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Battlefield 2042

Battlefield may just not be for me anymore.

I wasn’t there at the very beginning of the franchise, but I caught Battlefield 2 at just the perfect moment in college such that I abandoned console gaming and spent all my limited monies purchasing a gaming PC to play it at higher fidelity. Battlefield 2 consumed me. And even after all these years, there are experiences with that game that are not replicable – grabbing the Commander reins during a losing battle and RTS’ing my teammates to uncertain victory is a top 10 gaming memory. Shit, just having a Commander role at all was something else. Sneaking deep behind enemy lines and getting an unrequested radar sweep was a gentle reminder that someone out there recognized what you were doing and wanted you to succeed.

I understand why the Commander role was removed in Battlefield 3 though. The difference between a team with a Commander and one with an empty seat was enormous. Nothing in the game proper prepared you for that critical role either, so the only practice you got was typically when your team was losing and the previous Commander abandoned ship. And even if you were an expert? Better hope someone else didn’t grab the slot or that other players went along with your vote kick.

In any case, Battlefield 3 was fantastic, Battlefield 4 was good with some annoying bits with unlocks/Battlelog, Battlefield 1 was a bit too oppressive, and Battlefield 5 was hot garbage. Between the series trendline and the poor news articles, I didn’t have high hopes for Battlefield 2042. And yet I am still disappointed.

But… why?

I played Battlefield 2042 for about 7 hours via EA Play, which I get for “free” from Game Pass. One of the first options you are presented with is whether you want to allow Cross Play, e.g. get matched up with console players. I chose No, as console players typically get a generous Aim Assist to “level the field” with mouse & keyboard players. Then I had to quickly reverse that decision because it was literally impossible to find a match. Actually, it was still difficult to find a match considering you don’t really “look” for matches, you just get auto-sorted into one (or an empty lobby). I think there was maybe one game mode that allowed you to manually look for a lobby? But those were primarily custom XP farms, like the one where everyone just gave each other ammo, and you get kicked for shooting at each other.

When I actually got to play the game, it was… basically Battlefield. Sorta. There was a lot of criticism about the pivot to Specialists at release, and I agree conceptually. What do they bring to the table that simply having a “specialist tool slot” would not? It’s also kinda weird having these named, unique-looking Specialists when fights are supposed to be 32v32+. It is precisely due to the larger battles that I felt like the Specialists weren’t all that special. Can one of the Sniper guys fly a drone around? Who cares? The enemy is back-capping Point A 1000m away with two tanks. Meanwhile you have a thumb up your ass pressing Q. I guess technically the Sniper can equip whatever other gear they want, even tossing a bunch of C5 packets on the drone like the San Francisco PD. It’s clever, but again, the scope is a bit too small for how games play out.

After a few sessions, it occurred to me that nothing really felt like it mattered. Yes, in the broad view, nothing matters. The nihilism felt particularly acute in Battlefield 2042 though. It’s already one thing that you cannot select specific servers to play on, and always get thrown into a mostly-empty map any time you accidentally press Escape too many times. But you’re also getting thrown together with console players, with whom you fundamentally experience the game differently. Then there is the BattlePass deal, whereby you are no longer really working towards gun unlocks in a satisfying way. Maybe it ends up being all the same in the end, but it feels worse when you “unlock” several items that you cannot actually touch because you haven’t spent however many dollars buying the BattlePass.

All I know is that I did not feel particularly satisfied playing Battlefield 2042, even when I won. I could psychoanalyze it further – as if there is anything left to say on the topic – but if a game is not sparking joy, what is the point? Play something else. So I am.