Battlefield 4. It hasn't been pretty. Given the nearly weekly meltdowns DICE's game has endured since its launch, it's easy to forget those who forked out for a Premium subscription. Money paid up front for a promise of regular content drops seemed insignificant when the game just did not work.
Mercifully, right now, Battlefield 4 on PS4 is in a pretty decent place. While everyone's experience is different, and there will be issues until Battlefield 4 is dead in the ground, it's safe to say that it's now in a comfortably playable state. And, despite the obvious failings of DICE and EA over the course of the last 9 months, those who did pay for that Premium pass have actually been treated rather well.
When arguments rage daily about preorder DLC, season passes and cut content, Battlefield once again leads the way with high quality, regularly-spaced add on packs that not only deliver chunks of fresh turf on which to to wage war, but also offer new ways to play.
Dragon's Teeth adds four new maps to the Battlefield 4 rotation, with a keen focus on infantry play and an overarching style that makes it feel more like an expansion than a scattered selection of arenas. This has been a consistent across both Battlefield 3 and 4's DLC drops - they feel complete, deliberate and well-planned.
Along with the maps, DICE LA (now responsible for all DLC) has crafted a new game mode to enjoy upon them. It's called Chainlink, and asks players to capture points across the map, but to do so in sequential order. You have to maintain a hold of adjacent capture points, creating a 'link' between them. The more points you link together, the faster your enemy's spawn tickets will bleed.
It strikes a neat combination of classic Conquest, and the frontline-shifting struggle of Call Of Duty 3's long forgotten Warground mode, where teams battled over five points on a large map, and could only progress further into enemy territory when all previous points were under control. Where Chainlink advances on this strategy, though, is in its openness. There are always too many points to control at once, so teams will flank to take hold of the flags nearest the enemy's base.
Unlike Rush, where battles can stalemate at a single MCom and turn into instant-death spawn hells, Chainlink always gives you options. It's a 12-on-12 mode too, meaning a single squad can make as much of a difference to the outcome of a match than they could on a 64 player Conquest. It's not perfect - it can be extremely difficult to make a comeback if the opposition gain five links - but when Chainlink ebbs and flows, it's truly superb.
And it's a standard maintained by the maps themselves. As always, Battlefield levels are designed to scale to various modes, so discussing specific choke points is often made redundant by the simple fact they may not exist in the game type you're playing. Instead, they focus on topography and landmarks, and - in a couple of places - level destruction (I refuse to use Dice's own preferred term for that feature).
Propaganda kicks off the pack, where teams wage war across a snowy plaza as garbled hyperbole spews from an orchestra of loudspeakers. This map works beautifully in Chainlink; with a linear path from front to back but plenty of opportunity to flank. It's the least impressive and innovative map in the selection thanks to its fairly basic geography, but still capable of playing host to great matches, and it maintains a strong sense of style.
Business picks up in the vertiginous Pearl Market, a maze of high buildings and tight alleyways that feels like it was lifted from the Medal Of Honor reboot. Capture points are found both on the ground and high on rooftops, and smart teams will look to control the vertical spaces and lay waste to those languishing below. This is also a great map for the returning capture the flag mode, with nippy bikes scooting through the city streets as desperate engineers fire rockets from above.
Pearl Market also features some excellent destruction. Shatter certain parts of the map and you'll make bridges between the rooftops, destroy others and you'll take away routes to the top. This is the type of map that can drive you insane if you're stuck on the bottom, so stay patient and focus on controlling the high ground.
Next on the list is the beautiful Lumphini garden, a large, open area with a stunning central bridge, grassy meadow and shallow waterway. Fights tend to concentrate on that bridge, as it's the link between the key control points in Conquest and the hardest area to cross in Rush. This is also the first map in Dragon's Teeth to feature true evolving levels. Players can locate water pressure switches behind the river, and watch as a giant wheel/water coolant tower thing tumbles through the distant tree lines and shatters an overpass, laying waste to anything in its way. The actual significance of that destruction is minor - one capture point in Chainlink is altered - but if you manage to angle yourself correctly to actually see if happening, it's quite the sight.
The jewel-encrusted canine in Dragon's Teeth's mouth, though, is unquestionably Sunken Dragon. This is an instant classic, an urban sprawl surrounding a resplendent restaurant that is literally sinking into the mud. It's a fantastic space; choppers piercing the neon glow of the night sky, gunfights between squads dug in on skyscrapers, tense stakeouts in the restaurant itself. The entire map changes, though, when someone gets to the dam controls on the elevated walkway to the East, and completely floods the centre, and the restaurant.
Previously walkable areas can then be accessed by jetski, and the dynamic of holding the central capture point alters dramatically. It's not as breathtaking as Paracel Storm or as memorable as Flood Zone, but it's a map that exists in a duality - almost completely different tactically depending on the water level.
This strong quartet is joined by a few new gadgets and weapons, as always, but here they feel like they genuinely make a difference. The little robot, only available as an in-game pick up, can seek out enemy explosives and cause all sorts of bother for a team that doesn't immediately expunge it from the warzone. And the ballistics shield, a Call of Duty favourite, makes an appearance, letting squads enter tightly controlled spaces with the kind of protection Battlefield rarely affords.
Chuck in a new sniper rifle and assault rifle, and you have Battlefield 4's most complete pack yet. Four strong maps, ranging from the rock solid in Propaganda to the genuinely marvellous in Sunken Dragon, and a new game mode that's already a thrilling new way to experience the game.
What a treat, finally, to be able to say nice things about Battlefield 4. Onwards, upwards, and never look back at the destruction you left behind.