Back to Karkand is the first major piece of downloadable content for Battlefield 3. It's comprised of four re-imagined maps from Battlefield Past: Strike At Karkand, Gulf of Oman, and Sharqi Peninsula from Battlefield 2, and Wake Island, which originally appeared in Battlefield 1942. While these are technically "old" maps, it's not really fair to hold that against them, as they've been completely rebuilt in Battlefield 3's Frostbite 2.0 engine, with all of the features and nuances you'd expect.
Who gets it for free?
Well, you probably do – at least, you do if already own Battlefield 3. Back to Karkand is free for customers who pre-ordered the game, and for anyone else who got the limited edition, which includes the entire first run of Battlefield 3. But you can be absolutely sure by looking at the cover of your copy. If it's got an orange triangle in the upper left corner of the packaging, you'll be Karkand'ing for free some time this December.
If you don't have Battlefield 3 yet, and you don't get a copy with that orange triangle in the upper left corner, you'll be paying a familiar price for high profile shooter DLC: $15.00 USD (or 1200 Microsoft Points on the Xbox 360).
What's this I hear about improved destruction?
DICE has said that the Back to Karkand DLC features updates to their Frostbite 2.0 tech, and that new maps are more destructible, which I assume means that buildings can be damaged more. In practice ... well, sort of.
Spending a couple of hours playing Strike at Karkand and Gulf of Oman, initially, the destruction is much, much more noticeable. Toward the end of a match, buildings look more like apple cores than a thing people lived or worked in, which I think is what everyone expected out of Battlefield 3 in the first place. But watching the destruction happen is still not quite as granular or impressive as it was in Bad Company 2. Hitting the side of a building with a single rocket more often than not will cause its entire face to sheer off, leaving it exposed. It still doesn't feel quite right, and buildings won't creak and roar and collapse after too much damage. I was trying, trust me.
I did get killed by a collapsing wall though – I was prone in the street firing on the other team when suddenly it just came down on top of me at the B capture point in Strike at Karkand. I don't recall that ever happening in the main set of Battlefield 3 maps. While I was miffed at the time (I really had a bead on that guy), it's another aspect that leads to Battlefield Moments™, which is a good thing.
How are those maps?
I might be alone in this, but I feel like we're still so early on in Battlefield 3's life cycle that it's hard to determine the holes in the initial swath of Battlefield 3 maps that Back to Karkand's content is meant to fill.
That said, the two I played felt distinctive, and if they're any indication, Back to Karkand's maps seem geared toward the returning Conquest Assault mode from Battlefield 2. The premise there is simple: one team is the defender, starting a match with 200 tickets and in possession of all three Conquest points. Attackers start with 250 tickets, but because they ain't got no points, they're losing tickets right away.
Ok, maybe it's not simple. Conquest Assault is a much more frantic realization of Conquest, because Attackers have to be so aggressive immediately. It combines the pacing of Rush mode with the back and forth of Conquest, and there's always something to do. It makes the standard Conquest mode in Battlefield 3 look lethargic by comparison, and it's a hell of a lot of fun.
Strike at Karkand and Gulf of Oman both work really well for this gametype. Every conquest point has so many strategic points around it of varying altitudes and lines of approach that something is always happening. Nowhere ever feels safe. Gulf of Oman's new roll-caged off-road vehicles zip around the map to drive this home, while the high rise buildings overlooking point B make for some profanity laden tirades, when you're not getting run over by tanks and troop carriers.
All of this ties back into what I mentioned before - Back to Karkand appears to be designed for this gametype in particular.
When's it coming out?
Some time in December. This isn't necessarily EA and DICE being cagey. Rather, the certification process for Xbox Live and PSN take time, and there's been a lot of product going through that process, given that it's November and all. I would venture a guess that we'll see a release just before Christmas, similar to last year's Bad Company 2 - Vietnam expansion.
Assuming, that is, that you're playing it on PS3. As disclosed earlier this year at E3, EA and Sony have an agreement in place securing a period of exclusivity for Battlefield 3 content on PS3. Everyone else will have to wait ... for a week.
That's right. A week. While this isn't the place to comment on the backroom deals and such that go into exclusives, timed or otherwise (including Microsoft's more-or-less co-branding on MW3), this sort of seems like it's meeting the barest minimum of a technicality of a time-based exclusive. Take that how you will.
Regardless, Battlefield 3 players should be excited for Back to Karkand, especially for the price of free, when it launches some time this December.