After eagerly awaiting the official announcement and trailers I couldn’t wait to dive in during the early access period. But how does Battlefield’s latest offering hold up after finally getting our hands on a beta build? Could it be the definitive Battlefield experience we’ve all been waiting for, a tragic retread of old ground, or a push in the wrong direction? Well, so far it’s a bit of everything. Here’s the good, the bad, and the worrying.
Let's start off with the thing you’ll be doing the most — shooting. Battlefield has long been known for its excellent gunplay and that remains the same in 2042. Weapons feel punchy and responsive with each trigger pull unleashing a powerful blast of recoil that needs to be controlled. Close range fights are frantic scrambles to let loose the first accurate volley of bullets while fights at range are more calculated, having to account for bullet velocity and recoil.
There’s also significant variation in your arsenal. While the available firepower in the open beta was limited we were able to wield at least one firearm per category: submachine gun, assault rifle, light machine gun, marksman rifle, sniper, and shotgun/utility. Each weapon type felt distinct from one another, with submachine guns being too unruly for anything beyond arms reach but making up for it by being incredibly deadly at close range. Likewise, assault rifles are versatile in offering effective damage at medium range while being able to compete in close range if you’re accurate.
While each category felt distinct, not all seem equal, at least with the slim offerings of weapons available in the beta. Assault rifles were king, featuring the most reliable damage at all ranges whilst also being the easiest to control. The LCMG light machine gun and the DM7 marksman rifle almost always seemed to lose out against an assault rifle. More concerning in 2042, however, was the sniper rifles, or at least the one sniper we could use. Sniping typically feels excellent in Battlefield, particularly once you master bullet velocity. Strangely, snipers in 2042 seem to have taken a big hit.
They’re much harder to use than normal with bullet velocity markedly reduced, which is odd considering the increased movement speed and map size. Perhaps this is the case for snipers in general (not just the SWS-10) and it was done to limit the dominance of snipers. Yet, such a change also makes them significantly less satisfying to use. For longer ranges I much preferred the DM7 marksman rifle or even an assault rifle over the SWS-10 sniper rifle.
Nevertheless, gunplay still feels great in 2042 and I can’t wait to try out all the weaponry and attachments that will be available in the full game. Thankfully, any balance issues that persist from the beta are relatively simple changes, not great foundational issues like some other aspects are.
The first major issue is the movement system which seems to have had a strangely staggering downgrade. Say what you will about Battlefield V but the movement is undoubtedly the best in the series. Movement feels realistic yet still fluid, with slick animations for vaulting, sliding, and even laying prone on your back. These improvements are gone from 2042 and it only serves to hurt the experience.
Movement in 2042 looks and feels incredibly clunky, which is problematic considering how much movement you’ll be doing on such huge maps. Friction apparently doesn’t exist in 2042 since your soldier can slide at high speed for long distances, especially when paired with a Titanfall 2 style ‘bunny-hop’ (although it should be noted that DICE has since commented that they are aware of this and actively working on the issue). Leaning and peaking around cover has vanished too, which again only serves to hurt firefights.
Overall, 2042’s movement feels like a complete reversal of V. While that game may not have been too popular with fans of the series, the movement changes from previous entries were a huge step up that should not have been left in the dust. I can only hope that these features are in the full game but it’s worrying that they were absent from the beta.
Battlefield 2042 does, however, seek to innovate on past iterations in the franchise. This comes primarily in the form of the Plus System and vehicle air-drops. Thankfully, these new systems are an improvement for the series overall.
The Plus System lets players customise their weapon attachments on the go, in a style similar to Crysis. Given the increased map size this change seems almost necessary since you’ll frequently be going from close-range engagements in storage buildings to medium and long-range engagements in the huge, largely exposed areas between objectives.
The new Plus System is the perfect answer to the frequent engagement switch-ups. Moving into a claustrophobic tunnel system? Equip a red-dot sight and suppressor. Running across a sprawling field or runway? Try a long-range optic, heavy barrel, and foregrip. The versatility and adaptability that this system provides are excellent and I made frequent use of it as I waged war across the battlefield.
There were some issues with the system, such as it being quicker to swap magazine types than to reload, but these can be resolved if they haven’t been already. A simple delay on switching, or more preferably a quick animation would fix this issue of quick-swapping mid firefight.
Likewise, the ability to call in a vehicle air-drop is a great new addition. As with the Plus System, vehicle drops are an answer to the increased map size. Having to hunt for a vehicle to get you from one side of the map to the other would be a chore but now you can simply press a button and airdrop a jeep to your position. It’s nothing flashy or all that exciting but it certainly is convenient.
There are also ‘vehicles’ you can call in beyond simple transport. In the beta there was a cute robot dog with a not-so-cute gun for a head that was featured in trailers. This robo-dog, called a Ranger, will join you on your warring adventures and lay down gunfire against your opponents. You could also call in a tank to help hold down objectives with some heavy armour and firepower.
This may sound like it could get a little out of hand but thankfully there are limitations on the number of certain vehicles available to each team at any given point. You won’t see a whole squad calling in tanks all at once. This is more of a convenience tool than anything else but it’s certainly a welcome one and it combats the age-old Battlefield experience of waiting in the menus for a vehicle or running a marathon.
I’ve spoken a lot about the increased map sizes in 2042 so let’s take a deeper dive into Orbital, the one map available to us during the beta. Orbital is undoubtedly stunning with its rolling green hills and huge space rocket facilities, but does it play well? It’s hard to say. Orbital has some excellent pockets of action taking place, especially around the rocket launch platform and radio station objectives but the space in-between is often underutilised. There were definitely cases of intense action in the hills and greenery between areas of the map but engagements were often limited to the specific objective area.
I’d also like to touch on destructibility here, or more accurately the absence of it. Besides certain walls of buildings and creating craters, there’s little in the way of destruction. Gone are the days of Bad Company 2 where players could completely demolish buildings if they so wished, dynamically changing the cover available. Instead, we’re to play by DICE’s strict rules. Hopefully, the other maps will have greater destructibility since it’s a core pillar of the Battlefield experience that has been increasingly ignored in recent entries.
Overall I enjoyed Orbital but I feel like another map would really have showcased the Battlefield experience better, like Hourglass which is set to feature large open areas alongside an urban metropolis. I am, however, concerned about map size in general. Orbital is one of the smaller maps in 2042, but if Orbital suffers from wasted space and distinct pockets of action that lasts all game, how will bigger maps fare?
Now let’s get onto perhaps the most controversial aspect of 2042 — Specialists. Broadly, Specialists replace the traditional four classes of Battlefield (Assault, Support, Medic, and Recon) in favour of distinct soldiers with abilities unique to them. For instance, MacKay has a grappling hook, Boris has a sentry turret, and Falck has a healing syringe pistol. These are items that only these characters have access to, giving each one a unique feel and position on the battlefield. This new system, however, is a multi-faceted issue that has had a destructive impact on many aspects of the Battlefield experience, so let's break it down.
1: Specialists replace the old gadget and weapon systems
In prior Battlefield’s players could choose two gadgets alongside a primary and secondary weapon, with their options being defined by their class. Broadly, Engineers had SMGs, anti-tank gadgets, and repair tools; Medics had assault rifles, healing and reviving capabilities; Support had LMGs, ammo bags, and utility gadgets; and Recon had snipers and gadgets to help scout the battlefield.
Each class had a distinct and clear role with several options for players to refine their playstyle. Specialists, on the other hand, replace this two gadget system with a Specialist ability (like the aforementioned grappling hook for MacKay) and a free gadget slot, as well as making all weapon types available at all times. This means that players can fill basically any role but not very well and leads to significant balance issues. If you only have one gadget slot, why would you choose a repair tool over a medical bag to heal yourself?
2: Specialists break teamwork
Because the traditional, clearly defined classes no longer exist, teamwork has suffered greatly. In prior games, if you saw a Support you knew they would have the power to help you out. Likewise, if there was an enemy tank giving you grief it was easy to tell how many Engineers were around to help take it down. This is no longer possible in 2042, at least in its current form. By looking at a friendly MacKay you can’t tell if they have C4 or an ammo bag to refill your supplies. Without knowing at a glance what tools your teammates and squad-mates have with them it’s near impossible to work as a coherent team.
The same applies to the enemies. Does my opponent have a medical bag to quickly heal behind cover or do they have an AA missile? This would decide whether I would rush them or not. Does that person dressed in a ghillie suit have a sniper or a shotgun? There’s no way of knowing in 2042 which has a significant knock-on effect during gameplay.
3: Specialists make quick readability impossible
There is no visual difference between a friendly and an enemy Specialist. Both have the exact same outfit in the same colour. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this and maybe you’ve even seen clips of people not realising they’re surrounded by enemies. The only visual indicator of what team a player is on is a small icon above their head which is often very delayed in actually appearing. All too often have I wasted precious bullets unloading into someone just in case they were an enemy because had I hesitated to wait for the icon, I would have been dead already.
Thankfully, this should be an easy fix, but one that really needs to happen. While having faction-specific outfits for each Specialist would require a great deal of work, a simple fix would be to recolour the outfits depending on factions. The US team would potentially feature tans and greens while the Russians would feature greys and blues. This is, after all, how it worked in previous Battlefield games but it’s completely absent from 2042.
4: Specialists are unbalanced
This one is particularly important for gameplay diversity, as we’ve seen in the beta, players are heavily favouring Specialists that help them be a one-person army. MacKay and his grappling hook is dominating the battlefield while Casper’s scout drone and Falck’s healing syringe are nowhere to be seen.
Again, perhaps this is just the case because of the limited selection of Specialists available in the beta but without the traditional class system, it seems as though lone-ranger kits are the way to go.
All in all, the Specialist system sacrifices a lot to achieve this idea of a unique and memorable character, something it arguably fails to achieve. But, even if it did, is it worth it? I’d say it’s not, as I much prefer the class system over Specialists because your team is more inclined to work together. That teamwork is fostered by the extra gadget slots and pre-defined archetypes of Medic, Support, Engineer, and so on.
Glitches and Performance
Last, but certainly not least, are the array of bugs, missing features, and performance issues that have plagued the beta. First, it should be noted that the beta build is a few months old according to the developers. Still, this beta was perhaps more broken than any other Battlefield beta before it, and Battlefield also has a history of broken launches. With these two factors combined 2042 could be a mess at launch, to put it mildly.
Let’s start with the glitches. There were an array of basic visual glitches which appeared very frequently such as parachutes staying open once you’d touched the ground, giving your position away like a glowing neon sign above your head. Another prominent issue included the Plus System taking attachments off when modifying your loadout. These are simple bugs that will likely be fixed at launch if they haven’t already, and they weren’t all that concerning on an individual basis. But they become more worrying when you realise just how many bugs there are, alongside some terrible performance issues that made it nearly unplayable for some. Again, this is likely to be improved by launch, but one wonders exactly how much improvement those fixes will create.
What stood out to me more were significant missing features, like being unable to see if there were teammates nearby who could revive, or the simple ability to open the map overlay. Furthermore, the long-time staple of the communication wheel was nowhere to be seen. Peeking around cover is gone. As mentioned earlier, the movement improvements of Battlefield V are gone. The great Attrition and Fortification systems of V are also gone, and the list goes on.
Similarly, the UI is poorly designed, often being distracting and at times unreadable, which strangely enough is the exact opposite of V. Where are these features? By this point, these features should be baked into Battlefield. It feels as though 2042 was built in a vacuum, without learning from any of the past entries in the series.
Lastly, performance was pretty poor across the board, whether you had a high-end graphics card or not, due to frequent stuttering and hitches. Pair with this terrible net-code and hit registration and you’ve got yourself an experience that is often telling you to give up and walk away. The same can be said for the last-gen console version which has low-quality textures, particularly on debris and destroyed vehicles.
Sound, which is usually superb in Battlefield games, is similarly lacking with many sounds feeling dull and incomplete, such as helicopters that constantly sound like they’re idling even when they roar past you. You’d expect a war zone with 128 players and an armada of vehicles to have gunfire and explosions ringing out across the map but 2042 is eerily quiet. Perhaps I’ve just been spoilt by the incredible sound design of Hunt: Showdown but much of the audio in Battlefield 2042 just feels flat, with explosions thankfully being a great exception.
Missing features, extensive bugs, and terrible performance all paint a poor picture of the game’s upcoming launch. While I’d like to happily accept the reasoning that ‘this is a beta’, Battlefield has a history of launching in a broken state and this beta is perhaps the buggiest Battlefield experience I’ve had to date, even worse than Battlefield 3’s beta. I do believe many of these issues will be resolved if they haven’t been in recent builds, but this is a message to err on the side of caution.
I had very high hopes following the reveal of 2042 that this would be the definitive Battlefield experience. One that learned from the past, even from the games that may not have been so popular, and pushed the series forward. After playing the beta I still have hopes of this because there are glimpses of an excellent game here but it seems marred by bad decisions, bugs, and performance issues. If the beta is anything to go by, then Battlefield 2042 needs lots more work and I’d argue for another delay unless DICE can resolve these issues in time for launch. If you were thinking about pre-ordering, I would suggest waiting to see how the game lands on launch. I would love more than anything to be proved wrong and for Battlefield 2042 to launch in great condition and provide that Battlefield experience fans have been waiting for.
I hope you enjoyed my thoughts on the Battlefield 2042 open beta. If you had the chance to play it then I’d love to hear your thoughts, particularly on the topic of Specialists and map design. I’d also be happy to answer any questions if you didn’t have the chance to dive in!
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