Battlefield 3: Back To Karkand DLC Map Pack Review
Battlefield 3’s Back To Karkand map pack is about as hyped a DLC pack can get. It was promised free for anyone who bought Battlefield 3 on release, but it seems EA and DICE decided it would be better suited to hold it back to release in the run up to Christmas instead. Smart move.
As far as map packs go, though, this is about as jam-packed as it can get with four new maps, ten new weapons, a selection of different vehicles, improved destruction, a brand new game mode and even a set of challenges to complete.
But rather than look at it all as one package, it’s perhaps better to judge Back To Karkand’s component parts. So that’s exactly what we’ll do:
Weapons, Vehicles And Extras
Beyond the extra maps, most of the new content is peripheral – slotting into the Battlefield 3 multiplayer experience but never really feeling like a necessary addition.
Take the new game mode Conquest Assault, for example. It plays much like any other Conquest game, except instead of both teams charging forward for neutral positions the defending team begins with every capture point under their control while the attacking team starts with a larger pool of tickets.
Outside of this change, Conquest Assault doesn’t really play any different to vanilla Conquest mode. It’s an enjoyable aside for those who prefer to avoid Rush – mixing up tactics beyond the traditional Conquest style – but little else.
Battlefield 3: Back To Karkand has also built in a set of assignments that work much like challenges in Call Of Duty. These objectives require using a specific class in battle – across the entire range of maps, not purely the new DLC ones – to complete objectives that in turn unlock the DLC’s weapons.
This means you’ll need to work for your new firepower, something you may feel a little gypped about if you’re paying for Back To Karkand, but – as with the majority of this content – it never seems forced or unfair.
The weapons themselves are well suited to the game. Continuing DICE’s trend for super-balancing, none of the weapons we managed to get hold of felt over-powered. Needing to unlock it first, though, means there’s an element of pride and prestige over each new rifle.
Lastly, there are the vehicles, which don’t drastically alter their forebears, but provide subtle tweaks. These are:
- F35B Fighter Jet – not the quickest jet in Battlefield 3, but a sharp turning circle for interesting dog fights.
- BTR-90 Infantry Fighting Vehicle – there’s not much to distinguish this APC from the existing equivalents, except it’s classic BF2 design.
- DPV Fast Attack Vehicle – by far the best new vehicle; it is fast, can turn on a penny and has a handy built-in grenade launcher.
The new vehicles don’t add much to Battlefield 3, least of all the new APC.
Strike At Karkand
The flagship of the DLC pack, Strike At Karkand is a treat for Battlefield 2 veterans. Exactly the same in level design, previous Battlefield players will easily be able to jump in as if nothing had changed.
That’s not to say it’s not been altered, however. Alongside the obvious visual upgrade, there are subtle tweaks to improve the map for a more modern FPS game.
There updates are simple elements, such as the canopy of cloth sheltering the alleyway near the hotel or the interiors of the buildings you can pass through opposite the market capture point. Despite being minor changes to the overall map, Strike At Karkand keeps its classic status but is enhanced for modern design.
Watch us tear up the modern version of Strike At Karkand.
There’s a lot more effort gone into Sharqi Penisula to modernise it. Veterans will remember the map – while well-designed – was often considered a little sparse and uninspiring. Now it’s by far the best looking of the Back To Karkand pack, with saturated colours between the blue sky, white walls and green ground.
There’s also much more clutter and detail dotted around the map, improving the overall aesthetics of the map but without compromising the design. In fact, it’s practically unchanged from the map’s previous outing on Battlefield 2 with the central construction site, the observation point to the west and TV station to the east remaining untouched beyond their visual upgrades.
Helicopters are more prevailent than in the map’s previous outing, with one for each team meaning the skies are often dangerous. This isn’t detrimental to the map, however, simply needing a little tweaking to how you try to capture the construction site point.
Sharqi Penisula is our new favourite map. Move over Operation Firestorm.
Gulf Of Oman
This map may well disappoint Battlefield 2 diehards since it is the only map that has seen major alterations to its design. The original Gulf Of Oman was a sparse desert, sporadically decorated with buildings and – by them – the capture points.
This new version is much more densely packed with buildings, making the city section much more interesting to navigate. It still retains the familiar sand dunes and large highway cutting through it, distilling the ‘thing’ that made the Gulf Of Oman special.
Design-wise, however, this is much better than its predecessor. The built-up cityscapes means infantry can more safely cross through the area without fear from helicopters, jets and tanks while the DPV buggies really come into their own riding across the dunes.
This is a huge map though, so can quite often leave infantry players looking for someone to shoot. Vehicles will be needed here.
Gulf Of Oman will take some time for new and old players alike to properly learn.
This is a confusing one. Appearing in Battlefield 1943, this map had already seen something of an overhaul, yet here its been tweaked even more to work better with Battlefield 3’s multiplayer.
Controversially, DICE has chosen to remove the two capture points at the tips of the island’s distinctive horseshoe shape and replace them with spawn points for the attackers, practically reducing the combat size of the map by half.
There are subtle tweaks to the island’s shape too – such as wider and separating paths to enable tanks to cross without eating a mine every time – but the smaller playing field seems like a bizarre tweak for a map that relied on hunkering down in your chosen half of the map.
The four maps are all classics and by updating little more than the visuals and tweaking them to better work within Battlefield 3, DICE has managed to replicate those classic designs with enough tweaks to make them worthwhile.
In fact, it’s clear a lot of effort has gone into readjusting these maps and making them better than ever before – even with the divisive changes to Wake Island. The additional content is just the icing on the cake.
Of course, there’s no sidestepping the fact that these are old maps. If you’re paying for this – and some of you may have to – then you might want to evaluate just how much you play Battlefield 3 online. For everyone else, the maps and additional content will slide nicely into the existing game.