Battlefield 2042 Season 1 is a small, but solid step in the right direction

Choppers flying towards an objective in Battlefield 2042.
(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

When Battlefield 2042 came out late last year, the game was criticized heavily for its poor technical performance, significant lack of weapon variety, and map design that was too sparse, open, and flat (among other issues). The troubled launch quickly drew fans away, and for some time, many believed the game was incapable of making a comeback. Now, though, developer DICE is hoping to win players back with Battlefield 2042's first season, dubbed "Zero Hour," which is set to launch on June 9.

We recently got hands-on with everything coming with Season 1, providing an insight into what's next for Battlefield. A new map titled Exposure tops the list, alongside a new playable Specialist, some fresh gear, a large balancing overhaul to Battlefield 2042's Kaleidoscope map, and more. It's not as much content as I'd have liked to see, but even so, my first impressions were positive, and I believe these additions represent an important first step in the right direction for DICE's struggling shooter.

Exposure is what Battlefield maps should be

(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

One of the biggest issues with Battlefield 2042 is the game's frustrating map design. Most of its gameplay arenas are visually stunning, but have terrible cover, little-to-no verticality, and are generally way too large. Exposure, with its Rocky Mountains topography, large number of sightline blockers, and tighter size, feels like it was made in direct response to these criticisms. For the few hours I was able to play on it, I had some of the most fun I've ever had in 2042. 

Exposure is the most interesting and enjoyable Battlefield 2042 map yet.

The map is split into three main areas: twin cover-rich bases atop high plateaus, a facility embedded within the mountainous terrain, and a section of wide flat ground at the base of the elevated landmasses. All three regions are accessible by large traversable slopes that connect the map's high and low points and intersect with the tunnels of the interior facility, and there are multiple caves, ridges, and side routes that squads can use for flanking as well.

Teams can control the flatter areas of the map with effective use of tanks, while the facility's tight corridors and small rooms give way to close-quarters infantry combat. Skilled helicopter pilots can use their rapid mobility to provide air support, though the map's open skies mean that anti-air threats can be particularly dangerous.

Ultimately, Exposure's verticality and the healthy amount of cover make it the most varied Battlefield 2042 map yet — and since it's not overly large, you don't have to sprint for long before getting into a firefight. I'd like to have seen a second new map like this included in Season 1, but regardless, I have high hopes if Exposure is representative of DICE's new map design philosophy going forward.

New toys to play with

(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

Despite the limited range of new gear, I also had a great time toying with the expanded sandbox in Zero Hour. My favorite of these is the BSV-M, a medium-range DMR that can toggle between semi-auto and full-auto firing modes. There's also the Ghostmaker Crossbow that's completely silent and deals high damage-per-shot, but has a low rate of fire, making it perfect for stealthy assassin playstyles. You can even use it to fire explosive bolts that deal solid damage to vehicles, giving the weapon great flexibility. Zero Hour also brings the Smoke Grenade Launcher gadget, which can be used to blanket a small area with smoke and block off sightlines.

Vehicle-wise, the new season features new stealth helicopters that are less lethal, but more flexible than 2042's existing gunships. Their assault mode gives you access to rapid-fire machine guns and rockets, while stealth mode can be activated to trade your standard offensive capabilities for stealth countermeasures that hide your position on the map and prevent you from being hunted by anti-air missiles. I flew quite a few of these during the preview event, and while they're not as powerful as the good ol' Apache, the versatility is welcomed.

Finally, there's Ewelina Lis, a new Specialist with an emphasis on countering Battlefield 2042's vehicles. Her passive Armor Hunter trait highlights injured enemy vehicles near her location, while her G-84 GTM launcher can be used to fire manually-controlled missiles at enemy tanks and aircraft.

These missiles aren't stopped by traditional countermeasures like flares and can be "flown" to sidestep cover, making them particularly effective against tanks and the aforementioned AA-resistant stealth choppers. However, skilled pilots can dodge the missile with fancy flying, and attentive tank drivers can use their secondary machine guns to shoot the missile out of the air as well.

Overall, Ewelina Lis struck me as a powerful, but well-balanced Specialist during the preview session, and I enjoyed playing both as and against her.

A look at what's to come

(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

DICE has also detailed additional tweaks and changes coming to Battlefield 2042 later in Season 1, though we weren't able to test them in our hands-on time. Improvements to the game's third-person animations are coming in June and July that will make enemy movements more readable and less erratic, and the developers also have plans to make visual recoil less jarring as well as introduce balance changes when necessary.

In addition to the recent update that brought performance improvements to Battlefield 2042, DICE is also aiming to further improve the game's CPU utilization and input latency, translating to further benefits down the line.

Fans can also expect improvements to come to Battlefield Portal, as the developers are looking to expand the Battlefield 1942, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and Battlefield 3 Portal experiences with new weapons and features. DICE is also adding a new Builder toolset for the Superiority mode, which should give creators more options to work with.

Improvements to animations, Portal, and the Kaleidoscope map are coming throughout Season 1.

Best of all, though, is an extensive map overhaul coming to Battlefield 2042's Kaleidoscope map in August. A short video shown during a preview event showed press a heavily-edited version of the map with significantly more cover, additional structures, and adjusted control point locations. Additionally, the map will also have more destructible elements. The goal of these changes is to make the map less frustrating to play on and to make it feel more dynamic, and if the new version of Kaleidoscope ends up feeling anywhere near as good as Exposure to play, I'll be completely on board for future map overhauls.

Conclusion: Is this the start of a Battlefield comeback?

Ultimately, despite the low quantity of content coming in Battlefield 2042's first season, the quality of it has me feeling optimistic. The design of the new Exposure map and the upcoming overhaul for Kaleidoscope shows that the developers are seriously addressing the issues with 2042's maps, and all of the new weapons, vehicles, and gadgets feel great to use too. Ewelina Lis also seems like she'll be a great addition to the game's Specialist roster, shaking up encounters with vehicles in interesting ways. The significant improvements to stability and animation readability sound great, as well. 

My first impressions should be taken with a grain of salt since I only got to try out Zero Hour's content for one sitting, but regardless, I'm feeling hopeful. Season 1 may not offer a lot, but what's there represents a solid step in the right direction. If DICE is able to get the ball rolling with larger releases of this quality in future seasons, Battlefield 2042 may eventually make a comeback and blossom into one of the best shooter games around. Only time will tell, though.

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Battlefield 2042

Battlefield 2042 is the latest entry in DICE's famous multiplayer military shooter franchise. Though the game has struggled significantly after a disastrous launch in 2021, the changes and additions coming with Season 1 are a small, yet solid step in the right direction. 

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Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.