The future is grim
The year is 2031. Rapidly rising sea levels have led to unprecedented flooding around the world, combined with collapsing economies to prompt the greatest refugee crisis in human history. As the displaced desperately look for aid, countries struggling with their own damaging climate change catastrophes shut their borders as they focus all attention on their own citizens. As the years go by and resources dwindle, these non-patriated refugees aka “No-Pats” are left to fend for themselves. Tensions mount between countries, with the USA and Russia – two historically hostile superpowers – once again engaged in a titanic standoff.
In 2040, a space debris storm knocks out 70% of all satellites orbiting the globe, causing worldwide social and financial devastation and leaving countries blind to both their enemies and their friends. Unable to keep an eye on each other, relationships between allies splinter, and the USA and Russia, both accusing the other of having instigated the satellite collapse, openly go to war. Without anyone else to trust for support, the two warring countries turn to the No-Pats for help, each side promising them the resources they desperately need. Boasting several former soldiers in their ranks from all over the world, the No-Pats are essentially a rogue mercenary nation with no geopolitical affiliation who have spent the decade since this crisis began surviving in the harshest conditions. As one of the No-Pats military specialists shopping your skills out to the highest bidder, you and your compatriots are the perfect candidates to tip the scales one way or the other in this escalating conflict. Welcome to the world of Battlefield 2042!
Yes, EA DICE’s long-awaited next chapter in the Battlefield franchise has officially been unveiled. Following the bungled launch of the hugely divisive Battlefield V (where the devs tried to push the franchise into a new direction, both mechanically and narratively, and were met with player protest about unforgiving gameplay and anachronistic story elements) DICE needed to go back to the drawing board. The WWI-set Battlefield 1 had been a gigantic financial success, but BFV had erased a lot of the built-up goodwill. Twelve different pitches were heard, ranging “from classic to crazy ideas”, but one kept grabbing attention over and over again: Battlefield 2042.
As the name clearly implies, the new game is set smack-dab in the middle of the franchise’s timeline, 100 years after the original WWII-era Battlefield 1942 and 100 years before the sci-fi shooter Battlefield 2142. And anybody longing for more of the latter’s far-future warfare of hover tanks and mechs is out of luck. Hell, don’t even expect Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare-styled exo-suits and wall-running supersoldiers as weapons and gadgets may be more advanced, but are still very recognizable. As much as BF2042 is the future of this franchise, it is very much not forgetting its past, and that is a great thing.
Something old, something new
During a press event held last week, we were led through the details and upcoming innovations of BF2042. And while some of these changes are pretty revolutionary for the franchise, the entire time I was watching footage of it in action, a huge grin plastered on my face, I kept thinking that this is basically Battlefield 3/Battlefield 4 on steroids, right down to that iconic blue-green in-game UI. And that is exactly what a large portion of the fanbase has been asking for. That’s right: EA DICE actually listened! The chosen time period was also not just a cool timeline milestone, but by setting the game in a future that’s just over the horizon, it allowed DICE to return to the modern shooter genre days of BF3 and BF4 – widely regarded as the franchise’s peak – but with no historical restrictions on the story the devs wanted to tell. And with the power of the latest generation of gaming hardware, it meant being able to pull off things Battlefield fans had only dreamed about until now.
So let’s get into the nitty-gritty of what BF2042 has to offer, by starting with what it doesn’t offer: A single-player campaign. Gone is the narrative-driven story mode that has been in nearly all BF titles. Instead, Battlefield is adopting a seasonal model whereby the conflict between the US and Russia (with the No-Pats stuck in the middle) will be playing out across the game’s multiplayer landscape, which will change and adapt over time to these story elements. With this approach, seasonal Battle Passes are now also a thing. There will be no return to the dark days of Battlefield Premium Pass splitting the community because some players could afford additional DLC maps while others couldn’t. Instead, BF2042 offers both paid and free battle pass seasonal tracks with the former unlocking much more rare and elite cosmetics and other in-game items. All future updates to story content and new maps – there are four battle pass seasons for the next year already planned out – will be available to everybody.
Location, location, location!
And speaking of maps, they’re big now. Like, really big. Even for a Battlefield game. BF 2042 will launch with seven of them:
- Kaleidoscope – A shiny South Korean cityscape filled with skyscrapers and ziplines to traverse between them
- Manifest – A massive container yard in Singapore boasting automated cranes that move containers and thus randomly change the layout
- Discarded – A desolate ship graveyard in India, this map plays out around and inside the Colossus, a massive freighter that houses a highly coveted stealth attack ship in its belly
- Borderline – Set in Egypt, this is a map of two worlds as a towering wall splits it down the middle – on one side, a dry, unforgiving desertscape of sand and rock, and on the other a high-tech, lush green agricultural oasis
- Hourglass – Playing out in a future Qatar that has been mostly lost to the sands, the action here swings between a partially buried stadium and an abandoned military convoy as a sandstorm threatens to engulf everything in its path
- Irreversible – A battle over oil and resources moves the action to the frigid climes of Antarctica, giving us the biggest map in Battlefield history, dotted with icy peaks from which you can launch yourself using the new wingsuit to dive into the fight
- Orbital – Set at a rocket launch site in tropical French Guyana, this map pivots around a rocket that doesn’t always survive its launch resulting in explosive changes to the environment
To get to these maps though, we have to speak about the three different “experiences” that BF2042 has to offer players. The first is titled All-Out Warfare and is essentially the traditional Battlefield experience with huge armies trying to eradicate each other across huge landscapes. I’ll get back to this one in-depth shortly, but let’s briefly speak about the other two, details for which were very scarce.
First up is Hazard Zone, which will change up the focus to tight small squad play. The devs reiterated several times that this is NOT A BATTLE ROYALE MODE, but instead will be distinctly different and unlike anything the franchise has ever done. Other than a title screen for Hazard Zone, we saw nothing else. That is still more though than we got for the game’s third mode, the name and details of which are still being kept tightly under wraps. What we do know is that while the main DICE Stockholm team worked on All-Out Warfare and Hazard Zone, this untitled mode was developed by the team at DICE Los Angeles and is apparently a “love letter” to longtime fans. Although we got zero clues to its identity, if I was a betting man, I would hazard that this mode is some sort of Battlefield: Bad Company revival or remake, but that’s just pure speculation on my part. Whatever it is, it will officially be unveiled during the EA Play Live event on 22 July.
Back to All-Out Warfare which is comprised of two modes familiar to any Battlefield fan: Conquest and Breakthrough. Conquest is an open-world-like game mode that sees two teams fighting for possession of predefined Control Points on the map as they tried to whittle down each other’s tickets (aka respawns/reinforcements). First team to lose all its tickets loses. The more Control Points your team has, the quicker the enemy team’s tickets run out. Here’s where things get changed up for BF 2042 though.
You and what army?
Whereas Conquest games in most previous Battlefield titles saw two teams of 32 players each battling it out, BF2042 will up that number to 64 vs 64. Yes, a whopping 128 players will now be running across maps, all of which have now been extended massively in scope to accommodate this – the abovementioned Irreversible is 5.9 square kilometers, dwarfing even BFV’s Firestorm map, Halvoy. These maps will now also be divided up into sectors, each one about as big as a full map in BF3. Complete enough objectives (unsure if this just includes capturing Control Points or other in-game tasks as well) and you can permanently take control of the sector, denying it to the enemy team for the entire game.
These maps will also feature the return of “Levelution”, a term the devs jokingly appear to not be fans of. Coined specifically for the marketing of the massively-scaled destructible environmental events that could be triggered by players in certain BF4 maps, the name has seemingly stuck and fans keep asking about it. Well, it’s back, with one example being the Orbital map mentioned above with its fiery rocket launch. Others come courtesy of the wrecked environmental systems of the world of BF2042, including an awe-inspiring sandstorm rolling over the Hourglass map and blotting out the sky, or even a wild tornado cutting between the skyscrapers of Kaleidoscope flinging around vehicles and soldiers. Besides for these crazy events, these maps have also been strategically designed using a system called “clustering” that essentially sees the action being funneled all over the map to ensure that despite its size, players are never left running around aimlessly with nothing immediate to do.
As for Breakthrough, it’s a linear tug-of-war game mode that sees enemy teams have to capture a number of Control Points in sequence, making it all the way from their own home base to the enemy’s to claim victory. This is a game mode that can be a frantic, back-and-forth affair as you can only capture a point adjacent to one of yours, and DICE is not really changing the recipe too much here.
A class of its own
Where the studio is mixing things up is with your soldier itself. Previous Battlefield games featured four distinct classes based around the signature weapons they were allowed to use. That way of thinking is in the past. Instead, players can now choose from four different Specialists – essentially character archetypes who fulfill a particular role on the battlefield based on their abilities – and are free to equip any weapon to any character. Want a medic with a sniper rifle or a recon with an LMG? Sure, why not!
Here are the first four Specialists with more to be released during the game’s subsequent seasons:
- Wikus “Casper” Van Daele – Your traditional Recon class, he boasts a drone that can be used to spot targets and launch EMP darts. He also has the Movement Sensor skill, an ability that shows up a warning on the player’s HUD whenever movement is detected within a certain diameter around Casper
- Webster McCay – Essentially an Assault class, McCay has a grapple gun to allow him move around the map with ease. Aiding this is his ability, Nimble, which gives him a movement/reaction speed bonus while aiming down sites or traversing zip lines.
- Maria Falck – BF2042’s Medic class, Falck boasts a special S21 pistol that can be used to heal or even revive teammates from a distance by basically firing tiny syringes at them. When in close though, Falck’s special ability, Combat Surgeon, allows her to downed teammates to full health whereas everybody else can only revive to partial health.
- Pyotr “Boris” Guskovsky – Finally, the Engineer class, Boris can place down the SG36 sentry turret which automatically locks onto and shoots at enemy vehicles and soldiers. Moving close to his turret activates Boris’ ability, Sentry Operator, which grants the sentry significantly faster target acquisition and lets it automatically spot any targets it sees for the rest of the team
On top of allowing any class to use any weapon, that flexibility is taken even further with the new Weapon Plus System. In the past, loadout customization was something you could only do in-between rounds of Battlefield. Now though, you’re able to call up a new crucifix-shaped in-game menu that allows you to swap out certain weapon attachments on the fly while in the action. These modifications are restricted to Scope, Barrel, Ammo Type, and Under-barrel Attachment, which actually allows for some huge gameplay changes. Holed in a little sniper nest in a building with a long-range scope and noise-suppressing barrel when you suddenly hear enemy soldiers to your positions? Quickly detach the sniper scope and slap on a shotgun under-barrel attachment and you’re ready to engage in some close quarters combat as soon as the enemies step through the door. The Weapon Plus System could lead to some major new tactics being used by players.
Vehicles, that mainstay of Battelfield’s iconic warfare action, have also been upgraded. Firstly, there’s a whole new physics system for them, so that operating a vehicle has never felt more tactile and immersive. More importantly though, you no longer have to spawn back at your base to grab a waiting vehicle. Now, any player can pull out a tablet in-game and call for a vehicle to be airdropped on any location of their choosing. The amount and type of vehicles available are determined by the map and game mode, so the whole team can’t just rain down tanks. However, there’s no resource cost or soldier restriction for this action (unlike in BFV where only squad leaders could call in special vehicles using points accumulated by their squad). This, according to the devs, was to lean into the sandbox element of Battlefield games, letting players just have fun by playing the way they want to.
And while that includes that ol’ Battlefield chestnut of a solo player hopping into a vehicle with multiple seats and then just driving off without picking up any of their teammates who are now hurling obscenities at them, this is being disincentivized heavily. Vehicles will now become more proficient the more players occupy seats as these seats now all perform specific functions – no more free ride-alongs! This will differ from vehicle to vehicle, but some will boast gun emplacements or anti-air armaments, others can be used to spot enemies. Certain vehicles even boast a seat from which a player can drop landmines behind them, perfect for getting that pursuing enemy tank off your butt.
Rise of the machines
These gameplay changes have the potential to really revolutionize the Battlefield franchise, and if you’re going to need some time to adjust to all of them… well, DICE has you covered there as well as BF2042 can now be played with AI-controlled players. You load up these “bots” in any configuration you choose, whether it’s only you with a full server of computer-controlled players or maybe you and friends fill a side and take on a fully AI team. Or you can just use the AI bots to fill out missing numbers in your game – the choice is really up to you. Besides helping new players to familiarize themselves with the game in a far more forgiving environment, this AI mode will also mean that you no longer have to spend ages looking for available games or being stuck in queues for full servers. You can now just start your own with AI bots and get into the action almost immediately.
This is all part of DICE’s plan to make BF2042 more accessible (unlike BFV which was heavily FPS skill-based) to a wider range of players, but still offering gameplay depth with the Specialists, Weapon Plus System, and vehicle changes.
The price of power
Unfortunately, all these new gameplay tweaks, combined with cutting-edge visuals and physics, come at a cost. A cost that the latest-gen gaming hardware such as PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC can afford, boasting all the bells and whistles. Last gen PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles will have to make some concessions though. Instead of 128-player matches on gigantic maps, games on these older consoles will consist of a maximum of 64 players on smaller-scaled versions of the abovementioned maps (all elements will still be present in the map, just the geometry changed). DICE never directly addressed this in the session, but I would assume that this would hamper, if not outright prevent cross-generational matches between PS4 and PS5 players, for example. As for crossplay between different platforms, when asked about this, DICE simply stated that they would have more to say about it over the next few months.
Those months will also consist of a beta technical test in early July. When asked about whether the increased player count and map size would lead to longer matches than before, DICE indicated that this is precisely the type of data they would be gleaning from this technical test and would make adjustments accordingly based on their findings.
Are we there yet?
DICE won’t have that long to tinker away though as Battlefield 2042 is officially scheduled for release on all platforms on 22 October 2021. With EA Play Early Access as from 15 October, that’s only four months away, but that’s still four months too long if you ask me. I’ve been in love with the Battlefield franchise since its inception nearly 20 years ago, and I’ve extensively played every single release and expansion since. Based on what I’ve seen thus far of this new title, with the way it blends old and new, delivering fan service while also thinking outside the box, I think this has the potential to be something really special.
Last Updated: June 9, 2021