Like Season 2, this inches the game ever closer to being what we would have expected at launch
The last time we took a look at Battlefield 2042, the beleaguered online shooter had just released its second major update and was, finally, starting to feel like something approaching a finished video game. With Season 3 out this week, it’s now even closer.
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Note that I don’t make that statement as a criticism. Battlefield 2042 was released in the middle of the pandemic, with almost two whole years of its development affected. As a long-time series fan—but also a video game journalist familiar with how this stuff works—I’ve made peace with the fact the game was clearly rushed out the door by executives to meet a short-term financial goal, regardless of the damage it has done to the brand’s long-term standing.
So I’m just not exactly reaching when I say—as anyone who was playing the game at launch will know—it just wasn’t ready for release in November 2021. Those of us who still found something to love in the game and kept playing were, for months, essentially playing and publicly testing an unfinished video game, one that was only ever going to feel “complete” (at least compared to its predecessors) after months of updates.
Well, we’re now at that “months of updates” point, which in previous Battlefields would have been the stage where the game had been added to substantially, but in 2042's case is just where it’s within touching distance of par.
This week saw the release of Season 3, which adds a huge new map (set in Sweden, around two boxy robot arms factories), a new anti-tank vehicle, a railgun, and a new specialist, whose unique weapon is a miniature air-bursting explosive rifle.
It’s all good! The map, Spearhead, is a big one, and like Stranded before it is cleanly differentiated by having two big indoor playgrounds for close-quarters combat, surrounded by wide-open spaces for snipers and vehicles. I’ve been having a great time with it, as its long design and rocky terrain between the two buildings means games often turn into meatgrinders over the central control points, leading to huge, explosive battles.
The new Specialist, Rasheed Zain, is also something the game has needed; his air-bursting rifle is able to kill enemy forces bunkered down in cover or around corners, giving infantry the kind of space-clearing ability that was previously only available to vehicles or the rare few who can actually use grenades properly.
I’m not quite as sold on the other two main additions, the railgun and anti-armour tank. The latter, the EMKV90-TOR, plays like StarCraft’s Siege Tank; you can drive it around for a bit with limited firepower, but when you really want to mess stuff up, you can lower its suspension and snipe enemy tanks from across the map.
The railgun, meanwhile, is all about timing; it’s useful as both a medium and long-range weapon, but only if you can master the way it charges itself then discharges automatically when ready. Nearly all of the game’s current roster of weapons and vehicles feel somewhat contemporary, with gentle concessions made to the fact this game is set 20 years in the future; these two additions look, sound and feel more like Halo weapons.
When you look back at all the work and updates the game has received since launch—not just new stuff but revisions of old maps and tweaks to things like Specialist appearance and their soundbytes, giving the game a more cohesive tone—it’s clearly a much-improved experience!
I think when the unpopular Specialist system is reworked next month to revert to traditional Battlefield classes, that year-long effort to make this the game it should have been will be done. Which, given how disastrous the game’s launch was, will be one hell of an achievement.
And yet, it also can’t have us help but wonder: what could this game have been if the last 12 months had been free to add to the game, rather than just perform emergency repairs? I really like the setting of 2042, one of the few blockbusters to ever take the threat of climate change seriously, and its near-future arsenal has been so much more fun to use than the historical gear available in the last few games.
We’ll never know! A pandemic and the investor class conspired to curse this game, and so if all we can look forward to is one last Season 4 update before the whole thing gets binned and everyone moves onto the next Battlefield, then that’s what I’ll be looking forward to. Me and the other people who have been enjoying the game since launch. There are dozens of us! Dozens!