This week, Gears of Wars 3 fans get the third of four guaranteed major content drops in the 2011 release’s DLC content season, the “Fenix Rising” map pack. Gears Season Pass holders get to download the pack for free; a la carte purchases off of Xbox Live Marketplace cost 800 MS Points.
The real meat of “Fenix Rising” is the five new maps, which I’ll get to in a minute, but there’s some other stuff too. Players can look forward to four new character skins: two apiece for the COGs (Thrashball Cole and Recruit Clayton) and the Locusts (Savage Marauder and Savage Kantus). There’s also a new “Re-Up” option for those who have maxed out their multiplayer leveling.
Going Around In Circles
Re-Up is similar to the Prestige Mode you see in the Call of Duty games. Play enough of the XP-earning modes in Gears 3 to make it to level 100 and you’re rewarded with the option to Re-Up, which zeroes out all of your experience and earned levels, while still preserving things like ribbons and medals. Re-Up won’t give you a gameplay edge, but resetting your stats will unlock new weapon skins and emblems that you couldn’t otherwise obtain. Players are allowed to max their levels and Re-Up three times in all.
This is, frankly, a baffling addition for a paid DLC pack. The maps and skins make sense, and there’s even a certain amount of logic to Re-Up since the offered rewards don’t really give any gameplay edge. It’s strange, however, to see what is an increasingly common feature in competitive online multiplayer games relegated to the role of premium content in Fenix Rising. If you want to Re-Up, you’ll have to pony up. That just doesn’t make much sense, and I have a hard time looking at it as a value-added feature for this pack.
Fortunately, the five new maps are all quite strong and unique. The whole premise of the pack is built around the idea that each location winds its way through the life of series protagonist Marcus Fenix. You can read all about each map’s importance within the character’s life in the Gearspedia. Here, we’re only concerned with one question: are they fun to play on? Are they worth your dollars? If you have the Season Pass, the answer is “of course.” If you don’t, why should this pack get your $10 when the previous two might not have?
The Fenix Family’s Bloody Past
For starters, this is the most multiplayer-focused paid DLC release yet for Gears 3. The “Horde Command Pack” added fewer new maps, the “Booster Map Pack” was free, and “RAAM’s Shadow” only focused on wringing more out of the game’s campaign mode. Putting aside the new character skins and Re-Up feature, “Fenix Rising” gives you this selection of five maps: Academy, Anvil, Escalation, Depths and The Slab–all of which are available for use in Versus, Horde and Beast modes. If you come to Gears primarily for online play, this is the pack you’ve been waiting for.
Academy isn’t just a very large map, it’s also one of the most open maps available in Gears of War 3 so far, easily rivaling Thrashball, only there’s more space to work with overall. There’s also a good use of vertical space going on in this map, with flanking routes under bridges on either side offering quick-access alternatives to operating out in the open central area.
Anvil is built within the walls of a decaying fortress, so there’s a uniform layer of brown covering everything. The map layout is the most maze-like of this new set; a series of low staircases and walkways connecting interior spaces with windows that all look out over the main central space. There are many nooks and crannies to hide in, and at least two balcony-like overlooks that enemy forces will need to flank in order to reach them. Like Academy, Anvil also makes good use of split levels, with bridges/underpasses providing good alternate access and flanking routes.
Next we have Escalation, a remake of the same location from the original Gears, and easily my favorite of this new bunch. It’s a small map, and an extremely narrow one. One end is the literal “top” of the map, the entry courtyard for a large mansion situated at the top of a hill. The “bottom” end falls at the base of a wide set of stairs leading up to that entrance. The high-ground advantage at the top of the stairs is offset by how closed-off the courtyard spawn area is and the total lack of weapon pickups. The bottom spawn gets not one but two sniper rifle pickups, and a much better view of the entire field than forces coming down the stairs do.
Depths feels like it pulls out a section of BioShock‘s Rapture and gives it a Gears makeover. It’s a posh undersea location, with a unique look that we haven’t really seen before in the Gearsverse. The map’s layout is rather straightforward, with a high ground viewing platform that’s great for snipers and plenty of cover scattered around the central area to keep you safe. A second raised platform, directly across the map from the viewing platform, also provides some good overwatch opportunities, though it’s a more precarious position due to the fact that a flanking route is the only way in or out.
The Slab is set in a prison, but you wouldn’t be wrong for immediately comparing it with the Checkout map that launched with Gears 3. It’s a tight, low-ceilinged and largely interior map with a large, open outdoor area on one end and a tighter set of rooms and hallways at the other end; these are the two spawns. It’s easily the strongest of the new maps in terms of delivering the sort of action that Gears is best at. You have good sightlines to work with from the edges of the map and two open central areas separated by a hallway that runs across the middle of the map.
So let’s now circle back to that original question: is “Fenix Rising” worth a $10 investment from a gamer who doesn’t have the Season Pass. If online multiplayer is your thing, absolutely, yes. These five new maps all work in the three non-campaign modes and all of them bring varying degrees of something fresh to the table that you don’t otherwise get from previously available Gears 3 maps. The new skins are a nice bonus and the Re-Up feature is questionably valuable as a reason for purchasing this set, but fortunately the new maps deliver more than enough to make this a worthwhile purchase for the online-loving Gears fan.
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by Microsoft Studios)