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Battlefield 2042 Season 1 Hands-on Preview: Focused Fire

Seven months after the initial release of Battlefield 2042, the first content season for the multiplayer-only first-person shooter is finally hitting the game. Season 1: Zero Hour comes alongside a huge number of adjustments and fixes, as well as new content. It gives a sense of how developer DICE is working to change the tenor of the game in some significant ways, from how maps are laid out, to how specialists convey their personalities on post-game victory screens.

Season 1 launches for all players on June 9, but GameSpot got a chance to spend a couple of hours playing with some of its new content additions during a preview event this week. That session put us on Exposure, the new map coming to Battlefield 2042 that’ll be available to all players. Exposure feels like it sets a different tone from some of BF 2042’s other maps, with a host of differing locations and a focus on verticality that goes beyond what we’ve previously seen in the game.

Exposure is set in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, where a landslide has collapsed part of a military facility. Russia-backed forces are invading hoping to uncover whatever secrets are inside, and with portions of the base literally ripped apart by a falling mountain, they have plenty of means to enter.

Because Exposure centers on a cliffside, there are key locations and entry and exit points that are accessible by parachute or wingsuit, and zip lines have been set up all over the area. At the top of the map is a flat zone with structures and containers ringing the open mouth of the landslide, creating long sightlines and forcing infantry to circle around to get where they’re going on the other side. Leap off the cliff, however, and you can glide down to attack the interior of the base, which is set into the mountain like a supervillain’s lair. At the bottom of the landslide is wreckage and a few control points for use in Conquest mode.

We played both Breakthrough and Conquest on Exposure, with the former mode using a smaller portion of the map and confining its player count to 64. The smaller Breakthrough approach is reflective of one of BF 2042’s biggest changes going forward. DICE is “unshackling” its All-Out Warfare modes from its previous 128-player count, and will instead be focusing on somewhat smaller maps with more cover and density with seasonal releases going forward. You’ll still find 128-player modes on original launch maps, and Exposure offers 128-player Conquest, but starting in Season 2, new maps will stop supporting 128-player modes and top out at 64 players.

The adjustments DICE has made work well on Exposure, which takes advantage of both player counts, but generally feels like it uses denser cover and varying terrain to make for more interesting engagements. The map’s verticality really helps make Exposure feel large without it also leaving you constantly exposed and vulnerable.

That seems like a big part of DICE’s design approach for new maps, and it’s also bringing it to some old ones. DICE said it’s reworking some of Battlefield 2042’s launch maps, with the first being Kaleidoscope, the huge map set in South Korea that featured a lot of open ground, in addition to a skyscraper-littered cityscape. In August, DICE is releasing a revamped version that adds new areas, like a forward operating base, to certain portions, while also raising terrain and adding more objects to provide cover, like piles of sandbags and abandoned heavy machinery. The map will also feature more destructible elements to give players options for dealing with that cover and changing the map over time as players fight throughout it. In Season 2, the Egyptian map Renewal will receive an overhaul.

Still, while objects like shipping crates and watch towers give some cover from infantry, there are still vehicles to contend with. Season 1 adds two more vehicles to the roster: a pair of two-seater helicopters that sport some interesting ways to use them in battle. Both helicopters, the RAH-68 Huron and YG-99 Hannibal, feature an assault mode–the standard approach of buzzing around, shooting everything with a machine gun–and a stealth mode, which allows you to shirk enemy radars and lock-ons and drop bombs on opposing forces from above.

The helicopters added a lot of fun havoc to Exposure during our session. Unlike other vehicles, they seem to be a little easier to bring down for infantry, so while they might mess you up as they nimbly circle around and go wild with machine-gun fire, they’re not as big a worry as a tank or an armored personnel carrier. Where they excel, however, is in their sneakiness, and there were a few moments during our play session when failing to be aware of the skies above us meant that a helicopter managed to drop a load of bombs on our position. Vehicles that are best used sneakily seem like good additions to the Battlefield 2042 roster, adding a different gameplay feel than the usual “bust in and create as much chaos as possible” approach with the existing slate of armor in the game.

To combat those new vehicular threats, DICE is adding a new specialist character in Season 1: anti-vehicle engineer Lis. The character is especially good at taking down airborn threats, it seems, with Lis sporting a tele-guided missile launcher–which means you control the missile and fly it into your target. Helicopters might sport radar-breaking stealth, but if you’re using Lis, you can use her launcher to bypass the need for any smart tracking and do the aiming yourself.

Lis also automatically detects vehicles on her radar, with damaged vehicles highlighted in her vision, giving you info on where to focus your armor-busting efforts. In practice, Lis’s abilities came in handy at control points where opponents were trying to turn the tide using vehicles, although her TV launcher isn’t as useful as you might think–it still takes a bunch of shots to destroy a tank, for instance. While they’re not especially effective against infantry, her missiles are good for cracking through walls and exposing enemy positions. However, it does seem like the trick will be finding effective uses for the character when there aren’t a ton of helicopters that need grounding.

Adding some new variety for the rest of Season 1 are two new weapons and a new gadget to help spice up some loadouts. DICE is adding a new designated marksman rifle called the BSV-M, which is like having a sniper rifle that can also handle close combat. The gun comes with an integrated suppressor, to keep the noise down and make you tougher for enemies to find as you fight, along with single-fire and fully automatic firing modes. That means the gun is pretty effective in all mid-range scenarios, and can easily go from picking off distant troops as they cross a field to handling whoever’s charging you in a tight hallway. It’s also a pretty fast-firing weapon, so you don’t necessarily feel completely outclassed by assault rifles at close range.

Even more fun than the BSV-M, though, is the new Ghostmaker Crossbow. The single-firing bow has a surprisingly long range, keeping it effective at a variety of distances, and it’s nearly silent. At closer ranges, it’ll generally earn you a one-hit kill–provided you actually hit what you’re shooting at. Miss, and you’ll suffer through a painfully long reload animation that leaves you extremely open to getting blasted by any faster-firing weapon. But if you land the hit, the crossbow is incredibly satisfying, and can even be effective at longer ranges, even though you’ll have to land two or three shots to win a fight. Generally, the crossbow was a favorite of mine throughout our play session. It’s a great weapon for stealth, and its one-hit-kill effectiveness means you have a good shot at winning fights even when you’re disadvantaged. It’s another addition that feels aimed to expand on the variety on offer in Battlefield 2042, especially when you add the option to change what bolts it fires, including an explosive shot that can be used against vehicles.

The final big kit addition is the smoke grenade launcher, which seems like it’ll see a lot of use in Battlefield matches going forward. The launcher fires a smoke grenade that breaks into three parts, laying down a wall of smoke that provides a lot of cover and absolutely ravages visibility for most specialists. It’s great for covering approaches, grabbing revives, and creating chaos at control points.

Apart from the Exposure map, all the new elements are coming to Battlefield 2042 as part of its new battle pass, which includes a free and premium track. The free track includes 30 tiers and allows you to earn all the new content without paying any money–which means you can unlock the new weapons, gadget, specialist, and vehicles just by playing. The premium pass, which costs about $10, adds another 70 tiers of cosmetic items. You can advance up the battle pass with “battle pass points,” which you’ll get from earning experience points by playing the game and completing various weekly missions. Those missions stay active even if you miss a week or start the battle pass late, so you can still complete them later on. There are also bonus missions that’ll pop up throughout the season to let you earn more points, but those only stay active for a limited time. All that said, our session didn’t give any sense of how easy or difficult earning battle pass tiers might be. DICE says it plans for its seasons to last 12 weeks, which means Season 1 is likely to end on August 31.

The Exposure map, the new guns and vehicles, and the new specialist help freshen up Battlefield 2042 in some key ways, and DICE’s focus on somewhat smaller, tighter maps seems like a positive one for the game’s fundamentals. Generally, we played through some pretty fun matches while previewing Season 1, but there are a lot of changes coming down the pike for DICE’s multiplayer shooter. It’ll likely take some time to see how well the game’s new content, adjustments, and seasonal approach will serve Battlefield 2042 over the long term.

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