'Battlefield 2042's' Multiplayer Mode Sacrifices Quality for Scale With Its Chaotic Matches

Battlefield 2042 is so preoccupied with being the biggest, most epic multiplayer title on the market, that it ends up losing sight of what's really important.

The video game industry is notoriously competitive, with publishers constantly monitoring one another to see how they can outdo their peers. For instance, earlier this year, it was uncovered that there is a dedicated team over at Microsoft whose sole purpose is to review third party releases for an internal audience.

They do this to keep abreast of the latest trends, identify any cutting-edge features that Xbox can imitate, and to highlight mistakes that should be avoided at all costs. In other words, their job is not to come up with fresh ideas but to literally play games from other studios and take notes.

It's not just Microsoft though. The entire industry is rife with this kind of surveillance, as developers look for any opportunity to take a cut of somebody else's action. It's why we ended up with approximately 9,000 battle royales in the wake of Fortnite, which itself used to be just a horde-based survival game, until Epic noticed how popular PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) was becoming.

'Battlefield' Always Needs to One-Up 'Call of Duty'

The fact that companies monitor their competition should not come as a surprise to anybody with even the vaguest hint of business savvy. It just makes logical sense. Yet problems start to arise when this obsession with chasing bandwagons takes precedence over making a good product.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with the enduring Call of Duty and Battlefield rivalry. As IGN pointed out in their brilliant retrospective (chronicling the relationship between Activision and EA's warring series), these AAA titans have been engaged in a "seemingly unending arm's race for shooter supremacy" over the span of nearly two decades.

We would recommend that you watch the whole video, as it's incredibly thorough and shows you just how much the two IPs have (for better or worse) influenced each other.

For example, after Battlefield transitioned from a WWII setting to a contemporary one for its 2005 sequel, Call of Duty followed suit with the indelible Modern Warfare. In turn, EA took a leaf out of Modern Warfare's book and decided to create their first blockbuster single-player campaign with Bad Company.

This back-and-forth dynamic continued over the years with both teams reacting to each other's various successes and failures. When Battlefield decided to return to its historical roots, Call of Duty did the exact same thing. When one of them tried its hand at a battle royale mode, the other inevitably felt the need to come up with its own version as well.

Quite fittingly for properties that have dabbled in the Cold War, it feels like you are watching two superpowers desperately trying to keep up with each other, so that they can guarantee their own survival.

'Battlefield 2042' Is a Chaotic Shambles

Battlefield 2042 Screenshot
When they're not empty and boring, "Battlefield 2042" matches are cluttered and incomprehensible. EA Games

This one-upmanship has now escalated to the point where it's starting to feel a little silly and it ultimately takes its toll on the latest outing, Battlefield 2042. The game is so determined to be bigger and better than its closest rival that it ends up sacrificing quality for needless scale.

For context, Call of Duty: Warzone is remarkable as far battle royales are concerned because it not only has vast environments (that cover huge swathes of square footage and multiple levels of verticality), but its matches also support up to 150 players.

Given that these two franchises can't help but compare sizes, Battlefield 2042 naturally has to rise to the occasion. Pointedly marketed as the grandest Battlefield experience yet, it boasts expansive maps, apocalyptic weather, massive vehicular combat, and lobbies of 128 combatants (which is a little shy of Warzone's ridiculous capacity but still exceeds that of most games).

Yet none of this makes Battlefield 2042 superior to its forbears. It's simply larger.

Battlefield 2042 Helicopter
With 128 players, squadrons of helicopters and extreme weather, there's just too much going on in "Battlefield 2042". EA Games

Popular YouTuber LevelCapGaming touches upon this in his first impressions video, although he is coming at it from a significantly more positive angle. Waxing lyrical about the expanded scope, he says: "Doubling the player count and blowing up the map size changes important elements in the flow of a match [...] Looking off into the distance and seeing a massive frontline firefight light up your screen is a truly cinematic spectacle."

It is certainly true that matches here often evoke the feel of tentpole movies, but not good ones. Rather they, recall the worst insults of Michael Bay's oeuvre, with sheer visual overload and hectic encounters that unfold too fast for the human eye to feasibly process.

Indeed, if you get into a particularly crowded zone (perhaps at a disputed base) you will be surrounded by nonsensical anarchy. Vehicles crash all over the place, hallways get absurdly congested, and debris is hurled in your face with every other explosion. And there's a lot of explosions happening.

The pandemonium is inescapable because there's always guaranteed to be a hostile chopper looming overhead, or a battalion of snipers taking aim at you in the distance. As such, it's quite a common occurrence to spawn at a control point and find that you've been obliterated by a gatling gun within the space a nanosecond. There's nothing enjoyable about that, it's just bewildering.

There's No Time To Breathe

Battlefield 2042 Breakaway Map
Image shows an improbably deserted control point in "Battlefield 2042's" Breakaway map. EA Games

Further praising Battlefield 2042, LevelCapGaming continues: "With friendlies and enemies in every direction, tanks rolling by and helicopters doing low flybys [This] really is a massive battle and you are just one soldier trying to make your way through it [...] Combat is everywhere"

Which is precisely the problem. It is impossible to coordinate with your team or play the objective here as there's just too much going on. As a result, your squad will either be running around like headless chickens or, if they're smart, they will completely abandon the naïve idea of cooperation and just lone wolf it.

Gone is the tactical approach of the older Battlefield games, replaced here with a bunch of indistinct specs running around on the map, each doing their own thing. No one is paying much attention to what anybody else is doing, because there's no real incentive to do so. In comparison to something like Overwatch, where it behoves you to work together and you develop rivalries with the opposition, this just feel strangely impersonal.

Though it might sound like we are describing a philosophical crisis here and not a video game, you will rarely experience something where you are in the company of so many people and yet feel so utterly alone and isolated.

As Jordan Middler articulates in his review: "There's a pointlessness to it: you can't communicate, you can't strategize, 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."

It's Poorly Spread Out

Battlefield 2042 Squad Deployment
You will be dropped into a squad during multiplayer matches, but will rarely find time to interact with them. EA Games

That being said, given that the levels are so needlessly immense in Battlefield 2042, you will sometimes find yourself completely disconnected from the action.

This is especially true of the conquest matches, which are structured in a way that marshals everybody into a few distinct pockets (where all of the aforementioned mayhem is taking place) and leave vast stretches of nothingness elsewhere.

It's almost like the game has only two settings. You'll either be in a scenario that makes the climax of Avengers: Endgame look positively sedate, or you'll be wandering a barren wasteland on your own. There is nothing in between.

Middler makes a similar observation, writing: "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."

It doesn't help either that you can spend a good 10 minutes sprinting through one of these abandoned expanses, looking for other players to interact with, only to then get picked off by an unseen marksman about 800 yards away. When that happens, it makes your arduous commute feel like it was a huge waste of time, one that you will likely have to repeat once you spawn back into the game.

Again, this was never an issue with older Battlefield titles, because they had much more sensible lobby sizes and condensed arenas. Yes, they were smaller, but that also meant that they were tighter and less laborious to navigate.

You'll Be Left Yearning for Simpler Times

Battlefield 2042 Bug
In addiiton to being a chaotic mess, "Battlefield 2042" is also rife with technical bugs and glitches. EA Games

The irony of Battlefield 2042's launch is that, for all its excesses and next-gen bombast, the only part of the experience that fans seem to universally enjoy is the mode that lets you revisit older, more modest entries in the series.

The "Battlefield Portal" is essentially a sandbox that gives you the opportunity to create your own game types. Pitched as a mashup of the franchise's greatest hits, it brings together content from various past installments as well.

Using the editor tools here, you can devise your own unique scenarios. For instance, you could have a dogfight between WWII era biplanes and Apache helicopters, or a matchup where one person has an assault rifle and everybody else has to try and take them out using only knives.

In addition to this user-generated content (some of which is really fun), the Portal also contains faithful remasters of game modes from earlier Battlefield releases. There's Conquest from 1942 and Battlefield 3, as well as Rush from Bad Company 2 and these haven't been tampered with too much.

As noted by YouTuber Skill Up, this aspect of the game is a blast and ends up overshadowing the newer content that it's meant to be supplementing. In his review, he says: "Portal is the real deal. 7 classic maps, dozens of classic weapons and vehicles, the classic class system [and] all of it looking spectacular in Frostbite. It really does feel like the love letter [EA] promised it would be."

Likewise, PC Gamer and Video Games Chronicle both identified Portal as the saving grace of Battlefield 2042. After the headache-inducing ordeal of the main release, there's just something invigorating about playing a stripped-down, 12-a-side match on Battle of the Bugle or a quick game of Rush in Valparais. These classics obviously still work for people as, even in the early access trial period, the servers for 1942 Conquest matches were absolutely heaving.

Battlefield 1942 Conquest
Returning to the stripped down matches of "Battlefield 1942" is a breath of fresh air after slogging through the newer game. EA Games

It's not just nostalgia carrying the experience either, because those vintage maps still hold up to this day. They're fundamentally better designed and more balanced than the latest ones, have more memorable geography and facilitate proper teamwork. Plus, they're less densely populated, allowing you to process what on earth is going on at any given moment.

All in all, it's pretty damning that the most acclaimed aspect of this AAA blockbuster is the fact that it has older, superior titles bundled in with it. You end up with this weird situation where there's all this shiny new content, and yet people are electing to play a repackaged version of a game that's 20 years old instead.

For all its increased spectacle and scale, Battlefield 2042 not only fails to beat its rival Call of Duty, but it can't even compete with its own legacy.