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Halo 4 multiplayer test: a lesson in respect

Thursday, 1st November 2012 09:06 GMT By Dave Cook

Halo 4 delivers a vast multiplayer offering. Size isn’t everything however, so VG247′s Dave Cook puts 343′s online components to the test to see if they stack up with the series’ legacy.

Want our Halo 4 campaign impressions as well? See what we thought here.

They say that you should never shit where you eat. For 343 Industries, failing to deliver anything less than an exceptional multiplayer component in Halo 4 would have resulted in quite a big mess indeed.

If the studio stumbled, then the fan fallout would have been catastrophic. Microsoft clearly knew this, so you can take solace in knowing that the publisher’s faith in 343 was well-placed, and that this is a solid multiplayer offering.

Say you’re 343 approaching the mammoth task of continuing Bungie’s legacy: do you reinvent, refine, or scale back the experience? What needed fixed? What should have been left alone? What would fans hate? What would fans love?

When you start to think about these questions the puzzle grows larger and harder to solve, and that is why the developer has opted for the subtle touch. This isn’t a sea change of ideals, but a cautious and accomplished extension of the template you know and love.

Rest assured, Halo 4′s multiplayer component – dubbed ‘Infinity’ – is vast, and is broken down into four main components: War Games, Spartan Ops, Forge and Theatre. Before launching into PvP, let’s talk about co-op campaign Spartan Ops.


Spartan Ops

Ensuring that Halo 4′s co-op is no mere side-show, 343 has pledged an episodic Spartan Ops campaign that will see new chapters added each week from the game’s launch. It’s a huge undertaking, and the digestible nature of each chapter makes it fun to dip in and out of with friends.

“If there is one criticism to be levied at Spartan Ops it’s that some chapters in the initial episode feel short, even for an episodic content stream like this. It’s a minor criticism, given that we’re yet to see the full extent of what 343 will offer post-launch.”

Set six months after the end of Master Chief’s story campaign, Spartan Ops is broken down into episodes that tell the ongoing story of Fireteam Crimson. They’re a cocky group of Spartan-IV troops assigned to the Forerunner planet Requiem, tasked with mopping up Covenant stragglers.

Mission objectives aren’t especially inspired, as you run around disabling power generators and shields among a tidal wave of enemies. That said, the volume of Covenant threats is well-suited to four player co-op, and there’s no shortage of vehicles and firearms with which to cause carnage.

When you die – and you will, make no mistake – you go back to the last spawn point, which keeps pushing forward as you do, similar to Battlefield’s Rush mode. This advancement gives your squad a real sense of progression as they inch closer to their goal with each spawn. It’s rewarding to say the least, especially on Heroic difficulty or above.

Progression is also driven by XP challenges exclusive to Spartan Ops. Killing a set number of a particular enemy type will dole out experience rewards that level up your PvP Spartan, so there is a certainly a broader incentive for playing Spartan Ops.

If there is one criticism to be levied at Spartan Ops it’s that some chapters in the initial episode feel short, even for an episodic content stream like this. It’s a minor criticism, given that we’re yet to see the full extent of what 343 will offer post-launch.


War Games

War Games is where you’ll likely spend most of your time with Halo 4 online. The idea is that the UNSC Infinity plays home to a virtual training area for Spartan-IV recruits, and that this is where all of your matches take place.

The fundamentals of Halo 4′s control were always going to be a cause for concern among fans, but there is absolutely nothing stopping you from buying Halo 4 on day-one, diving right into multiplayer, and picking up where you left off in Halo 3.

Both games feel identical at base level and again, this makes sense, because to change what makes Halo feel so unique in a sea of also-rans would have been suicide. 343 has chosen to build on this foundation, and the biggest change is your Spartan-IV’s load-out.

”It’s key to stress that Tactical Packages don’t appear to unbalance gameplay, but only when the game is at the mercy of the masses will we find out if any of them need patched. There is a still a sense that ‘gun-on-gun’ gameplay is king, and that aiming and skill are Halo 4′s law.”

Spartans now have more tools and armour abilities at their disposal, as well as new Support Upgrades and Tactical Packages. These are essentially perks that augment your Spartan’s abilities and gear- from quicker reload and increased clip size, to unlimited sprint to faster shield recharge.

Rather than rely on pre-set classes, Halo 4 gives you free reign over every equipment slot. Each time you rank up you will unlock more gear, which is bought with Spartan Tokens that are dispensed per level. Again, similar to Spartan Ops, you always feel like you’re being rewarded.

You still can’t assign power weapons to your load-out, so big chunky firearms like the Fuel Rod Gun are still only ever found within maps. However, there is a Tactical Package that lets you equip two primary weapons in one load-out should you wish to increase your firepower a little.

It key to stress that Tactical Packages don’t appear to unbalance gameplay, but only when the game is at the mercy of the masses will we find out if any of them need patched. There is a still a sense that ‘gun-on-gun’ gameplay is king, and that aiming and skill are Halo 4′s law.

Grabbing power weapons to tip the scales requires you to run into open spaces, so there is an element of risk reward. Another method of getting a boost without sticking your neck out is to call in an Ordinance Drop.

Rack up enough kills and you will be able to select from one of three randomly cycled power weapons and Tactical Packages. Once selected, an Ordinance Drop falls from orbit containing your item.

Your random choices can include anything from temporary overshields or speed boosts, to Promethean weaponry or a Needler, but the point is that your three choices are random, keeping exploitation to a minimum.

It’s sort of like a killstreak reward from Call of Duty, but it doesn’t fuck the competition to the point of rage-quitting, plus your drop only lasts for one life. Die, and you lose your reward, and its important to remember that enemies can also steal your capsule too, so you have to grab it quick.

In addition to all of this new gear, Armour Abilities have returned along with a few new additions. Jet packs are still insanely fun, while Hard Light Shields give you temporary, yet degradable cover.

The Booster Pack lets you dart around in bursts, although you are vulnerable at the end of each sprint, and by and far the best addition is Promethean Vision, a skill that highlights enemies on your visor.

“While it might not be a huge shift in terms of handling or design, Halo 4 is a welcome return to form, and proves that 343 has the skill and focus to give long-time fans what they expect from the franchise.”

As Promethean Vision works through walls, there was a real danger that this could have been a balancing disaster – Halo 4′s own ‘Ghost Pro’ – but 343 has handled it well by restricting its use to around three seconds at a time.

It also takes ages to recharge, so it’s useful as a quick radar ping to get your bearings, or to detect nearby threats. Tapping it on and off quickly is the key to using effectively. The point is that none of Halo 4′s gear, weapons or abilities are perfect. They’re expertly balanced.

But what are toys without a massive pram to throw them around in? Halo 4′s maps are the typical of Bungie’s symmetrical arenas of old, and rather than deliver sprawling environments with barren areas, 343 has opted for focus and verticality here.

Take the map Complex for example: it’s a twisting science facility full of walkways, ramps and rooftops. It’s large, but the surrounding forest areas are scaled in to create a tight border around the construct. It still doesn’t feel small however, as the wealth of routes, vertical platforms and rooms all make for a dense, cleverly-designed play space.

The same goes for Abandon, which takes place within another science facility located on a dark – and very purple – alien planet. It’s not colossal, but it looks different to other maps in the series, and is full of twisted vines that hamper visibility, as well as many floors and walkways to explore..

But then no Halo game would be complete without big maps, and 343 has proven that it can design environments to match Bungie’s efforts. For example, Ragnarok is a superb re-imagining of Halo 3′s Valhalla, complete with a new Mantis mech to fight over.

There are no dud maps here, and with more unlockables, greater freedom to tweak your Spartan and a slew of returning game modes – including the new infection-based Flood Mode – Halo 4′s PvP element is vast. Thanks to inevitable DLC streams, it’s only going to get bigger post-launch.

Halo 4′s multiplayer component is proof that studios don’t need to re-write the rules to create something that feels fresh. There are many small little changes running throughout the experience that, when combined, make for a balanced and thoroughly enjoyable experience.

While it might not be a huge shift in terms of handling or design, Halo 4 is a welcome return to form, and proves that 343 has the skill and focus to give long-time fans what they expect from the franchise.

I’m still crap at it mind you.

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52 Comments

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  1. Hcw87

    Do you know how the leaderboards/stat tracking works? Is it cod-ified with KDR and crap, or does it actually focus on objectives (flags capped, points capped etc)?

    KDR doesn’t belong in a Halo game, or any game for that matter if it were up to me.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Dave Cook

    @1 nah KDR isn’t a focus man, don’t worry :)

    #2 2 years ago
  3. viralshag

    I’m not going to read this… I just want to play the game!

    #3 2 years ago
  4. G1GAHURTZ

    @1:

    No one forces you to check your stats, man. If k/d is there, just ignore it, if it bothers you that much.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Gadzooks!

    Any word on the less conventional MP modes like rocket race, infection, or the one from H3 with those gigantic troop carriers duelling in a sea of sand?

    That’s where Halo MP evenings shine for me, with the insane amount of variety. I get bored with deathmatch and CTF pretty quickly.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Hcw87

    @4
    You don’t understand. Having KDR in any shooter makes people focus on that and NOT the objectives. For some reason, people think that a high KDR is more important than helping with objectives these days.

    From what i’ve seen in some CTF footage, only flag caps and points are shown, no kills. That’s good, i only hope there isn’t an overall KDR displayed somewhere.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Docker Al

    Hey Dave have they revised the lobby system yet into different game types or is the stupid voting system back? For example my favourite games were “King of the Hill” & “Crazy King” but they were almost always voted down-usually in favour of something I didn’t want to play. If I can’t choose what game I’m playing I’ll give it a miss and stick with “Blops 2″.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. G1GAHURTZ

    @6:

    Oh, ok. Good point, actually. Playing an objective game against a clan who’s only interest is making the game last as long as possible, so that they can rack up kills is super annoying.

    So yeah, limiting k/d to deathmatch based game types sounds like a good idea. I hope they go with that, too.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Hcw87

    From what i’ve heard, kills and deaths are only displayed while playing Slayer, but i’ve heard nothing about a global leaderboard, or global tracking through Halo Waypoint. Guess we just have to wait and find out.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Petulant Radish

    Quick question for you Dave, does the multiplayer have drop in drop out play (a la COD & Battlefield) or is it as it used to be in Halo that when you’re team loses a member that’s it?

    #10 2 years ago
  11. polygem

    K/D discussion: i agree that in halo K/D shouldn´t be the focus. i believe in cod blops my K/d is around 1.5ish in halo reach it is 0.98.
    the reason is that i play much more objective games in reach than i do in blops, so i focus more on objective than on kills.
    if you look at my reach K/D many would say i am a terrible player and why i am certainly not the best halo player out there i am certainly not a bad one…objective games in halo like oddball can totally mess up your K/D statisctics while being loads of fun. but it definiteley can mess up your K/D much more than conquest in BF or CTF in cod…

    #11 2 years ago
  12. Petulant Radish

    Halo has always had K/D ratios (though post game it would only show you + or – kills) and it did lead to objective games being a rush for that (and thus annoying as hell even though it’s my favoured game type) in the slayer games though it’s needed to show who’s dead weight or not!

    #12 2 years ago
  13. polygem

    sorry for typos. in a rush and on a phone

    #13 2 years ago
  14. polygem

    @12: yep. 100 % agreed

    #14 2 years ago
  15. polygem

    sorry cannot edit atm: if i´d only play slayer or BTB my K/D would definiteley be 2 or 3ish for sure…

    #15 2 years ago
  16. Christopher Jack

    A good KDR is always essential to a victory, rarely does a team 20 kills behind actually win an objective game as they’ve been dead a whole lot longer. It’s not the only component of the game & perhaps it is focused on too much during objective games but it’s the easiest way to tell the good players from the bad players. You’re not going to score a 1/10 KDR & be considered essential- even in objective games where you somehow get lucky & sneak away a flag.

    #16 2 years ago
  17. viralshag

    The whole K/D is like a side bit of fun to me. As I rarely, or more accurately never, talk to randoms online it means very little to me. I usually play with mates and just try to have fun.

    I do prefer having a positive K/D ratio but if I don’t it really doesn’t impact me in any way. Currently my MoH:WF K/D is 0.93… I’m reasonably happy with that.

    #17 2 years ago
  18. Hcw87

    @16
    A player with a 2.5KDR doesn’t have to be better than a player with a 1.0 KDR. KDR has NOTHING to do with skill, considering you can boost it up by camping/boosting, so it’s hard to tell if a player with a 3.0KDR is actually any good.

    #18 2 years ago
  19. Petulant Radish

    Overall K/D for Reach is 1.74, again mine would be higher just looking at Slayer games…

    #19 2 years ago
  20. Christopher Jack

    I have a modest average of 1.16 kills per death out of over 1500 games in Reach. Would be much better if I didn’t play so much infection.

    @18, How does camping make you less skillful? I’m sorry but if someone can’t kill you while you’re hiding in one area, they must suck. There was a little invention called the grenade to catch people hiding in bunkers with shotguns. As for boosting, I’ve never met someone sad enough to try it. KDR is by far the easiest way to measure skill, not 100% accurate but you tell me of a better way without doing extensive studies on individual players.

    #20 2 years ago
  21. Hcw87

    @20
    Count the flags capped/returned per game, points for assisting flag capture etc. The person with the highest score can be considered the ”best player”. Not the guy with the most kills. That’s the perfect system in a CTF game for example, and i believe Halo 4 is built around this.

    #21 2 years ago
  22. G1GAHURTZ

    I do spend a lot of time working on my k/d, but I don’t let it affect the way that I play.

    There are different ways of improving it.

    1. Change the way that you play, so that you put yourself in the safest areas, and take the fewest risks.
    2. Get better at the game, play to win, and die less through improved skill and experience.

    I’ve played objective modes in various games with people who have absolutely no interest in doing anything other than keeping their back to a wall and aim down sight. These people may well have a decent looking k/d, but they’re rubbish as far as I’m concerned.

    They’re in a team game so that they can hide and die less, and their most effective tactic is the patience to finish a 10 minute game with 2 kills and no deaths.

    Oh look at my k/d! I’m 2.0!

    K/d as a measure of ability only works with players who play each game mode as it should be played. The guys who come top of the leaderboard in most of the games that they play, and who don’t hide their complete lack of twitch skills by camping in a corner.

    Basically, k/d on it’s own doesn’t really tell you that much. It needs to be combined with total kills, hours played and win/loss.

    #22 2 years ago
  23. Erthazus

    Working for a k/d Ratio with AUTO-AIM in CoD is hilarious.

    #23 2 years ago
  24. G1GAHURTZ

    Why?

    #24 2 years ago
  25. ManuOtaku

    Well my k/d ratio on games like battlefield and gotham city impostors is above 1.30, on COD is 0.68, which is bad i think, but i dont camp or play overdefensively because of this, quite the opposite, i am very aggresive, because i want to be better, i just know there is players that breathe COD, so i enjoy the game even if i got 6/12 kills in a game, at least the six guys i kill made up for it, i dont mind it that much really, and it doent affect the way i play, i try to improve it, but just trying to get better in the game.

    In halo i dont know my k/d ratio, reeach was my first multiplayer in the series, mostly i played just for the singles player campain, but i think is not that good, because practically iam a noob at this game, i hope things will gete better with number 4 :), wishfull thinking right here ;)

    #25 2 years ago
  26. viralshag

    @24, Why what? Don’t you know that auto-aim makes all players on consoles the exact same level of skill… I mean, duh!

    You should see my amazing K/D ratio in Excel, it’s off the charts.

    #26 2 years ago
  27. Dave Cook

    Auto-aim doesn’t make everyone the same skill level, that’s an insane thing to say. You still have to be skilled to outsmart, outshoot and out run your opponents, even then the strength of auto-aim has decreased dramatically in console games over the years.

    I smell PC elite-ism on this thread and it hurts my nose, so I’m backing out.

    #27 2 years ago
  28. G1GAHURTZ

    @26:

    Oh right. How could I have missed something so obvious.

    Still, I suppose I’d have to play CoD for 500 hours in one summer to really understand these things…

    #28 2 years ago
  29. Christopher Jack

    @22. I have very low twitch skills so I can’t run around scoring no scope headshots on maximum sensitivity like some freaks do, I simply can’t take that approach. I wouldn’t call myself a camper but I play it my way at my pace, as I said I don’t run around no scoping, instead, I run into rooms, or cover, secure the area, hold it for a while- then move on before people tire & come after me. My question to you is, does my lack of twitch skills make me a bad player because I may camp for a minute or two?

    @27, You’re right Erthazus is this sites largest PC elitist, ask anyone or just view any of his other comments. His views are that getting or doing something on a console equivalent doesn’t compare to the exact same thing on PC because he said so. He claims that M&KB are more accurate but then complains about console players using aim assist- where’s the logic?

    #29 2 years ago
  30. ManuOtaku

    I dont play PC games, so i do not comment about it, but if that was the case with the COD auto-aim on consoles, them it wouldnt be hard for new players to keep with the fight, learning the game, being smart and patience, and finding the better load out for your gaming style indicates me that theres more than auto aim into the game that many people gives credit for.
    p.s for the record iam not a COD fan, i like the game but i suck at it by the way.

    #30 2 years ago
  31. G1GAHURTZ

    You still have to be skilled to outsmart, outshoot and out run your opponents

    This is obvious to anyone with a brain, Dave. Some people (Erthazus) just look for any excuse to say something stupid.

    #31 2 years ago
  32. vormison

    So, has anyone confirmed if the K/D info is shown during game on Slayer?

    Also, David Cook wouldn’t happen to be from Ohio by any chance would he? He could be from England for all I know but he types like people talk in Ohio.

    #32 2 years ago
  33. Dave Cook

    @32 Scotland :)

    #33 2 years ago
  34. Hcw87

    Yes, kills and deaths are shown during Slayer.

    #34 2 years ago
  35. vormison

    @33 Okay, thank you :)

    @34 I was hoping that wasn’t the case. Oh well. Thank you for the info!

    #35 2 years ago
  36. absolutezero

    I play too many games to ever really give a shit about any of the stat-tracking bollocks that seem to be all the rage this generation.

    Even in something like TF2 which Ive dumped about 800 hours into I don’t think Ive ever looked at the detailed stats on Steam. Also I have never looked at anyone elses breakdown because it makes no difference to anything.

    I do enjoy being judged because of a couple of numbers unrelated to way I play and my definition of fun. What a massive waste of time.

    #36 2 years ago
  37. G1GAHURTZ

    @29:

    Lack of twitch skills doesn’t necessarily make anyone a bad player.

    People should play to their strengths.

    What makes someone a bad player is playing a different objective to the one that is required by the game.

    I’d rather have someone like Manu on my team who plays the game trying to win in the right way, but stuggles, than someone who might as well be on his own team, because all he can concentrate on is covering his own back.

    #37 2 years ago
  38. polygem

    really would love to get a vg247 halo4 mp night going on. just for the fun of it. not too competitive, just to check out some gamemodes and have some fun…

    #38 2 years ago
  39. vormison

    @36 I don’t really care about stats either. My only opinion is in regards to it showing deaths in-game. It changes the overall attitude of many other players. Halo has always been a lot more relaxing for me to play as others on your team are not continuously raging about how many deaths you’ve had.

    I honestly couldn’t tell you what my K/D is for any game because I don’t care. However, like I said, it just gives gamers another reason to act like morons :(

    #39 2 years ago
  40. ManuOtaku

    #38 Poly well we are friends on the 360, as soon as i got it, probably a month from now on, i will send you an invitation ok, i know i will be late to the party but what i can do if thats the time needed to get a game here in my countrie ;_;

    #40 2 years ago
  41. viralshag

    @Manu, Poly and Dave (plus anyone else) – We’ll have to do a Halo forum post to exchange Gamertags :P

    #41 2 years ago
  42. polygem

    ok manu. cool! who knows, maybe you´ll even switch from gotham city impostors to halo 4 completeley;)

    #42 2 years ago
  43. polygem

    @viral: yes would be great if anyone is interested. i am definiteley. if noone will do it i will do that in the next days. kinda busy atm tho.

    #43 2 years ago
  44. ManuOtaku

    #41 Viral mine is like my name here, and thats the same on ps3 and MAL, is my internet name, with time i will change it to oldermanuotaku, but i think i will wait to get 40, in 3 years time by the way.

    #44 2 years ago
  45. viralshag

    @Manu, Haha, ok cool. On PS3 and 360 mine is Peacefish. ;)

    #45 2 years ago
  46. Petulant Radish

    @33 Dave Cook:

    not sure if you saw this but:

    Quick question for you Dave, does the multiplayer have drop in drop out play (a la COD & Battlefield) or is it as it used to be in Halo that when you’re team loses a member that’s it?

    #46 2 years ago
  47. polygem

    @33: good question.

    My GT 360: MiqMoq
    Ps3: OhMikeOdd (not online much on ps3 though)

    #47 2 years ago
  48. Dave Cook

    @46 there is drop in and out as far as I could see. I saw one game where a guy came in mid-way through. Seen some pretty unbalanced teams too in terms of size.

    #48 2 years ago
  49. viralshag

    I just pre-ordered my copies of this and BLOPS2. :D

    #49 2 years ago
  50. reask

    What is auto aim?
    I mean is it something you have an option of putting on or is it just there?

    If its the latter then I suck big time.

    #50 2 years ago
  51. freedoms_stain

    @50, as far as I know all console games have it to a degree. It’s a “close enough” system, you don’t need to actually have your cross-hair perfectly on an opponent to hit them. In games with iron sights bringing up the iron sight will centre the sight on an opponent as long as you are within certain margins.

    #51 2 years ago
  52. Petulant Radish

    @48, thanks Dave, hopefully that should get better though on full release. I love Halo, but getting stuck on a team and everyone gets booted or leaves was incredible annoying!

    #52 2 years ago