Battlefield 3: End Game Preview
I had no idea how much the inclusion of a few dirt bikes could change one game. Really, how much difference could it make? It's just a bike! It doesn't even have any cannons or TV-guided missiles on it! But after a few hours of hands-on time with Battlefield 3: End Game - the fifth and last planned DLC as part of that whole "Premium" thing that EA's been doling out for the game - it became clear that even with four new maps, two additional game modes, and multi-million dollar vehicles being added to the available roster, End Game's biggest new feature is the simple inclusion of some dirt bikes.
We'll get back to the motorcycles soon, but let's start with the maps. They've styled the maps after each of the four seasons, and in a way, this is like a fun return to vintage DICE. The summer map feels like it was designed for Battlefield 2, the winter map reminds me of Bad Company 2, and the others feel a little more like they were built specifically for BF3, but in all cases, they seemed well-designed and fun to play. None are those urban messes we saw with the BF3 retail release, and while they still lack the complete destruction from Bad Company 2, nor are they as large as the maps in last year's Armored Kill DLC, they still show off Frostbite 2.0 well and include plenty of room to play. Well, I did have to do a little creative thinking in coming to that conclusion, because EA only had PS3s for us to play on, and in its non-final state running on what appeared to be debug consoles, the game was creaking and groaning on the poor PS3. The game never broke or crashed that I saw on any of the demo units we were all playing on, but I noticed input lag and serious dips in the frame rate. As I understand it, the game's current state on PS3 isn't exactly great, but I kind of doubt it was as bad as what I saw last week. I admit that my experiences aren't the best to go on as far as platform comparisons, as I'm primarily a PC gamer when it comes to shooters, and this was actually the first time I played Battlefield 3 on any console. Honestly, I hope it's my last, too.
So while the frame rate and general sluggishness of Battlefield 3 on debug PS3s did their best to make End Game look kind of bad, I actually came away with a far more positive impression - but admittedly, that's mostly because I imagined playing it at home, on my PC, without the technical issues. And when you take those PS3-related problems out of the equation, End Game looks fun as hell. I wasn't a big fan of the Air Superiority gametype where everyone is locked into one-seat jets at all times and players do Conquest-style point capping by flying near these floating blimps, but I think that's more because I've just never enjoyed flying planes in Battlefield games over the years. I enjoyed myself much more in both regular on-the-ground Conquest mode and in the new CTF mode, both of which make it easy to see how well End Game fits in with the rest of the BF3 ecosystem.
The first time I got on a dirt bike, I admit it was a little nauseating. In a slightly cramped room at EA's offices, I'm sitting as far back as I can from a 40" TV - about three feet - and I'm finding the field of view on the PS3 version of the game to be a bit too narrow, and this dirt bike is lurching left and right as I try to avoid enemy tanks and ramp off of the many jumps that the developers have sneakily put in to make these new maps so fun to play on a motorcycle. But a quick switch to the third-person view also cleared up a lot of issues and gave me the peripheral vision I needed to be able to see what I was doing properly, and since you can't do anything but drive on the front of a dirt bike, that's all you need.
But you can shoot from the back of a dirt bike, and while it's kind of silly that each bike has two "seats" and you've got these gruff soldiers doubling up on these little motorcycles, the implications for gameplay are immense. In CTF mode, a flag carrier can ride in pretty much any ground vehicle as far as I could see, and I'm not sure if they can ride in aircraft, but those bikes are still pretty handy because they're fast as hell and difficult to hit. In Conquest, players can use bikes to distribute themselves out onto the map and capture more points quickly, especially since two players can work together. Sure, the guy on the back can shoot his rifle from the bike, but don't expect a lot of accuracy - still, I'm thinking a dedicated engineer with some talent for trick shots could have a lot of fun with a rocket launcher from the back of a bike. But the biggest change this new vehicle brings, the one that makes the biggest impact, is speed. Battlefield 3 has always been kind of a slow, plodding game in all of its multiplayer modes if you stay on the ground, but now you can get around maps very quickly without using any aircraft. Well, at least in the new maps, because the developers had to build ramps and narrow pathways into these new maps to take advantage of the bikes - I doubt that even if they just drop the bikes into the old maps, which they don't seem to have any plans of doing, they'd work out quite so well.
I'm not really up on exactly what small-arms weapons have come out in which packs up until this point, but it seems clear that with End Game, DICE isn't really focusing on guns this time around. There are also two new anti-air trucks to use along with the Lockheed C-130 transport which I didn't really get the chance to try, but there's also a silenced M1911 pistol which apparently was in the game but few ever got to use it - with End Game, it becomes available to all. Some may cry foul that this latest expansion doesn't include much in the way of weapons, but there are already dozens in the game with a ton of customization options. If you bought into Premium even at the full $50 price tag, I don't think there's really much to complain about as far as content. DICE has added a ton of new stuff through these expansions, not just additional maps like those, er, other guys usually do.
Even with a debug PS3 making Battlefield 3 look like it's held together by chewing gum and super glue, it was easy to see that End Game is one of the most fun DLC packs they've released yet. If you've got Premium, then you'll already own End Game on its release date, but if it's been a while since you've played, then get a bit of practice in and take the time to play this when it comes out. Of course, EA and Sony have given the PS3 version the same early release as previous DLCs and Premium owners also get it earlier than those who spend $15 on each DLC pack separately, so just like with the previous add-ons, End Game has four separate release dates based on your Premium status and platform. If you're Premium and on PS3, you can play tomorrow, March 5th. Premium 360/PC players get to play on March 12th, non-premium PS3 players can buy it on March 19th, and finally, non-premium 360/PC players can buy End Game on March 26th. (Quick note to EA: Four release dates for a DLC pack is silly. Please stop this. You're only confusing your customers.)
So, now that you've deciphered the magic of corporate release date tomfoolery and have figured out exactly when you're allowed to jump into End Game, let me end this preview by saying that it's definitely worth finding that disc or reinstalling the game through Origin if you're already getting this DLC through Premium, and if you're not, it might still be worth it anyway. The dirt bikes are that good.