New ‘Battlefield 2042’ map, operator are good, but too little too late

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Here’s some welcome news for Battlefield players smarting after the stumble-filled launch of “Battlefield 2042”: The game is better now. It’s even fun at times. There are now more “Battlefield moments” — the sort of improbable, memorable, delightful highlight clips that can only be found in Battlefield — during game play than “2042 moments,” which end in dropped servers or some player or vehicle exploiting map-breaking behavior. Progress!

But before anyone gets too carried away by the encouraging news, we should put this in perspective. The big picture for “Battlefield 2042” still isn’t all that rosy. In fact, it raises the question of whether work should be continuing on the game at all.

It’s taken seven months since “Battlefield 2042′s” mid-November release just to get the game to a state of decent play. And even that improvement has come with some sacrifices. Most notably, EA and Dice, the game’s developer, announced they would discontinue support for the game’s Hazard Zone mode, the ill-fated twist on a battle royale mode that we said was almost completely unplayable when “Battlefield 2042” launched without in-game voice chat. (The game added it in April, though most players seem not to use it.)

Put another way, to help right the ship going forward, EA and Dice had to throw a full third of “Battlefield 2042′s” freight overboard. That does not feel great if you paid full price for this game, especially when there are no guarantees Hazard Zone will be replaced with anything of substance. The Hazard Zone announcement also came within a week of EA and Dice stating they would shelve the 128-player version of the game’s Breakthrough mode, which, alongside Conquest, is one of the two major components to its “All Out Warfare” pillar experience. Massive player counts on expansive maps were a huge part of the marketing push for “Battlefield 2042,” so scaling down Breakthrough seems like an admission of another miscalculation.

Three months later, ‘Battlefield 2042’ is paying the price for a very bad decision

The cuts and updates around Season 1 could pay dividends and, possibly — improbably! — salvage “Battlefield 2042” from the abysmal depths to which it sank this spring. The absurd spray of automatic weapons has been refined into a more controllable recoil pattern (even if it does feel like my gun pulls around targets instead of to them). Vehicles like the hovercraft and M5C Bolte have been appropriately nerfed after driving up skyscrapers and/or mauling players in droves. And with the 64-player Conquest mode, the maps feel slightly less expansive than they once did compared to the game’s launch state, where points of interest were spaced apart by what felt like miles of open ground.

Perhaps most notably for longtime Battlefield players, the random squadmates I’ve played with since the start of Season 1 have more regularly played as a unit, reviving fallen players, dropping ammo and medkits, playing the game as it was intended. Perhaps that’s a symptom of the player pool being whittled down to those truly in love with the franchise — in February, more players were on “Battlefield 1” and “Battlefield V” than on “2042” — but it was a welcome development when I logged back in to the game.

The new map, Exposure, is easily the best new map since “2042” debuted. It combines three tiers of action, with ground vehicles and infantry fighting over points of interest at the top and bottom of a ravine with close-quarters battles in the middle through the collapsed cliff-side tunnels of a military facility. The Conquest matches played there are by far the most interesting and closely contested I’ve experienced since the game’s launch.

The new operator, Lis, is a solid addition, especially given how the game was dominated by vehicles in its first several months. However, her special two-guided missile gadget could stand to do more damage to infantry. Even hits within a few feet of foes don’t deal critical damage.

There are still more bugs than there should be for a game this late after launch, though there are considerably fewer now than in February. The most glaring I ran into was when my game wouldn’t let me mark enemies or issue orders during a round of Rush, along with a lack of server stability that crashed a game. Lag is also a problem, particularly for games played in “2042′s” creator-centric Portal mode, even when the advertised ping rates were well within reasonable margins (< 30 ms).

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For all the improvements the game has made, the common complaint has been that, even after its delay, Season 1 just lacks stuff. On offer? One new operator, one map, one new vehicle (a stealth helicopter) and four new weapons, one of which is a smoke grenade launcher (super useful, but hardly fun and exotic). The players who have endured the rough state of the game want more, and it’s hard to blame them. It’s also fair to wonder whether there is a realistic chance of ever bringing “Battlefield 2042” up to a level of true customer satisfaction.

Things are on the upswing for the game. But given the time it has taken just to reach this somewhat enjoyable level, it raises the question of whether the time and labor required to boost it all the way to a “good” game will be worth it for EA and Dice. Further still, will there be enough players sticking around to see it?

Earlier this month, EA disputed a report from Venture Beat’s Jeff Grubb that said the company only had a “skeleton crew” still working on the game. For those hoping to see “2042” realize its prerelease promise, that’s good to hear. But it makes me wonder what the big picture is for the game, particularly when I think about what has made my recent matches in the game enjoyable. At release, and again in February, I found the most joy playing modes like Rush on maps from previous installments of Battlefield. Now at the start of Season 1, those same maps and experiences remain my clear favorites, albeit with the addition of Conquest on Exposure. If someone at Dice accidentally deleted every other 2042 map tomorrow, I would not care.

I’m sure that EA and Dice don’t want to abandon a new game less than a year after launch, but resources committed to supporting “2042” could instead work toward making sure the next Battlefield game doesn’t share “2042′s” fate. Given the sheer volume of time and effort needed to deliver fixes and Season One’s good-but-meager content to the game, it’s worth asking the hard question: What if EA and Dice just bailed on “Battlefield 2042”?

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That would indeed be an extreme step, and rather than fully writing off “2042,” I’d suggest an alternative. Embrace the one part of the game players seem to truly enjoy. Focus on Portal.

As part of the concession that resources are going to be devoted elsewhere, make “2042” — or at least Portal — free to play starting this fall. Open the sandbox to as many new people as you can and, with the help of the loyal creators in the Battlefield community, expose them to the franchise in a way that will be far more engaging than “2042,” with its specialist characters and, um, less-than-optimal maps. Bring over more classic maps from past games, provide a few new curated modes every few weeks and let that live on while the rest of the studio does the hard work of relaunching Battlefield with a better-than-ever game for its next installment.

Right now, “Battlefield 2042” is better than it has ever been, though that remains faint praise. And given all that’s come before, the best decision for its future, and that of the Battlefield franchise, may be, in some measure, to simply let it go.

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