Battlefield 2042 looks amazing, but DICE still has a lot to prove

Lest we forget

Based on what I’ve seen and learned about Battlefield 2042 so far, it looks like everything I wanted the next game to be. But I still can’t get excited about it. Not yet.

Don’t get me wrong: On the surface, DICE seems to have addressed every single wishlist item I had for a new Battlefield game. It’s focused on delivering a sandbox experience in a near-future setting. The maps are bigger than ever with more dynamic events of mass destruction. You can call in vehicles so you’re not stuck traveling on foot forever. The four classes, which were getting increasingly stale with every entry, have been replaced by the more interesting and customizable Specialists.

But even beyond the checklist of features that I’ve wanted to see in a Battlefield game since Battlefield 4, it’s the smaller things that DICE have off-handedly mentioned that make me think the game is in good hands.

For example, I am not a fan of Breakthrough, the more guided attack-defense mode that started as Battlefield 1’s Operations. I know it’s popular with a lot of Battlefield players, but the mindless dogpiling that mode’s design ensures is antithetical to what I love about the series. The option you have as a player is to get into the fracas and score as many kills as you can before you die.

Compare that to Battlefield’s best mode, Bad Company 2’s version of Rush, which is also a linear and guided experience. Sure, you can attack the MCOM objectives head on and kill as many people as you can. But you can also try to sneak in undetected and arm the MCOM. Or you can bring a tank onto the point and try to blow the MCOM up. Or you can drop in from above by parachuting out of a helicopter. But the objective was somewhat even besides the point. It was the approach to the objective, with Bad Company 2’s intricate and complex level design, despite being smaller than most Battlefield maps, that made the journey feel just as epic as the destination.

That’s just not something you get with Breakthrough. Instead, the journey is besides the point, and the murder is all that’s left. It’s why I was slightly disappointed when the two modes that DICE detailed for Battlefield 2042 were once again Conquest and Breakthrough.

But when senior design director Daniel Berlin started describing how those modes would change in 2042, I was relieved. Conquest’s new “clusters and sectors” approach to its objective design ensures that players will experience intense, chaotic firefights on the objectives, as well as the quieter moments that will give squads time to come up with a plan. To me, this signaled that 2042’s designers understood that gunfights and kills are only half of what makes a Battlefield game a Battlefield game. The other half is the build-up to those moments and the journeys you take with your friends to get there.

Then there’s Breakthrough, which will largely remain the same, with two massive teams confronting each other head on in battle. However, Berlin mentioned that DICE level and mode designers were making sure that players would have more options, more angles of approach, when attacking an objective, to make sure that the formerly mindless mode would retain the sandbox feel that’s core to 2042’s design.

This attitude towards the franchise’s two dominant modes—and DICE’s willingness to acknowledge their problem areas—was probably the most encouraging thing that I heard during the pre-reveal event. It told me that DICE was keyed into not only what had made those modes feel stale, but also what was really important to the Battlefield experience.

Still, there’s a lot we still don’t know about Battlefield 2042. When you do get into a firefight, how will the gunplay feel? Will it continue to evolve Battlefield V’s visual–based recoil, or will it go back to the classic spread mechanics of Battlefield 4? Will there be suppression? How will 3D spotting work? And most importantly, are we going to be cursed on console with yet another Battlefield game that maxes its server tick rates at 30 Hz? If we’re still dying around corners and dying in one frame to semiautomatic weapons, it could destroy all the hard work that DICE is obviously putting into this game.

And there’s something else that is keeping me from boarding the 2042 hype train, something that looms much larger than finicky netcode and player counts. The main concern I have is that DICE hasn’t fully learned its lessons from Battlefield V.

There was a common chorus that kept repeating on the Battlefield V message boards and forums, when talk about a new title started to ramp up: “Don’t pre-order the next game.” A lot of players in the Battlefield community understandably felt a little burned by how that game fizzled to an end. DICE had promised a constantly evolving game that would take us through the course of the Second World War. By the time the studio wrapped up production on the game’s live service content in April 2020, Battlefield V hadn’t even added the Soviet army.

That wasn’t the only reason that Battlefield fans were pissed. Over the course of its lifespan, DICE changed the time-to-kill, thus altering the core feel of the game, twice before landing on some weird Frankensteinian compromise between what players wanted and what the developers were forcing upon them. A battle royale mode launched to much fanfare only to be updated twice and left to wither into obscurity, overrun with cheaters and teamers. Modes like Frontlines that launched with the games and were bullet points for its marketing were essentially removed. Other modes that were announced never even saw the light of day.

Worst of all, this wasn’t coming from some indie studio that had gotten in over its head with a project that was too ambitious in scope. This was a world-class studio backed by one of the biggest publishers in the world working on a mainline entry in its marquee franchise. And yet Battlefield V ended up entirely FUBAR.

Fast forward a little over a year. The marketing train for Battlefield 2042 has left the station. It looks absolutely stunning. It looks like everything I’ve ever wanted in a Battlefield game. As someone who has put literally thousands of hours into the series, I am salivating at the notion that Battlefield is embracing its sandbox nature and making some necessary changes. But there’s still that small part of me that refuses to forget.

Maybe the problem with Battlefield V was that it was doomed from the start. DICE clearly had a vision for that game and its version of World War II that never made it into the actual release. The attrition system that dictated players rely on their squad for ammo and health packs was mangled by the time it reached the full release. The publicized archetype system that would turn the game’s standard classes into more specific subclasses was watered down into a combat role system that had very little impact on the game’s overall design. Battlefield V was supposed to be a more team-based, specialized experience, but the fanbase’s aversion to some of its design concepts caused DICE to backtrack on a lot of what might have made the game, if not great, then at least a unique entry in the series.

DICE’s vision for Battlefield 2042 seems great on paper, and I hope they stick with it. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next Battlefield and squad up with my friends again. But DICE needs to prove that it’s truly learned the right lesson. No matter how cool Battlefield 2042 looks, I won’t be pre-ordering it.

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