game match browser I wish the main game had, because you can look at all the crazy games other people have created and jump right in. Heaped with community content, this is the mode that I suspect will prove to have some legs, and would have made a great budget title release on its own, but jammed together into a $60 package, I’m not so sure.
There are no classes in BF anymore. I know! Don’t ask me, I didn’t design it. In their place you now have specialists. The easiest way to think of specialists is like weak, generalist classes. The key is that any specialist can carry any loadout, so if your medic wants to carry a sniper rifle, or your sniper carry a medkit, that’s OK. What makes specialists “special” is some specific gadget or ability. For example, any player can heal downed players, but the medic (named Maria Falck – I have no idea why) heals them to full health and does it a little faster and carries a secondary weapon that fires healing syringes. The assault specialist (Webster Mackay) has a grappling hook and can move faster while aiming. A ballistic shield, a recon drone, a sentry gun – it’s a grab bag of interesting though relatively minor tchotchkes. Maybe if this was a game that inspired teamwork rather than bullet storm, all these small parts could add up to something greater, but my instinct is that maps will ultimately devolve into grappling hook and sniper hell. Time will tell.
Pre-launch press materials made a lot of the new weather system, but in actually playing with it, I’m not that impressed. Sure, it rains sometimes and reduces visibility. OK. Ditto sandstorms. And on some maps a tornado can roll through, but all I can see that it does is throw everyone up in the air. You can just deploy your parachute and hover around until the storm passes, and then land back where you started if you so choose. It’s just not the vastly destructive storm that I had been hoping for. The press materials also made a lot of the destructive environments, and here I think they’ve met their promise. I’ve seen tanks blow holes in big buildings and completely level smaller ones.You can have a field day blowing out windows and glass partitions, and I’ve stood right next to a tree that was blown to pieces by I think a recoilless rifle. I’m not sure everything can be destroyed, but an astonishing amount of stuff can. I’ll also say that just having come off a review of Back 4 Blood, those guns were a lot more fun to shoot. Maybe these guns are more realistic – I’m not a gun guy and so can’t really say. I’ll add here that the coolest gadgets and bad-assiest guns are unlocked with higher player levels, so high level players have a considerable advantage in battle, both from having more battle experience, and better weapons, and it can be kind of a downer to be repeatedly shot dead by some lvl-74 sniper with a one-shot-kill rifle, a laser sight, and 60x zoom optics.
I don’t know. It could be that the audience is moving towards bigger and more chaotic gunfights, in which case, though kind of limited with the number of modes they offer, Battlefield 2042 may scratch that shoot-em-up itch. If so, then I’ve fallen out of touch with this franchise. I can say that the decision to switch classes for specialists has met with a metric crapton of criticism on the interwebs, and in that I’m in agreement with the masses – thus far, about 20 hours in, all the specialists play the same to me, though I think most people will gravitate towards either the wingsuit or the grappling hook as being the most fun to play with. I suspect more content is coming – at least more maps, but hopefully more modes, and maybe some AI opponents for single player opportunities – in which case this game may grow into something good (but you’ll have to buy the year one pass to get it). But as it stands, at the price it stands at, I can’t recommend it.
Reviewed By: Phil Soletsky
Publisher: Electronic Arts
This review is based on a digital copy of Battlefield 2042 for the PC provided by Electronic Arts.