By Mike Hume
The highly anticipated next installment in DICE’s Battlefield series, “Battlefield 2042” offers a lot. There are modes with as many as 128 players for next-gen consoles. There’s a mode where solo players can take on an army of AI soldiers as if they were playing live multiplayer. There’s a grapple gun, a robo-dog drone, characters with special abilities, even weather effects that include a tornado that trashes the map and which you can “ride” in a wing suit. But it’s what the game lacked that stood out most during an early access preview: a battle royale mode.
Since the surge in popularity around “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” some four years ago, battle royale games have become ubiquitous in the gaming world. There’s “Fortnite,” “Apex Legends” and the gameshow-like “Fall Guys.” Even “PGA Tour 2K21” has a battle royale style mode, Divot Derby, in which the last golfers to get the ball in the hole are eliminated. When DICE developers revealed details of “Battlefield 2042” and made no mention of a battle royale mode during their presentation, a Q&A session filled with members of the media and the “Battlefield” community inquired about it approximately 8,000 times.
Game director Oskar Gabrielson made it clear: There are no plans for “Battlefield 2042” to feature a battle royale mode at this time.
What is there instead? DICE’s developers promised three main experiences in their upcoming game. The first, dubbed All Out Warfare, will include Conquest and Breakthrough modes, both familiar to “Battlefield” veterans. The former requires teams to capture and occupy various locations around the map until the opposing team runs out of respawn tickets. The latter is similar, except teams must capture locations sequentially to advance.
The developers also touted, but did not detail, two other experiences. One described – repeatedly – as “a love letter to Battlefield fans,” is still unnamed and will be revealed at EA Play on July 22. The other is called Hazard Zone and was described as a squad-based mode that will be entirely new to the franchise.
“We looked at ‘Battlefield 2042’ and said, ‘Hey, we really want to push the sandbox forward. What’s the most innovative way we can do that, to push the market forward, to push our own franchise forward?'” Gabrielson asked rhetorically in a later interview with The Washington Post. “The first thing we said is, okay, we’re going to reimagine all-out warfare. Up the player count, up everything else to really deliver that kind of high scale, epic warfare experience. And then we said there’s probably more ways for us to innovate and push further. And then we came around with this idea that we’re calling Hazard Zone, which is a squad-based, high-tension mode, a really kind of contemporary design. It’s not your classic battle royale, and it’s something we’re going to show more about in the next couple of months. . . . It’ll feel really ‘Battlefield’ when you see it.”
To me at least, that’s more enticing than had DICE announced “Battlefield 2042” would include a battle royale mode.
I understand the appeal. The Battlefield series has offered some of the most immersive war simulation experiences in the gaming world, with vehicles like tanks and helicopters, maps that evolve and buildings that blow up during the course of a battle, or weather effects that impact visibility. That kind of a sandbox would seem pretty fun for a battle royale, a genre that gives players a lot of autonomy on how they want to approach each round.
Here’s the thing: When DICE introduced its “Battlefield V” battle royale mode, Firestorm, it was terrible.
Firestorm was a totally different experience from what “Battlefield” players were used to. “Battlefield” is supposed to be frenetic. Tanks blasting apart buildings while attackers try to sneak up with C4, planes whirring over infantry crouched in a trench while taking aim with an RPG, soldiers hurling themselves into the fray. Firestorm was anything but that. It was slow. It was quiet. Looting and inventory management felt entirely foreign to the series (and was frustrating on top of that). It was the opposite of what I wanted from Battlefield.
The combination of the interactive environment, the vehicles and the general sense of chaos occasionally produces what the community calls “only in Battlefield” moments. They’re the moments that leave you slack-jawed while watching a player eject from a jet, fire a rocket launcher at a trailing fighter, exploding it and then landing back in his original cockpit. Those are the moments that leave you wondering “how did that just happen?” as you respawn. Those really didn’t exist at all in Firestorm. And if they did, they were unwanted.
In a battle royale, with just one life to live, those moments make you want to throw your controller. They seem impossible and thus unfair. If “Call of Duty: Warzone” players get mad when they encounter an armored truck in the final circle, imagine running into a player with a Panzer.
Now, without a battle royale mode sapping their time, the developers can focus more on what makes Battlefield, well, Battlefield. There are so many games that seem to have a checklist of modes publishers seem to feel obligated to fill, accounting for every player preference from across the pantheon of first-person shooters. Often, it produces a bland result. I’m curious to see what happens when DICE leans into what Battlefield does best. That’s why my interest was piqued when Gabrielson described Hazard Zone and the to-be-named third pillar experience, built by DICE LA, that will be revealed July 22.
“[There are] ideas that we’ve had for eight, nine, 10 years, but for different reasons, sometimes tech, sometimes timing, we haven’t been able to get to,” Gabrielson said. “But now they’ve poured their hearts into this, and the DICE LA team got the chance to show everyone the latest update just last week. Just, [everyone] went bonkers. The team in Stockholm just loved it. What DICE LA is doing is fundamentally a love letter to everyone that loves Battlefield.”
The usual caution tape about prerelease hype should be wrapped around those words. Two-thirds of the game’s experiences are still obscured by question marks. We don’t know what Hazard Zone is yet, and we have to wait until late July to open our “love letter.” We do know there’s no campaign mode, despite a fairly developed backstory that depicts an embattled, resource-thirsty world after an apparent cataclysm caused by global warming. (Gabrielson says they’ll present the game’s narrative through seasonal updates, but did not specify exactly how DICE will infuse the story into gameplay.) There is a lot riding on these ensuing reveals. Still, color me intrigued.
I’m not lamenting the lack of a “traditional” battle royale in “Battlefield 2042.” “Warzone” – which sets a high bar – scratches that itch just fine for me and tens of millions of other players. And while I can imagine a “Battlefield” battle royale that surpasses it, that vision hasn’t come close to being realized yet.
If Hazard Zone provides a new experience, one better suited to “Battlefield,” it will likely be far better for the health of the franchise to leave battle royale entirely out of the picture.
The Washington Post