It feels weird writing about downloadable content for Battlefield 4. After arguably one of the worst launches in recent memory (aside from the SimCity debacle), it's still a bit strange to think of people putting more money into the game.
But beyond the server issues and bugs, the core Battlefield 4 experience is a blast, and EA's scratching the itch of diehard fans with Battlefield 4: Naval Strike. This is the third piece of DLC for Battlefield 4, and the first in the history of the franchise to focus on naval combat. I played about four hours of the expansion last week at EA's offices in Redwood City to see how it stacks up. (Hint: The new Carrier Assault mode is amazing.)
Great fun somewhat subdued by great distances
There's a pattern to the notes I took at the hands-on event: "Archipelago," "island," "sandbar." As you'd expect from a naval-focused piece of content, there's a lot of water on these maps.
The Nansha Strike map is an island chain covered mostly in fishing shanties and military bases. Lost Islands is an archipelago with a wrecked plane on the central island. Operation Mortar centers around an island with a Spanish colonial-looking brick fort and bunker built into the center. (You can even fire the black powder-cannons dotting the walls!) Wave Breaker's key landmark is an enormous submarine bay hidden underneath — you guessed it — an island. Every single map features abundant water and boats a-plenty.
The problem with this sort of island-based warfare is that these maps are heavily reliant on vehicle warfare — even more than the base game. If you're fond of boat combat, then this is right in your wheelhouse. Loading an entire crew into an armored boat and taking out helicopters or storming an enemy base was immensely satisfying.
But even if you're the saltiest of sailors, water-heavy maps have drawbacks, primarily when you're stranded without a vehicle. The only thing worse than sprinting across empty areas to get back into battle because everyone took all the vehicles? Swimming across empty areas. The times when I got stranded away from a vehicle — and there were quite a few occasions — were incredibly dull.
Rarely will you fight anyone on foot in Naval Strike, though — it's just too damn hard to find people except in specific chokepoints. At one point I got so tired of swimming towards the battle that I just killed myself and respawned at a vehicle-ready hub. It's especially tedious in Obliteration (a BF4-specific mode that combines Capture the Flag and Rush), where if you're stuck without a vehicle the entire match can play out before you've really made it back to somewhere important.
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