Crikey. Battlefield had a rough first couple of weeks didn’t it? Between connectivity issues and hardcore enthusiasts finding everything to complain about, the signs weren’t good. And yet each time I jumped in and actually managed to load into the game properly, I had a great time. I quite often had no idea what was going on, but it was good fun. That said, I got pretty sick of hovercrafts flinging themselves up the side of buildings while shooting an entire team dead in 7 seconds, but ignore those and there was some good action to be had.
And yet I still felt it pointless writing this review until the first big updates had arrived to fix some of those early teething problems. Everything had already been said, every rant had already been ranted, every argument had already been argued. But what about now, after the first two big patches have been released and some of those early issues resolved? Well that’s what we’re here to find out.
Firstly, Battlefield 2042 is all about the huge online battles. The only offline experience you’re getting is if you choose to do a solo match with bots, but it’s still very much in the style of an online game. So that means no single player campaign to sink your teeth into, and while I understand that most people just play the online modes anyway, I’ve always really enjoyed campaign modes in FPS game. But still, that’s how it is, so we can dive into the online modes and see what’s what.
And the most immediate thing to notice is that player count – 128 players in one game, which has the potential to be absolutely insane. The outcome? It’s absolutely insane. Part of me thinks it’s too much at times – not all the time, but at certain crunch moments it just becomes unmanageable and almost pointless. Trying to storm the roof of a skyscraper by getting the lift to the top, all the while knowing that 50 enemies are perched on the roof waiting for the doors to open… yeah it’s not fun when that happens. But the larger, more open maps make for some excellent tense battles, and if you manage to fluke your way into some teamwork amongst you and your 63 teammates there’s a good chance of things working out rather well. What’s amazing though is how you just can’t stop for a moment. It feels a bit more like you’re feeling the confusion of a war situation, not quite knowing where shots are coming from, always at risk of being flanked or picked off from a distance by a well-positioned sniper. But there’s nothing here to suggest it’s ever unfair; you can do those things to your opponents just as much as they can to you. It’s all about outsmarting your enemy. And with the maps being absolutely enormous, there’s plenty of chances to take advantage of your surroundings.
Trying to organise these 128 players into some kind of order are the two main game modes that the game tries to nudge you gently towards: Conquest and Breakthrough. Conquest is a vast battle for numerous zones around the map, akin to previous Battlefield games but made virtually impossible with the new player count. Staying alive for any amount of time is incredibly difficult, and more often than not just as you get a couple of kills and start approaching the target zone of your choosing you’ll get nailed by a robot dog, helicopter, or random enemy who’d been hiding in a bush nearby. Luckily the hovercrafts which were, frankly, ridiculously over powered at launch have been toned down and their movements restricted, so while they’re still dangerous you at least stand a chance against them now. Good news, and one of my favourite parts of the first large update. I much preferred the Breakthrough option though, giving a far more focussed set of objectives to either attack or defend, and meant that all of your focus could be on a much smaller set of objectives. This did suffer more from defensive congestion – one match lasted over 50 minutes just because of the final stand of the defending team being so effective – but the chaos is at least slightly more organised, which was good.
Hazard Zone is good fun though, pitching 32 players into 4-player teams against each other and a hoard of bots in order to secure a series of data points and get to an extraction point in time to escape safely. If that sounds familiar then you might have played Hunt Showdown or Escape from Tarkov, both of which offer similar types of gameplay. Here you progress between matches and gain the ability to upgrade your weapon attachments, or unlock additional storage for carrying data points – get killed though and you’re back to square one, and have to fight for your gear all over again. It’s incredibly tense as a result of this, and gives a huge risk vs reward consideration. It’s not what you’d expect from Battlefield, but I’m very glad it’s there.
And then there’s Portal. Here’s where Battlefield takes off into the world of absolutely bizarre. Players can create their own games, selecting a map and a sequence of impressively complex rules to produce tailor-made experiences that you just wouldn’t find in the main game. Want a rocket launcher vs grenade match? Done. Limit everything to melee kills? Easy. Want to only allow vehicles and no weapons to produce and run-enemies-over-em-up? That’s an option too. It’s incredibly deep and detailed, but also very complex to get your head round. But I’m happy playing what other people come up with – there’s so much great stuff on there already I never need to touch the actual development tools myself.
But what of this weirdness with the specialists? If you haven’t seen this, 2042 lets you be far more flexible with the various characters you can choose. There’s still the same labels of having a medical loadout, an assault setup and so on, but they’re not tied to a particular specialist. As such you can turn a more assault-oriented operative into a medical character who can revive and chuck out healing packs, or take someone with a medical specialism but still load them up with heavy hitting weapons to bombard the enemy with firepower. Each person still has a special ability that makes them more useful in some circumstances than others and it’s still useful to pick carefully – Angel for example can call in supply drops to top up your ammo, so if you’re playing as a sniper you can settle in somewhere effective and virtually never run out of ammo, assuming you’re clever with your supply drop positioning. People seemed to have taken offense to this, and while I can see it makes a difference to the balance of a squad (you might end up with four medical players and never really realise that’s the case) I quite like the freedom of being able to pick and choose what I want each specialist to do. Whether this changes in the future remains to be seen, and I don’t think I’d be upset if it went back to a more traditional Battlefield approach, but as it stands I’m enjoying the extra customisation of the specialists and like that I can easily chop and change things between respawns.
The patches have also sorted a few other issues that were giving people grief – reviving players was an iffy experience, but that’s now far more reliable. The bullet spread on weapons that meant shots were lacking accuracy to a bizarre degree, that’s been reduced as well, letting you actually shoot where you’re aiming. Weapons have been balanced, weekly objectives have been added to reward you with visual items if you complete a set of three tasks through the week. There’s pages upon pages of tweaks and improvements, and more to come in the weeks ahead. It’s been a rocky start, but they’re certainly trying hard to put things right.
So in my eyes Battlefield is already a game far better than the critics would have you believe. It was very decent to begin with but had plenty of annoying issues, but those issues are starting to be chipped away at. I’m still not entirely sure I’m always a fan of the 128 player games, although perhaps if the objectives were tweaked a bit that might not be such an issue, but it gives the chaotic nature of a huge battle perfectly and in that respect it’s totally on the money – I come out of games feeling drained, like I’ve had to concentrate for half an hour without blinking, breathing or stopping to think. It’s a really good game moving in the right direction, but whether players stick around long enough to enjoy the improvements remains to be seen.
For now though, even Battlefield fans might want to give it a shot – it’s a lot better than you might have been led to believe.
Reviewed on PS5