When DICE announced Battlefield 2042 would be delayed from this month to November, it joined a long line of other studios pushing back game launches due to pandemic-related development challenges. But after spending several hours recently with 2042‘s open beta on PlayStation 5, I wonder if holding if this multiplayer-only sequel back by a matter of weeks will be enough time to fix the glaring issues present in its prerelease build.
Multiple developers at the studio have addressed this, claiming the beta is already outdated by three months and that a lot of the laundry list of technical hitches and bugs that players discovered have been fixed since. In a Reddit post, producer Ben Walke said DICE made the decision to “cap” progress on the beta early so the team could focus its resources on improving the game’s launch build rather than pulling people away to polish up something only meant for a simpler prerelease representation of the real thing. But.
Boy oh boy, this prerelease had problems—and my own experience lines up with recent rumblings about how that timeline may not be entirely accurate. Regardless, with just the pandemic realities of working from home alone—which DICE pointed to when it announced 2042′s delay in the first place—the developer may still have its hands full making sure the game is polished and, uh, actually working by its November 19 launch date.
I personally didn’t encounter most of the worst of the bugs spotted by beta players. If you can dream it up, there’s probably a story of it happening: being unable to get past the start menu, loadouts including the wrong weapons, gun attachments going missing or changing at random, hard crashes, substantial performance drops, stuttering, weird camera problems with player POV, you name it. For the most part, I miraculously avoided any truly catastrophic issues, though my play-testing was still plagued by its share of snags and oddities.
Assuming it isn’t gutted at the last minute (DICE has been down that road before with lootboxes and microtransactions in Star Wars Battlefront II), 2042 replaces the series’ classic, class-based mechanic for a group of Modern Warfare-esque specialists who each have a unique skill and tool. Think a syrette pistol for long-range health boosts or a grappling hook. Beyond these differences, loadouts are still customized however you want. DICE announced 10 playable specialists for launch instead of the four job types of old, so the system may end up being more robust overall… if the company sticks with it. (Aside from rumors that specialists were added as a response to 2019’s Call of Duty reboot, EA has been sending out post-beta surveys to random players asking which class system they prefer.)
You could only play Conquest in the beta. This tried-and-true Battlefield mode has two teams competing for control of points on a map. In this case, we’re on a spread-out peninsula called Orbital. Up to 128 players can join a single match on current-gen consoles and PC (with PS4 and Xbox One stuck at the series’ previous standard 64 players). The jump can feel pronounced.
It didn’t always happen across Orbital’s fairly sprawling real estate, but when enough players converged in a general area, the chaos that could bloom from the explosive multilayered action going off all around often felt appropriately crazy and intense. This was the best thing about the beta. When 2042‘s systems were mostly working-ish, it felt like the full game might actually be able to deliver on the promise of a chaotic, dynamic evolution of the series at some point. Maybe.
That old familiar feeling
There’s an area on the map that I kept being drawn back to because of the bedlam it seemed to attract—one of the map’s capture points, situated on top of a very tall building. Enemy players in Nightbird choppers would circle this skyscraper continuously, and when my team was holding the sector, they posed a frequent threat to our rooftop defenses. One side of the structure also overlooked a second capture point near a warehouse on the ground, a site that was frequently pulverized by tanks and rockets punching holes in the sides and top (most structures aren’t 100 percent destructible, sadly). Meanwhile, recon and assault type specialists beelined for its entry points. Beyond the hangar was a third sector with a wide launch pad, a set piece-in-waiting that could result in its rocket launching into space or (perhaps in a nod to Battlefield 4’s destructible “Levolution” system) a screen-filling explosion that reshaped the landscape around it.
I don’t know why this particular part of the map was contested so often—maybe it’s one of the few spots on Orbital’s overly large landmass that encourages a lot of strategic variety with equal weight to all of Battlefield‘s playset components. Whatever the reason, it led to a maze of frenetic, overlapping killzones. On the tower top, I often found rows of specialists prone on its overlook bluff, sniping and firing recoilless RPGs at the attackers in the sector below.
These groups, me sometimes among them, attracted the Nightbirds, which repeatedly sprayed the platform with minigun and volleys of missiles. Meanwhile, paratroopers (all players are equipped with a parachute they can deploy) would sometimes hitch rides on the choppers, dropping onto the roof and picking off any unlucky players caught unaware. They, in turn, were sometimes taken down by an automated turret, which is the engineer specialist’s tool and one of my preferred weapons. I would also try to blow up any air support that got too near out of the sky with a guided missile launcher. Meanwhile, teammates spawned in on the rooftop helipad or vaulted off the building ledge to join the fray below, if they were lucky enough to not get shot by a sniper on the ground on the way down.
New and improved?
There were notable environmental effects. Once, I was on the platform as the sky turned slate gray and a massive tornado ripped through the area just shy of the building—a standout in 2042‘s wild new dynamic weather system that annihilated everything in its path and sent players and vehicles hurtling across the map. In another match, just as I was looking in its direction, the launch pad’s rocket exploded without warning. I witnessed a glorious panorama of destruction (note to DICE: if you want to add another layer of drama here, consider making this a full-blown shockwave that temporarily knocks everyone on the rooftop off-balance). Moments like these showed the game’s true potential through all the buggy noise.
A few other miscellaneous improvements have real potential. The new ground-deformation system is persistent and leaves the terrain around any high-traffic, high-explosive region gouged with deep divots and craters. The turned-up terrain can actually affect your movement or turn an average piece of dirt into an impromptu foxhole. In what seems like a take on Battlefield V’s squad-leader orders, players can now request vehicles and Boston Dynamics-style robot dog buddies at any time as well, provided your team isn’t already using all of its supply (limited to a handful of units in the field at once).
The most intuitive idea might be the ability to switch between every sight and attachment available for your loadout on the fly. To change parts out, just pull up the real-time overlay and cycle between the options displayed in the cardinal directions, with each mapped to its corresponding face button on the controller. On PS5, triangle (north) selects short-, medium-, and long-range weapon sights, circle (east) swaps normal and antimateriel rounds (for disabling vehicles), X (south) toggles grips, and so on. Since battle conditions are freeform, varying up your approach as needed midbattle adds a fresh layer of tactical complexity to any given situation.
And yet, not quite there yet
Everything I just described is merely an ideal snapshot of 2042‘s systems at work. And they do work, in theory. But everything else that a multiplayer game should do, or how its environment and characteristics should function, was more hit and miss. It’s not that the beta was so broken that it was unplayable—it’s that the little things that went wrong or felt hinky added up to something sloppier than we’ve seen coming from DICE before.
Visual hitches were common, with imprecise, rubbery, character animation. Player models were prone to twitching freakouts upon death and getting caught on geometry. Seizure-y strobing effects routinely bombed the screen, with some blinding white ones easily bad enough to trigger photosensitive players. Open-parachute models would float around in the sky and stick to surfaces with or without their owners. And in-game human and vehicle models didn’t always, um, hang together—when exploding or crumpling over, I saw all manner of polygonal “body” parts just… separate, as if they were 3D jigsaw pieces being stretched apart by an invisible hand. Even with machinery, it was almost bizarre enough to be unsettling.
On the gameplay front, I was never able to select a different character from my initial assignment when first spawning into a new game. That means I had to die or manually redeploy to select anyone else. Similarly, loadout pictures didn’t always appear. Though I didn’t have too many class-special problems, on respawns when I chose the medic-type support role, the action prompt to revive dying allies chose not to show up on a semi-regular basis. In some cases, the game only let me to helplessly pick up and put down a teammate’s weapon as they lay bleeding out, since both “revive” and “pick up weapon” are context-specific commands mapped to the same input.
(And on the subject of dying: the disconnect between the awkward “call for help” animations and total lack of mouth movement for recorded specialist dialogue yelping for aid regularly created a disembodied effect. Pair that with every player looking identical to one of these four characters and the beta’s carnage felt like less a real war than a deeply uncanny ragdoll factory of possessed automatons.)
A loooong road ahead, probably
Not shockingly, Netcode reared its ugly head, too. The most common instance I experienced was aerial vehicles “sliding” across the sky. Because I spent a great deal of time as an engineer getting a bead on Nightbirds and other aircraft with explosive projectiles, I witnessed this bug repeatedly.
Picture a craft abruptly slowing to a crawl before suddenly shooting forward, “skating” across the player’s actual flight path in double time to catch up to their accurate location according to DICE’s struggling server connection.
My targets often tried to scramble the flight path of my missiles by firing chaff. Any of my better-timed shots that made it through would usually fall into the same strange slide. Sometimes they just winked out of existence. While I did somehow manage to shoot down a number of Nightbirds and even an armed transport or two, I was never clear where my missiles were going or if they were following accurate targeting paths. Though it doesn’t lag as badly in its traditional “slideshow” form—and I did occasionally run into that as well in ground shootouts—the online performance for these incidents was still nowhere close to acceptable.
As it is, Battlefield 2042 lacks the grounded punch of Battlefield 1’s harrowing matches, and the choice to chuck V’s wider range of movement feels shortsighted. It is nice to see that game’s buddy-revive system (which lets any member of the four-player squad you’re assigned into resuscitate each other) make a return, even if I rarely saw anyone using it. We’re too early to say if having a doubled player pool on a larger landmass is a recipe for organically splintering player numbers, dividing squads as they split off different sectors.
Really, as backward as I sounds a month out from release, we’re too early to say anything definitive on the actual state of 2042. Between the bugs and the absence of coherent player cooperation, the game is missing that stickiness and cohesion that ties the series together when it’s at its best. 2042 is not quite there yet.
To be clear, DICE is no stranger to rough game launches and wonky beta happenings. With the possible exception of Battlefield 1, almost every title put out by the studio in the past decade has hit its launch date saddled with technical issues, design missteps, or poor balancing decisions before all their kinks are gradually ironed out in a process that can take years.
Only, unlike 2042, none of those other games was made in the middle of a pandemic. And the betas for 1 and V, the two most recent entries in the series, weren’t anywhere near as broken as this one, either. In spite of DICE’s assurance that the launch build of the game is on-track for a successful release, everything I’ve seen validates the whispers that something may be considerably off behind the scenes.
Going by history, it’s probably fair to say that Battlefield 2042 will eventually find its way to steady footing, with at least some of its ridiculous ideas and tweaks. Who knows how long it could take, or in what form, if DICE does something as insane as dropping a fundamental pillar like specialists based on feedback. Whatever its final form is, we probably won’t find out in November. For now, if the old adage that the last 10 percent of software development accounts for 90 percent of development time is really universal, this game as we’ve seen it is sorely missing its last 10 percent. That absence is crucial.
Listing image by DICE