As John C. Maxwell wisely said, “change is inevitable, growth is optional.” The developers at 343 Industries have shown that keeping the status quo is most certainly not what they intend with Halo 4. Change for its own sake isn’t worth much, unless the tweaks and adjustments made are capable of improving, refining and reinvigorating gameplay for not only the next Halo title, but the foreseeable future of the franchise.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Halo 4‘s multiplayer. No longer an online arena system, but integrated into the main storyline aboard the UNSC Infinity, War Games are taking the unique Armor Abilities implemented with Halo: Reach to a whole new level. Members of the development team recently opened up on their thinking behind the new Armor Abilities, and have provided a brief hint at what new strategies and combined hilarity will be made possible.
Everything we’ve seen of Halo 4‘s multiplayer map design so far implies that the studio has a firm handle on how to produce some compelling layouts and choke points. But where other FPS franchises go out of their way to take things as seriously as possible, and instill the refinement and ‘hardcore’ nature of their multiplayer, Halo has always done things differently. One need only count how many times a Mongoose or Warthog is sent flying through the air, blown to pieces while its passengers pinwheel out of the wreckage to see the sense of humor at work.
So with new Armor Abilities making the War Games, Spartan Ops and singleplayer portions even more varied from player to player, the challenge facing 343 is even larger than usual. In last week’s episode of the 343 Sparkast, the studio’s internal podcast, a few key figures explained how the abilities won’t just give advantages to some, but will work in tandem to provide an experience that isn’t just entertaining, but consistently changing.
For those who missed out on the podcast, we’ve transcribed a few details which we think will be good news to fans, and fantastic news for those who prefer to play with friends online, developing more complicated battle plans and tactics than through casual matchmaking. For starters, it’s been expressed time and again that the introduction of Jetpacks, Armor Lock, and other abilities with Reach wasn’t a preferred change for everyone. Not just in terms of how in keeping they were of the ‘true’ Halo format, but the perceived imbalance in certain maps or modes.
For Halo 4, no aspect of the new Armor Abilities has gone overlooked. As Josh Holmes, Studio Creative Director for 343 explained, it isn’t hard to tell when balancing is needed:
“The best tell of balance across the Armor Abilities – when you know something’s broken, is you go into playtest, and when everybody’s taking Thrusters you’re like ‘OK, I think Thrusters are a little overpowered.’ When everyone’s taking Jetpack, same thing. And now you guys have got it to a place where you go into playtest and everyone’s got their own individual strategy and play style and it all feels like it works, it works in different ways.”
That variability is key to 343’s vision for Halo multiplayer going forward, as Chris King, Lead Sandbox Designer reiterated in his response to Holmes’ assertion:
“Yeah, everybody uses different AA ‘soup’ to enhance how they personally play. Which is great, that’s where we want it. We don’t want it to dominate the Sandbox, we want it to be part of the Sandbox, part of a tool that you use.”
With each player provided with the same tool set, the chance for equal odds and a level playing field is higher than many may find in more persistent multiplayer modes. If you have yet to see exactly what the Armor Abilities will be granting, and which additional loadouts will tailor play sessions to specific players, check out the official walkthrough video, courtesy of IGN:
Each of the previous Armor Abilities has received extra attention, not just to correct past issues, but make it fit in the brand new War Games system. For Halo 4, the best friend to any griefer or smartass – the Hologram – has been refined to be more effective than a simple visual diversion. The opposing team’s reticules now turn and stay red when placed over a Hologram, but the digital doppelganger will flicker when fired upon. The adjustments make it a far more capable decoy, particularly at range where the phasing is less visible. It’s a small change, but having the ability to immediately create two markers on an enemy’s HUD can go a long way in the hands of a pro.
Of course, in the interest of balancing no perk comes without inherent drawbacks. The more effective Holograms may help an experienced competitor get the drop on their mark, but requires the player forgo more offensively potent abilities (pro-tip: equip a power weapon – Energy Sword or Incineration Cannon – then send your Hologram off Ragnarok’s ‘Man Cannon’ to attract prey). But when you talk about offensive perks, the Autosentry is the most intriguing. Having an automated turret able to target enemy troops across a 180-degree field of fire is a promising addition, whether to defend a base in Capture the Flag or merely one’s exposed flank while sniping.
Despite the sentry’s offensive perk, they aren’t foolproof. According to 343, sentries “always fall for Holograms.” Staying mobile will also harm their accuracy, but still provide the sentry’s user with an early warning. If you’re sensing a strong ‘give and take’ mentality in the overall design, it’s not by accident. No Armor Ability is flawless, but can be exploited not only by other perks, but the ingenuity of multiplayer strategists.
In fact, Chris King revealed a tactic uncovered in goal-based multiplayer, utilizing the fact that each Autosentry is deactivated when its respective deploy-er is killed to one’s advantage. It’s just one example, but speaks to the far more varied strategies the new Armor Abilities will allow:
“Let’s say Josh and I are defending a flag…if we both had the Autosentry, and we’re on defense, the best thing to do is actually place it in the other person’s position, and he places his in my position. Because when…you run around the corner and you see the sentry, and see me, you’re going to try to kill me…so you’re going to kill me while the Autosentry is hitting you thinking that the Autosentry is going to be de-rezzed when I die. But it’s actually Josh’s. So if I can hold my own long enough, the Autosentry might deliver the killing blow that’s needed.”
downright diabolical. The increased amount of refinement hasn’t been limited to just the new abilities, but familiar ones as well. The Halo 4 Health Regeneration Fields are less “effective” than the Halo 3 generator, by design, all in the name of greater balance and parity. To give an idea of just what level of detail is being considered by the developers (and how few players will recognize the difference) a point of particular concern for 343 was the exact deployment time for the Regen Field (the time from button-press to activation).
If the device launched instantly, then firefights between low numbers could be thrown out of equilibrium, and the deploying player would receive an unfair boost. Increasing the time required to deploy made the device too laggy and impractical. The eventual delay was set at just over half a second, which encouraged players to use them for their entire squad, in both multiplayer and Spartan Ops. Keeping in mind that the overall differences were less than half a second on either side of that amount, and the extent to which 343 is fine-tuning becomes clear.
Lest we forget, all this balancing is just having to do with multiplayer War Games. For Spartan Ops, or the singleplayer campaign for that matter, the possibilities and potential tactics are just as expansive. Not every player need be concerned with the intricacies of Armor Abilities – or the specialization classes, for that matter – since the moment-to-moment gameplay will still be recognizable to any Halo fan. There’s still the insane shoot-first-style Flood Mode to look forward to, and Spartan Ops if competition isn’t as satisfying as cooperation.
It’s safe to say that 343 has earned the benefit of the doubt, having put more than enough time into their first entry in the Halo series. How well these tweaks and finer touches will work can only be known when the game launches, but for now, excitement is more than warranted.
Any of these strategies or changes seem particularly interesting for you Halo fans? Are there any past tactics that may be more or less effective come Halo 4 (assuming you’re willing to share them)?
Halo 4 will be released on November 6, 2012, exclusively for the Xbox 360.
Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.
Source: 343 Industries