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Battlefield 2042 review-in-progress: Portal steals the show, Hazard Zone plays it safe

The existence of free-for-all deathmatch in a Battlefield game (see gif of excessive prone use above) surely defies some divine PC gaming laws, but it's a lot of fun, so whoever's been performing incantations in an RGB summoning circle ought to keep it up. Sure, the unholy novelty of Swedish Call of Duty will wear off eventually, but there are so many variables to fiddle with in Battlefield 2042's Portal game mode editor that I'm nearly convinced I should tell all my friends to buy it. I just need to try BF2042 in the real world before I can say for sure that there are $60 worth of hijinks here.

Battlefield Portal is the best part of Battlefield 2042, as predicted.

I've spent the past three mornings playing each of Battlefield 2042's branches—All-Out Warfare, Hazard Zone, and Portal—as part of a guided tour set up for reviewers by EA. I was assigned a squad and Discord voice channel for the event (BF2042 won't have built-in voice chat at launch) and matched against other critics for an approximation of the live experience. I got a good overview of what BF2042 offers, but controlled events are never exactly like live multiplayer games, which EA acknowledged. 

When Battlefield 2042 early access starts this Friday for EA Play Pro subscribers and owners of the special editions, the servers will in all likelihood fill up with teenagers whose bone marrow has evolved to produce headshots in Battlefield games. My current K/D ratio won't survive, but I'll need to brave those live servers to get more experience with each mode before I publish my final review next week. It's also possible that bugs or server problems that I didn't notice during these sessions ruin the fun.

So far, though, I like this edition of Battlefield more than the last one. I've never cared for Battlefield's singleplayer campaigns, so I'm happy that DICE has focused on making a heartier, more fibrous multiplayer package for BF2042. It's something I'll chew on for a while. Here are some broad reactions from my time with it so far:

Battlefield Portal

Above: Battlefield 1942 by way of Battlefield 2042.

Battlefield Portal is the best part of Battlefield 2042, as predicted. Portal is a tool for creating and hosting custom game modes. It doesn't let you edit maps like Halo's Forge mode or true modding tools, but it does include a logic editor for fairly complex rule scripting. It's like Unreal Tournament mutators taken to the extreme, and draws guns, gadgets, vehicles, and maps from Battlefield 1942, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Battlefield 3, and Battlefield 2042 itself.

EA showed us a mode in which we all spawned with a rocket launcher loaded with one rocket, and each time we fired, we had to jump five times to get a new rocket. We also played free-for-all with Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 1942 guns, regular Battlefield 1942 Conquest on remade versions of Battle of the Bulge and El Alamein maps, Battlefield 3 conquest on a Caspian Border remake, and BC2's Rush mode on BC2 maps that I don't know because I didn't play that one. (Here's a list of all the stuff in Battlefield Portal.)

Above: A mode in which you have to jump five times to reload your rocket.

Individually, these remakes and oddities probably wont sustain interest, but the variety is what makes Portal exciting to me. Battlefield Portal roulette sounds like a great addition to the 'Discord server isn't sure what to play' list, which presently includes quality stuff like Ratz Instagib, Shotgun Farmers, and weird CS:GO custom maps.

One disappointment: Some of Battlefield 1942's charm is retained on the remade Battle of the Bulge and El Alamein maps, but not all of it. When I got a tank stuck and tried to unstick it with explosives, it didn't budge. Not a very faithful recreation of a game that was mainly about performing explosives-aided stunts! 

Above: The reconstructions of classic Battlefields aren't without deficiencies. 

Aimlessly running through fields and mulling around on capture points definitely brought me back to the early 2000s, though. And here's a realization that surprised me: The gap between Battlefield 1942 and Battlefield 3 was longer than the gap between Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 2042. Huh. BF3 still feels modern to me, though returning to Caspian Border and Noshahr Canals did remind me of how much has changed since 2011. 

I was very happy when I found that this long lost Battlefield ritual was preserved:

Some other Portal notes, disappointments, and comments:

  • You can't put more than 60 bots in a match.
  • You have to pick a game and faction for each team, which determines what weapons are available to select (though you can put any gun into a player's hands with the rules editor). I'm not sure why you can't create a blank slate team with, say, the engineer class from BF1942, support class from BF3, and BF2042 guns to choose from. Maybe it just seemed overcomplicated?
  • The rules editor will take some learning, but it's not daunting if you know basic programming concepts (variables, loops, etc).
  • The rules editor can only be used when building a mode with the FFA or TDM templates. You can't use it with Conquest or Rush.
  • You can use the rules editor to put text on the screen (to give players instructions, for instance).
  • If you launch a mode (one you designed or someone else's), your 'server' will stay up until the last person leaves it.
  • You can design 25 Portal modes before you have to delete one to make another.
  • Players gain experience and unlocks when playing featured Portal modes.
  • Was I the only one not aware that Battlefield Bad Company 2 is bizarre? You can't strafe while sprinting and there's no prone, and the XM8 Prototype and variants beat all the other guns by miles. For years now I just trusted everyone who said the Bad Company games are the highlight of the Battlefield series—they all sound so confident about it!—but I'm not so sure anymore. (Rush was pretty fun though.)

Hazard Zone

(Image credit: EA)

It's hard not to think of Hazard Zone as 'Tarkov Lite,' but simplicity may be its appeal. The gist is that you and your squad buy guns and gadgets with 'Dark Market Credits,' drop onto a map and grab as many data drives from crashed satellites as you can while fighting off AI soldiers and other squads, and then attempt to extract inside one of two automated choppers. If you survive, you earn Dark Market Credits for the data drives you and your squad grabbed, and a refund for the gear you went in with. If you die, you get nothing, but all you lose are the credits you spent on your gear for that run.

Above: My squad and I fight off another team while waiting for the final extraction opportunity to appear.

There's an extra incentive to keep extraction streaks going with each operator, but it's all very low stakes compared to Hunt: Showdown or Tarkov, which from my second-hand experience appear to be psychological stress tests of some kind. 

It might be easier to get a few friends into Hazard Zone, since it doesn't feel like a lifestyle and comes as part of a bigger package, but is it fun enough to keep people playing just to be good at it? I'm not sure.

The lack of in-game voice chat is a little surprising for a mode like this, if understandable at a time when people are as fed up with asshole teammates as they've ever been, and Discord is nearly ubiquitous. DICE says that VOIP will come after launch, though.

All-Out Warfare

Above: A roof that is mine now.

Limiting Battlefield 2042's standard "All-Out Warfare" modes to Conquest and Breakthrough feels like the right call. With all the diversions offered by Hazard Zone and Portal, Battlefield 2042's base experience didn't need to be stuffed with high-concept modes. Breakthrough is an unsurprising but fun gametype in which attackers must capture and hold two points from defenders before moving on to the next two points. Conquest is a mess like it always is.

My favorite map is a ship graveyard called Discarded. There's nothing special about the layout, it just think big old ships are cool. The second coolest map is Kaleidoscope, an urban map reminiscent of Siege of Shanghai from BF4. Orbital, the map from the beta, is the least interesting to me, despite the presence of a rocket ship and my childhood aspirations to pilot one. I didn't get to see the Antarctic map, but I'm aware from looking at the credits that a penguin consultant was spoken to.

The Discarded map from Battlefield 2042. (Image credit: EA)

The navy snub is more noticeable than I expected. As I just established, I like boats, so I should've known I'd be disappointed that the only boats in Battlefield 2042 are beached husks (outside of Portal, that is). I hope bays and rivers and watercraft make an entrance at some point post-launch, because BF2042 doesn't quite feel complete to me without a bit of salty sea spray and sometimes having to swim for a full minute because I made an error in judgment.

Specialists and gadgets

I was skeptical of Battlefield 2042's trend-following, but in the end, I haven't minded the addition of specialists. Battlefield games already contained gadgets. Specialists just tie some gadgets and perks to specific faces.

The meta will be interesting. Based on my brief experience, the specialist who can deploy two transparent shields feels super powerful. I spent a lot of time lying behind their cover with an LMG and bipod (see gif below). Mackay's grappling hook also stands out as a highly effective gadget on the right maps. It's especially good among stacks of shipping crates on Manifest, because the tops of them are mostly inaccessible otherwise, so players aren't looking up enough.

Some of the other specialist gadgets, such as Casper's recon drone and Maria Falck's healing pistol, feel comparatively weak outside of the more methodical Hazard Zone mode. Specialist traits will also factor into the meta, though: Casper can always see nearby enemy locations and Falck revives teammates to full health.

Secondarily, I like the ability to swap between regular and anti-armor ammo using the new on-the-fly gun attachment selector. It isn't easy to kill a tank or chopper with bullets, but the option to try means fewer people may feel compelled to put explosives in their gadget slot, instead opting for less flashy but no less important utilities like ammo crates. Regarding other attachments, as always, there are more unlockable sights and barrels and grips than anyone needs.

One last thing I'm curious to see develop on the live servers: It seemed like players weren't using the vehicle call-in feature enough. It is wild that every player can call in a robot dog on cooldown to get automatic covering fire; great for snipers. The ability to drop an armored vehicle into the middle of a tough point capture is also clutch, and everyone can do it. I capped one point by dropping an APC out of the sky and running over an enemy while my robo-dog took care of the rest.

Settings, performance, bugs

There are a ton of accessibility and control customization settings. You'll notice custom squad, teammate, and enemy icon colors in my clips and screenshots. There are customizable subtitles, speech-to-text and text-to-speech options (I couldn't find a way to turn the latter off so every text chat message was read aloud to me), hold and toggle modes for actions like sprinting, sensitivity sliders for every zoom level, and so on.

(Image credit: EA)

Another bit of good news: The review event version wasn't as buggy or afflicted by latency issues as the beta. I experienced a few crashes and unexplained framerate drops, but players didn't fall through concrete or run around with open parachutes. I can't say precisely what the launch will be like, but that's at least a positive sign.

The list of graphics options is substantial, too. If you want to make granular changes to hit your minimum acceptable framerate, you can tweak things like 'undergrowth quality' and turn off individual post-processing effects (get that chromatic aberration out of here). There are a few DLSS options to choose from. I had mostly good performance at 1440p with an RTX 2070 Super, the 'High' graphics preset, and DLSS on 'Balanced.' There were a few framerate plummets, but they were clearly anomalies, not because my GPU was overworked—hopefully that sort of thing will be fixed.

I'm hoping for the best on Friday, but I expect the usual ream of tech support threads to appear in the first week, and probably a notable exploit or two, or a weird balance issue. It's what we've learned to expect with every big multiplayer game launch, and Battlefield games in particular tend to get thorough and unforgiving technical inspections from sophisticated FPS players. I'll likely spend a lot of my time in Portal, though, where weird balance issues are the whole idea, so maybe the bugs will just blend in?

We'll have a full review of Battlefield 2042 next week.

Tyler Wilde

Tyler has spent over 1,200 hours playing Rocket League, and slightly fewer nitpicking the PC Gamer style guide. His primary news beat is game stores: Steam, Epic, and whatever launcher squeezes into our taskbars next.