Over the weekend Halo 5 was ‘announced’. Actually, ‘re-announced’ is probably the right word. Great news. But as someone who spent (literally) thousands of hours playing Halo multiplayer I care about one thing: how is 343 Industries going to make me invest in shooting other human controlled enemies in the face again? How will 343 make me care about Halo’s multiplayer?
So, with that, here is my own personal — somewhat parochial — views on what I’d personally like to see in a brand new Halo multiplayer game.
1. Make Halo play like Halo again
Talk about your all time vague statements.
Make Halo play like Halo again — what does that even mean?
Perhaps the quickest path to understanding what I mean is this: I don’t need a Halo game packed with features that other first person shooter have.
Let me unpack that further: I don’t want to play another Halo game that makes me feel as though I’m playing Battlefield or Call of Duty. Please God no. I play/played Halo specifically because Halo feels different. Let every other first person shooter congeal into a messed up chimera with 10 heads and iron sights. Let them have their level-up systems, and their weapon upgrades and all that nonsense. Let’s keep Halo as something of a pure arena shooter, the way Zeus intended.
That means: no more ordnance drops. God. No more. Halo was always about map control and weapon control. It was always about balance and the creation of some sort of skill gap. That’s what kept things compelling. That’s why people constantly came back to Halo instead of abandoning it in droves **cough** Halo 4 **cough**.
2. Bigger isn’t better
This is just a personal preference of mine. Bear with me here.
Halo is many different things to many different players, but I’d argue you could splice its community into two large groups. There are people — like me — who like smaller 4v4 focused maps like Lockout/Midship and those who enjoy large scale vehicle driven maps like Blood Gulch.
The instinct of Bungie and 343, it seems, has always skewed towards the large scale side of things — the Big Team Battle crew. It makes sense: with increased processing power comes great responsibility and the short cut to ‘OMG LOOK AT HOW MUCH HALO HAS IMPROVED’ is to create large scale maps with a lot vehicles. Focusing on smaller maps like Guardian tends to bring the ‘HALO IS THE SAME NEVER CHANGES’ crowd out of the woodwork.
But creating a good, small arena style map is always a far more difficult task in terms of design and, in the long term, will result in a more compelling experience that keeps players returning over and over again.
In short: I’m not saying we shouldn’t cater to those who enjoy the grand scale Halo experience — not at all. I’m just asking for more of those small, arena style maps — that’s where the core Halo experience lives.
3. Let’s Strip Back Weapons
Halo games — and I’d argue this trend began with Halo 2 — suffers from weapon bloat. Too many weapons that do the exact same thing. For every human weapon (sniper, shotgun, assault rifle) there is an alien equivalent that did the precise same thing. With the introduction of the Forerunners as a race, that two weapon eco-system transformed into a three weapon eco-system and yeah… things got a bit crazy.
In terms of weapons I’d still argue that the original Halo remains the most balanced, primarily because it’s the most simple: there was the pistol, which operated as an all round starting weapon, and there were power weapons, which worked brilliantly in their own specific station. A sniper rifle for long range, shotgun for close range, rocket launcher to blow shit up. In Halo 2 the battle rifle performed the same function as the pistol.
In Halo 4? Dear God, we have the battle rifle, the DMR, the pistol? Which is supposed to be our all rounder, and how do we decipher the balance between the other hundreds of weapons dotted around the map and in the game?
Halo has become far too bloated.
The rock/scissors/paper dynamic of the weapons, always a central part of Halo’s competitive mechanics, has been lost. Let’s get it back somehow.
4. Make Grenades Important Again
Sometimes we forget that, in the famed 30 seconds of fun at Halo’s core, it all starts with a grenade. In Halo, grenades are arguably more important than the weapons themselves. When Halo was first released the manner in which grenades were used was genuinely innovative: throw in a grenade, take care of the smaller grunts, drop the shields of the elites and clear them up with the pistol/assault rifle.
Endlessly fun. It’s still fun to this day. It’s as natural and primal as Mario’s jump.
The same goes in multiplayer. Grenades are so integral to the multiplayer experience. Using them correctly is about map knowledge, it’s about reading the game, reading the players — it’s about anticipating the moves of your opponent and strategically throwing grenades into the position where they are going to be.
Let’s bring that back. Let’s make that a focus for Halo 5.
5. Support The Competitive Scene
343 Industries, from what I can tell, is already doing this — having hired a good number of ex-Halo pros like GhostAyame and Bravo — but I’m hoping to see the fruits of that labour in the game itself and in the support for things like MLG playlists and adaptable settings that allow users to create the Halo that works best in a competitive setting.
It’s strange — as pro gaming exploded into the mainstream, professional Halo just sort of fell to the wayside. Part of it, I think, had to do with the waning popularity of Halo itself, but I can’t help but wonder if changes to the core Halo experience with Halo 4 facilitated that fall from grace.
Twitch is a big deal. Streaming is a huge deal. Pro gaming is huge deal. I’m hoping Halo 5 — as well as being a well made video game that appeals to a broad audience — finds the space to appeal to that niche audience, because that’s what gives a game longevity; that’s what will inspire players to take it seriously as a competitive experience again.