For many fans of the Battlefield series, Battlefield 2042 is a kind of homecoming. It’s a return to the modern era of warfare that really defined the series from Battlefield 2 through Bad Company and onward to Battlefield 4. However, this is much more than just feel-good gaming comfort food for shooter fans, it’s an ambitious step forward for the series to feature its biggest battles yet.
With the game having been recently delayed until a November release date, the Battlefield 2042 open beta was also pushed back. It kicks off today for those who pre-order the game, and on Friday for everyone else, as DICE look to stress test their server infrastructure. We’ve gone hands-on with the Battlefield 2042 open beta ahead of time to get you some early thoughts and opinions.
Right off the bat, the scale feels impressive. The Orbital map that featured in the beta is far from the largest in the game – that will be the map called Breakaway – but still shows off the new multi-point sectors that players will be battling over.
This is the map that features the eye-catching rocket and launch sequence that was one of the flashier moments from the game’s announcement. With 128-players it’s a sprawl of six sectors that the two sides battle over, but curiously only two of them have the new multi-point design that requires you to take multiple capture points in order to take the zone. The impression from the Battlefield 2042 announcement was that all of the maps would be built around the multi-point design, but that’s clearly not the case and DICE explained in a Q&A after our play session that it really depends on the map and how battles flow across it. So there’s a blend of new and old here.
One thing it manages to do quite handily is accommodate 128-players, to the point that you might often feel like you’re playing a 64-player game on the older map size. Part of that is down to the nature of the Conquest game mode, with players are drawn to different objectives and spawning on squad mates to keep little units of players together. There will, of course, be various flashpoints, and it was quite impressive at one point to see and realise just how many enemies were actually creeping up through cover toward the rocket launch site to try and capture it.
Speaking of which, the rocket launch is easily one of the biggest spectacles on the map. It sits down a long, wide strip of tarmac from a similarly huge vehicle assembly building that contains a second rocket, both with zig-zagging stairs up their sides that provide sniping vantage spots that old school Unreal Tournament players will naturally gravitate toward. The rocket, though, has a launch sequence that will trigger mid-match, alarms ringing out as it prepares to fire off into the sky. Narratively, the Russians are trying to blow it up while the US want to protect it, but really anyone can shoot it up and stop the launch with a huge explosion. It’s not as seismic a change as Siege of Shanghai in Battlefield 4, but is a spectacle at least.
Similarly spectacular is the lightning-filled tornado that can spawn as a storm front rolls in, slowly moving across the map and snatching at any and every nearby physics object. Naturally, everyone playing dashed toward it to get lifted off the ground and then float around it on parachutes, but it can also wreck buildings, vehicles, even change the flight path of rockets.
All in all, there’s a lot to like about Orbital’s map and the scale it offers for 128-players. It will be interesting to see how it’s cropped and scaled down for the 64-player limit on PS4 and Xbox One.
The core gunplay of the game is nice and snappy, responsive but with enough heft to it that will satisfy Battlefield 4 fans. The Assault Rifles and LMGs will be natural go-to weapons I feel, both good for mid-range encounters, and with the quick Plus menu letting you swap out barrels, magazines, scopes and handgrips on the fly if you’re heading into a close-quarters encounter. The DMR, sniper rifle and SMG are a bit more specialised, but I’m sure plenty of people will adapt to using them in different situations.
Where I feel Battlefield 2042 can do more is in really justifying the new character specialists. The beta gives us a narrowed view into what these offer with just four of the ten specialists that will appear at launch available. These are analogous to the four classes that have become relatively standard for the Battlefield series, each with a particular ability. The real thing that undercuts them is that any of the specialists can use any gun, any of the class-oriented abilities like health packs and recon grenades can be used by Boris or Casper. Obviously, if you’re more oriented toward being a healer, you’ll lean toward a character like Maria, but there’s nothing to stop you from grabbing sniper rifle, and keeping yourself and your fellow vantage point campers topped up with health. The shift to specialists is one that can hopefully feel more meaningful for the full game.
Of the four specialists, they have varying utility, I feel. Boris’ automated turret helps if you’re aiming to be stationary and defending, which I typically wasn’t, while Casper’s motion sensor can be rather useful in tight confines, not just when keeping an eye for people sneaking up on your sniping nest. Webster’s grappling hook is pretty great for getting onto rooftops, where stairs, ladders and ziplines are too time-consuming, while Maria’s Syrette Pistol to revive allies at range will be essential. It’s a shame it’s a bit buggy in this months-old build that DICE has released for the beta.
Another element that I feel ends up in a bit of no man’s land is the new equipment call-in feature, letting you whip out an in-game tablet and call in various vehicles and supports. Need a tank to take a control point? Want to get across the map in a futuristic hummer? Want a robot dog to run by your side and pepper enemies with bullets? Get it delivered directly to your location.
What’s curious is that there’s no prerequisites to using this; there’s no killstreaks or points you need to earn to spend here, you can call in that support at any time. However, there are limits, and relatively strict ones considering that there’s up to 63 other people on the map with you that might want them. Just a couple tanks, a few APCs and a trio of the exceedingly cool robot war dogs can be called in for your side. It doesn’t guarantee you the mobility to shift from sector to sector in a hurry, though I’m sure vehicle availability will change from map to map, and there were other vehicles at various capture points that you could hop into.
One thing that is sure to be divisive is the inclusion of AI enemies to backfill servers up to capacity. Up to 64 bots can be added to a match, so even if you’re the only human player on a server, you’ll have something to shoot at, and they’ll be filtered out as servers get close to the 128-player limit. They’re not particularly satisfying enemies to fight, perhaps leaning in design closer to Titanfall cannon fodder than arena shooter AI on the highest difficulty. Personally, I think they’re a necessary evil and can at least get you halfway to feeling like you’re not completely alone in a match.
Battlefield 2042 has all the right ingredients to be a defining new entry in the long-running shooter series, taking the foundations that have been the hallmark Battlefield games over the past two decades and expanding them to create the biggest battles yet. The open beta gives us a glimpse of what’s to come, the size of the map and the battles impressing, but there’s still some elements and new ideas that will need to prove themselves when the game releases on 19th November 2021.