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Battlefield 2042 open beta preview – overwhelming, impressive, and apocalyptic

GameCentral goes hands-on with the Battlefield 2042 open beta and enjoys what may be the best entry in the franchise so far.

There isn’t much like Battlefield on the market. While fans (and EA) love to pit Call Of Duty and Battlefield against each other, the two couldn’t be more different from each other. Call Of Duty is the fast action arena shooter or battle royale. It’s more of a game than a comprehensible depiction of war, a scoreboard to be scaled with only a superficial resemblance to real warfare.

Battlefield is a different animal though. It’s chaos. Fittingly, due to the harsh weather effects the game can throw at you, it often feels like trying to push back a hurricane with your breath. If Call Of Duty is about individual glory, Battlefield almost feels like an exploration of the futility of individuals in such amorphous, indomitable combat. Battlefield makes you feel small. That’s not a knock on the franchise at all though. That’s what makes it special.

From the three hours we’ve played of Battlefield 2042, developer DICE has bottled that, found its purest concentrate, and elevated it to the maximum.

Of course, that’s the flowery description of Battlefield 2042. The game is still a competitive multiplayer shooter with objectives, winners, and losers. The franchise has shed the last two game’s historical settings and has now opted for a near-future storyline.

The goal of the game is to expend the other team’s resources by controlling more zones than they do and getting kills. Players dying and losing zones costs resources, so it is about grinding out the other team over fairly lengthy matches. However, as an individual, you can only realistically have so much effect on the outcome. These maps pit 64 players against another 64, so it’s impossible to organise properly with the entire team at once.

This is mitigated by the game’s squad system, which matches you with up to four players or you can choose to enter the game with a ready-made team. You can make callouts to them, chose sites to hit, support each other, and revive one another. This attempts to create some semblance of team play, by making you part of one of several cogs in the broader machine. While it may be exceptionally hard to change the outcome of a game entirely on your own, if you become the best squad in a server your teamwork can be felt.

While of course there are players who live to get good at the game, who can single-handedly parse the chaos and win a game for their team with their objective play, that’s not where Battlefield’s purest soul lives. Battlefield 2042 feels best when leaving players feeling like a tiny part of something larger, trying to make a perceptible difference in a lumbering machine that is attempting to win an objective.

Battlefield 2042 is an intense, even overwhelming audio/visual experience. DICE, as it is famous for, has put together an amazing soundscape to house the visual chaos going on. The explosion impacts, the bullets whizzing by, helicopters and tanks fighting each other, even on an acceptable volume, Battlefield feels loud. It feels impactful, all supported by the audio wizardry that DICE is so good at.

With 128 players sharing a single, albeit huge, space there is always plenty going on. Players running every which way, as squads cross each other to chase different points, an enemy quadbike flying past you to cause destruction somewhere else, a helicopter falling from the sky after losing a fight near the top of a building. There is always a dizzying amount happening at once on your screen. It’s disorientating but its scale is so massive, and the production so polished, the experience never stops being overwhelmingly impressive.

One of the selling points of Battlefield 2042 is its new extreme weather, as well as returning map events. The map events have been a feature in more recent Battlefield games, with Battlefield 4 famously having a skyscraper that can topple and change the layout of a map and Battlefield 1 a blimp that could crash out of the sky in a fiery blaze. On the new map we played, Orbital, you play on an island where the focus point is a huge American rocket at the top of the level.

At some point during the duration of the map, the structure around the rocket will fan out and an alarm will start blaring. Then, one of two things can happen. If left alone, after around six minutes the rocket will blast off into space, creating a lot of smoke and killing people near the exhausts. Or, during the launch phase, it can take damage. If enough is done, the rocket will explode killing even more. It’s an impressive moment, that just adds more chaos to the already intense combat.

However, it is nothing compared to the wanton, apocalyptic destruction of the tornado that has a chance of appearing in a match. It’s fairly rare (in a Q & A after the session, it was mentioned that the open beta build has a 10% chance to spawn) but when it hits it’s a dizzying audio-visual experience. If 128 players playing war and a rocket launch sounds like a lot going on, it becomes pandemonium when all of it is picked up into the air and flung around like toys.

Getting swept up while your HUD glitches out, with the impressive sound design blaring, people still trying to somehow fight each other in the air… it’s hard to recall something quite like Battlefield 2042. It really is the perfect element to add to the Battlefield formula, to extenuate that core idea that makes this franchise compelling: you are small. In the past, that always came from the enormity of war, but throwing in the ferocious power of nature at its worse is a perfect addition.

The Battlefield 2042 open beta starts on Wednesday, October 6 for EA Play members and those that have pre-ordered the game. It then opens up for everyone on October 8 and 9.

Battlefield 2042 launches on November 19 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, and PC. Or November 12 if you buy the more expensive Gold or Ultimate Editions.

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