Halo 3: ODST and Reach Beta
I waited to review Halo 3: ODST until now because access to the Halo: Reach beta is part of the whole ODST deal, and I wanted to have a good chance to try them both out first. Here’s what I found.
Halo 3: ODST
In some ways, Halo 3: ODST by Bungie is quite different from Halo 3. The focus is shifted to a more tactical, strategic style of play. There are definitely still the big firefights that you remember from Halo 3, but there are often side routes for flanking, and effective AI squad mates. Headshots are rewarded more highly than body shots, and emphasized more in the strategic setting. The storytelling in ODST also takes a departure from its predecessor: instead of the grandiose, epic tales of saving the galaxy that the original 3 Halo games offer, ODST’s style is more nostalgic, a little reminiscent of a film noir, with excellent music to match. The environment design is in a similar style to the original game, but shifted into the city environment with grace. The Firefight mode is a blast with multiple people.
In other ways, however, Halo 3: ODST is a lot like a single player map pack for Halo 3. Orbital Drop Shock Troopers don’t have shields like Spartans, but they might as well, since they have “stamina” instead, that recharges after not being hit. Sound familiar? The graphics are about the same quality too – that is to say, they’re still quite good, but nothing real special if you’ve played Halo 3 already. There is no ODST multiplayer to speak of, besides the cooperative campaign and Firefight. Instead, Halo 3: ODST comes with a multiplayer disc containing the Halo 3 multiplayer experience you remember, but with more maps, including those from the Halo 3 DLC and a few of its own.
Halo 3: ODST is a quality game for what it is, but I can understand why people question its full game price tag. The Reach Beta access is a nice perk, though. Between the two, renting or borrowing it for a few weeks seems like a good option.
Halo: Reach Beta
If you’re a Halo 3 fan, you’ll likely enjoy the Halo: Reach beta. Here are the most important points:
- Loadouts – Every time the player spawns, he is given the option to change his loadout, which consists of starting weapons and an ability, such as active camouflage, sprinting, temporary invincibility (during which the player is completely immobile), or jetpacks. I like them in that they allow me to adjust to the current state of combat. To clarify, the primary function of all players is the same, regardless of their loadout, so I wouldn’t classify them as classes. They’re really more focused on slightly modifying your combat style, for the most part, and I like it.
- Gametypes – Bungie has been experimenting with some interesting new gametypes, like Invasion and Headhunter. Invasion has some potential, but it’s on a huge map with too few people (6v6). I played once as an Elite, and completed the objective with only a few deaths, mostly because I hardly encountered members of the other team. Headhunter, where you frag others for skulls, and turn them in for points, sounds fun in theory, but in practice, it’s often really frustrating. Typically, you get your hands on some hard-won skulls, only to be killed just before reaching the deposit point. End result: you get 4 kills and no points, and some other guy gets 1 kill and 5 points. This scenario is mostly because players can always see enemies with at least a couple of skulls, and can always see the turn-in points. Intercepts like that are made easy. I would say this gametype definitely needs some tweaking, and for now, I’ll stick with Slayer, where my kills always count. They definitely have some work to do in many of their game modes.
- New Maps – The new levels are visually satisfying, as usual, and are constructed well for game flow, with one exception: Sword Base basically requires that you have a jetpack, or it can be pretty confusing to get to the floor you want. I’m guessing that one will be a little less popular in the full game.
- Matchmaking – There are a number of improvements to the matchmaking system in Halo: Reach. There are more customization options for what types of players you want to play with, and what priorities to put on connection quality, similarly skilled players, etc. They’ve also completely replaced the old veto system with a vote on three choices, as well as a “none of the above” option. One glaring problem I found in previous Halo games, and continued into Halo: Reach, was that players would leave the game, and ruin the rest of the match for the remaining players. Fortunately, Bungie has recently posted about a new Quit Probation system to keep this to a minimum. We’ll see how effective it actually is, but at least they’re trying.
- They’re Bringing Halo Back – Much to my personal satisfaction, Halo: Reach is bringing back some classic elements of the original, the loss of which made Halo 2 the problematic game that it was. Health is back as a completely separate item from shields, as well as health packs around the levels. The pistol now has a scope again, which brings its usefulness closer to that of the pistol we all remember with such fondness. There are also no items like bubble shields from Halo 3. I actually enjoyed the strategy that these brought, but I see the logic of ditching them when there are already abilities built in to player loadouts.
Overall, I have great hope for Halo: Reach, I’m having fun with the beta, and I’m actually looking forward to a Halo game again. Like any beta, there are some bumps in the road, but Bungie is working them out. On the other hand, they have a lot of work to do. On an overall design level, I think Bungie has made some heavy mistakes with games of the past, but it seems they’re recognizing them, even if it did take them a while.
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