Unless you’re talking about Bad Company 2, Battlefield has never been the best when it comes to solo campaigns. Beginning with Battlefield 3, DICE and EA were eager to ape the success of Call of Duty with fast, frantic single-player offerings that focused on realistic warfare and larger than life set pieces in equal measure. Due to pacing, gunplay, and a number of other factors, these never landed.
Battlefield 3 was a solid attempt, Battlefield 4 was mediocre, while the War Stories in Battlefields 1 and 5 felt like multiplayer tutorials disguised as brief missions that tried way too hard to elicit some form of emotional response. They all fell flat in some way, with many people ignoring them in favour of the multiplayer main attraction. I can’t blame them, since the series has always fallen behind its competitors in almost every regard with the exception of its excellent online modes.
With the arrival of Battlefield 2042 later this year, the solo campaign is being left behind for good. Reception to this decision has been mixed, with some decrying the lack of a standalone experience away from the chaos of multiplayer while others believe it to be the right choice, confident that the game will be much stronger without a needless component weighing it down. I’m in the latter camp, even if I value the inclusion of a single-player mode in similar games. When it comes to Battlefield, online play should be the one and only focus.
When I talk to friends and family about Battlefield, we rarely sit down to dish about the politics and action of its campaign mode. If we did, I’d probably need to find some new friends. Instead we touch upon the immense player counts of multiplayer and the procedural chaos that is caused when we’re let loose together in a cohesive squad with a simple yet challenging set of objectives to complete. Whether we’re tackling the hectic pace of capturing points in Rush or soaring through the air in jets as part of a Conquest match, it all comes back to playing online and how Battlefield allows for mayhem in a way that no other shooter on the market does. Some may try, but they’ll never come close to the king.
Battlefield 2042 appears to be leaning on this reputation to a much higher degree, turning epic plays from previous games into major moments in the reveal trailer. One particular play had someone leaping out of a jet to destroy an opposing aircraft with a rocket launcher before landing safely back in their own cockpit. It’s so silly and goes against every law of physics imaginable, but it’s cool as hell so none of that matters. While its narrative foundations play with real world themes in a near-future setting, the gameplay of 2042 is concerned with fun and little else. Leaving the solo campaign behind only helps to further refine this.
From the snippets of gameplay we’ve seen thus far, DICE appears to be expanding upon its multiplayer formula with a number of new additions that seek to remedy some of my biggest pet peeves with the series. You can now customise your weapons and their respective attachments on the fly, while classes are infinitely more malleable instead of being forced into four generic subsets. Vehicles can also be summoned at any time, allowing all players to take advantage of the coolest toys instead of groaning in frustration as jets and tanks are snapped up in seconds by more capable veterans. It seems more approachable without ever forgoing the emergent nature of warfare and how you’ll need to be constantly reactive in the midst of battle. It’s back-to-basics Battlefield in the best possible way - even if we have to leave behind the middling campaign to achieve such a feat, it’s worth it.
If you’re still in the mood for a narrative experience, 2042 will attempt to tell its story through multiplayer. I imagine this will be done in a similar manner to Titanfall, which saw a sequence of events unfolding in the midst of a match that did its best to provide context to the ongoing destruction. It wasn’t the best, and given the unpredictable nature of Battlefield, I’m unsure if DICE will be capable of pulling off a similar track without it appearing woefully out of place. Battlefield is also incredibly stupid, so an overly serious conflict might be undermined if me and my mates spend 40 minutes crashing jets into the side of a mountain. Those things are hard to control, please don’t judge me.
Even if it ends up being inconsistent, I feel this more experimental approach to storytelling is more inviting than a brief solo campaign that requires a huge amount of resources to make happen. All of these can be reapplied to the multiplayer, which can hopefully supersede many of the awful launch issues that plagued Battlefield 4, 1, and 5 to create something more inviting for newcomers and veterans across the board. I haven’t clicked with the series for years, but the somewhat futuristic nature of 2042 alongside its complete dedication to multiplayer has me intrigued, partly because I know all the eggs are being placed into a single, bullet-laden basket.
Time will tell how the series takes to a live-service model with battle passes and frequent updates, but the potential that Battlefield 2042 is capable of reaching couldn’t be clearer. With its newfound focus and abandonment of the single-player campaign, I hope DICE is able to create one of its greatest shooters in years, since I feel a number of factors have been holding the studio back from achieving greatness. If you’re still grumpy about all this, check out Titanfall 2 or go out there and support one of Arkane’s immersive sims, since we could really do with more of those.
There's also a smaller DLC allegedly coming later this month.