Rebirth of a Classic: Back to Karkand Expansion Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
It’s been a few months since the release of Battlefield 3. By now, many players have memorized each detail of every map, unlocked all their weapons and attachments, blasted away at the single player and co-op campaigns, and have driven or flown more miles in vehicles than can be counted. With boredom looking like a possibility to some players, the massive tank that is the Back to Karkand expansion pack busts through the wall like an armed-to-the-teeth Kool-Aid Man. This expansion is free to all owners of the Limited Edition, and is available for 1200 Microsoft Points, or $15, for everyone else. Load up your weapon of choice, and get ready for battle!
Back to Karkand brings four classic Battlefield 2 maps back to life, for use in all game modes: Gulf of Oman, Sharqi Peninsula, the titular map Strike at Karkand, and the classic, fan-favorite Wake Island. These areas have been re-imagined and carefully crafted for the Frostbite 2.0 engine, making them familiar to B2 veterans, yet still maintaining an overall new feeling. Each playing field has an increased amount of destructibility, more so than the original nine maps, causing them to change shape greatly throughout the battle.
Strike at Karkand is a small, close-quarters map in a dense downtown Middle Eastern setting. The attacking team starts on a long, open road, causing players to walk or drive their way into the town. From there, it’s a series of tight streets will tall buildings, making it a perfect ambush area for the defenders. Continuing on teams will be fighting for control of an open city square before heading to the jam packed market place, with the endgame being in a warehouse complex for dark indoor combat. The few vehicles present are all land-based so players can expect mostly intense infantry-centered combat.
Switching gears we have Gulf of Oman, which is a much more open map than Karkand. Starting on an expansive desert beach, attacking squads must advance from a small base across the desert to a tiny resort. After taking control of the otherwise relaxing area, the offense team must head across a highway into a market and development zone. This can be done either by flanking left or right across the road, or taking a narrow bridge directly into enemy territory. Upon seizing control of this area, it’s forward onto a hotel courtyard, filled with destroyable cover. Snipers will have a heyday with this map, as the wide open areas are perfect for long-distance shooting. Clever players may even find their way on top of industrial cranes, and even the roof of the hotel itself! Both sides have access to various aerial vehicles as well, dependant upon the game type.
Heading back to smaller maps we have Sharqi Peninsula. This beach-front town has both sides fight for a commercial area this time around, as apposed to the usual residential. The offensive team starts just a grenade’s throw from the defenders, for intense close-quarters combat. Attackers must advance uphill to meet defending players head on. From the top of the hill, it’s down to a construction yard, with various floors and set pieces to use as makeshift cover. The final obstacle is a radio tower. This multi-floored objective is perfect for defense, as machine gunners and riflemen have several places to set up, so taking the building will be a challenge. What sets this map apart from other urban settings is that it isn’t as flat. There are many hills and floors over generally curvy terrain.
Last but certainly not least is my personal favorite: Wake Island. This little piece of the Pacific Ocean has returned in a much larger and war-torn version than before, setting a much darker tone than previous installments. Players on both sides will be fighting for control of the U shaped landmass, with attackers starting from the sandy tips of the island, capturing various small villages along their way to the center. The final objective is the defender’s airfield, as taking this base will deny them any air support. Like Gulf of Oman, both sides will have various aircraft to use in the fight of air superiority.
These four maps aren’t the only things brought by this expansion pack, oh no. Included are several vehicles and weapons from Battlefield 2, such as the F-35 vertical take off jet, the FAMAS assault rifle, and the L96 sniper rifle. Each class has two new weapons, with two more all-class guns, making a total of ten shiny fresh tools of the trade.
These weapons are not available right away however, as they need to be unlocked via a new mechanic: assignments. To complete these tasks players must reach certain goals, such as arming charges, getting headshots, or reviving teammates. Each class has two assignments, with two more obtainable by any class, and each one completed rewards a new weapon. These tasks are delivered in tiers, with five tier one assignments, each of which unlock their two versions upon completion. The assignment system is a very good idea, which brings a lot of fun trying to complete. I’d like to see more of these in later expansions and releases.
We also see a new of the Conquest gametype from Battlefield 2 return, called Conquest Assault. This variant replaces the usual Conquest mode on specific maps within the expansion. For the most part it’s business as usual: two teams, with opposite spawn zones, fight for control of bases with a set number of respawns. The team that holds the majority of bases has control of the area, forcing the enemy respawn value to steadily count down. However, where bases are normally neutral, these start out under control of a defending team, who now lack their usual permanent spawn zone. Should the attacking team take control of theses bases, they leave the defenders with nowhere to respawn, effectively ending the game. While it’s only a slight change, for certain maps, it brings a nice little twist to help keep gameplay varied.
My only complaint about this otherwise fantastic add-on is the aircraft, more specifically the lack-there-of. While in Conquest modes both jets and helicopters are present, there is a distinct absence of jets specifically in Rush modes. Of the two large maps, Gulf of Oman and Wake Island, only the latter features aircraft in Rush mode: a single helicopter for the attacking team. This is incredibly strange, as other maps such as Caspian Border or Kharg Island from the main game feature jets and choppers for each side. The lack of air support in Rush is a wound to the expansion, one that seems greatly overlooked and hopefully gets stitched up quick.
Considering everything that’s included, Back to Karkand is a beefy expansion full of great content to add to an already impressive game. Four new and crazy destructible maps to keep players interested, and ten new weapons to keep their arsenal expansive, this add-on shows that DICE mean business. If you don’t own the limited edition and haven’t picked up Karkand yet, then you’re truly missing out as it is well worth the price. Have yet to pick up Battlefield 3 itself? Check out what we thought of it, here.
Final Score: 4.75 / 5
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