With seemingly every game getting in on the Season Pass trend – up to and including LEGO Marvel's Avengers – it's becoming increasingly difficult to be excited by DLCs these days. Some games, such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, have lovingly crafted expansions filled with content, while others games seem to suffer more cuts than a Taken 3 fight scene – with the content left on the cutting room floor paraded as add-on packs. Call of Duty: Black Ops III's new Awakening expansion isn't revolutionary in any way – but it ain't half bad either.
In its entirety, Awakening has four new multiplayer maps – Splash, Gauntlet, Skyjacked, and Rise – as well as one Zombies map, Der Eisendrache, which you will now Google Translate the name of. This seems a little steep for the asking fee, but depending on how compulsive a CoD player you are, you could get quite a few hours out of it.
Gauntlet is quite easily the pick of the bunch. Set in a training facility, this stage takes the usual three lane map system and puts a twist on it by separating the map into three zones: urban, jungle, and tundra. What's so great about it is the verticality – there are plenty of opportunities to wall-run, swim, and crawl under gaps, which can make for some pretty cool set-pieces if you've got some friends to coordinate with. Because of its structure, Uplink and Domination play excellently on this map.
Splash, meanwhile, is the "fun" map – designed to show how cool and hip the guys at Activision are when they're not adding microtransactions and a £40 Season Pass to a £50 game. With waterslides, paddling pools, and lazy rivers, Splash places you in a Californian water park, and the bright, sprightly colour scheme makes a nice change to the constant brown that we often see in shooters.
Skyjacked revives everyone's favourite Black Ops 2 map, Hijacked, but changes the setting from a boat to an air-super-yacht flying over Zurich. Not much has been changed dynamically, bar the obligatory wall-run location, but the small size of the map does make it a lot of fun, since you don't have to run far to get into a battle. Still, occasionally it can feel like a chore thanks to the close-quarters combat leading to constant deaths and respawns, but play it smart and you can have a good time with Skyjacked, mostly on traditional modes such as Team Deathmatch.
Lastly is Rise, which is somehow blander than prequel Anakin Skywalker coated in vanilla ice cream with a sprinkling of unbuttered toast. There's really nothing special about Rise, with even its wintery military base setting having been done before many times. There's a central hub area which is the hotspot for shootouts, and plenty of side alleys and shortcuts to go through, but ultimately there's no real reason to play Rise at all – it seems to have been made just to fill a quota.
Der Eisendrache, however, is easily the best Zombies map in Black Ops III, despite it not having staunch competition. The story picks up from another Season Pass map, The Giant, in which younger versions of Dr. Richtofen, Takeo, Nikolai, and Tank are in a giant robot chasing a scientific group who have a clone of Tank which they're preparing to launch from an Austrian castle – in which the map is set – to their secret moon base. In 1945. Yes, we're not sure either.
As well as adding new Gobblegums, which you're probably not going to use unless you have a huge surplus of points, Der Eisendrache introduces two new unlockable Wonder Weapons, which you'll have to acquire by tackling quests in the map. The Wrath of the Ancients is essentially a re-skinned Sparrow from the multiplayer, a mystical bow and arrow that is unlocked by feeding various iron dragon statues with zombie corpses, while the Ragnarok DG-4 also has a multiplayer influence, acting very similarly to the Gravity Spikes, and is unlocked via another complicated quest.
The latest Zombies outing has Easter eggs and side missions in spades, and it takes a while to get used to. Thanks to the new Panzer Soldier – a Nazi in a mech suit, essentially – the map can be quite challenging the first few times that you play it, but if you've been playing the Zombies series for a long time, these new concepts can be learned in no time.
The map itself is full of teleporters and a multitude of rooms – including one in which zero gravity can be turned on, for some reason – and the consensus is that Treyarch has really gone balls-out crazy this time around. The outlandish concept, maze-like map, and long-winded, insanely nonsensical quests and Easter eggs makes Der Eisendrache one of the best Zombies maps yet, but it's hard to know if it will hold up until the next DLC comes around.
Awakening is a solid start for Black Ops III's DLC catalogue, with some moments of excellence punctuated with patches of dull dreariness. Gauntlet and Skyjacked provide excellent, fast-paced fun in most modes, while Splash could also become a favourite in time. Rise deserves no praise for its cookie-cutter style, but Der Eisendrache is easily one of the most unique and fun Zombies experiences to date, despite its occasional shortcomings. All in all, despite its slightly steep price, Awakening provides the pep pills needed to keep Treyarch's latest alive and kicking.