Reaction to Battlefield 2042’s launch last year was dismal. Disgruntled players copied and pasted lists of “missing” features and cited criticism from a former Battlefield developer as evidence that developer DICE had lost its way. Steam user reviews were ruthless. (“I’d rather buy WinRAR,” said one player.) DICE delayed the big war shooter’s first season by six months, and the average number of concurrent players dropped.
A year later, DICE wants us to give Battlefield 2042 another chance.
If you haven’t been keeping up, Battlefield 2042 just entered its third season, which among other things added a railgun and a map set in the Swedish wilderness, the third free map after launch so far. A fourth season is coming early next year (the concept art below is a sneak peek at the Season 4 map), and DICE has just announced (opens in a new tab) that a fifth season will follow it. Battlefield 2042 was recently added to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and EA Play, and you can try it for free on Steam and Xbox this weekend (opens in a new tab). If Battlefield 2042 had been in early access, this would have been the 1.0 release event.
“We’ve gotten the game and the quality to a place where the team wants to bring more players in,” Battlefield 2042 senior producer Ryan McArthur told me on the phone earlier this week. “And we weren’t there early. We didn’t think it was fair to bring new players into a game where the experience didn’t live up to what it was meant to be. So: We’re there. I think that’s a good point for us . But from a live service perspective, we want to keep doing more. We want this game to get better.”
“We feel really good about the direction the game has gone and is going,” said assistant producer Alexia Christofi in a separate conversation, “and we don’t just want to show it with words. We want people to jump in and play and see if they thinking, “Oh, yeah, actually, this isn’t what I expected” given the history of looking on the internet or whatever.”
If they looked on the internet, potential Battlefield 2042 players would still find plenty of negative user reviews, Reddit threads, and op-eds from launch and the following months. Every decision DICE made was lit up at the time, and the bitterness lingers today.
“The launch wasn’t easy,” producer Nika Bender told me. “Let’s be completely honest.”
The dissatisfaction wasn’t just about bugs and performance issues, although there were those. Battlefield 2042 went all in on scale, doubling the normal Battlefield player count from 64 to 128 with larger maps than the series has ever seen. I liked the feeling (opens in a new tab) that Battlefield’s gameplay had been unoptimized and gangly, but most players did not have such a whimsical attitude: They felt that the maps were frivolous and needed more infantry cover. They also lamented that their troops were disorganized due to the lack of voice chat or distinct class roles, and wanted more weapons, more vehicles, and more features from previous Battlefields.
During the development of Battlefield 2042, the aim had been “to push” and “to be innovative”, according to McArthur. When it reached players, however, it became apparent to him that it was missing a “core essence” of what makes a Battlefield game fun.
“[Players] loved the chaos,” McArthur said. “But with that chaos, you have to be able to feel smart, you have to be able to be strategic. Chaos for chaos’ sake is sometimes not as fun.”
“We were shooting for the moon and we just missed,” Christofi said of the launch. “And I think it was hard for us to delay Season 1. It was hard, but the team realized that we were doing it for all the right reasons and that we needed to focus on, like, ‘How do we ensure that the feedback from the community is more embedded in what we do?'”
Over the past year, DICE has diligently documented this incorporation of player feedback. Among other things, the developers have systematically reworked Battlefield 2042’s launch map, and explained the major decisions in detailed blog posts (opens in a new tab). Two new kartom revisions will be released later this season: Manifest in patch 3.1 this year, and Breakaway in patch 3.2 early next year. After that, there are two more kartom revisions. Also in update 3.2 comes a limited return to a class system. The special characters aren’t going away, but their class designations will now limit the kinds of throwables and secondary gadgets they can carry.
McArthur doesn’t think these fan-favorite changes mean they’ve abandoned Battlefield 2042’s identity – it still has a 128-player roster and specialist characters, as well as the Battlefield Portal custom mode tool – but it doesn’t sound like DICE is the same studio it was back then surprised fans with the Battlefield 2042 reveal, ran a quick beta period, and then released the game. At least for now, the studio is all-in on the philosophy that making games is a collaboration between players and developers.
According to McArthur, Battlefield 2042’s creative director now “sees himself less as a designer, and more as a translator” of player feedback, someone who is able to decide what players want based on what they say.
“A lot of the feedback we got was negative in that it was aggressively, aggressively negative, but that didn’t make it wrong,” McArthur said. “And the key for us was combing through that and going, ‘If you strip away the emotion, what did they say? What are they missing?’
Like other developers, DICE also looks at statistical data and runs its own internal playtests, but they’ve learned that it’s a mistake to “make things in a silo” and expect players to love it, says Christofi. Battlefield players have been playing and providing feedback on patch 3.1, which includes the specialist crafting.
“We’re very keen to get that feedback now and recognize that our players are the ones who love Battlefield, they’ve always loved Battlefield, and there’s a lot we can learn from them,” Christofi said.
McArthur hopes that eventually people will say the same about Battlefield 2042 as they say about Battlefield 4: “Well, it had a rough launch, but it’s a really good game now.” Work towards this goal is ongoing, but a positive sign for the game is that current players trust that Steam jumped after the start of Season 3, reaching peaks not seen since shortly after launch. And among the critical players who stuck around, the tone of the conversation is changing, according to McArthur.
“They still want more content,” he said, “they still wish we hadn’t learned the way we did, but the conversation they’re having goes from negative to constructive to, in some cases, positive.”
There are at least two more Battlefield 2042 seasons, and McArthur said the team wants to continue making Battlefield 2042 the best game it can be. The new Season 5 map will recreate an unknown location from Battlefield 4, showing it “swallowed by vegetation” in the year 2042, which sounds cool, and while Battlefield 2042’s extraction mode didn’t take off and DICE has shelved it, is there anything Battlefield Custom portal mode can still explode.
Major comebacks have happened: No Man’s Sky, Rainbow Six Siege, Final Fantasy 14. If this free weekend doesn’t turn out to be Battlefield 2042’s big moment, it should at least result in a lot of feedback, and we can be sure that DICE will see the.
As for the next Battlefield game, nothing seems to be coming soon, but there are a few irons in the fire. EA recently opened a new studio in Seattle called Ridgeline, which is working on a single-player Battlefield campaign. Ripple Effect, the LA-based studio that led the development of Battlefield Portal, is working on its own thing. Battlefield GM Byron Beede also confirmed to PC Gamer that something new is in pre-production at DICE.
“We are already in pre-production on the new Battlefield experiences coming out of DICE, Ripple Effect and Ridgeline Studios,” Beedle wrote. “As a global team now across multiple studios, we’re looking to unleash the full potential of this franchise as one of the best first-person shooters out there. This global effort allows us to work on the new experiences while continuing to have a team dedicated to the future of Battlefield 2042.”