Halo Week 2014 – Halo 4

Halo 4 CoverRounding out the four full games in the Master Chief Collection, let’s now look at 2012’s Halo 4. Since it’s the most recent game in the series, I think it’s probably the most familiar with fans. While I wasn’t super pleased that 343 decided to tell a new story with Master Chief – I would have liked them to use the universe to create something new – the game was still a real fun entry in the franchise. The multiplayer took a lot of the new features that Halo: Reach had introduced, in particular customized loadouts and armor abilities. The new maps had a good mix of arena sized competitive maps, along with a couple bigger maps that took advantage of classic Halo vehicle action.

In terms of the tactics for Halo 4, I thought that it did a good job of striking a balance with classic Halo strafing and shooting, as well as using the new abilities to add in new options for movement. Find an armor ability that you feel comfortable with, and learn how to really use it effectively in combat. The Hardlight shield can be great to throw an enemy off his game for a second; Jetpack gives you access to some verticality that might not be there otherwise; Active Camo is always a great choice for stealth, and Promethean Vision is another really solid option to see your enemies through the walls. In general, your primary weapons don’t matter a whole lot – the DMR and BR are both really solid options, and the Carbine or Light Rifle also work quite well; I wouldn’t recommend the automatic weapons, unless it’s a specific game mode.

Maps in Halo 4 run the gamut from really strong, to rather unbalanced. I think in general the smaller maps are better, but there are a couple big ones that work well. In particular, Ragnarok – the updated version of Valhalla. Since Valhalla was already a very strong symmetrical map, adding in the Mantis didn’t terribly change the map. It does place a little more emphasis on getting heavy weapons, or boarding the enemies vehicles. Just like in Valhalla – DMR, BR and Snipers all do very well still, but again, the Scattershot and Shotgun both still have uses within the caves and bases. Timing your ordinance drops also can play an important role in changing the tide of a match, assuming you’re playing a match that has them.

Halo 4 Adrift

One of the better small maps that I really liked playing was Adrift. It’s a symmetrical map, based around a central, multi-level room. It’s good for team games, CTF in particular is a very fun game, as is Oddball. Controlling the man cannons is important though, as in those objective games, those cannons can play a huge role in a successful score. Weapons like the Shotgun and Scattershot can really dominate, as can the Energy Sword, found at the top of the center pillar. There are still sightlines that longer range weapons excel at, especially along the outter walkways. Callouts can be a little complicated though, since the map doesn’t have lots of differentiating features.

Halo 4 Abandon

One last map to look at, I want to talk about Abandon. It’s an asymmetrical map that’s more on the small side. It’s good for team games, even with the asymmetric nature of it, but shines in multi-team games. Oddball is great on it, since the map is small enough that it is pretty difficult to camp. In general, combat tends to focus around control of the central tower, which can be difficult to lock down, as there’s multiple ways into every level of the tower. Explosives are good to keep on hand, since they can help clear out the top floor. Heavy weapons are good to keep control of too, so keep an eye on Ordinance drops.

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Halo Week 2014 – Halo 3

Halo 3Continuing through the four games in the Master Chief Collection, today we’ll look at 2007’s Halo 3. Halo 3 was, at the time, the biggest launch of all time – perhaps partially due to being the first game in the series on the Xbox 360; but also because it was the conclusion to the Covenant war. Story-wise, none of the Bungie Halo games have ever disappointed me, Halo 3 was no different. But Halo 3 also was a pretty big shake-up on the Multiplayer front. Halo 2 was really the game that validated Xbox Live for online play, but it was still in its infancy; by 2007 it was more stable, and that meant that Halo 3 could do a little more. The biggest change up was really thanks to Forge – the in game map editor; along with custom game variants. Bungie saw that people were playing certain game variants in LAN settings that weren’t part of the hoppers online, but with Forge and the better flexibility of the game and Live, were able to start putting custom maps and gametypes online. As we’ve done all week, I want to look at a couple of the skills that Halo 3 requires; then look at some of my favorite maps.

Halo 3 really shook it up a little with the multiplayer – especially from Halo 2. Sweep sniping is all but gone, thanks to the aim assist being much less noticeable. Dual-wielding is still around, but the options are a bit different. The Assault Rifle is back as a default, no longer the SMG. The Needler is no longer a dual-wieldable weapon. There are also new deployable items scattered around the maps; these include the flare, bubble shield, trip mine and power drain. While it’s not quite as important to control these as the power weapons, it’s still good to try to. A power drain can help clear out a room being held; and a trip mine can take out a vehicle that’s been dominating you. The Battle Rifle at this point is a four shot kill, assuming that last burst hits the head – so your skills with that weapon will transfer over from Halo 2 or if you’re a newer player, Halo: Reach and Halo 4. One other weapon that has become a standard over the last 7 years is the Spartan Laser. It made its debut in Halo 3, giving players a solid second option against vehicles instead of the Rockets.

Halo 3 Guardian

Map-wise, Halo 3 had some really strong maps that dominated gameplay – both small and medium sized maps this time around. Halo had great mid-size maps; Halo 2 had much better small maps – Halo 3 has a few good ones at each size. We’ll start with the smaller ones first. Probably the best all around small map, in my mind, is Guardian. It’s very similar in layout to Lockout, with a little bit more visual flair. It’s not an exact remake, but the general flow is very similar – sightlines that are about the same, and pretty much the same general shape. While there are a few good spots for snipers, there are also enough flanking routes that us close range guys can easily get around behind them. It’s also a really good map to mess around with in Forge – I can remember making some real fun Infection layouts on it. It’s also probably the best map for playing Swords on, I think.

The Pit

A more mid-size map that really stood out has to be The Pit. It’s a symmetrical map, that is perfect for team games – especially CTF; but really, anything plays well on it. It’s possible to place vehicles on the map in Forge, but they don’t spawn by default, and even then the vehicles are only the smaller ones. The sightlines are really clean, snipers and BRs really dominate, but at the same time, each of the major landmarks is small enough for a sword or shotgun to clear them out. Oddball is a lot of fun, Assault is always tense – CTF almost always comes down to the very last minutes. It’s definitely got one of the more action packed openings to any map, with most matches starting with a rush towards the Rockets. Learn how to get away from the grenades, or find a way to flank around the side.

Another mid-size map, albeit a bit on the larger side of things, that I always liked was Narrows. Another symmetrical map, it’s a phenomenal sniper map, with really clear, long sightlines. That said, unless you’re actually playing Snipers, the under-bridge route along with the man cannon makes it possible to get around their view. The man cannons open up a few unique options using the new deployable gear – tossing a Power Drain through the man cannon can help ensure you have a safe landing. It’s a great map for CTF – again, the man cannons open up a pretty cool capture path. Oddball can be fun, but it is possible to get out of the map, which kind of breaks that gametype. I never played around too much with Forge on it, but I can definitely see some good maps coming out from it.

Halo 3 Narrows

One last map to look at, Halo 3‘s answer to Blood Gulch, which doesn’t appear in this game, is Valhalla. It’s got the same design principle – symmetrical bases, with a wide open canyon between them. Before it got muddied up with Mantises in later games, Valhalla was a really strong option for vehicle combat. Banshees, Warthogs, Mongooses, and Wraiths all spawn in the default variant. This makes controlling the Laser, Rocket Launcher and Missile Pod very important. You only other option really is a good sniper, or solid grenade skills or boarding skills. Long range firefights tend to dominate the matches, but there are definitely some real close spots that a Shotgun or Mauler can do well at; in particular inside the bases for objective games.

One final point to consider – some of my very favorite maps that I used to play back in 2007 or so were player created variants. Almost every LAN party we had we played a couple Infection variants on Last Resort custom maps, or Sand Trap maps. Storm the Beach was probably the first map I downloaded – I think just about anyone that was around with the launch remembers this map. Don’t be afraid to look through file shares to find custom maps and games.

Halo Week 2014 – Halo 2

Halo 2No post yesterday – I was running around and waiting for the Master Chief Collection to install, which took forever. But what it did allow me was the ability to look back at Halo 2 a bit more. I’ll admit, Halo 2 is probably the one game in the series that my memory is most fuzzy with. I played a ton online, but because I was freshman in high school the year it came out, there was a lot more LAN parties going on, and my group preferred Halo: Combat Evolved way more. So leading up to the Master Chief Collection I was happy to look back at some of the Halo 2 maps and mechanics. Like I did with Halo, let’s look at some of the better maps in the game, along with a couple tactics you should be aware of for Halo 2 matchmaking.

Tactics between Halo and Halo 2 didn’t change a whole lot, but there are a couple things to keep in mind. First off, the Magnum has been rendered almost useless – it was the best weapon in the original, in Halo 2 it’s got a very limited use. That use however, ties into perhaps the biggest change in the sequel – dual wielding weapons. Smaller weapons can now be dual wielded, allowing for some pretty funky combos. In doing so though, Bungie back in the day had nerfed a few weapons – in particular the Magnum and Needler. Both are really only effective now while dual wielding. Beyond dual wielding, you also need to really familiarize yourself with the (at the time) new Battle Rifle. Just like in Halo you need to get good at hitting you head shots with the precision weapons – the BR is just the Halo 2 version. Finally, one of the biggest things that I really remembered from Halo 2 is the sweep sniping. Essentially, it amounts to utilizing the auto-aim with the Sniper Rifle to get easy headshots. It’s hard to explain, but mess around in some custom matches with a friend and you’ll quickly get the hang of it – where to pull the trigger in your sweep is the hardest part.

Halo 2 Lockout

As for some standout Halo 2 maps, the best examples are the smaller, arena style maps I think. There are a couple really huge maps in Halo 2 – Headlong, Waterworks, Backwash, and Terminal all are really great Big Team maps, but for 4V4 or even 6V6 they’re a little too big. When we look at the arena size maps though, that’s where the best ones are. Let’s start with arguably the best map in the series – Lockout. There’s something just so perfect about the map layout and flow that makes this map such a popular one for competitive play. Balanced, but not symmetrical; clear sightlines, but still with close quarters; full of multiple routes to take, including different vertical levels – it’s really just a clinic on how to design a great arena map. It works on pretty much any game mode – but the classic for me has always been SWAT. Playing that game mode on Lockout is a huge part of what made me good with the BR.

Another standout map to play is Midship. It’s another smaller, arena map, that works with just about any mode. It’s more symmetrical than Lockout is, so callouts and map flow are a little different. There are still clear sightlines, so precision weapons skills still play an important role. It’s also one of the maps to feature the Energy Sword, which as a power weapon, can really flip a match around. Keep your eyes on the weapons’ spawns, make a team push for the power weapons, and you’ll have no trouble.

Halo 2 Turf

One of the maps that I think doesn’t get the same press as the others – for example, both Lockout and Midship have both been remade for later games – is Turf. Whether that’s because it was a DLC map, coming with the Killtacular pack, or just because it’s not quite as well suited for pro games I’m not sure; but I still think it’s one of the better Halo 2 maps. It’s fantastic for one-sided objective games – assault and one-flag are both lots of fun; and it’s actually one of the better infections maps too. There are tons of alternate routes to take for flanking, and since it’s an asymmetric map, there really isn’t a “base” to hold down. It’s also one of the few small maps that features a vehicle – and actually works. There’s a Warthog that spawns – while it’s not a foolproof tactic, it is good for a couple kills for sure.

There are plenty of other classic maps – Ascension, Sanctuary, Foundation, Zanzibar – I could go on all day. The best part of the Master Chief Collection is that they’re all right there at your fingertips, unlocked at the start, and you can play them however you want. Hop in custom games, learn or relearn the maps and relive just how awesome Halo 2 was. Then realize there is so much more in the Collection to keep you busy forever.

Halo Week 2014 – Halo: Combat Evolved

Halo Master Chief CollectionWith the Master Chief Collection launching tomorrow for the Xbox One, I thought I would go over the four individual games included in the game. I’m going to be focusing primarily on the multiplayer side of things, mainly because there’s a lot to talk about. Story-wise, the greatness of the games is well documented – the successes of the franchise largely is responsible, at least I think, for keeping the Xbox afloat early on. The multiplayer side of the games kept them in disc trays for a lot longer. That said, let’s start diving into the game that got it started, Halo: Combat Evolved.

Way back in 2001, there were still some questions if a First Person Shooter could really excel on home consoles. GoldenEye 007 showed it on a much smaller scale – it was really Halo that proved you can have a real solid, competitive experience on consoles – there’s a reason that MLG ran with Halo for years. Over the years, the franchise has become a generational game – it’s been going strong for 13 years after all. Because of that, there’s a strong chance that there are players out there who never got the chance to play the original with their friends, system linking their Xboxes and playing multiplayer for hours. So I thought I’d run through a couple of the better maps from the game, as well as some of the tactics that used to be commonplace in Halo that have kind of phased out of the game a bit.

Halo CE

First up, let’s talk tactics – a big part of recent Halo multiplayer has been using armor abilities and jumping in combat. Well, way back in the day, there were no such things as armor abilities, so toss them out. The other big change is with jumping – in the original Halo jumping was a great way to lose a firefight. Your jump height is higher in that game than later ones, meaning you were hanging up there, unable to adjust direction quickly longer. What you’re really going to need to learn is how to strafe, and toss in some crouches. Strafing is easily the most important skill you’ll need in Halo multiplayer – and really it extends across the whole franchise. The other thing that long-time fans will know about is the differences in the weapons from the original to now. The bigger ones being the Shotgun and Pistol, along with the Plasma weapons. The Shotgun in Halo has changed over the course, becoming a more close range destroyer – it’s fantastic at holding a hallway down. In the original Halo, the Shotgun was so much more than that. The range on the original Shotgun is much longer than you might expect – making it a much more versatile weapon. It’s a power weapon that needs to be controlled, just like the sniper and rockets – learn it, and use.it. The Plasma weapons, which really I’m talking more about the Plasma Rifle and the Ghost’s Plasma cannons, in the original Halo game had an added slowdown effect with them. It really shows up while you’re trying to rotate around – basically dropping your sensitivity a bunch. Finally, the Pistol in Halo is probably the best all around weapon in the game. It’s a three shot kill, assuming you get head shots. It’s got a scope for precision aiming, it’s got a good fire rate, and the recoil is totally manageable. Switch out the Assault Rifle for a different gun, keep the Pistol and you’ll dominate.

Blood Gulch

Next up, let’s talk about a few of the maps that I think you’ll really see a lot of online from the first game’s selection. First, the map that’s probably become the most recognizable map in the whole series, Blood Gulch. It’s a box canyon, that’s symmetrical – perfect for bigger games of CTF. You’ll see Warthogs, Scorpions and Ghosts flying all about the map – especially since Halo didn’t have destructible vehicles. A good sniper can really hold down an offensive attack, and having a good driver can flip the tide of the battle. Learn the sight lines from the caves, where you head is visible from and where it isn’t; know when to use the teleporters, and what to expect when you pop out from one. Also, be prepared for sore players if you manage to pick up the power weapons they want – this is a notorious map for poor sportmanship, especially with the Sniper at the start.

Another map I fully expect to see lots of is Chill Out. It’s a total different style map from Blood Gulch; instead of a large open map, you have a smaller, more close range focused map. Shotguns and Pistols are dominant, along with good grenade work. Learn the flow of the map – knowing when to hit the warps to make a big move can really help out if the game is slipping away. Also make sure you keep an eye on the Rockets and Overshield – letting an opponent get those can really make for a bad day. Chill Out is a really great map for CTF – we used to play 10 caps, Shotguns only, with no shields and unlimited grenades – and it was always coming down to 9-9. Tense games are always fun games – playing it online is going to be a blast.

Another big map that will probably show up plenty, especially in the big team objective hoppers, is Sidewinder. Another map we always used to play at LAN parties, Sidewinder is one of the biggest maps in the series. You’ll need good drivers and gunners to mount a successful offensive, or a really good stealth guy. Using the Active Camo in the mountain tunnel was always my preferred option for infiltrating the enemy base – and using the divider to hop in a waiting Warthog with the Flag. It’s a map that is perfect for one sided objective games, with tons of different options to get around the map. Sniping is really important, but again – keep an eye on the Rockets, since a good Rocket can clear out the sniper nest, as well as the bottom floor. Keep an eye on players that might stick their Warthog into their base – the sightlines aren’t great with it, but as it’s indestructible, it can really muck up an attack.

One last map to talk about is probably my favorite in the game – Hang ‘Em High. Despite being an interior map, it’s actually really large. It’s a symmetrical, square map, with lots of vertical sightlines and flanking routes. It plays really well with larger party sizes, and it’s got a good balance of combat options. Shotguns can kick some ass, snipers can lock down a spawn, a good flanker can get around behind (especially using the Active Camo) and there’s also Rockets that can really cause some havoc. One of my favorite games to play is Rockets CTF, we usually played to 5 – the flag physics in the first game really made for some crazy moments. A Rocket kill from across the map can not only save the score, but thanks to the explosion, the flag could really end up just about anywhere. It’s a hectic game mode, but far from the best on Hang ‘Em High – that would be Pistols only. It’ll get your skills with the gun up quick, and you’ll almost always have a close match.

One last point I want to make – if you’re picking up the Master Chief Collection and you haven’t played the first game, you really need to spend some time with it. The story is phenomenal, with one of the best final levels I’ve played. There’s really only one weak multiplayer map, with tons of potential game variants to come up with awesome games to play.