Review: Gears of War 3 Season Pass

Forces of Nature – 800 MSP ($10)
New Maps: Aftermath, Artillery, Cove, Jacinto, Raven Down
New Characters: Commando Dom (variant), Mechanic Baird (variant),
Savage Hunter, Savage Grenadier Elite

Other: Guardian playlist

My twitter feed exploded with joy when Forces of Nature (hereafter FoN) was announced, as (apparently) “Guardian on Jacinto” had been the greatest thing since sliced bread. Now that FoN is out, however, the joy has receded a bit as, like most things, both Guardian and Jacinto have changed.

Guardian, for the uninitiated, is the precursor to two separate gametypes that Gears 3 shipped with, Capture the Leader (CTL) and Execution. The objective is to kill the other team, but with a catch: so long as their leader lives, the enemy team will continue to respawn. Find and kill the leader and the game switches to elimination as you pick off his or her remaining followers.

It’s a nifty idea and immediately enjoyable, but past Guardian players will be quick to point out that it is largely undermined by the CTL TAC/COM dynamic which allows the leader to have an x-ray view of the play field and therefore identify approaching would-be assassins long before they get close. When your team’s leader is dead, this affords your opponents with an unprecedented advantage, rendering the actual objective of Guardian games to cut off the other team’s TAC/COM more than to stop them from spawning.

With the TAC/COM and ribbons/medals from CTL carrying over into the Guardian playlist, it’s pretty clear that this “new Guardian mode” isn’t so much a new mode as a CTL variant that only FoN buyers have access to. One wonders whether a similar experience could be recreated in a private CTL lobby. Speaking of private lobbies, Guardian isn’t an option there at all, and Epic has officially said that making it an option in private games is, for now, not possible. Perhaps that’s why Guardian isn’t even mentioned on the official Xbox Live listing for FoN.

All that aside, the FoN maps are absolutely gorgeous examples of how to do a map pack right. In addition to the great play balance that these maps have in common with Fenix Rising, each one introduces a weather dynamic that keeps play lively. Much like the sandstorm on Trenches, Raven Down, Cove, and Artillery feature weather patterns which obscure visibility and thus cover movement well, resulting in many surprise confrontations and a unique challenge while playing Horde or Beast.

Aftermath is lovely and tells a story in its ruin, prompting me to start a private game just to wander around and look at, say, the giant ship lodged in the rubble of a skyscraper. And Jacinto, bathed in imulsion and drenched with rain, proves a sobering arena with the most impressive network of paths, stairs, and tunnels on any map yet. Its verticality makes it, even with its deviation from the old Jacinto, the ideal place to play Guardian; though, of course, you can’t actually set up a game for that purpose.

Artillery looks beautiful at sunset. But there's a tornado warning in effect...

It’s very rare for me to embrace paying for maps, as I’ve always considered them overpriced and they tend to be purely recycled versions of old maps or to use in-game assets with little originality. But the sheer artistry and impressiveness of the Forces of Nature maps earns my full recommendation. Add to that the easter egg hunt in each map for the Rube Goldberg process to unveil each hidden element-based cleaver, and Guardian or not I can’t recommend this pack enough.

Verdict: Yes

On to Final Verdict

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