I was running around a missile hangar when an overly eager teammate kool-aid-manned through the wall next to me to escape a helicopter, sending me into a millisecond-long spiral of terror, relief, and laughter. "Hell yeah," I thought, "finally a proper Battlefield game."
There was a time when a new Battlefield announcement would've been the highlight of my gaming year, but when DICE traded jets for horses in Battlefield 1, I sorta put the series on snooze. My first hours in Battlefield 2042's upcoming open beta were the wakeup call I needed. Battlefield is back to what it does best. Guns hit like a sack of bricks, jets rattle my ears with bassy roars, and it all looks drop-dead gorgeous in action.
Despite my recent check-in with Battlefield 4, I had kind of forgotten how to enjoy a Battlefield game going into 2042. I spent the opening minutes of my first match walking around super carefully, flinching at every loud bang and camping at the first flag I could capture. Then a tank rolled up and blew my sorry ass away, and I was weirdly frustrated that I couldn't do much about it, as if "wimpy soldier versus tank" is supposed to be a balanced interaction. I was playing Battlefield like I would Rainbow Six Siege or Hunt: Showdown, forgetting that this isn't a competitive shooter to be mastered. Battlefield 2042 is a game that happens to you, and it's best enjoyed when you're going with the flow.
Battlefield 2042, in a lot of ways, feels like a comfortable return to the stuff that made BF3 and BF4 so good—everything from its guns, sounds, vehicles, and maps seem cut from the same cloth—but it's also making the most radical changes to the series since its start. Remember classes? Those are essentially gone, now replaced with specialist characters that carry unique gadgets and abilities (similar to Rainbow Six Siege operators or Apex Legends heroes). Specialists are still divided into familiar categories of Assault, Support, Engineer, and Recon, but those are just labels describing what their gadgets might do.
We had access to four of the 10 specialists in the game at launch, and surprising no one, I had the most fun with the guy that has a grapple hook. His name's Mackay, and his grapple works pretty similar to that hookshot from Halo Infinite we've been having fun with. You can't really use it to directly get kills, but it's a fairly revolutionary tool to appear in a Battlefield game.
Out of the gate, Mackay is by far the most agile a single soldier has ever been in the series, doubly so with a passive ability that lets him move faster while ADSing. In theory, the grapple is the perfect answer to the classically annoying Battlefield player who posts up on a roof and snipes for the entire match—though the 128-player map we played, a massive space campus called Orbital, had a few skyscrapers way out of Mackay's reach. Those wanting to reach the top still have the old options of helicopter taxis or the humble elevator, but DICE has taken a smart cue from Call of Duty: Warzone with vertical ziplines as an alternative.
Of course, I could just decide to be that annoying sniper too without giving up my grapple hook. For the first time in Battlefield, weapons and equipment aren't tied to a class, allowing you to mix and match anything to your liking. I can be a sniper Falck who heals with her syringe gun and repairs vehicles with a blowtorch, or a shotgunner Casper that pilots an EMP drone and carries a bazooka just in case.
The flexibility is fun on an individual level, but the unique roles of each class may be a casualty of the change. I didn't feel any incentive to balance out our squad with a spread of medkits or explosives because I could only see which specialists they're playing. Should I bring extra ammo boxes for friendly machine-gunners? They may use it, but they can also bring one themselves if needed.
The same goes for the medic role, which used to be my favorite class. As the only guy around with the paddles needed to revive players in Bad Company 2, I used to take pride in my courageous rescue missions. But now that any squadmate can revive another and Falck's only bonus is bringing players back at full health, the thrill of a risky revival is muted. Building a kit in Battlefield 2042 is basically the same as crafting the perfect loadout in Warzone down to the finest details. And if Battlefield follows the same trend as Warzone, this could lead to a stagnant meta where a certain combination of guns, gadgets, and equipment rises to the top. That'd be a shame, but hopefully DICE can stay on top of balancing.
One feature I can universally endorse is on-the-fly gun customization. At any time by holding T, players can instantly swap out their gun's sight, barrel, ammo type, and underbarrel attachments in a cool Crysis-like diegetic menu. Look, it's really neat:
I didn't think I'd use the feature much when it was first revealed, but it turns out I'm a scope-swapping fiend. Regretting my choice of an ACOG now that I'm fighting in a building? No problemo, just need two seconds to slide on a red dot instead. Wanna deal some free damage to a helicopter using a sniper rifle? Swap out your normal bullets for harder-hitting (and higher recoil) armor-piercing rounds.
It's a way bigger gameplay change than I thought. In any other Battlefield game I'd opt for a mid-range scope that works fine at close or long range, but with quick swap on the table, I can finally branch out and be one of those weirdos with a huge scope on their LMG. Though I'm curious how this feature will scale in the full game. The beta build we played only had three attachments available per slot. Assuming there will be a lot more added (as Battlefield usually does), players may have to choose which three or four they'd like to be swappable in the field.
As much fun as I had with a few hours of Battlefield 2042, I've only seen a fraction of what's shaping up to be a massive game. Everything that matters most to me about Battlefield seems strong so far, but the build we played (that's likely similar to the one everyone will play in the open beta) has a lot of rough edges, like a UI that seemed unfinished. Pinging locations was unresponsive and selecting squadmates to spawn onto is finicky. I also lost control of my character completely for a few seconds several times throughout the preview, but that could've been a quirk with my PC. DICE made it clear in a pre-demo briefing that the open beta is running an "older" build of the game, so it's possible the game is in much better shape than it appears right now. On the other hand, the Battlefield series is stranger to rough launch periods.
Speaking of performance, I was a little worried going into the beta with a CPU that's just a tad under the minimum specs listed by EA (I'm still on an aging Ryzen 5 2600). Barring a few predictable hitches when a bunch of explosions went off around me, the game ran remarkably well at 60 fps or higher. It's also worth noting that, thanks to some matchmaking issues, several of my 128-player matches were about 80% bots. I'll be curious to see how my poor CPU fairs when the beta opens up to more people.