Continuing From Part One Of Our Massive Review In Progress
Part Two: Highway to the Hazard Zone
On Battlefield 2042’s New Hazard Zone Mode
Forgive me for bringing up rumours again, but the other big one about Battlefield 2042 is that Hazard Zone started out as the main mode and All-Out War came later in the piece. Even if untrue, Specialists are a clearer fit for Hazard Zone. Basically, Hazard Zone is Escape from Tarkov
Your squad of four heads into the Battlefield 2042 maps with up to seven other squads of enemy players (32 players total; 24 for last-gen) in pursuit of fallen satellites with intel-stuffed hard drives. Before the round starts, there’s a prep phase where you pick Specialists (no double-ups) and kit out your soldier with guns and equipment using Hazard Zone-specific currency. There are freebie weapons and equipment, though, including a handy satellite-spotting device that one person in the squad should absolutely carry.
Hazard Zone maps last up to around 15 minutes and you’ll be playing on the same maps from the core game which, as far as I could tell, were shrunk-down versions of the All-Out War monoliths. You can play it safe by killing the plentiful AI to earn easy credits (which you keep even if you wipe), go for the nearest and easiest satellites, then bug out on the first randomly positioned extraction chopper.
There’s a second extraction later in the game, which is way more hotly contested, as greedier/sweatier players stay in the map longer to kill more AI, frag more players and nab more intel drives, particularly from the lucrative multi-drive mid-match satellite drops. There are traits that help make life easier, with only one by default but can get up to three if you successfully extract. This applies to every player in the squad, and you can’t cheese team victory or trait streaks by extracting one or two players and not the rest.
Specialists are a clearer fit for Hazard Zone. Basically, Hazard Zone is Escape from Tarkov-lite.
A lot of how you should play the round is determined by your composition of Specialists. You can build defensive, offensive, hunter, or several other squad builds, depending on the Strategists you pick. I’d argue that, like All-Out War, Angel and Falck are essential for ammo and health, even if there are (mercifully) ammunition stations on the map. There are also collectable items well worth nabbing, including respawn tokens for dead squaddies (like PUBG, you’re downed and can crawl but can also be finished), robot dogs, health and armed/armoured rides.
These latter items are particularly pesky to fight, taking two rockets in a best-case scenario but can also take a few to properly neutralise. This means rolling with at least a couple of rocket launchers is a solid idea. The good news is you can see all car occupants from the front and the side of military vehicles (there are civvy map-spawn vehicles that are best avoided), meaning bullets are also a viable occupants counter, but there’s full armour in the back so drivers are encouraged to get out of dodge if the lead starts flying. Still, the minigun on top makes short work of exposed players and makes for great offensive and defensive strats.
We were only given a scant couple of hours to play Hazard Zone during the review event, which is a shame because that’s about how long it took to start to wrap my head around the potential of the mode. Arsenal choice is particularly important, and my squad quickly ditched the free default attachment-less assault rifle for a mix of DMRs and sniper rifles. It’s still a good idea to have at least one fully automatic weapon in the squad, particularly for maps that lend themselves to closer-range fights, but forcing longer engagement ranges with the right tools leads to easy dominance.
With an absence of infantry-focused maps, Hazard Zone is the place to go for players keen to avoid tanks and death from above. While it’s understandable that waiting times were longer because of the limited players attending the review event, what is frustrating is the lack of transparency of those wait times. The ‘waiting for players’ screen looms large in terms of how patient players will be to wait for a match with no idea how many players have connected or how long that wait might be. DICE has said it’ll build on Hazard Zone but wouldn’t share details, and while its staying power has yet to be seen, there’s enough here to warrant full servers, plus it runs a whole lot better than All-Out War.
Strangely, the gunplay in Hazard Zone felt tighter than All-Out War, which suggests that something may have gone horribly wrong in the big-player mode.
Strangely, the gunplay in Hazard Zone felt tighter than All-Out War, which suggests that something may have gone horribly wrong in the big-player mode, particularly as it relates to recoil. Hopefully, this is something DICE can address prior to launch or shortly after.
Part Three: The Cake Isn’t a Lie
On Battlefield Portal
For years, Battlefield fans have clamoured for full-fledged mod tools, and Portal is DICE’s answer to this request. While it’s not the same as unbridled access to traditional mod tools, it’s a great step in the right direction. The fact that anyone can make a meme-worthy or serious new mode by tweaking a deep range of variables via a website, even if they don’t own the game, is very cool.
Of course, you need to own the game to play the results, but I cannot wait to see what comes from the community when Portal is unleashed. For those unaware, Portal lets you use elements from Battlefield 2042, Battlefield 1942, Bad Company 2, and Battlefield 3. That somewhat eclectic mix of Battlefield titles includes the seven Battlefield 2042 launch maps alongside heavy-hitting favourites: namely, Battle of the Bulge, El Alamein, Arica Harbor, Valparaiso, Caspian Border and Noshahr Canals.
While the potential is clear even from the pitch, we were off to a rough start when we kicked things off with VIP Fiesta on Arica Harbor, which was the first thing showcased in the initial Portal Custom Modes trailer. It was mostly the same with one massive change. According to that Portal trailer, it’s supposed to be US faction vs US faction, one team of Battlefield 3 soldiers and the other with Bad Company 2 soldiers. The change for us was it was Battlefield 1942 US soldiers vs Battlefield 3 US soldiers.
To say this was disgustingly imbalanced would be an understatement. We spent most of our time playing as the Battlefield 1942 team, which is an instant reminder of how far class kits have come, most notably with the Anti-Tank class whose primary weapon is a bazooka with only a pistol as a backup. While this helps with flattening the map and dealing serious damage to the perpetually highlighted VIP player, it can’t hold a candle to an LMG with 200 rounds or basically any of the other contemporary weapons.
For years, Battlefield fans have clamoured for full-fledged mod tools, and Portal is DICE’s answer to this request. While it’s not the same as unbridled access to traditional mod tools, it’s a great step in the right direction.
This mode randomly switches classes every time you die, too, with woeful randomised spawns that are closer to Call of Duty of always than Battlefield of late. It’s made more frustrating by the tiny hidden heads up that you’ve just become the VIP but, ultimately, the faster-firing, heavier-hitting modern arsenal of the Battlefield 3 soldiers makes short work of the World War II kits. We managed to get close on some rounds and even pinched one, but when we backed out and back in at the start of the round and got to play as the Battlefield 3 team, our 15-4 trouncing of Team WWII underscored the imbalance.
Oh, by the way, you can’t swap teams at all in Battlefield 2042, and there certainly didn’t appear to be auto-balancing during our successive sessions, which is concerning for the impending release across All-Out War and Portal modes.
Next up was a proof of concept for how easy it is to quickly throw together a playable mode, which was done live by a dev on stream, which we then went and played. It amounted to an FFA mode without regenerating health, and it was good for one round before it outstayed its welcome. One of the coolest features of the core game is a Crysis-like ‘Plus’ system, which lets you switch out unlocked attachments on the fly for barrel, under-barrel, scope and magazine. This feature descends into incredible frustration when you’re trying to switch attachments in Portal or even when you’re tweaking your attachments in the main game.
Instead of just giving you a single Plus screen to change all available attachments, you have to go in on a per-slot basis. That’s frustrating enough in the main game, but when you’re in a Portal mode like FFA and you’re having to mess around with a terribly implemented and unintuitive attachment system to get a basic scope on your gun, it really falls apart.
The next Portal mode was a tweaked version of this FFA mode, ditching Bad Company 2 classes in favour of rocket launchers for all, albeit with only one rocket in the tube. To make things meme-ier, rockets could only be reloaded by jumping five times, otherwise you’re reliant on the incredibly inconsistent melee attack. While I enjoy a just-for-LOLs mode, I would’ve been happy to never play it again after the first round, despite some good laughs. Still, we played it a few more times. These meme modes will doubtlessly have appeal when the game goes live, but I don’t see them having the staying power of what we played next.
Thankfully, the last bit of the review session was dedicated to faithful recreations of beloved older maps and modes. Playing large-scale battles on El Alamein and Battle of the Bulge from Battlefield 1942 in the latest Frostbite engine was the first time I genuinely felt this engine has the typical DICE stamp of gorgeousness. The nostalgia factor obviously helps a lot, too, and while this underscores how poorly 1942’s classes have aged, the map design puts the Battlefield 2042 alternatives to shame.
Playing large-scale battles on El Alamein and Battle of the Bulge from Battlefield 1942 in the latest Frostbite engine was the first time I genuinely felt this engine has the typical DICE stamp of gorgeousness.
And this was back when Battlefield games were sparsely populated with cover between objectives due to technological constraints. Jumping into Rush mode on Arica Harbor was tense but frustrating, mostly because Bad Company 2 apparently never let you strafe while you were sprinting, which feels heinous, particularly on that first point which, after the vehicles are exhausted, is literally a straight run into the meatgrinder. That said, it was great to revisit the epic levels of destructibility that have been toned down in more recent Battlefield games.
Things fared better on Valparaiso, which has a kinder start for the attacking team, helped greatly by a Black Hawk at spawn which, despite dying to a single RPG round (something that Battlefield 2042 could learn from), it’s great for dropping off objective-hungry attackers as much as it is distracting defenders. The TTK hasn’t aged well from Bad Company 2, though—too many hit-markers and not enough kills—but despite this, the Portal gunplay of Battlefield 1942 and Bad Company 2 still had Battlefield 2042’s offering in All-Out War licked.
Outside of the hit-marker-heavy LMGs, this better-yesteryear gunplay trend is also true of Battlefield 3 recreated in Portal, which plays gloriously, Levolution and all, on stunning renditions of Caspian Border and Noshahar Canals. I’m rarely a fan of burst guns, but rediscovering the melting potential of the AN-94 was a thing of joy. The far-too-generous countermeasures of jets and choppers were less of a happy recollection, but the abundance of cover between points, even on the open Caspian Border, again stood as a stark contrast to the way-too-open Battlefield 2042 new maps.
And herein lies the paradox of Portal. Despite some quirks and harsh reminders that gameplay memories are rarely as rosy as nostalgia would have us believe, Portal stands as both a stark reminder of how far the series has come on the whole, and how far off the mark Battlefield 2042’s main modes are in comparison to the glory days of Battlefield. In blunter terms, Portal makes All-Out War in particular look bad by being so good. After all, why suffer through the many issues of All-Out War when you can relive recreated iconic maps and modes or, fingers crossed, tweaked versions of Battlefield 2042’s Conquest maps without Specialists, minus sloppy gunplay and at a faster pace?
Part Four: Battlefield Endgame
... Pros, Cons, and (Not So) Final Thoughts
Battlefield games have had many modes over the years but, again, they live and die on the strength of Conquest. This is where Hardline fell apart because it wasn’t supported by the most critical Battlefield pillar: all-out war. While Battlefield 2042’s All-Out War embraces its namesake in a way that Hardline’s setting didn’t allow, it shatters the just-as-important teamplay pillar by abolishing classes in favour of a mostly meh roster of Specialists that look identical between teams.
And herein lies the paradox of Portal. Despite some quirks and harsh reminders that gameplay memories are rarely as rosy as nostalgia would have us believe, Portal stands as both a stark reminder of how far the series has come on the whole, and how far off the mark Battlefield 2042’s main modes are in comparison to the glory days of Battlefield.
In April 2020, DICE announced it was moving away from Battlefield V and Battlefront II—two games that had improved on the potential of what was on offer at launch—to work on whatever the Battlefield 2021 game would work out to be. Earlier in 2021, it was announced that Battlefield 2042 was ahead of schedule. Then it was delayed. Now I wish it was delayed again because it commits one of the greatest crimes of all for a long-running series: it doesn’t feel
like a Battlefield game in its main modes.
This is a review in progress, but if I was to score Battlefield 2042 right now, it would start with one of those numbers from the game title. Yes, there’s a lot of negativity in my review—a mix of anger and disappointment—but, ultimately, my main feeling is that I’m heartbroken. Battlefield is a series that, forgettable spin-offs aside, has always launched with huge potential, even if that potential is covered in warts. Battlefield 2042 hasn’t done that. All-Out War is straight-up bad. Hazard Zone is okay but its staying power is yet to be seen. And Portal is genuinely fantastic but, really, could have been a mode for any Battlefield game.
If you’re a masochist who’s read every word of this review, let’s bring it back full circle to the intro. Battlefield Hardline wasn’t a Battlefield game. Not really. The more it stepped away from the all-out warfare and soldiery parts of the Battlefield formula, the more it found its own identity, but the less that identity had to do with Battlefield.
Had it been a Battlefield-inspired game called Hardline, it may have freed the developers to better mesh the Heat-esque cops-and-robbers fantasy with the parts of the Battlefield formula that work with that vision, rather than trying to cram it in the other way. And it’s a familiar feeling for Battlefield 2042. Conquest feels like an expensive fan mod more concerned with rarely seen weather effects than striking map design, tight gunplay and appropriate incentives and rewards for PTFO-ing.
Hazard Zone could have easily been its own game, free of the Battlefield moniker and it would have been better for it, free of the shackles of Battlefield expectations. Portal is the exception here, but like how DICE tried to distance its Battlefront games from feeling like Battlefield mods, the sum of Battlefield 2042’s parts feel less like Battlefield in their current state and more like an odd down-the-middle game inspired by Battlefield that’s not made for series fans and not particularly newcomer friendly, which begs the question as to who it’s really meant for.
Stay tuned to AusGamers as we’ll be bringing you our full verdict, with score, as the game launches