May 22, 2010

The Installation 04 Official Reach Beta Impressions

Now that the Halo Reach beta is over, it's time for impressions! So, uh, here they are.

I'm not crazy about the maps. I can't quite put my finger on it, but something seems lacking in the maps department. The map I played on most often was Sword Base, a terribly confusing indoor area with multiple levels. Problem is, it's a bitch to navigate without some sort of a map. No matter how many games I played here, I never could get my bearings. It doesn't really lend itself well to gametypes that were usually played on it. Actually, I'm not sure what gametypes it does lend itself to. I don't usually have a problem with Halo maps, but this one seems pretty slayer-only to me. 

Boneyard, Invasion map, is absolutely massive. Way too massive for 12 people. In fact, it seems like it'll bee too large for the 16 players promised in the retail game. 30 people? Now that'd be awesome. Unfortunately, it'll never happen. 

Overlook is the map Bungie used for the "Network Test 1," or Invasion, gametype. While the gametype may or may not be in the final version, I assume the map will. I didn't spend much time here, but it seemed alright. It was hard to tell though, because I would have preferred to play a different game on it. It's an asymmetrical map with a base located at the top of a hill.

The map I liked best (again, I wish I could play something else on Overlook- the generators force you to only play in specific parts of the map) was Powerhouse. It was more reminiscent of classic Halo maps, a bit like High Ground actually (but, once again, I'm pretty sure Overlook is the new High Ground though I didn't get to play anything interesting on it). It's pretty good for a multitude of gametypes, although I never really found the red and blue bases to be particularly well defined. 

So there's problem number one- weak maps. I'm certain I can pinpoint the problem to the decision to pull the multiplayer maps from the campaign. Bad idea in my opinion. Probably what produced the weird feeling I had while playing Halo on these nearly non-Halo maps was that not a single was was symmetrical. Usually Bungie makes at least a couple of maps nearly identical on both sides making them ideal for capture the flag and the like. I found those games awkward to play on Sword Base and Powerhouse. 

Lots of new weapons this time around. Some good, some not so much. Unfortunately, I get a feeling the awesome stuff will get nerfed by the time the final game ships.

The first weapon you'll use is the redesigned Assault Rifle, which functions identically to the previous versions. It looks spiffy, though! 
You'll notice that when you switch to your secondary weapon, however, there is a surprise waiting for you: you're old pal the pistol! Although it looks like, and technically is, based of the M6G model from Halo 3, it behaves identically to it's Combat Evolved counterpart, the M6D. Six shot kill on body, single headshot kill. Scoped. Oh and that badass melee attack from the first game is back too.

The next weapon you're likely to find is also the most useless. The DMR, or Designated Marksman's Rifle, replaces the Battle Rifle. While it may look spiffy, there's really no reason to use if over the pistol. It's a single shot weapon unlike the BR and is inferior to the pistol because the fire rate is slower and the reticule bloom is larger. I'm not sure how they'd tweak this other than to make the shots more powerful (shots do the same damage as the pistol).

Unfortunately, I did not get to use the Sniper Rifle because I never came across one so I can't say if it's any different.

The Grenade Launcher, however, is something new. Bungie calls it the "pro pipe" for a reason. It's quite tough to master as it launches frag grenades when I was expecting something like Brute Shot rounds simply because they're both grenade launchers. These things bounce everywhere so you have to plan your shot carefully. This thing is best used from a distance when a regular grenade toss just won't do. It's a handy tool to take out shields so you can finish them off with your pistol or to assist your teammate. It's also got a secondary fire when you hold down the trigger. Doing this will prevent your grenade from exploding allowing you to set a trap for your opponents.

The rocket launcher, like the Battle Rifle has also gotten a significant makeover. It's more or less the same as it used to be but, as of right now, the vehicle tracking mechanism from Halo 2 seems to have returned. This is probably to counter the Covenant's Plasma Launcher which also tracks vehicles, giving each side its own anti-vehicle gun. 

There's quite a few goodies on the Covenant side as well. First off is the new Plasma Repeater replacing the Plasma Rifle in multiplayer. It also happens to be at least 80% less useless. It's meant to be the Covenant equivalent of the Assault Rifle, and it's easy to see why. Like most Covenant weapons, it has an energy charge instead of ammo. Unlike most Covenant weapons, it doesn't overheat. If you keep firing the rate of fire will slow significantly after a period of time, but it will never stop firing. It's a pretty good weapon overall and much better than it's useless cousin. I'm not sure why Bungie doesn't just replace the Plasma Rifle altogether since there is no duel wielding anyway.

Replacing the stupid Carbine is the new Needle Rifle. It's awesome, though you'd think Bungie would be a little more creative with the ammunition at this point. It serves the same purpose as the DMR but players will use the Needle Rifle over the DMR ever time unless forced to use the DMR. Why? Well, for one it's freaking awesome. Also, the needles will supercombine after a number of shots causing a pink explosion of death (just like the Needler, wich doesn't suck in this game). It's not quite a scoped Needler either, though. Whatever it is, it fills its niche well and is a great addition to the arsenal. Could swear it shoots faster than the DMR too.

The new Focus Rifle is one of two weapons I know they'll tone down. Replacing the stupid Beam Rifle this thing is like a scoped Sentinel Beam, only with some power. It's quite deadly as a ranged weapon and requires intense focus (get it?) to take down an opponent as you must track them with the beam to do damage. Problem is, it's deadly at any range. You can melt a guy's face standing in front of you if you so choose just by holding the trigger down. It's a great gun, but a wee bit overpowered at the moment.

Speaking of overpowered, the Covenant also get the new Plasma Launcher, or what I like to call "instant death." It shoots up to four homing plasma grenades that track anything that moves. Anything. Not sure what Bungie was thinking with this one. Sure, it's awesome, but damn! You have this, you are God.

Other weapons return: the Sword is unchanged, the Hammer is overpowered because the damage radius is too large, the Plasma Pistol now tracks enemies to a certain degree and an awesome new sound effect when you equip it, the Needler doesn't suck and the stab-with-needles melee returns. Some vehicle tweaks as well: the Banshee no longer backflips (I didn't check to see if it still had the secondary fuel rod shot) and the mounted chain guns in the Warthog and the Scorpion can now overheat if used too much (boo!)

The beta also had a few new gametypes. Here's my impressions:

Stockpile: Each team has their own flag collecting area (it's like a hill from king of the hill) with a countdown timer. The time counts down every minute from 60 and when it reaches zero any flags in the territory will be counted as points. There's a bunch of neutral flags found around the map that can be collected and can always be moved. This means you can grab a flag right out of the other team's territory and take it back to yours. This usually splits the team into two groups: the flag collectors and the flag defenders. First to 10 wins. I absolutely love this gametype. It's a lot of fun and actually quite strategic. Often I would find that people would gather flags close to the score point and wait until the final seconds to dump them in. Those are just some of the strategies people came up with. This game forces you to find your own and to actually do some thinking with your shooting. 

Headhunter: Killed players will drop flaming sculls that you can collect by walking over them. Score by dumping your skulls into repositories located around the map. Stay on your toes, though, because these areas move. The number of skulls you've collected is displayed above your Spartan and you'll lose them all of you die. First to 25 wins, unless you can collect 10 at once to achieve a "Skullamanjaro" which nets you automatic victory. I also loved this gametype. I seem to like games where the objective is to collect things. Maybe because I'm good at it. I'd find I'm usually the top scorer in Stockpile and the very first game of Headhunter I ever played I won with 22 skulls. Since I'm usually so bad, it was great to win for once. Headhunter ftw! It's really the only non-team game I'll play because I know I'll be dead last otherwise.

Generator Defense (aka. Network Test 1): The Spartans have the high ground and must defend three generators. The Elite must work their way up the hill and destroy them. If the Elites can successfully destroy the generators, they win. If the Spartans can defend the generators, they win. The generators can be locked for 30 seconds preventing any damage. After the lock feature is used, you can't lock it again for some time. Not really a fan of this one. A lot of people seem to like it, but I think it's too small of a gametype. There's only three people to a team and that doesn't seem like enough when there's three generators. It's not the exciting and frantic game I was hoping for. Instead, players rush to lock all three cores and then continue to lock them every time they unlock. You either have one guy to a core or leave one or more cores unprotected. If it were me making this, I'd double the total players to twelve so teams of two could guard each core. In fact, I'd take the fundamentals of Invasion and apply them here instead. Two man fireteams where you can spawn on your bro would do wonders here. Again, the map seem too large for the amount of players in it and the locations of the generators meant that you'd automatically gravitate toward those areas of the map only. Bungie may or may not keep this gametype. It was created specifically to test network connections. If they do keep it, let's hope they make some alterations.

Invasion: What is here to stay, however, is Invasion. What a massive disappointment. They played it up so much I was expecting some epic Spartan vs. Elite action. I found, however, that if I wanted that kind of experience I should just play Spartan vs. Elite slayer. First of all, the map is just too damn big for only 12 people. Bungie promises 16 in the full game, but I'm doubting that'll make much of a difference at this point. The Spartans are tasked with defending various things and the Elites have to capture them. First some computers, then some other computers in a different area, and finally a data core which must be transported to a dropship. Not sure if it sounds fun, but it's really not. If the Elites capture their stuff in all three phases they win. Every time they capture their designated thing, the objective changes and the loadouts get better. This was the only game with vehicles and they felt totally useless. The map may be big, but there wasn't a lot of ground to cover with vehicles. There was, however, an Invasion Slayer gametype that I never got to play because assholes always picked Invasion (more on that later) so there may be some hope there. As it stands, Invasion just isn't fun.

What is really fun, though, is Covenant Slayer. That is, slayer with just Elites. Not sure why, but the beta limited this mode to only dodge as an armor ability. But it was freaking awesome! Elite Slayer is way more intense than regular Spartan Slayer. Elites are faster, their health recharges, and everyone was rolling everywhere. The differences between Spartans and Elites is a big draw this time around and I love the way the Elites play. That being said, although supposedly stronger, they felt totally underpowered when pitted against Spartans. Weird.

Armor Abilities:
The other major change to the multiplayer are armor abilities. How are they? Awesome. They never feel tacked-on or gimmicky, for the most part. They add a real new and unique dynamic that's necessary for the Reach experience. Obviously, they need some tweaking because there's ways to abuse them that probably shouldn't be there, but on a whole they're a great addition unlike Halo 3's equipment.

Sprint: Sprint, a Spartan only ability, comes in great use in objective games, especially Headhunter. Bungie has made it so you can't spam your amor ability when holding a flag (although a melee with the flag is instadeath- I'm assuming they'll fix this) so you can't sprint with it, but you can sprint up to it. You can also sprint away from danger, cover long distances, and it's helpful to avoid being sniped. It's extremely deadly with a sword though, as you can imagine, and it's also easy to run up behind someone and assassinate them (regular style, not the new flash ones that are useless and hard to pull off). Sprint is alright. Not my first choice, but not a bad choice. 

Camo: The camouflage ability does just that. It lasts longer than the other abilities but takes longer to recharge as a result. I'm sure it's significantly more useful as a cloaking device this time around. If you stand still, you become legitimately hard to see. It does, however, jam the armor of people in the surrounding area. They'll know you're there, but they won't know exactly where. Also very deadly when combined with a sword. 

Evade: The Elite dodge move is infinitely more useful than sprint. Obviously it's really useful for dodging and is also great for covering distance. Saved my life on many occasions. I can't quite say why, but the first person motion of rolling is very fluid and very real. From a third person perspective, you see the Elite simply roll. When you're doing it however, you stay in first person. It's really nice looking and impossible to describe.

Jet Pack: Sorry to burst your bubble, but the I find the jet pack completely useless. Even on Sword Base. I'd much rather sprint around then jet pack around. It's really floaty meaning that you'll have to hold it down a while before you get a sudden propulsion upward but letting go promptly causes descension. It controls exactly like something else in another game that I simply can't place. The mechs in Lost Planet maybe? No! The propulsion head from Mario Sunshine! The one for your water pack that shot two streams of water upward? It's kind of like that. But yet, there's something else... It feels so familiar... Anyway, remember how the Brutes had jump packs in Halo 3? It controls how those looked. It makes you a big flying target, especially for the Needler and Plasma Pistol (and Launcher, obviously).

Armor Lock: Now this is what I'm talking about! Armor lock is what the bubble shield should have been like! Holding down the ability button will activate a personal shield that makes you temporarily invulnerable as long as there's juice left. It'll also knock off any grenades stuck to you. Releasing armor lock creates an EMP blast that takes out the shields of anyone who happens to be too close. Follow up with a melee for a quick kill. Most people will stand back and wait for your armor lock to run out, which is kind of a downside. The EMP can be abused like crazy though. Tapping the button when approaching someone will take out their shields and set you up for an instant kill. I like the idea, though, but unfortunately it'll probably behave differently when the game ships. In the beta? Pair with shotgun and enjoy. It also leads to great moments like this one:

A quick sentence about the Arena: I didn't try it. Sounds good on paper, though.

Finally, a major complaint. Matchmaking sucks. They tried to improve the veto system, but that's not what needs improving. What needs to happen is a separate playlist for every gametype. Grab bag sucks. It mixes every multiplayer gametype into one playlist. Sometimes I want to play one thing and one thing only, like slayer for example, but it never shows up as one of the three choices. I vote for none of the above but everyone else wants to play Oddball. So I suffer through it because I get penalized if I quit. Next time, I want to play Stockpile and there it is! But nobody else wants to play Stockpile and I end up playing CTF. It sucks. I want complete control of the gametype I'm playing, dammit! None of this "mixing everything together" shit! Is it somehow impossible to achieve this? If I ever made a game, I'd make sure that people actually got to play all the awesome gametypes I made by making them separate. Do you know how many games of CTF I had to sit through before I could play a simple game of slayer? In fact, people would often screw the rules and just kill each other. If that doesn't tell the developers they're doing something wrong in that department, I don't know what will. 

Overall, the beta was fun, but I certainly didn't play it to death like I did the Halo 3 beta which was basically the same damn thing as Halo 2. It's certainly a game I'd play online, yet something seemed lacking here. I'm not sure what it was, but this is one guy who's anticipation of for the game has nearly flatlined. And I was so hyped beforehand. Ah, well. Hopefully the finished product is better. 

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