Three years on from the release of the World War 2 themed Battlefield V and DICE has gone back to the future with this latest instalment of its bombastic franchise. It's certainly all suitably flashy and agreeably next-gen looking stuff but, in terms of gameplay, there's a bit of a mixed bag being served up here thus far with the core Battlefield 2042 element of proceedings losing out in the straight-up fun stakes to a rather excellent Portal mode that focuses more on the series' history than it does the here and now.
Of course we're only in early access as things stand just now, and recent entries in this franchise have had a tendency to get off to a bit of a clunky start before slowly realising their full potential, but there's no doubting the fact that the new stuff here, the large-scale futuristic skirmishes of Battlefield 2042, feel like they need a fair bit of work if they're going to hook players in for the long term.
At the core of Battlefield 2042 is All Out Warfare mode, which offers players on next-gen consoles plenty of spectacular looking action that supports up to 128 players on a selection of absolutely massive maps. You can choose between Conquest or Breakout modes here and there's no real surprises in store in this regard, with Conquest fundamentally playing the same as it ever has whilst Breakthrough is pretty much just Rush under another name, which is fine.
However, the main problem we're finding so far in moment-to-moment play is that the maps here just feel a bit too big and empty, there's too much space and downtime between control points and even though you can now summon a vehicle anywhere you like in order to get you from point A to B, the flow of battles feels disjointed as a result. Matches tend to descend into a repetitive pattern of legging it to a flashpoint, getting killed and then respawning and making the journey all over again. There's a lack of focus on teamwork too, it never feels as though you really need - or even ever see - your squad-mates on these enormous maps and this feeling is then reinforced by the game's specialists.
Specialists are Battlefield 2042's new Overwatch-style characters, each of whom comes with their own unique skill - Irish can lay down shields, Maria has a healing pistol, Mackay carries a grappling hook - and a bunch of smart-arsed quips to cycle through at the beginning and end of missions. So far, in our experience at least, these specialists seem to lead to players choosing their favourite hero and then taking off across the battlefield with little thought of teamwork in mind as they scale buildings with grappling hooks and get themselves set up to play how they want to. There's also far too little in the way of reward for actually capturing points and indulging in teamwork in comparison to racking up kills, further advancing that creeping feeling that you might as well just play this one as a solo soldier, which kinda misses the point of what Battlefield's been all about in the past.
These new characters also make selecting your gear and sorting your loadouts feel like too much hard work, an extra wrinkle in proceedings that removes the straightforward and simple classes of old and creates unnecessary complications as you sort out which specialist you want, which subclass you'll then have them play and what gear and gadgets you wish to fill your loadout with. We can see where DICE was going with this new element of proceedings (endless cosmetics anyone?) but it just doesn't really feel like it works in any particularly positive way right now and we'd far rather just choose our class, inhabit the body of a nameless, faceless soldier and get on with things.
There's still plenty of carnage and good times to indulge in with Battlefield 2042's core modes, let's be clear, the maps are more than solid across the board in terms of providing options for different playstyles, the weather effects and other dynamic aspects look spectacular and we've been treated to plenty of explosive action in our twenty hours or thereabouts with the game, it just feels like it needs some solid tweaks as things stand - it's a little bland, sterile and doesn't offer enough opportunity to work closely with your squad in order to enjoy the kind of magic Battlefield moments we all know and love as you and your crew struggle to survive while levels collapse all around you.
We'd like to see the squad count increased up to six, the introduction of more meaningful rewards for capturing and controlling points in order to encourage cooperation, nerf the annoying helicopters, bring back the scoreboard (why on earth would you get rid of the scoreboard?!) and get Voip up and running (as they've already indicated they will do). Get all this stuff sorted, iron out the bugs and glitches that are seeing accurate shots miss their targets, hoverboards driving up the sides of buildings and so on, and we definitely see a brighter future ahead for this aspect of the game.
Away from the main All Out Warfare mode, you've also got the brand new Hazard Zone which sees teams of four players splash down on maps where they need to recover data drives whilst doing battle with AI enemies and other human squads. It's in this mode, which we reckon will prove an acquired taste, that the new specialists begin to make a little more sense as teamwork is essential and each four man squad can only have one of each character at any time, meaning you need to plan who you want to bring into battle, consider the special skill that you're packing and how it can help secure victory for your crew.
We've had a lot of fun with Hazard Zone so far, but it does also feel as though it could do with some tweaking. Teams who are on a roll here tend to sweep their way to victory as their wins equal more and more cash to buy better gear, meaning the strong get stronger as the weak line up to take even more of a battering. Even things up a bit and make the downtime between games a little quicker, though, and we're well up for sticking with this one for a bit longer.
The best part of Battlefield 2042, however, and it's perhaps an ever-so damning indictment on all the new stuff that's been introduced here, is easily the game's Portal mode. Here players can get creative with a surprisingly robust editor mode that allows them to mix and match and make their own games using maps, weapons and vehicles from 2042 as well as Bad Company 2 and Battlefields 3 and 1942. The result is a mode that's by far our favourite way to play this new entry in the series to date.
Jumping into action on classic Battlefield maps with classes, weapons and vehicles from some of our favourite entries in the series is worth the price of admission alone here as far as we're concerned - even if these versions of the older games feel a little like staged imitations rather than the real thing - and there are already lots of fun player-created modes to get stuck into. Our personal favourite has been blasting around on 1942's maps in matches where each team is out to kill the other's marked target player, with each death randomly switching up your gear and weapons.
Portal is excellent stuff and there's sure to be a ton of cool and creative game types churned out by the community over the next few months, but there's no denying that it absolutely highlights what's lacking in the main event of Battlefield 2042's All Out Warfare mode.
There's a focus on teamwork and a sense of intimate and constantly engaging action in the matches you play in Portal that's just sort of missing from Conquest and Breakthrough as things stand right now, and DICE needs to get busy bringing all of that back to these modes if this one's gonna live up to its full potential. However, there's still a feature-packed and generously proportioned game here and, with their strong track record of supporting, expanding and refining past entries in the series, we're sure Battlefield 2042 will improve in leaps and bounds over the coming months.
Battlefield 2042 is a bit of a mixed bag as things stand right now with the excellent Portal mode overshadowing almost everything else on offer. The futuristic large-scale battles are spectacular stuff, for sure, but it's all a little disjointed so far with the all-new Specialists underlining a feeling that solo soldiering has somehow taken precedent over the series' signature teamwork. There's still plenty to enjoy in this meaty package for early adopters, and we've no doubt DICE will be busy improving things as the months roll on but, outside of a mode that celebrates the series' history more than it embraces what's new in this latest entry, what's here struggles to feel absolutely essential at launch.