The expansion won’t fundamentally alter your Battlefield 3 game experience in a big way, and that’s a good thing. Regardless, what it lacks in change, it surpasses with sheer giant map goodness. While this expansion should be great fun for many players, it’s not for everyone.
New Big Maps
One of the Battlefield series’ major strengths has generally been how large the maps are, and Armored Kill sets a new high bar. All of them are humungous, sprawling, and absolutely stunning to view. In the Alborz Mountains, it’s often snowing, and there are huge mountainous peaks between bases. On the outskirts, you can find a long suspension bridge over a river. The Bandar Desert, has a lot of…sand…, but it also sits along a beautiful oasis.
Armored Shield is set in some wide green plains and very little cover. Death Valley features a night setting along a highway in the forest and is probably the smallest of the four new maps, but still on par or larger than what you’ll find in Back to Karkand. To get an idea for just how much bigger the maps are, I noted that there are approximately 1055 yards between the furthest two Conquest bases in the Alborz Mountains compared to the 570 yard distance in Gulf of Oman. And, that doesn’t count the enormous outskirts that you can play in if you want to run outside the common encounter area.
The small maps of Close Quarters affected gameplay in a very shocking way, so I was very pleased to find that the maps of Armored Kill bring Battlefield 3 back to its roots. However, it is impossible to ignore the obvious differences. Because the maps are so large, you’ll probably want to play games with no less than 32 people. Playing Conquest can get very lonely at each base for extended periods of time, and the large size of the bases in Rush mode can give a pretty jaunting advantage to the attacker. I feel preemptively sorry for those on the consoles who can’t play in a game with more than 24 people, because 48 and 64 people seem to be where the real game is at in this expansion pack.
Unfortunately, an old Battlefield 3 problem that had been previously rectified has been rearing its ugly head in Armored Kill. Some 64 player servers are unable to handle the load and everyone experiences lag at the same time. For this reason, you’ll want to favorite the servers that function properly.
The large maps additionally mean that Conquest bases are very far apart from each other, and you would be ill advised to make the trip without some transportation. If you want to play on foot, you’ll tend to like the Bandar Desert or Death Valley, as there are several bases that are clustered near each other in both. If you don’t like vehicles in Conquest, stay away from Armored Shield and Alborz Mountains; unless of course, you don’t mind camping near a single base for a long period of time. In general, playing on foot is still a lot of fun when there are a lot of players, but the real kill counts will be accumulated by those who are excellent pilots.
Not so surprisingly, there are few people who choose the Assault class in Armored Kill, because most encounters require an ability to destroy armored vehicles or shoot from long range. Engineers currently seem to be the most popular class as there is an abundance of armored targets for them to destroy and repair. Recon soldiers will find many new hiding places from which to snipe their targets, and it’s a nice change of pace from there being only a handful of common locations for them to hang out.
It’s no surprise that with a name like Armored Kill, that a large portion of the tactics revolve around heavy vehicles. With 48 people, you have a decent shot of finding a vacant tank or aircraft, but with 64, there will be a small shortage. You’ll want to take into account the number of players in the game if you are the kind of person that still likes to frag people on foot; because, unless you’re an engineer, there will be a shortage of viable targets.
There are also some new vehicles to play with: the tank destroyer, mobile artillery, the gunship, and the ATV. The tank destroyer is the most common of the heavy vehicles, and it operates much like a M1 Abrams, but with less armor and without the second gunner seat. It can also carry four passengers who can shoot out the sides. The mobile artillery are very long and are one-seaters capable of catapulting explosive shells over a short to medium range. Like most other armored vehicles, you’ll be able to unlock anti-air weaponry, which is sure to become important as those who rule the air seem to be able to get the most kills. The ATV is simply a fast-powered quad that helps you and one passenger get from one place to another, and they are very common. Sadly, all of these very abundant vehicles are designed for one real gunner. If you want to play with your buddy, you’ll need to get a second tank.
The gunship is probably the most controversial addition to game. It’s a single huge aircraft, controlled by the team that has captured a special base (similar to the airfield in Wake Island), has two gunner seats each equipped with a night-vision cannon that shoots to the ground, a machine gun on top for shooting at other aircraft, and flares to defend against heat-seeking missiles. It flies slowly on autopilot around the entire map, and teammates can parachute from it as a spawn location even if the gunner seats are full. It’s extremely useful (if not overpowered) as teams controlling the gunship can parachute to objectives from any direction, cannons can pelt vehicles and men from far up in the sky and from nearly any angle, and gunners can easily spot targets nearly anywhere on the map.
On the other hand, in a well-played game, the existence of the gunship can provide for some deeper tactics because control of the gunship means easier acquisition of targets and objectives as well as rapid transportation for troops. The gunship can be taken down by pretty much anything that can take down a helicopter or jet, but it takes much longer because the gunship is highly armored. Even after a gunship is destroyed, it is common for most servers to have instant or fast vehicle respawn. Therefore, conquering the base that controls the gunship can be pivotal to winning the game. In Rush, it is likely that the gunship is simply overpowered because the attackers are always in control. My personal gripe is that often, at any random moment in time, you’ll be destroyed or spotted by a gunship and there was little you can do to stop it from happening.
Tank Superiority Game Mode
The new Tank Superiority game mode works much like Conquest, except there is only one objective and players can only spawn at their home base or at a mobile spawn point placed by a recon soldier. It’s essentially a game of King of the Hill with vehicles. I didn’t find it to be very much fun because it sort of forces you into vehicles, or to be a recon with no purpose other than to serve as a spawn point for others. Additionally, unless you have a recon with you, the importance of squad tactics are diminished greatly. It was sadly common to note that there were not enough vehicles for everyone, so people would often find themselves bored and shooting each other at home base.
Death also comes with a severe penalty, as it often means running or driving a long distance along the huge maps just to get close to the objective. It seems I’m not the only one that finds this game mode unsavory, as of 11:00 PM on a Saturday in North and South America, there were far fewer servers with active players in Tank Superiority game mode compared to Conquest Large.
The maps are huge, new and awesome, and they bring Battlefield 3 back to its roots of fast paced, large, tactical action. There are many vehicles, but you’ll often be driving solo instead of with another player.
The assault class is essentially obsolete, but the engineer and recon classes can thrive. You’ll want to play in 48 or 64 player games, so start crying if your console doesn’t support them or if you start to experience server-wide lag. The new vehicles offer some welcome new flavors of gameplay. The new Tank Superiority game mode needs some tuning to be more fun and fast-paced.
If you already love Battlefield 3, enjoy driving vehicles, shooting at long range, or you simply want some beautiful new maps to play in, buy this expansion. On the other hand, if you only enjoy playing the Assault class and hate vehicles, you should stay far away and contemplate sticking with Close Quarters. Despite the balance issues in Armored Kill, I think Battlefield 3 is the bees knees, and I’ll be putting in quite a lot of hours towards the new expansion.