Review: Battlefield 2042’s Portal saves it from being a series low point

It’s probably a bad sign for your game if your player base would rather play recreations of previous entries in the series, instead of the new one.

That’s the strange situation that Battlefield 2042 finds itself in. Because despite the strong visuals and mostly engaging gunplay of Battlefield 2042, had it not been for the excellent Battlefield Portal allowing players to access some of the best cuts from Battlefield 1942, Battlefield Bad Company 2 and many more, it would be a very dull package indeed.

Battlefield 2042 is a military first-person shooter that focuses its efforts on large scale warfare. Whereas in Call of Duty Vanguard it feels like some maps are smaller than your living room, Battlefield works at a scale that makes the various vehicles that players can pilot a commuting necessity rather than a bit of fun.

Battlefield 2042 | Official PC Trailer With RTX On

The maps, while impressive in scale, are barren. Despite doubling the player count of previous games, it feels like one objective on the map will have 6 people fighting over it, while another will be a bloodbath that’s impossible to spawn near without having your head blown off.

Spawns are so predictable that enemy teams can easily lock them down from miles away, and since there’s a huge penalty for shooting while moving compared to when you’re standing still unless you sprint straight from spawn and towards safety, you’ll be looking at the map screen often.

Visually, the maps feel like several smaller multiplayer arenas thrown together for the sake of scale. They almost feel like battle royale maps, but with nowhere near the volume of interesting geography.

The weather events that were such a large part of the marketing for the game, such as sandstorms or tornados are brilliant the first few times, but after you’ve seen them, and you’ve got caught up in the tornado and floated away, it starts to lose the appeal. They almost feel like a concession to the fact that most of the maps are a bit boring to explore.

The length of matches also inspires a nihilism in your team, where as soon as you start to lose, they decide that it’s Team Deathmatch and all semblance of teamwork goes out the window. It’s impossible to overturn a team objective if you’re the only one that cares to do the work, and that’s often what it feels like. This isn’t helped by the fact that there’s no in-game voice chat, essentially ending all hope of strategy between yourself and your teammates.

Portal, which is a user creation tool that allows players to customise game modes, is a welcome addition to the series. Custom games have always been a big part of the FPS and it’s good to see DICE lean into that. At launch, the team have also provided several modes that harken to classic Battlefield games.

“The length of matches inspires a nihilism in your team, where as soon as you start to lose, they decide that it’s Team Deathmatch and all semblance of teamwork goes out the window.”

Portal instances for Battlefield 1942, Battlefield Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 3 can all be selected from the Portal menu, and they genuinely might be the highlight of 2042.

While it can be jarring switching between games with different rules regarding what the player can and can’t do, the map design, general flow of combat and the lack of having to travel across an open-world-game-sized map makes a huge difference.

Hazard Zone is a squad-based mode that sees you and four other players head into a map with the goal of retrieving data and extracting it. It’s similar to Escape From Tarkov or The Dark Zone in The Division series. It’s genuinely intense, especially if you’re on a good run, but it again suffers from the lack of communication between teammates.

There’s text chat, but good luck with that when you’re being pinned back from all sides. There’s a lot of fun to be had here if you can find a dedicated group of friends to play with, all of whom are using voice chat, but it’s still a decent time if you’re playing alone.

Review: Battlefield 2042’s Portal mode saves it from being a series low point
Battlefield 2042 is not a great game for solo players.

That’s the recurring issue with Battlefield 2042: it’s never as fun to play by yourself as it is with friends. While that’s true of most games, it hits especially hard in Battlefield. There’s a pointlessness to it: you can’t communicate, you can’t strategise, and thanks to the sheer number of enemies that congregate in the busiest areas of the map, it feels like there’s no point in you being there.

At launch, we’ve been struck by how consistently boring matches in Battlefield 2042 become. Games start full of life and engaging big team battles, but as soon as numbers begin to drop and stragglers go off on their own, you can feel the energy leave the room. The rate at which people were quitting games, presumably because they were sick of running for 40 minutes then dying in 2 shots, was staggering.

The weather effects that were such a big part of the marketing look great when you first see them, but they don’t impact the game significantly enough to really change the tide. It feels like a system chasing the “leveloution” of Battlefield 4. Nothing in 2042 is as good as watching that skyscraper fall mid-match, despite Battlefield 4 being almost a decade old.

Portal and Hazard Zone save 2042 from being a real low point in the series, which has swapped iconic, high octane moments for needless scale, without filling in any of that space. When you can actually find someone to shoot, and you can take a breather before being ended yourself, the gunplay does feel great, and the ability to change your attachments on the fly is very clever, but it never feels worth the expedition you went on to get there.

We’ll keep Battlefield 2042 installed purely to play old game modes on old maps. It’s harder to think of a worse indictment of quality than being shown up by your own franchise, housed in your own new game.

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