Battlefield 2042 is more than just another iteration of the nearly 20-year-old shooter franchise. For DICE, it is at once the opportunity of winning the fanbase back after the underwhelming Battlefield V (which in comparison to Battlefield 1 sold less among customers and was rated lower by critics) and of striking at the Call of Duty behemoth when it's arguably at its weakest, with Vanguard largely failing to generate the usual level of excitement we've come to expect from a new entry in that series.

It is no wonder, then, that Electronic Arts has put all hands on deck for the development of the game. Criterion Games' next Need for Speed installment was actually halted as EA required them to help with Battlefield 2042, and even EA Gothenburg (formerly known as Ghost Games) and Ripple Effect Studios (formerly known as DICE LA) have worked on this game, which saw the largest development team yet for a Battlefield title.

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All of this manpower was directed solely to the creation of multiplayer content, too, as there's no single player to be found in Battlefield 2042. Looking back, this is likely a smart decision given the often lackluster campaigns featured in previous Battlefield games. The franchise started and subsequently thrived as multiplayer-only, after all.

Did the gamble pay off, though? We were invited to a review event that took place over the course of three days, each dedicated to one of the three pillars that make up Battlefield 2042: All-Out Warfare, Hazard Zone, and Battlefield Portal. This is our review-in-progress, which we'll come back to after launch with a full score once we've assessed the stability of live servers as well as features like Specialists that simply couldn't be properly tested in such a short time.

All-Out Warfare

The first mode displayed on the menu, All-Out Warfare includes Breakthrough and the trademark Conquest mode.

In this case, DICE has definitely chosen the safe approach, rightfully so: you don't fix what's not broken. There are some improvements, though, and they're welcome ones. Conquest sectors have been divided into sub-objectives, making it impossible for just a lone man to capture a flag by capturing an individual control point, an issue that plagued Battlefield for a long time.

I'm a bit more torn on the new maps included with Battlefield 2042 at launch. Perhaps it's just a matter of adjustment that will come with playing, but they don't strike me as worthy of becoming all-time favorites among franchise fans. Still, time will tell, and I'll come back with a more complete assessment as part of the final review.

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Of course, one of the big draws here is the doubled player count on PC and next-generation consoles. The feeling of an actual battle is heightened, surely, but that doesn't necessarily mean matches are going to be more fun. For one thing, the bigger maps seem to lend themselves even more to snipers, while regular infantry suffers a bit.

Hazard Zone

The biggest addition to the franchise is obviously Hazard Zone, a squad-based mode where eight teams of four (on PC and next-gen; the player count on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One only allows for six teams) are dropped in a hot zone and tasked with the retrieval of data drives before extraction.

Here, unlike in All-Out Warfare, Specialists are unique, requiring you and your team to carefully plan how you're going to play in the next match. Squad composition is of paramount importance and it's fair to expect quite a bit of shifting in the so-called meta with the various updates.

The very nature of the game mode lends to some incredibly tense, high-stakes matches, in a way that's very different from the regular modes. It will also build a strong bond between squad members, far more than something like Breakthrough or Conquest possibly could.

The most immediate problem I see with Hazard Zone is that it's played on the very same maps featured in All-Out Warfare, and those maps have clearly been designed first and foremost for Battlefield's traditional modes. It cannot compare to the maps seen in titles like Escape from Tarkov and Hunt: Showdown, which have ushered this type of gameplay into the mainstream.

I doubt this is something that can be fixed in any other way than crafting brand new maps explicitly designed for Hazard Zone. I could see that happening if this proved to be Battlefield 2042's most popular mode but I doubt that's going to be the case. Maybe it can convince players who've already bought the game to stay instead of moving to one of the aforementioned titles, but I don't see Hazard Zone luring in many brand new fans to Battlefield.

Battlefield Portal

Portal is, in many ways, a love letter to long-time Battlefield aficionados. The Refractor engine, used for Battlefield 1942, Battlefield 2 and Battlefield 2142, supported user modifications, but that's been absent ever since DICE moved to the Frostbite engine with Battlefield Bad Company.

Battlefield Portal is, in all likelihood, the closest we're going to get to modding. It features an incredibly deep logic editor that enterprising users will be able to use to create all kinds of fun modes and variations. During the review event, we checked out VIP Fiesta, where two teams vied to kill a rotating VIP player, a free-for-all mode, and another where all players were limited to just one rocket and a knife. But this is only the tip of the iceberg and the real fun will begin once the community at large goes hands-on with the toolset. The possibilities here are almost endless.

Of course, there are also the remastered maps of Battlefield 1942 (El Alamein and Battle of the Bulge), Battlefield Bad Company 2 (Valparaiso and Arica Harbor), and Battlefield 3 (Caspian Border and Noshahr Canals) to be accounted for. These are played with the original classes, too, summoning all that nostalgia for those who played the original games when they first came out. Out of the three, I definitely enjoyed going back to Battlefield 3 more, but your mileage may vary here. Still, there's something for every taste.

In short, Battlefield Portal is possibly the best mode out of all three, massively increasing the value of Battlefield 2042 while bringing back some of the best maps from previous titles in all of their remastered glory.

Technical considerations

Battlefield 2042 runs on the latest version of the Frostbite Engine. As expected, the visuals look pretty damn good on PC when every setting is cranked up and the resolution is set to 4K. Some maps feature amazing graphics, though others are a bit less impressive, possibly due to artistic choices. Overall, the feeling is that the technological gulf between Battlefield and other competitors is lessening rather than widening. Still, there can be nothing to complain about here, except for the lack of any option to adjust HDR brightness. In a game released at the very end of 2021, this is disappointing.

As unveiled recently, the game supports ray traced ambient occlusion but enabling the effect introduced some frame drops that ultimately led me to turn it off. Needless to say, in a multiplayer-only shooter game, the visual benefits of RTAO are far outweighed by the necessity of smooth gameplay. NVIDIA users should also enable both NVIDIA DLSS and Reflex where possible, as they provide a smoother and more responsive experience, even if the game's own optimization isn't quite perfect during larger fights.

Overall thoughts

Battlefield 2042 feels like the most complete Battlefield game yet, mainly thanks to the incredible depth provided by Battlefield Portal and the brand new Hazard Mode, even though it is unclear whether it'll be enough to draw flocks of new players to the franchise.

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