It seems that Digital Illusions CE is saving the best for last when it comes to Battlefield 3 content add-ons.
Taking lessons learned from previous endeavours, Battlefield 3’s fifth and final expansion End Game improves upon a number of gameplay aspects that didn’t work out so well in DLC like Armored Kill and even improves on a few elements that DICE felt Aftermath might have missed out on.
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Though similar in many ways, End Game fixes a number of issues that came a long with Armored Kill’s over-sized maps, and over-effective vehicles like the AC130 Gunship.
As a PC player with access to 64-player battles, maps like Armored Kill’s Bandar Dessert, the Battlefield franchise’s biggest map yet, can yield some pretty epic and rewarding gameplay. Limited to only 24 players total, the same cannot be said for Battlefield 3’s console audience. Fault is not entirely placed on DICE, however. After all, big maps are what ‘we’ wanted, right?
Speaking to Producer Craig Mcleod, I had the chance to ask if DICE took this sort of feedback into consideration while crafting the similarly vehicle-focused expansion, End Game.
“Definitely,” said Mcleod. “We looked at Armored Kill and those people were saying, ‘we want big, huge maps. We want the biggest maps. Build them bigger, bigger, bigger, etc.’ And, we did that. A lot of console players, although that’s what they said they wanted, realized that with the limitation that we only have 24 players, it can get too big. This is something that we knew the motor-bikes would help to resolve because it allows you to zip around the map really really quick. Not only that, but you can carry someone on your back as well. Similar to the ATV, you can help move people around really, really, quickly. So, yes, that played a big part.”
When it comes to one of Battlefield 3’s most popular game modes, Conquest, one thing I noticed that Mcleod didn’t mention was that flag layouts on End Game’s maps seemed more centralized, rather than spread unnecessarily far apart. The layout seemed to focus the action to a smaller area than Armored Kill’s maps did, but there is still plenty of head room for vehicle-vs-vehicle action. The addition of the motor-bike also makes each map seem smaller, despite their actual size, as zooming back and forth between flags seems quick and speedy.
Mcleod did mention, however, “all of our maps are actually tailored to towards the motor-bike. So, you’ll see, as you go through the map, there are a lot of jumps. Some are hidden, some are not so hidden.”
Motor-bikes clearly hold a special place in DICE’s heart. It’s apparent that a noticeable amount of detail was put into not only their physics, but appearance as well. “That’s another thing that we’ve done.” Mcleod mentioned. “When speeding up, we’ve actually got rev counters working. Again, something that we we’ve only done for the dirt bike. It’s very special to us. We wanted to help give people that feeling of speed, so we decided to throw that in there too.”
Along with map sizes, the AC130 Gunship introduced in Armored Kill was not met entirely with open arms. Many found it to either be over-effective, or saw it as an annoyance that took away from Battlefield 3’s tried-and-true gameplay. Yet again, DICE is dropping another large aerial vehicle into the mix with End Game, but one that will provide a more passive supporting role, rather than the more direct assault support the Gunship provided.
As we learned earlier, the Dropship will become available to the team that captures the base housing it. Like the Gunship, it will allow troops to paradrop from it’s location, but unlike the Dropship, it will only provide support in the form of additional infantry fighting vehicles. I asked Mcleod if the IFV was the only goodie the Dropship would grant players.
“So, for consoles you have the IFV. For Conquest Large on PC, you actually get two and it will always be that vehicle. By putting anything heavier into it, we ran the risk of potentially putting too much focus and emphasis on it. We want it to be something that people fight over and that can help turn the tide a little, but we dont want it to be over dominant.”
“Can you blow it up?” I asked. “Yes. You can. But as long as you own that point, it will spawn back,” Mcleod answered.
I should also mention that the actual animation of paradropping out of the Dropship while in the IFV is pretty darn cool. You get to go for a bit of a ride as you drop out of the hangar and glide your way down to the battlefield.
Even feedback from Aftermath, Battlefield 3’s fourth expansion and one of the more highly praised add-ons, played a role in End Game’s map design. In fact, Mcleod reveals that it was one of the deciding factors when it came to choosing the four different seasons as an inspiration for End Game’s four new maps.
When I asked how DICE landed upon the idea, Mcloed stated, “Originally, we wanted to not just show off what we can do and what we can develop regarding a map for Battlefield, but we also wanted to pay a little homage towards Frostbite 2 and, obviously, the power that that it has given us to bring Battlefield 3 to the status that it is. What we can do with these four seasons, it helps to show it off. Everything is very distinct. Some people might argue that you could run the risk in packs like Aftermath, maybe it all looks a bit too similar. That’s something we want to move away from. We wanted to say, look, you can instantly and distinctively feel the difference in each of these maps.”
In terms of playability, Mcleod also mentioned, “We actually have scout heli’s on every single [map]. So we have air gameplay on each of these maps. Which is not something that we had in Aftermath.”
Of course, DICE also wants to build on what Battlefield 3 classic did well. As it turns out, Operation Riverside, one of End Game’s four new maps, is actually a bit of a homage to one of Battlefield 3’s most popular maps, Caspian Border.
“So, Operation Riverside was a kind of re-imagining of Caspian Border,” Mcleod elaborated. “We know how popular Caspian Border is. We really enjoy this map as much as other people enjoy it, and we wanted to give something that we thought had really similar gameplay values to it and that’s what this actually was. I mean, obviously it’s completely different, the layout’s different, but we took a lot of the same ideas.”
One of the more unique aspects of End Game is the resurgence of two classic game modes from two very classic Battlefield games: Capture the Flag, as seen in Battlefield 1942 and Air Superiority, as seen in Battlefield 1943.
“This is our Battlefield twist on Capture the Flag – by allowing vehicles to host the flag,” said Mcleod. “Now, you can’t actually pick it up or drop it off while in the vehicle. You need to get out so it has the chance of players to shoot you and to try and stop that. But then, once you have the array of vehicles, do you want to want to use a dirt bike? In which case, it’s fast and you’ll get there much quicker, but you have no armor. Or, do you want to take a tank where you’re a lot more protected, but it’s going to take more time? It’s that kind of risk gameplay that we like to bring in.”
Thinking I had the right idea, I tried picking up a flag carrier in my scout chopper during my play time with End Game, hoping to score him a free ride to our base. That didn’t seem to work out too well.
Mcleod later told me, “It’s only ground vehicles [that can host a flag]. We wanted that because we thought the balance wasnt right when people got into a helicopter. It was just too quick and too easy to actually take [the flag] back.” He added that he wouldn’t be surprised to see some players use jets to capture the flag if DICE gave them the chance. “People are really good at this game.” But, “we wanted to make sure that it stayed on the ground.”
Air Superiority, on the other hand, grants each player their very own jet to capture three different points in the sky while fending off enemy jet fighters. Honestly, it’s pretty crazy to see so many jets in the air at once – up to 24 at once – and also really fun. The best part? You no longer need need to get nervous about wasting one of only two jets that you’ll find on other maps and game modes.
“I hear a lot of people sort of say, ‘im a little worried about the jet gameplay ’cause I dont normally play in jets. Im not that good at it,'” sympathises Mcleod. “There’s a lot of people when they play Conquest, they get nervous cause they don’t want to take one of the two jets. So, it’s like, ‘if I’m not awesome at this, I dont want to ruin this.’ Here, everyone has a jet. There’s a jet for every single person, so you can just practice. And if you’re not good to start with, you can practice and you can get better. Then, you can take that confidence and skill back into the other modes.”
While all Jet unlockables available in other game modes will be available in Air Superiority as well, ejecting from your aircraft is disabled, so you’ll be going down with your ride should you be outgunned. Also, unlike tank superiority, this mode is made up of strictly jet-vs-jet gameplay, meaning, infantry will not play a role in the combat.
With these two classic game modes, along with maps that really show off the diversity of the Frostbite 2 engine, DICE is really rounding things off with Battlefield 3: End Game, making it an ideal conclusion to this season of Battlefield 3 content.
Be sure to check out End Game’s new assignments and dog tags while learning how to unlock the M1911 S-Tac right here.
Battlefield 3: End Game drops for PlayStation 3 Premium members tomorrow, March 5. Xbox 360 and PC Premium members can expect to download the expansion on March 12, regular PS3 players on March 19, and regular Xbox and PC players on March 26.