Battlefield 3 Premium Part 1: Close Quarters
With the impending release of Battlefield 3: Armoured Kill on the PC, and a suitable amount of hours spent playing Close Quarters, I thought it a good opportunity to have a look back at the first Battlefield expansion, and question if the Premium Service has been worth the money offered thus far. Before anyone argues that the nostalgic Back To Karkand was technically the first expansion, this came several months before the Battlefield Premium service. While chronologically appearing prior to Close Quarters, many players got this as a free expansion when they purchased Battlefield 3 Physical Warfare edition.
For non-Battlefield players, the premium service costs £39.99 and grants you early access to all five expansion packs, exclusive items, and a host of features. Considering that buying all the expansion packs individually would cost you approximately £48 at normal price, it isn’t a bad offer if, like me, you’re quite addicted to Battlefield 3.
The problem gamers have is that level of trust; after all, we’re essentially paying for content that won’t be there for another ten months. What’s to say the content won’t be lacklustre or outright awful? EA and DICE have to ensure that, right up until the release of End Game in March 2013, there is a constantly high level of quality, not only keeping the current user base interested but bringing in more and more players, to guarantee a strong following going into the Battlefield 4 beta at the end of 2013.
So with Armoured Kill on the horizon, how was Close Quarters? The truth is a mixed answer and, despite my early reservations, it has proven to be a worthy expansion to a game that is most famous for its vehicular combat. The only metallic thing with treads you’ll find here is people trying to get an assignment-specific kill using an EOD bot. Yes, this is a non-vehicle affair, focusing on tight spaces, frantic combat and some very, very close battles. It’s a bold move by DICE to focus on the territory that Call of Duty has held reign over for so long, but they make a strong attempt to assert their own take on it. I really questioned the logic in doing so; Battlefield isn’t exactly famed for its corridor shooting, but the inclusion of Conquest Domination makes it an enjoyable experience.
Conquest Domination is essentially Battlefield’s regular Conquest mode, in a smaller space. The regular mode on the larger maps involves players capturing points around the map, which is achieved at a speed designated by how many people are on the point at any given time. If only one person is on the point, it’s going to take about twenty to thirty seconds, longer if it is already in enemy hands. The same concept applies to Conquest Domination except that, once neutralised, the point can be captured by the capping team in mere seconds. One man can do it in under four, but for a team working together it will take less than two.
This slight variation means that points change hands on a minute-by-minute basis, meaning minimal camping as areas are swarmed with players. The emphasis on teamwork is still apparent, with squads of men making the difference rather than individual skill and, because points can rapidly change hands, what appears to be certain defeat can be turned into an unlikely win.
Close Quarters also introduces the Gun Master game-type which, Call of Duty fans will be quick to mention, is quite similar to Gun Game. There are some differences though, most apparent of which is that it isn’t a free for all but two teams fighting against each other. This makes for a more challenging game as you, as an individual, can only win if you actually get the all important knife-kill, after successfully navigating the other sixteen rounds. There is also a requirement to get at least two kills with the majority of the weapons, meaning rounds tend to last a little longer, while you try and kill another ass-hole with that stupid magnum.
Both game-types offer up a change of pace from the standard Conquest and Rush affairs that most people have been playing since November. Neither change things up enough to disrupt the Battlefield vibe nor are they so shallow that you question if there was any point to their inclusion at all. Conquest Domination is the perfect example of how small-level combat can still have a tactical and strategic feel to it.
Playing these modes on the larger maps would give a new definition to the notion of self abuse and, realising this, Close Quarters comes with four new maps to sink your teeth into. This is both a good and bad thing, for reasons I’ll get to shortly. The maps themselves are well designed, although it can be said they lack some of fluidity of the more popular Call of Duty maps, which this expansion clearly hopes to replicate. Nevertheless ‘Scrapmetal’ and ‘Operation 925′ are the most impressive of the bunch, with the other two perfectly acceptable provided you’re not stuck on there for more than a couple of rounds.
The only problem with the Close Quarters maps, and it’s a very real problem, is the alienation of certain classes. A large part of Battlefield 3 is defining your role as a class. It’s likely you’ll play as all four over the course of your Battlefield career, finally settling on a favourite that you play almost to death. You know its strengths and weakness, you have your favourite weapon load-outs and game-plan. In Close Quarters, the Engineer class becomes largely redundant, owing to the total lack of vehicles to blow up. Of course people still use this class and they, in turn, become so redundant that it’s a shame they don’t have to automatically face-plant the keyboard every time they come bottom of the scoreboards. Spamming the opposition with rockets is funny the first and second time, but after that you need to kindly fuck off.
The Recon class is another that suffers, albeit not as severely, as their sensor and spawn equipment can be handy for setting up ambushes and holding onto points for an extra thirty seconds. However, more often than not, you’ll find each map full of Assault and Support classes, frantically reviving people and laying hundreds of claymores respectively. The Assault class also has the all-important medical packs and grenade launchers, while the Support class can lay down the sort of suppressive fire you only see in an eighties action film.
Even though some of the classes become redundant, you’ll want to play with them to unlock the ten weapons included in the expansion. These are gained through ten new assignments which provide some focus when trying to decide what weapon to use. Without detailing each one individually, there are some more appealing than others. The Aug A3 and the LSAT are both solid weapons for their respective classes, while the SPAS-12 and M5K are open to all classes and are probably the best weapons from the bunch. They’re both perfect for the Close Quarters environment, the M5K in particular is perfect for mowing down opposition with its accurate rapid gunfire.
Naturally, not every round is going to hit its target, but thankfully Close Quarters is also boasting HD destruction, enabling players to completely destroy the levels they are playing in. You notice this more in Ziba Tower than anywhere else, where the end of a quick ten minute round can look like the conclusion of World War Three. Even a quick ten second skirmish can see an expensive looking office turned into nothing more than rubble and broken glass.
All of these factors – the game-types, the levels, the new weapons and HD destruction – combine to provide players with an expansion that certainly feels welcome and, thankfully, not too alien in a series renowned for its large open maps and frantic vehicular combat. As a standalone expansion, it gives the game some diversity and provides players some respite, if they’re fed up with being obliterated by every tank and helicopter they come across.
Of course you could have gained Close Quarters while opting into the Premium Service, so what extras has that brought you? Well between the release of Close Quarters and Armoured Kill you’ve got a fair amount of bits and pieces. The most obvious thing is the extra assignments, which provide even more of a time sink than the others, giving you new dog tags to personalise your solider even further, and new cameos for your weapons and soldier. You also get a one-of-a-kind knife (which everyone seems to have), for a more personalised stabbing. These assignments are among some of the toughest – trying to get anti-tank mine kills can be tricky against anyone who is paying attention to where they are driving. Combine this with the need to use the L96 sniper rifle for the majority of the Recon-specific rewards and you’ll find yourself with plenty to do.
The Premium Service also provides exclusive double XP events, exclusive artwork and videos, all of which may not seem that important to an outsider but for a person who is very interested in the series, it is good to know that we aren’t just being given an expansion pack and then having to wait patiently for the next one. I know that DICE can’t just keep constantly turning out in-game content every week, so between expansions they give us some exclusive goodies which I enjoy taking a look at.
Overall I’m impressed with what the Premium Service has had to offer thus far. In a relatively short period of time, DICE and EA have managed to turn out three quality expansion packs, each providing something different for their audience. Back to Karkand gives you classic maps for the old guard, Close Quarters appeases the Call of Duty nut in all of us, and Armoured Kill will be doing what Battlefield does best – blowing stuff up on a grand scale.
In between each one, they’ve given people who’ve chosen to invest money in them more reasons to think that it was an excellent way to spend forty pounds. Provided the quality follows for the final two expansions and there is enough content in between as there has been already, there is no reason why Battlefield 3 and the Premium Service cannot be remembered as an occasion where developers and publishers alike got it right.
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