Battlefield 2042: 128 players, massive maps, and multiplayer mayhem like you've never seen it before

Battlefield 2042
(Image credit: EA)

Battlefield 2042 is the next generation of multiplayer shooters. The series has endured a cycle of creative stagnation and emerged with a truly mesmerizing proposition: 128 players, free to run amok on the frontlines of the largest and most diverse sandboxes that developer DICE has ever constructed. Designed to be disruptive, tempered by cutting-edge technology, and engineered as a platform for future evolution, Battlefield 2042 is here to prove that there's still scope for shooters to chart a path beyond battle royale to more exciting and electrifying horizons.

"What we are building with Battlefield 2042 is a true evolution of the Battlefield franchise. It's a modern multiplayer shooter and it's a return to all-out-warfare, made possible by a leap forward in technology – the perfect match of Frostbite, next-gen tech, and the innovative approaches designed by the team," says Oskar Gabrielson, general manager of DICE. "2042 has given us the freedom to create an unmatched gameplay experience unlike anything before in the franchise."

A newfound focus

Battlefield 2042

(Image credit: EA)

Battlefield is known for its massive multiplayer entanglements, tantalizingly tactical combat, and an ability to strike a clear balance between conflicts that unravel across land, air, and sea. It's been that way since Battlefield 1942 marked the series debut in 2002, back when DICE, as Gabrielson attests, "created a multiplayer shooter sandbox on a bigger scale than ever before." With Battlefield 2042, the studio is reinterpreting its original vision of the series with two decades of development experience and technological innovation behind it to deliver all-out warfare like you've never seen it before. 

"2042 is the next generation of Battlefield," says Daniel Berlin, design director. "We looked back at everything that we've done and tried to take the best pieces from every installment – and we've tried a lot of stuff in the past, right? But with Battlefield 2042 we want to draw from the best parts of the series and really push the sandbox to the max." 

Battlefield 2042

(Image credit: EA)
Your guide to E3 2021

E3 2021

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We're expecting plenty of announcements from the biggest game makers in the world this week, so be sure to check out our E3 2021 coverage hub for our latest previews, features, and interviews. 

DICE was hesitant to show too much of the game at this early stage, but we're already starting to piece it together. The inscrutable balance of Battlefield 2 and the unconstrained carnage of Bad Company 2. The way Battlefield 3 leveraged its modern setting and the levolutions that defined Battlefield 4, pushing destruction beyond bullets carving holes in drywall. These elements are the bedrock of the Battlefield 2042 experience, a foundation for expansion and experimentation with a very specific focus.

"Across all of these games, one thing has always stayed true," says Gabrielson, "multiplayer is what we do best at DICE, period." The single-player campaigns for the Battlefield games (Bad Company 2 notwithstanding) have been disappointing, poor facsimiles of the large and open-ended multiplayer sandboxes that the series is so comfortable playing in. As a result, single-player is out, with DICE slow-burning the broader world and narrative development through a seasonal battle pass model, which Berlin believes will ensure Battlefield 2042 is "continuously expanding and evolving". 

"This allows us to focus," he tells me. "We really want to push the scale here and deliver on our three key multiplayer experiences. That decision has allowed us to focus our efforts and really deliver on a number of quality-of-life improvements, and that's a really important thing for us. We'll still be able to deliver a compelling narrative within the world that we're building and, as you'll see, the world and the narrative will develop through the live service, and through the eyes of the Specialists."  

Classes and customization

Battlefield 2042

(Image credit: EA)

Specialists represent one of the most notable changes to established play. Battlefield 2042 is set in a world wrought by the shortage of vital supplies and resources, leading to the collapse of society as we know it. As the crisis worsens, the USA and Russia draw what remains of the world out into an all-out war, forcing Non-Patriated citizens of failed states to choose a side and fight to make their voices heard.

DICE believes that this backstory helps explain away the decision to get rid of established Classes in Battlefield – we're just happy to see the studio experiment. There will be ten Battlefield 2042 Specialists available at launch, with "classes now handled more as a category," as Berlin put it, with "multiple Specialists grouped in terms of what gameplay they deliver." 

This change to the way Assault, Engineer, Recon and Support classes are handled, DICE believes, will allow for greater flexibility. "Any specialist can use any gun; they aren't locked behind classes anymore. So if you would like to play as a more assault character, you can now equip a sniper rifle or a shotgun if you'd like to play with that sort of weapon instead," says associate producer Marie Bustgaard Granlund. "The design of [each Specialist] is based on the classes we had in previous games, but they are more specialised with their own traits and gadgets."

"In Battlefield 2042, whenever you are progressing you are unlocking hardware that you can use on all of the different Specialists"

Feras Musmar, associate design director

Feras Musmar, associate design director, says that this will let you dial into your preferred playstyle without penalising you for experimentation. "In the past, we noticed that players were locked in based on the class system to get the weapons that were related to that class. Once they have invested in a specific class, changing to a different one would bring them back to point zero. In Battlefield 2042, whenever you are progressing you are unlocking hardware that you can use on all of the different Specialists."

Berlin says that it was key that players are able to "come up with creative solutions to problems they find on the battlefield." We're already seeing this shine through in a number of ways. Specialists such as the Assault-focused Mackay can utilize a grappling hook gadget to create new traversal routes, while Support-leaning Falck's Combat Surgeon trait lets them revive fallen teammates back to full health. Each Specialist has their role to play, and their own unique Trait and Specialised Gadget to encourage you to play to it.

Given that any class-type can wield any kind of weapon, DICE recognized that this was the perfect opportunity to experiment with more drastic customization in the form of Battlefield 2042's new Plus system, which will let you "change your weapon configuration on the fly". We're yet to get a real sense of how this will work in practice, although Berlin promises that you'll be able to "quickly change out your scope, barrel, ammo-type, and underbarrel attachment" of your weapon, so long as you can make it to cover and pull up a radial wheel. 

Implausible scale

Battlefield 2042

(Image credit: EA)

Whether you'll have time to mess around with the configuration of your weapons remains to be seen. DICE is broadening the scope and widening the scale of the sandbox, packing each of its sprawling maps with a wider variety of environment types, objectives, and opportunities than we've seen in Battlefield before. Much of this innovation will be funneled through three distinct multiplayer experiences – 'All-Out Warfare' will host the ever-popular Conquest and Breakthrough game modes, while two other experiences will be revealed later this year (and no, that doesn't include a Battlefield 2042 battle royale mode).

Players on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X will fight across what DICE maintains will be the largest maps in Battlefield history, purpose built to leverage choice and creativity for 128 players. Two armies of 64 players, clashing in sparkling head-to-head battles with more tools than ever before: weapon customization, gadgets and traits, dynamic destruction and real-time tornados, wingsuits and ziplines, and even the capacity to request land vehicles on demand – the list goes on and on. To put this change in some perspective, the Battlefield 2042 maps on PS4 and Xbox One will be scaled back to support 64 players total (the Battlefield standard for 20 years) and it all sounds so small in comparison. 

Berlin is keen to stress that it isn't just the number of boots on the ground that help sell the scale of All-Out Warfare, but rather what you can see and do once you're in it: "It's not just about having more players or having more things to do, because it can get too chaotic and that's not what we want. When you're playing, particularly on the larger maps, like Hourglass, it can almost feel like there's multiple maps within the map." 

Play with bots

Battlefield 2042

(Image credit: EA)

You don't have to play with others if you don't want to. The All-Out Warfare experience can be played with AI bots instead, should you want to learn the ropes or try out different weapons and Specialists. Design director Daniel Berlin has confirmed that "you'll still earn progression and unlock weapons" when playing with AI.

"Sure, you're fighting on top of a skyscraper now, but if you look to the left you can see over this vast field and, oh god, down at the intersection by the arches there's a huge tank battle going on. We want you to have the sense that you are in a bigger conflict – that it's actually bigger than just you here," he says, adding that "f you want to, you can just jump off the skyscraper and wingsuit all the way over to that tank battle and get involved."

The devil is in the detail here, and we won't know how successful DICE has been in pulling off this increased scale until we get an opportunity to play it for ourselves – there's a closed technical playtest for "Battlefield veterans" in July, and an open beta sometime before the game launches on October 22, 2021. But we do know that DICE is employing all of its experience and intuition into the seven maps launching in the All-Out Warfare experience on day one. For example, Conquest – in which two teams fight for control over objectives across a massive playspace – has been engineered with something DICE has dubbed "varied pacing", designed to help maintain the flow of players between conflict zones.

"It's that concept of being able to sit on the deploy screen and decide where you want to go. Do I want to go to the stadium and have some close-quarters combat and an extended fight over multiple objectives within a concentrated space," says Berlin, who adds that a "Clustering" system now sees large areas split into sectors in which a team must control all objectives before calling it their own. "But once that battle is done, then you have a lull as the pacing goes down, and there's a moment to strategize with your team."

"It's a tactical moment, where you and your squad can wander up the map together to see what else is happening on the battlefield. Okay, you see that Neon City is under attack so you call in a vehicle, try to get over there quickly, and so the pacing goes up again," Berlin says, adding, "that varied pacing is really key for us to lean into the dance of Conquest."

Only in Battlefield

Battlefield 2042

(Image credit: EA)

"When all these aspects come together, that is something that no one else can beat us at"

Daniel Berlin, design director

That push and pull is what will undoubtedly separate Battlefield 2042 from other first-person shooters this year. As Call of Duty continues its infatuation with battle royale, Battlefield is over here, getting back to basics as it lets you deploy tanks on the heads of camping snipers, or forces 128 players to stop fighting to flee a real-time tornado that formed naturally on a map and is threatening to rip it apart.

Battlefield 2042 is promising a dynamic where quiet, intimate engagements between small teams over a flag can operate in tandem with the series' flagship sense of chaos, as entire armies collide over clustered objectives and points of tactical interest. It's these types of 'only-in-Battlefield' moments that were so sorely missing last generation, that will ultimately define Battlefield 2042 as it enters the next. 

"I'd say, with confidence, that when it comes to these massive all-out-war experiences, that is something that we will give you that you cannot get anywhere else. There's that shot in the trailer, where you're sitting in a helicopter, looking out over the massive skyscrapers, you see the arches in the back, and then there's Neon City way over there. The first time people see this in-game, they think, 'is that a backdrop?' No, it's not a backdrop; it's an actual city that you can go to," says Berlin.

"Seeing 64 players on your team moving across that massive scale, the cutting edge technology, the new tools and Specialists, there's no… I mean, shit, and the dynamic world! When all these aspects and all these components come together, that is something that no one else can beat us at, and we're confident in that."

If you don't want to miss a single reveal or announcement, but sure to familiarize yourself with the E3 2021 schedule

Josh West
UK Managing Editor, GamesRadar+

Josh West is the UK Managing Editor of GamesRadar+. He has over 10 years experience in online and print journalism, and holds a BA (Hons) in Journalism and Feature Writing. Prior to starting his current position, Josh has served as GR+'s Features Editor and Deputy Editor of games™ magazine, and has freelanced for numerous publications including 3D Artist, Edge magazine, iCreate, Metal Hammer, Play, Retro Gamer, and SFX. Additionally, he has appeared on the BBC and ITV to provide expert comment, written for Scholastic books, edited a book for Hachette, and worked as the Assistant Producer of the Future Games Show. In his spare time, Josh likes to play bass guitar and video games. Years ago, he was in a few movies and TV shows that you've definitely seen but will never be able to spot him in.