One minute into my first match of Battlefield 2042, I accidentally fell out of a helicopter. I somehow survived, then blew up a wall with my rocket launcher and took out the enemy hiding behind it. I died seconds later...not totally sure how, but it must’ve been badass. My lively outing ended as I called out for a revive from teammates who stood there, feckless, as I slowly bled out for 30 seconds. All this amid the cacophony of roaring jet engines and gunfire.
Yep, Battlefield’s back, baby!
This week, EA is hosting a series of betas, with varying degrees of openness, for Battlefield 2042, the blockbuster first-person shooter planned to come out November 19 on pretty much all of the platforms. Battlefield 2042 is the series’ first foray away from historical-influenced conflict in nearly a decade, since 2013’s Battlefield 4. (No, the cops-vs.-robbers Battlefield: Hardline doesn’t count.) It’s supposed to be set in the near future, hence the “2042.” After playing several rounds today, my gut check is that it’s a whole lot like a Battlefield set in any other year.
Right now, the only playable mode is Conquest, a Battlefield mainstay that pits two teams against each other in a large-scale scrimmage centered around capturing and controlling various zones. In Battlefield 2042 this mode is crowded, featuring up to 128 players. (On PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Conquest matches cap the player pool at 64.) It’s almost overwhelmingly cramped, but the sheer scale contributes to a sense of chaos that’s consistently entertaining.
If you’ve played Conquest in Battlefield, you’ve played Conquest in Battlefield 2042. Each match starts out with an overlay of the map. You select your class (more on that in a sec) and then you select your spawn point. You can hop into any captured areas or open seats on vehicles piloted by your teammates, including tanks and choppers. (That, by the way, is how I accidentally fell out of a helicopter: spawning into it, hitting the wrong button at the wrong time, and panicking for a sec before a prompt told me I could hit “A” to deploy a parachute.) Once you’re in the game, you either storm an area that’s commandeered by your enemies or hold down the fort on a zone your team has already captured. The rules are ultimately secondary, though: You’re really just there to shoot shit and maybe blow some other shit up.
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Battlefield 2042 diverges from Thing You’ve Played Before in subtle yet significant ways. Crucially, you’re no longer tied to a class that dictates what gear you can or cannot use. In the beta, you choose from one of four “specialists,” each of whom has a perk: say, a grappling hook, or an auto-sentry turret. You can’t change that. But you can mix and match gadgets, weapons, and throwable items (basically, grenades) as you see fit. In other words, engineers are no longer married to PDWs. Wooo!
The unlock tree, at least how it stands in the beta, is also much-appreciated. Instead of a typical path—use SMGs to unlock more SMGs—you unlock weapons based on your overall level. This worked out in my favor. I had a tough time with the starter SMG, the PBX-45, so I...didn’t use it. But once I leveled up a bit, I unlocked the second-tier SMG, the K30, which I quickly came to rely on. Had I been forced to use the first to earn any progress down that branch of weapon classifications, I’d have never found my weapon du jour.
EA has also long touted Battlefield 2042’s “dynamic,” “ever-changing” weather effects. A futuristic setting means 2042’s Earth is facing an even worse climate crisis than our real one (and that shows even more signs of, at this point, being straight-up irreversible). In the middle of any match, for instance, a EF5+ tornado can rip through and just wreak havoc, or at least the perception of it.
No doubt about it, the tornado is dramatic, awesome (in the textbook definition of the term), and a true demonstration of what the technical wizards at DICE can do. And it’s not just a visual showcase. In a neat touch, you can feel it, too. When you’re near a tornado, standing outside causes your controller to vibrate. Duck into a building, though, and it’ll stop rumbling.
That said, I also found it somewhat toothless. When I walked into the maelstrom I didn’t die or get my bones whisked from my body or anything. Instead, I just got launched really, really far, which was awesome (in the colloquial definition of the term). The next time I saw the tornado, I watched as it whooshed over two buildings. They remained totally fine. For a series that’s made its name on next-level destruction physics, that a freakin’ tornado wouldn’t shred threadbare structures to pieces—something you can do with tools at your own disposal—struck me as an almost too on-the-nose metaphor: Battlefield 2042 is more than happy to flirt with the most pressing issue of our time. That doesn’t mean it’s gonna say anything that makes a lasting impact.
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All of these new changes introduce stylish wrinkles to a tidy, steam-pressed formula. But at the end of the day, Battlefield 2042 is just more Battlefield, for better or worse.
In my mind, it’s certainly the latter. While playing the beta, I couldn’t help but think of Halo Infinite, and its recent successful series of dry runs. I’m not alone in that; earlier today, the YouTuber Skill Up noted on Twitter that “the contrast between this and Halo Infinite’s recent beta is absolutely night and day.”
In both, you have a forthcoming entry in a long-running series that’s widely adored for its lively, robust multiplayer mode. The two are scheduled to come out weeks apart, in a stacked holiday season, no less. On one hand, you have a new game that both hews to series roots—right down to the same age-old arguments—while completely reinventing the wheel in ways that matter. On the other, you have a rehash, albeit a very splashy one, of a thing that’s worked for ages.
This is, of course, all based on the beta test’s mere appetizer. When Battlefield 2042 comes out next month, it’ll launch with more maps and more modes, including some close-quarters options. Who knows! Maybe the entrée will blow my mind. But at the moment, I know which dish I’m salivating over.
Battlefield 2042 comes out November 19 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. Its early access beta runs today and tomorrow, while the fully open one is scheduled for October 8 and 9.