The world is at war in the next installment of DICE's Battlefield franchise, but the series isn't going back to the early 20th Century with its next installment. Instead, it's projecting into the near future with Battlefield 2042, a multiplayer-focused entry that's imagining a future for us that's not particularly bright.
Electronic Arts and DICE gave GameSpot an early look at Battlefield 2042 with a big rundown of some of what we can expect from the game and a chance to check out the game's reveal trailer and gameplay trailer. First and foremost, DICE is foregoing a single-player campaign for Battlefield 2042--instead, the developer says, it's focusing on "what it does best" with multiplayer. But that doesn't mean there's no narrative driving the conflict at the heart of the game. Instead, it's maybe a little too close to home, imagining a world 20 years from now that's been thrown into turmoil by real-world issues like climate change. And it looks like DICE will still find ways to deliver story through its multiplayer gameplay, albeit in a new, as-yet-unclear way.
Battlefield 2042 puts you in the role of a "No-Pat," a person from one of the many countries that has collapsed as climate change worsens, resources dwindle, and governments fail. No-Pats, or non-patriated people, have no country of their own, with Battlefield 2042 imagining a worldwide refugee crisis creating a whole lot of conflict itself. The No-Pat people come from all walks of life, but just as farmers, doctors, engineers, and factory workers are displaced by the global problems, so are soldiers--and without a country to fight for, they're also searching for a way to make a future in the world.
Thrown on top of this is a war that explodes between the US and Russia. With an influx of No-Pats, there suddenly is a huge number of soldiers that each country can recruit and use on the battlefield. So while you might fight for one side or the other, you aren't really a citizen of either nation; instead, you're fighting in campaigns all over the globe in hopes that you'll be on the winning side, and that you'll earn "a seat at the table" when hostilities finally end.
So there's what sounds like a fairly deep story setup for Battlefield 2042, despite it being a multiplayer-only game.
"We're really leaning into the thing that we really do best, we really do massive battlefields, massive multiplayer experiences," Design director Daniel Berlin said in an interview with GameSpot. "...But there's still a really important aspect of this, and that is the narrative of 2042, and we still aim to really deliver a compelling story as we develop this world."
"As we go through the live service and each season, the first four seasons in year one, we will deliver a new specialist," Berlin said. "And you will see the world evolve, the locations, and the world which is pushed forward with narrative, and you'll see it through the eyes of the new specialists that we're introducing."
The specialists Berlin referred to are the No-Pat characters you can play as during multiplayer matches, which somewhat replace Battlefield's traditional class system. Those classes, like Recon, Assault, Support, and Engineer, still exist, but they're more like categories into which different specialists fall. DICE showed off four different specialists that you can play as in the game, with each carrying a specific trait and gadget that's unique to their particular character.
The four specialists DICE showed were Webster, a nimble Assault character, who sports a zipline gun for quick repositioning and who can move faster than other characters while aiming; Maria, a Support, whose teammates get more health when she revives them than if others handle that job, and who carries a pistol that can heal and revive allies from a distance; Boris, an engineer who can deploy independent turrets, but whose trait amps up their capabilities when he stays near them; and Casper, a Recon character with a drone he can pilot manually to spot enemies or leave hovering for passive enemy identification, and a trait that allows him to sense when enemies are sneaking up on him, to make sniping a little less dangerous.
DICE said there will be 10 specialists in the game when Battlefield 2042 launches, with four more releasing over the course of its first four seasons. And according to Berlin, those fully voiced characters are the way through which you'll experience the game's story. Each one brings a different perspective on what's happening as the game evolves through its live-service offerings.
But while you'll have specific characters with specific items and abilities who fall into general class categories, there's still a lot of customization in terms of how you play. In Battlefield 2042, any character can use any weapon or secondary gadget, such as grenades--so you're not locked to a certain loadout based on who you pick or what role you decide to fulfill on your team.
Multiplayer is the main thrust of Battlefield 2042, as Berlin explained, and DICE is looking to expand the scope of what it has delivered in the past. First and foremost, it's doubling the number of players in its largest matches--up to 128 players, up from 64 in the past. (It's worth noting, though, that previous-gen versions of the game will stick with 64-player matches, with maps adjusted to accommodate.)
Those big battles will take place in the All-Out Warfare category of modes, which is the 2042 evolution of classic big-team modes like Conquest and Breakthrough. The goal in both modes is to capture sectors on a map; in Conquest, teams can attack any of the sectors at a time, while in Breakthrough, one team attacks and tries to capture sectors in sequence, while the other team defends.
With more players in All-Out Warfare matches, maps are also increasing in size to accommodate. DICE showed several maps that'll be available in the game, which vary in size to make for different-sized battles. The largest was Breakaway, a map set in Antarctica that includes ice fields, bases, and locations in between.
During the presentation, Berlin said that while maps are huge, DICE is thinking about ways to keep the action flowing. Maps are designed around the idea of "clustering," pushing you toward locations where you're likely to run into other players and get into different kinds of battles. The maps might be big, but Berlin described them as being like several smaller maps stitched together. The clustering idea allows you to zero in on sections of the map that'll offer different kinds of engagements--whether they're tight infantry fights or larger, vehicle-based skirmishes.
"We're building these massive, massive maps this time around," Berlin explained. "So if you just took a classic Battlefield map and a classic size, and you just said like, yeah, we're just going to scale this up, almost just take it and you just expand it, that doesn't necessarily turn out to be a good gameplay experience. Talking from experience, we tested it, it didn't really play well. So we lean into this concept of the clustering, right? And this is a way for us to control the pacing and really let players choose their own pacing in a sense."
The customization of your loadout plays into that idea of clustering as well, since you'll be moving around the map based on what objectives you want to take and which battles you want to fight. Battlefield 2042 introduces a new interface DICE calls the Plus system, which allows you to quickly change the attachments on your weapon on the fly. It gets its name from a holographic interface that spreads out from your gun in the shape of a plus, allowing you to quickly swap through all your attachments. So if you're heading into a close battle, you can swap for a short-range scope, a suppressor, and an underbarrel shotgun; if you're headed out into a bigger field, you can quickly pop on longer-range attachments so you're ready for what's ahead.
Maps are big, but you'll have an easier time getting around them. Players pack a tablet that lets them request air-dropped vehicles to their locations, making it possible to get a vehicle much more often in Battlefield 2042--and for vehicles to be more plentiful in a match. Those vehicles have also been made more useful for squads, with passenger seats offering more opportunities for shooting, spotting enemies, and helping your group survive while they travel.
There's something else that DICE is bringing to its maps beyond additional scope, more players, and more vehicles, though. They'll also see some extreme weather events and other elements that can change the battle. The "levolution" concept is back, with maps such as Orbital, which has players fighting over a rocket launchpad, potentially changing based on player actions--like causing that rocket launch to fail with catastrophic results. DICE's presentation also included footage of a tornado ripping through an urban area, throwing players and vehicles around and creating chaos. Another map, set in Qatar called Hourglass, includes a massive sandstorm that sweeps through and blots out visibility. DICE showed off seven maps with a range of sizes and features, and all of them look as though they'll offer a lot of variety in the fights and situations they create.
Berlin explained that while there's a lot going on with any given map, given their sizes, vehicles, and even weather, the clustering approach allows DICE to combine those elements in smart ways. Because players zero in on specific locations on a given map, the sandbox elements are forced to work together in specific ways. As Berlin described it, DICE is looking to take players on a "journey through the map," hitting hotspots where intense and exciting things can happen, without it all devolving into chaos.
Battlefield is a multiplayer-focused game, but that doesn't mean you'll be forced to play with other people. At least with Conquest and Breakthrough modes (we haven't heard much about what else Battlefield 2042 offers), you'll have the option to play in battles against AI-controlled bots. You'll have both AI-controlled enemies and friendly AI on your side of the battle, and it sounds like you'll even be able to bring friends in to join your squad and take on a bot army.
"We are really leaning into the AI for this game, I think it's a really important aspect of it," he explained. "When we're building this game, we really want to lean into when we create a sandbox environment that has all the cutting-edge technology and the tools and everything, we want to really push that far. And to be able to give access to that space and give access to that experience to players that don't feel necessarily comfortable in a multiplayer setting, I think that's the outlook here. So we've been working with the AI since the start of the project to really make sure that they balance and they play well. But in that regard, when you play against the AI, we want you to also feel a little bit like you're the hero, right?
Berlin also said the single-player mode is a great way for newer players to learn Battlefield's ropes, like piloting vehicles and understanding maps.
"It's a great space for new players to just come in and be like, hey, I'm just going to mess around in a helicopter at my own pace," he said. "No one is going to get bothered by me. Or even for someone like myself, who plays a s---ton of Battlefield in my spare time, in the evenings and stuff I hop in and I just shoot some AI. Because it's just a more relaxed, almost a very social environment you can be in with your friends. You'll kick it back and play against some AI. And [a] very important thing here as well is if you play against the AI, you still progress in the game."
There's a lot more information about Battlefield 2042 we still don't know, however. DICE is planning to announce more in July during Electronic Arts' EA Play event, which includes another portion of its multiplayer experience that's being worked on by DICE LA. It's described as a love-letter to the Battlefield franchise that fans will appreciate--but again, we don't really know much about it.
Apart from that, DICE mentioned another portion of the experience, called Hazard Zone. We didn't get much information on it, with DICE only teasing the mode a bit during our presentation, explaining that it's squad-focused and completely new to Battlefield--while also emphasizing that it is not battle royale. In fact, DICE said, there won't be a battle royale mode in the game at launch.
But we do know when Battlefield 2042 will come out: October 22. So expect a lot more information about what the game will be like, how its live-game systems will work, and what its full multiplayer suite will entail. Battlefield 2042 is slated to release on PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.