In Battlefield 2042, nothing matters.
With 128 players scurrying around gargantuan maps at a time, scrambling to grab objectives, a single individual doesn’t make much of an impact. Each expat is a cog in a giant war machine as factions rally for control. When one soldier dies, it’s a “next man up” situation as a new one spawns in, ready to fight and likely die.
That probably sounds nihilistic, but I don’t mean any of that in a bad way. On the contrary, futility is the game’s greatest strength. While playing a few rounds of Battlefield 2042’s Conquest mode ahead of its open beta, I was struck by just how free I felt compared to most online shooters. Without the stress of worrying I wasn’t contributing to the team hanging over my head, I was free to focus on the thing I actually care about when playing a multiplayer shooter: me.
Battlefield 2042 doesn’t need a single-player mode, because its multiplayer mode already functions like one.
For the demo, I was able to queue into the game’s Conquest mode, housed within the All Out Warfare tab, on the new Orbital map. That battlefield centers around a giant rocket, which launches (if all goes right) by the end of the round. While that was the only map available during the demo period, it was the only one I needed. Because the game supports 128 player matches on PC and current-gen consoles, battlefields are enormous. After spending hours on the map, I was still discovering new areas each time I loaded in.
It felt less like playing a multiplayer shooter and more like playing an open-world game like Far Cry. When I get in a vehicle and start aimlessly driving, it’s like I’ve dropped into a war-themed version of Forza Horizon. Yes, it’s a competitive game with clear win conditions, but I immediately found it more compelling as a sandbox game where I could live dozens of expendable lives.
In one moment, I’m an expat with an assault rifle heroically parachuting onto a roof and mowing down three enemy snipers perched there. I die. Now I’m a gunner in a jet, as my pilot nauseatingly twists and turns around the map as I gun down enemy planes. An anti-air missile cuts that life short. I wake up inside a tank and quietly drive through the countryside. I eventually drive over a hill and a vehicle barrels head-on at me out of nowhere. I blast it and drag its flaming carcass under my treads. I respawn again and I’m inside a tornado, parachuting alongside a dozen others as shipping containers fly through the air. No two lives are the same.
In all of those situations, I’m not really doing anything that’s helping the team all that much. In fact, I generally have no idea what I’m doing at any given moment or how the scoring even works. I largely end up ignoring it altogether, because I don’t get the sense that a 64th player is going to be the difference-maker in any given round. When the lunch I’ve ordered arrives at my apartment, I walk away mid-match to grab it without feeling any semblance of guilt. The battle will continue without me.
That’s a huge change of pace from your average multiplayer game, which often throws players in high-stress conditions. When I play Destiny 2, I panic if I start getting a phone call I’m supposed to answer. Even stepping away for 30 seconds can make or break a round. That’s far from the case here. I never get the sense that my teammates are judging me, because how can they even keep track of me to begin with? With gunfire rippling out in every corner of the map, helicopters reigning destruction down, and freak storms tearing up the world, no one but me is going to notice that I just drove my helicopter sideways into a building.
There’s a joy here that’s similar to the one inherent to battle royale games like Fortnite. With 100 players roaming a map, games become about individual experience. Every round is a little emergent narrative about your character’s journey to the top. I get that same vibe here, though at an individual respawn level. I’ve got a few minutes to execute the dumbest idea I can think of every time I deploy. I imagine content creators will especially have a field day here — especially since the game’s Battlefield Portal tool sounds like it’s custom-built for them.
I went into my demo ready to be impressed, but disinterested. As someone who just doesn’t enjoy military shooters with high skill ceilings, I imagined there wouldn’t be much for me in Battlefield 2042 beyond its technical prowess (and to be clear, it’s an almost impossibly impressive feat in that respect). I expected to load into big, chaotic battles and get helplessly gunned down over and over. That wasn’t the case. Instead, I had an absolute blast trying to one-up myself with stupid stunts that would be worthy of a Twitch highlight. I’m already itching to hop back in and test out the final game’s full suite of operators and gadgets. If you see my name on your team this November, you should probably think twice about getting into a helicopter with me, unless you’re ready to ram into a tank at full speed just to see what happens.
Battlefield 2042 launches on November 19 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.
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