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Donya Fortress poolhouse

UPDATE: We’ve added a trailer and a gallery of brand new screenshots to the story!

Battlefield 3 is slimming down. Our initial foray into the military first-person shooter’s incoming Close Quarters map pack (arriving in June for the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360) detailed a battle plan focusing on intense infantry firefights and smaller, fragile stages. At a recent press event in San Francisco, publisher EA deployed a choice sampling of the new Conquest Domination multiplayer mode set within the bullet-soaking walls of the Donya Fortress map.

At its core, Conquest Domination combines the breakneck momentum of team deathmatch with the franchise’s signature capture-able control points. As Close Quarters veers heavily from Battlefield’s pedigree of far-flung warzones and vehicle combat, respawn points consequently pepper the map in a randomized pattern. (Think Call of Duty with more Russian noises.) More control points waving your team’s flag means more deployment spots, so bank on intense flareups concentrating around these precious objectives.

Donya Fortress’ design mimics…well, a fortress, its whitewashed walls gleaming with sunlight and the blood graffiti from your latest headshot. The Kremlin’s square-shaped, multileveled layout throws out multiple fire angles to keep track of, including a stony basement, mirrored terraces, and a central, exposed courtyard (read: instant death). Archways, columns, and strewn pieces of furniture blithely get in the way of drawing a bead on an enemy but also serve as suitably solid objects to duck behind.

Three control points, spaced closely together, sit on a terrace, the main courtyard, and an adjacent chamber, respectively. The cramped passageways deny favoritism of a particular spot, as each flag bestows tactical benefits for its conqueror. The terrace overlooks the courtyard with a natural height advantage, the courtyard provides quick access to the other two points, and the chamber easily funnels enemies with multiple blockades.

Here are a few observations I made after some hands-on matches:

Expect blind corners, choke points, and sharp angles. Corridors and cluttered rooms comprise your firing lanes, so don’t expect any breathing room from wide open spaces. Enemies won’t stray far beyond knife range, so utilizing the fortress’ secondary doorways for a well-placed flank always gives the upper hand.

Forget about vehicles. Start loving your sprint button. You’re hoofing it everywhere, but unlike BF3’s stock maps, becoming a cross-country track star isn’t a requirement. I already consider tanks, jeeps, and personnel carriers rolling rocket-magnets, so trading lead on maps scaled to tete-a-tete skirmishes without worrying about taking a 120mm shell up my nostrils is a very alluring prospect. Dedicated chopper, jet, and tank pilots, however, might shy away from Close Quarters’ strictly footsoldier theme.

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Shotguns, submachine guns, and fast-firing assault rifles reign supreme. Old reflexes honed by Mountain Dew-fueled Counter-Strike benders jolted awake after I realized twitch-based gameplay wins the fortress for your team. (Twitch gaming is the art of honing reaction time to rapidly get those crosshairs on target as fast as possible.) I reacquainted myself with zippier guns such as the F2000 rifle, MP7 SMG, and the new M5K machine pistol with great success. Typically scorned as a newbie tactic, spray-and-pray rifle-butts its stigma and quickly becomes the de facto tactic during a scrap.

Shotguns, of course, are in their element. A major (and hilarious) highlight of the session was witnessing my fellow journalists’ conspicuous progression from individual loadout preferences to roving shotgun gangs, a predictably effective strategy. Forums will assuredly flow with rage from the inevitable buckshot bonanza (blood still boils from the now-balanced USAS shotgun’s domineering infamy), but I personally enjoyed seeing these pump-action painbringers get a boost in viability.

You’ll get shot in the back…a lot. Did you get used to having a rear base as a safe respawn? Kiss it goodbye. When you hit dirt in the fortress, you’ll have a bullseye painted on you in but a microsecond. Assault lines constantly shift and roil as both teams scramble for real estate, and that spearhead push with your squad flat-out melts if an enemy simply reappears behind you. That extra layer of challenge to spatial awareness underscores the importance of teamwork and communication…especially when that grenade-spamming, camping hoser (don’t deny it; there’s one on every team) ruins a perfectly good ambush.

Flags capture insanely fast. In normal Conquest mode, flags flip from enemy control to yours at a sluggish pace, often taking 20 agonizing seconds or more for a full capture. Conquest Domination pumps some adrenaline into the capture rate, and just one second is enough time for nabbing a zone.

The possibilities for clutch moments run high: During one of the last rounds, my team was on the ropes. We had just lost the chamber point in a spectacular hail of bullets, tile shards, and wood splinters, cinching all three points in the enemy’s hands. I slapped a silencer on my gun which muffles noise and prevents my appearance on radar when I fire. Juking to the courtyard, I faded into a sub-passage while spam-fire and grenades ravaged my diversion. The plan worked: The terrace point was deserted. I swooped in and slapped the enemy’s flag off its pole, and in a five-second span, my team reaped revenge on its aggressors in a Hail Mary win.

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