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Everything we learned from playing the Battlefield 2042 beta early

We spent a few hours poking around as much of the Battlefield 2042 beta as we could, and came away with a few thoughts.

It’s been a long time coming, shockingly long for a Battlefield, but we’ve finally played Battlefield 2042. I spent about three hours with the beta build everyone is going to have access to this week. If you pre-ordered the game, subscribed to EA Play or managed to get an early access code, you may even be playing it right now!

It’s been pretty clear over the course of the summer that this is going to be a different Battlefield game. I don’t just mean in how ambitious it is, but also in how DICE has so far chosen to market the game. We’re now just a little over a month away from release, and we’re only just going hands-on with Battlefield 2042. The developer has been shockingly hesitant to show any gameplay footage that isn’t heavily-edited or about a minute-long.

If that unusual lead-up to launch has you worried, these feelings aren’t entirely without merit. So, now that we played Battlefield 2042, we decided to break down everything we learned from our limited time – good and bad - and hopefully help answer a few of the most common questions.

Sadly, we didn’t get to try everything, and some aspects continue to remain a mystery. We have a separate story covering all the other questions we couldn’t get an answer to after playing.

This is still Battlefield

Perhaps one of my biggest concerns going into the beta was how much Battlefield 2042 will replicate the classic Battlefield flow. The thrill of pushing an objective with a coordinated squad (as much as you could get from a preview event) remains. Running alongside armour support as a friendly helicopter softens up a defensive position for your squad happened in my first match.

All the hallmarks of what modern Battlefield is - the chaos, quiet moments, combined arms combat, destruction and scale were all intact. Class interplay maybe not so much, but we’ll get to that.

If Battlefield 1 and 5 made you miss the specific feel and pace modern Battlefields provided, you’re going to enjoy Battlefield 2042’s take.

Destruction is better than expected, but about on par with Battlefield 4

DICE was particularly cagey about showing/talking about destruction in Battlefield 2042, and it had me convinced it was going to be very limited. We can only judge the one beta map – Orbital – but it’s fair to say destruction is still a major element, it just won’t blow your socks off. Orbital has a few smaller outposts where you’ll find big warehouse-like structures. These look like what you might see in Caspian Border or Firestorm. The walls, doors, air ducts, windows and such can all be destroyed, but the skeletal structure supporting it will remain.

The map had a few other intractable objects, too, that could be destroyed, such as coolant tanks that rapidly freeze the screen of everybody caught in the blast. In general, there’s an emphasis on interactivity rather than scale, or even intricate destruction. And, as expected, the bigger skyscrapers cannot be toppled. This is also true for the rocket platform, unless the launch goes bad and causes a big explosion.

Outside of the many intractable objects strewn around the map, ground deformation might actually be the real game changer. Explositions big and small leave behind craters that persist throughout the match. I’ve used many of them for cover, and some were so wide and deep that it made me really curious what caused them.

Craters are naturally going to make driving a bit of a nightmare, especially late into the round, but they add to the feel of immersion and really demonstrate that a battle had taken place.

Don’t judge the player count and map size just yet

During our couple of hours with the Battlefield 2042 beta, I never spotted more than about 70-ish real players in a single match, the remaining slots were filled in by AI. This made it feel like you were never alone or stranded somewhere, and it made certain moments seem bigger than they were.

By DICE’s reckoning, Orbital is a mid-size map, so things could feel drastically different on smaller/bigger maps. But given what we played, the scale didn’t seem especially bigger than past Battlefield games. Even with the AI, it was fairly hard to recognise that we’re playing with double the player count.

It’s also clear that we’re meant to be using vehicles to get to the different clusters. Calling in scout jeeps is easy and I saw plenty of people riding solo to save the time it takes to walk/run everywhere. This lessened the effect of how open the map was; Orbital is mostly rolling hills, after all.

I would definitely like to play with full teams of human players, and obviously see how the rest of the maps play. But right now, it’s hard to judge one way or another.

Gunplay is more refined, but doesn’t reach the sublime highs of Modern Warfare 2019

There’s a reason myself and millions of Battlefield fans begrudgingly played Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2019: gunplay. For the first time, a non-DICE shooter outdid the gun mechanics, weapon feel and presentation we’ve come to expect from Battlefield. I know this is the one thing most of those people, and Call of Duty refugees, will be excited to try first in the beta.

Battlefield 2042 borrows more than a few elements from Modern Warfare 2019, but not all of them make sense. The now voguish ultra-efficient tactical reloads made famous by GoPro-wearing gun YouTubers are present for every weapon in the beta. They don’t quite match the spunk of those in MW, but they’re of the same school.

Weapons look considerably better than earlier Battlefield games, and the sounds they make as your character handles every inch of them are more pronounced - but again, not quite MW-level.

Recoil is surprisingly low, even with the longer-range barrels which are supposed to make handling worse. Despite the low recoil, weapons are not very accurate. It actually reminded me of classic Call of Duty, in how being designed for controllers makes it so bullets have scattered patterns to compensate for the sticks’ lack of accuracy. Long-range fights were fairly inconsistent in my limited time, and it wasn’t always clear if my shots are missing because I am strafing too much or because I am over-compensating for recoil that isn’t there.

This is another thing that requires more testing, but right now, my impression is that weapons are more accessible but not very precise.

Visibility is way better than Battlefield 5, but not perfect

Battlefield 5 players need no reminders about how unnecessarily difficult it was to spot enemy players in that game. DICE clearly took this feedback to heart, because player visibility in Battlefield 2042 is not a problem.

Enemy players have a slight light rim around them, and their name tags pop in bright red fairly quickly when you look near them. You are, however, going to run into situations where the area around a player is just too dark for you to see them. I mostly came across this when the weather turned, and it was players hiding in the grass and not in a dark corner indoors – thankfully that’s been done with.

That said, not having faction uniforms will always make it harder to separate enemies from friendlies. It’ll sometimes take just a few milliseconds too long for the blue indicator to pop up, causing plenty of incidents where both players trade a few shots before realising their mistake.

There’s a big focus on verticality

Even having played Siege of Shanghai and other Battlefield maps with a lot of elevation, I wasn’t quite ready for how much a non-urban map like Battlefield 2042’s Orbital would rely on verticality.

Orbital has a number of large structures you can camp on top of. Some of them have permanent rappel points which you can use to quickly get to the top, similar to Call of Duty: Warzone.

More often than not, however, the camper will be playing as Mackay, whose grappling hook is indispensable in scaling most of those structures. You can, of course, switch to Mackay yourself and go after them.

Expect to be checking those rooftops more often than past Battlefields.

Sliding is going to be abused

Battlefield and Call of Duty: Warzone veterans spotted this all the way back in the gameplay trailer, and it’s about as bad as we expected. In Battlefield 2042, you can slide by hitting the crouch button as you’re running. You don’t slide very far, but the animation is fast, and more importantly, the cooldown is very short – meaning you can spam it pretty easily.

Considering this is also a game that lets you super-sprint, you can combo into some fairly high-speed slides if you start with that. Even in my limited time with the beta, I saw people practically skating all over the place, and I really hope that gets changed for launch.

Plenty of explosives, not enough power

The vehicle vs infantry balance is one of those things that will continue to evolve. DICE has a pretty spotty track record there, so my observations likely won’t be accurate for long.

It is worth pointing out, however, that Battlefield 2042’s vehicles lean more towards being spammy. Helicopter pod rockets and tank shells have low splash damage, but fairly rapid re-supply speed. By the time you reposition your Apache after a gun run, your full armament will be back and ready.

As an infantry taking damage, it’s more irritating than devastating. Part of this, of course, could be due to players’ inexperience with flying, but it was consistently surprising to me how many rockets it took to kill a single player.

Weather effects and dynamic events induce much-needed chaos

I am usually a fan of inserting a little bit of chaos and unpredictability in multiplayer games. Battlefield 2042, from what I’ve seen so far, utilises its dynamic weather effects, time of day, and other events well in service of that goal.

On Orbital, a tornado could roll in, drastically changing the weather of the map, and throwing whatever area it moves across into disarray. The rocket launch, too, could go one of a couple of different ways, and each has an effect on the surrounding area.

All of this forces players to adapt, and it’s so far been a treat to see.

You’re still going to run into ammo problems

Maybe there’s no saving Battlefield players from themselves. In older games, ammo handlers were forced to use LMGs, but in Battlefield 2042, anyone could carry an ammo box. Of course, it’s also competing with the medpack, rocket launchers, and the repair tool.

I ran out of ammo fairly regularly in my time with the beta, and was forced to switch weapons to keep going. Like the healing indicator, the game is just not very good at alerting players that teammates need help.

So many elements feel like they’re placeholders

Keeping in mind that the Battlefield 2042 beta build we’re playing is months-old, and likely doesn’t have all the latest elements the launch build will, it’s still concerning to see so many things appear to have come together at the very last minute.

Certain parts of the UI for example, such as the announcements about gaining/losing sector majority descend from the top in a way that’s somehow distracting, and not eventful enough. The skull icon that shows up when you kill someone has a very low resolution compared to the rest of the image, and doesn’t come with any distinct ping.

Performance is really uneven

This is one of my biggest concerns for launch, along with netcode. The game simply doesn’t run well. On an i7 9700K and a 2080 Ti, I constantly had to turn down settings just to try to get a consistent framerate at 1440p.

I know this is a beta, and the final version will support DLSS – which should make things much more manageable, but it’s worryingly wobbly for a Battlefield, especially given that it doesn’t look that much better than the most recent games.

I also ran into various instances of stuttering, but nowhere near as bad as the Battlefield 4 launch nightmare.

Netcode is rough

This is another area that will doubtless get better, but it’s not impressive right now. I will preface this by saying some of my impressions are based on gameplay with 140ms ping, because we couldn’t pick servers in our session.

The ones with a more manageable 60-70ms ping obviously felt much better, but there were still some bizarre occurrences and inconsistencies. It’s hard to tell what is a gameplay bug and what’s netcode-related, but enemies (without armour) will sometimes take longer to kill than you think they should. I’ve been in situations where it felt like I took most of the damage in two-three frames, and death came very sudden.

I know Battlefield has a long history of problems with netcode, which is why I am flagging this stuff now in the hopes that it won’t be there at launch.

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