So, the transition is finally completed. 343 Industries have received their last bow-tied package from Bungie HQ, and what was once an empty studio is now a fully-fledged developmental haven, littered with Halo paraphernalia and aspirations for the future.
And what’s more, in the wake of the transition being finished, we have our first information regarding 343’s introductory Halo game, Halo 4. Unfortunately for us Halo fans, the information hasn’t done anything but arm the salivating masses with pitchforks and flaming torches. The information that 343 chose to bestow upon us via an editorial in the magazine ‘Game Informer’ shattered our glass hearts and turned release-day anticipation into a race to see who can be the most disappointed by Halo 4 first.
Starting at the top, we have weapon load-outs. Synonymous with Call of Duty games, and even games which have borrowed from the Call of Duty formula (like Crysis 2 & Homefront) weapon load-outs have never appeared in a Halo game before, and will have been a pretty big change to the classic Halo multiplayer mantra should their inception be overly telling. For me, the fear is that players will be able to eventually reach a stupidly high rank in the game, and then have the option of spawning with weapons which are otherwise unavailable to lower ranked players. On top of this, 343 have confirmed that the weapons you can spawn with will be customizable. A DMR with a 12x optical zoom? An Assault Rifle with an under mounted Grenade Launcher? A Battle Rifle with a personalized logo on the side? Oh god, the horror…
Next, we have the inclusion of a ‘Point-based ranking system’. This immediately throws up comparisons to the ranking system currently employed in Halo Reach. The word ‘rank’ may be a bit superfluous here, however. In Reach, you rank up the more you play and that’s it. You earn credits (experience points) which take you from level to level regardless of whether you are winning or losing, with the only difference between a high-level player and a low-level player being game time. This isn’t a ranking system as such, and after the overwhelming disappointment of provided by Halo Reach, is sure in need of a pretty drastic change. A players ‘rank’ should be a brief indication of a players skill, not how much of their free time they have poured into a game. It’s easy to see in retrospect that Halo 3 had one of the greatest ranking systems of any current-generation shooter. It’s a shame that 343 doesn’t agree.
Following on from this, we have the return of ‘Bloom’. Essentially, reticule bloom turned fast-paced fire fights into more luck-based duels in which you could still come off second best even if you fired the first accurate shot. In previous Halo games, as long as you hit the target, you could win the fight. Not anymore though, for now Bloom has turned one-on-one fights into sporadic slogs, where the timed-aggressor is likely to get the kill. ‘Luck’ isn’t what should decide a shootout. Sure, skill is as necessary as it has ever been in gaining the competitive edge, but where on the Venn-diagram do the intersections of Skill, Luck and Ease of Use happen to meet? Bloom was originally introduced to give a newer Halo player a chance versus a seasoned veteran, but what was meant to bridge the skill gap between a new player and a more accomplished player, has actually led to the some most inconsistent shooting mechanics I have seen. Add to those variables lag compensation and ping, and you have a delicate cocktail for a literal, ‘Hit & Miss’ shooter.
Those familiar with Halo Reach will be glad to know that ‘Armour Lock’ (or as it is widely known, ‘Blue Death’) will not be returning in Halo 4. Instead, new and old players alike will get to choose from a plethora of new AA’s, one of which has been confirmed as ‘Forerunner Vision’. Essentially letting you see through solid walls like some of cheap hack, ‘Forerunner Vision’ will join seemingly join Armour Lock in the category of ‘Armour abilities which alter gameplay a bit too much for my liking’. Sprint also returns, with the added bonus of it being available to all players without taking up an AA slot on your load-out. That’s right; everyone will have Sprint, all of the time.
Finally, 343 have confirmed a few smaller details which could partly alter the fabric of future Halo matchamaking. One of which, is the option to join a game already in progress. This means that there will be no more games finishing due to mass-quitting, or no more impossible odds to be overcome for the one Red Team player left in the game after a host-migration, no, chances are that a game which starts with 16 players, will finish with 16 players. This can only be a good thing, surely. What isn’t such a good think is a new ‘Care Package’ type reward system which will allow players to procure heavy-weapons. Instead of knowing where weapons originally spawn on each map, players will now have to call in drop-pods which will be chock-full of all of your delicious fodder-bashing armament. If the short lived spell of ‘Big Bro Slayer’ in Reach taught me anything, it’s that designated areas for weapon drops are not the way to go, and you’re knowledge of weapon spawning patterns which you have honed in previous titles will not be required in Halo 4. Acquired a killing spree have you? Call in that Care Package son, we’ve got Spartans to waste.
Admittedly, this is only the first phase of Halo 4 information that 343 have divulged. As more and more information becomes available, either my fears will be allayed, or I will become borderline hysterical at the direction in which 343 is taking Halo. What I originally hoped for was 343 Industries sitting in the driver’s seat previously occupied by Bungie, and taking us for a gentle ride through familiar territory, but stopping in a different service station along the way. What actually seems to be transpiring is 343 taking the wheel, and swerving dangerously onto a beaten path, before buckling the cars suspension and driving off a cliff into a ravine. Lets hope we can kick out the windshield before we all drown together.
Image credits: Author