The world, according to Battlefield 2042, has only a scant few decades left of normalcy before all hell breaks loose. The atlas has been ravaged by climate catastrophe, as vast swathes of the population are plagued by food, water, and energy shortages. Nations collapse in on themselves, and countless refugees pour through the borders of the few superpowers left afloat. The United States and Russia are engaged in total war, with those same stateless exiles, known as No-Pats, taking sides in the bloody conflicts that now dot the globe. Needless to say, Battlefield 2042 does not have an optimistic outlook on humanity’s near future. For a franchise that has traditionally fixated on some of the most triumphant warfronts in human history — most recently returning to the heroism of World War II — 2042 represents a sobering change in tone. There do not appear to be any good guys or bad guys here as the earth slowly chokes to death.
Longtime Battlefield developer DICE, as usual, has leveraged the prodigious capabilities of its Frostbite engine to deliver the apocalypse in startling detail. Battlefield 2042 intends to up the ante of the series’ formula in every way. The player-count has been juiced to 128 players, (though the cap remains at 64 players on PS4 and Xbox One), the class system is more modular than ever before, and the studio has gone to great lengths to render our coming dystopia. In the multiplayer map Kaleidoscope, set in South Korea, rogue super-tornadoes tear through the alabaster downtown skyline, sucking up every man, woman, and vehicle in its path. In Hourglass, set in a glistening Persian Gulf metropolis, a torrid, red-hued sandstorm threatens to completely envelop both armies. Breakaway, which takes place in northern Antarctica, will push “soldiers to the brink, as an industry clashes with nature and ice gives way.” The gameplay remains pure Battlefield — Conquest and Breakthrough modes both return — and players should expect to be depleting tickets and holding control points like they did all the way back in Wake Island. The only difference is that they’re now inhabiting a universe that is pushing back against them. There haven’t been many triple-A video games that force the player to confront the ecological crimes of humanity, and Battlefield isn’t pulling any punches.
DICE has made some smart changes along the way to furnish the first installment of the franchise on modern consoles. The traditional four-pronged class system has been upgraded into a cast of bespoke “specialists.” Think of them like the operators in Rainbow Six Siege. Each has both a munitional speciality and a trait, which helps define them in the warfront. Take Maria Falck, one of the four specialists already announced, who fits nicely into the support role. She comes equipped with a ranged healing pistol and the passive ability to juice her targets back to full health (as opposed to the partial revive saddled on other players), which could come in handy among thoughtful parties. DICE is promising 10 different specialists at launch, which I imagine could allow for some technical, League of Legends-style compositional strategy that the series has lacked in the past. It should be said that thus far, the company has only shown off its old-school Battlefield game modes, but the studio is promising a “squad-based” module called Hazard Zone which, we’re guessing, will lean into those specialist distinctions even more. Only time will tell.
2042’s maps are considerably larger than Battlefields prior.
DICE is buttressing that expansion in tactical scope with the ability to outfit your firearms in real time. With the jump to 128 players, 2042’s maps are considerably larger than Battlefields prior, and include multiple warzones that emphasize different attack strategies. Moving from a wide-open sand dune to a claustrophobic interior corridor? No problem, just take a few seconds to swap out your muzzles, foregrips, and magazines before taking the dive. Plenty of FPSes have allowed us to alter our weapons in the lobby between matches, but 2042 is one of the first to hand over that autonomy in the middle of a firefight.
Battlefield 2042 is scheduled to release on October 22, 2021, hopefully before its grim prospects for the future become manifest. It is strange to live at a time where a major publisher is capable of imagining a complete breakdown of society in only 20 years — to gamify a potential refugee crisis, at a time where global citizens are already leaving their homes to escape an unprecedented apogee of drought and starvation. Perhaps that is Battlefield 2042’s boldest new feature; the feeling that no matter who comes out on top in this war, everyone is going to lose.