It's been fifteen years since Battlefield last had mechs, which means it's been about fifteen years since I last cared about Battlefield. With EA preparing to lift the lid on the next entry in DICE's mass warfare shooter, my one question is the same as it ever was—will we see anything quite as special as Battlefield 2142?
The next Battlefield game is dipping its toes into the near future warzones of 2042, a very contemporary form of warfare that gestures into the future with robot dogs and climate catastrophe. But as chaotic as it all looks, I reckon Dice isn't looking nearly far forwards enough. Let us go beyond 2042's familiar skirmishes, and into the speculative ice age conflicts of the 22nd century.
Following up the modern military skirmishes of Battlefield 2, 2142 brought the series into the speculative warfronts of the future. It was still Battlefield, sure. Tanks rolled over hills, helicopters duked it out in the skies, and infantry squads took pot-shots across war-torn streets.
But being a century-and-a-bit in the future, half of those tanks could hover. Soldiers were backed up by stomping mechs, and aircraft shared the skies with Titans—vast, floating battleships that formed the core of Battlefield's best-ever gamemode.
See, Battlefield 2142 didn't just use its speculative setting for aesthetics. The future brought an incredible playfulness to established Battlefield mechanics, culminating in the game's Titan Mode. Control points were now missile silos, and capturing them meant slowly whittling down the opposing Titan's shields. Once those were down, you could choose to keep whittling away the flying fortress's health with missiles. But the real trick was staging a daring boarding action to bring it down from the inside.
Titans that had served as spawn point, landing pad and airborne turret batteries during the match suddenly became claustrophobic arenas. Invaders would use dropships to land on the ship, or use special armoured trucks to fire themselves skyward in Halo 3: ODST style drop-pods. Every inch of cargo bay and corridor inside the Titan was hard-fought—but make it through to the core, and you could take down the monstrous craft with one fell swoop.
It's the kind of spectacle that Battlefield has always been built around, and one that's never quite been matched. DICE has played around with similar ideas since, and Battlefront 2's Capital Supremacy is visibly a direct successor—if far more rigid in how its invasions play out. But the magic of Titan mode was how the ships fit neatly into the existing Battlefield sandbox. An ever-present threat that, with enough persistence, could ultimately be turned into a smouldering crash site.
Battlefield has changed a lot in 15 years, mind, and it's understandable (if still disappointing) that DICE's priorities for the series have changed. Battlefield became firmly grounded in modern combat with 3 and 4, pivoting to historical playground with 1 and V (the numbering on this series has been kinda wild lately).
The next Battlefield's supposed near-future setting may open up space for fancier gadgets or stranger guns. But it's hard to imagine it skewing too far away from the well-trodden warzones of previous entries. 2142 was just far away enough to give us flying bases, mechs and hovertanks, but not so far away that the game wasn't still recognisably Battlefield.
The real crime is that, in 2021, Battlefield's boldest experiment remains unplayable. Gamespy's closure killed BF2142's servers back in 2014—and while EA stressed that it would work to keep games like BF2142 alive, it quickly abandoned that decision. Revive, a fan-run effort to keep the game running, managed to survive for roughly a year before EA brought the hammer down.
It's hard to imagine a dead, online-only shooter from 2006 making a meaningful return anytime soon. But it's easy to imagine what 15 years of progress could do for the game's ideas—walkers crashing through Frostbite's destructible buildings, modern DICE's expert sound design giving those Titan's a truly apocalyptic presence in the skies.
More than anything, though, I want to feel genuinely excited by where Battlefield goes next. Battlefield has been hesitant to let the setting truly drive play—Battlefield 1 crowbarred SMGs and assault rifles into World War 1, while the oft-maligned Hardline turned a cops 'n' robbers pitch into devastating urban warfare. Maybe a hypothetical Battlefield 2143 is too much to ask. But I'd hope whatever Battlefield comes next is able to once more give us a peek into the future.
Especially if that future comes with bloody good robots.