Earlier this week, 343 Industries introduced the Title Update Beta Playlist into Halo Reach’s online matchmaking. The TU Beta Playlist allows gamers to try out several of the new features and settings made possible by the recent Title Update. A full rundown of these changes can be found here.
Now that I’ve had time to put Reach’s updated mechanics through there paces, here are my thoughts and impressions…
One of the most controversial elements of the Halo Reach sandbox has been the Armor Lock armor ability. Thanks to the Title Update, AL has received some adjustments; all of which are improvements. The first thing you will notice is that damage taken while in Armor Lock drains your ability meter. This helps prevent players from activating their armor lock and “turtling” until backup arrives. However, you can still use armor lock in more strategic, predictive ways….. like this:
The other important adjustment to armor lock is that it no longer detaches sticky grenades from your body when you activate it. If someone hits you with a sticky grenade after you activate armor lock, you will still be protected. But if someone sticks you before you activate armor lock, you’re dead. Although this is a definite improvement from a balance point of view, it makes me a little sad that I’ll no longer be able to do this:
All together, Armor Lock now feels more balanced with the rest of the Halo Reach sanbox. It is still a useful tool, but no longer so overpowered or prone to being used in frustrating ways.
In addition to armor lock, there is one other armor ability to receive some tweaking: Active Camo. In all honesty, I don’t really have much of an opinion regarding the changes to active camo, mostly because I didn’t even notice them. Your ability meter now drains a little faster, and moving while camouflaged has a greater effect on the speed at which your ability meter depletes, but I honestly didn’t find these changes had any measurable impact on the gameplay. Both using Active Camo and fighting against it felt about the same as always, which is fine by me. I never had any problem with AC’s implementation in the first place.
With the Armor Ability adjustments out of the way, let’s take a look at the real hot topic: Bloom. Reticule Bloom is without a doubt the single most controversial gameplay mechanic in Halo Reach. Some love it, others hate it. With this Title Update, 343 have done something very interesting. Rather than make a hard change to how bloom works, they have added tools into the Halo Reach game engine that give 343 the ability to customize bloom however they want, and save it as a game setting. They can create a gametype where bloom is reduced to 50%, or exaggerated to 300%…. whatever they want.
Currently, there are 2 different bloom variants available in the TU Beta playlist. The default settings have bloom running at 85% of it’s original strength. It is still very much there, but your reticule returns to it’s standard size a little faster than we are used to. There is also a custom gametype in the playlist rotation that features 0% bloom (on all long-range weapons). This means that both the DMR and Needle Rifle retain their full accuracy at any firing speed.
So…. what do I think of these changes?
Zero Bloom is horrible. It completely throws off the balance of the Halo Reach sandbox. The DMR becomes a full-blown power weapon, and the Needle Rifle is even stronger. The simple fact is that Halo Reach’s multiplayer maps were not designed with a “bloomless” DMR in mind. Too often, enemy teams spawn facing each other with nothing but open air between them. Reticule bloom helped ensure that players had time to maneuver and find cover, as it forced players to fire slowly in order to stay accurate. Remove bloom from the equation and players are now being gunned down within seconds of spawning into the match. Team slayer games end up devolving into a series of long-range standoffs, with both teams permanently pinned behind cover, jumping out to take a couple quick pot-shots, then hiding again.
The side effect to this is that the majority of the Halo sandbox becomes completely ineffectual. Zero Bloom forces players into a constant state of long-range combat. At long range, most of the tools at the player’s disposal are useless. Armor abilities provide no help, melee is impossible, and grenades are only helpful in rare occasions. And don’t even think about using a mid-range weapon unless you are camping in a very small room. The DMR, Needle Rifle, and the Pistol (which has received a damage boost and now delivers a 4 shot kill) are the only viable weapons. Even a Sniper Rifle is a liability unless you are really good with it.
Halo has always been like a game of chess; where each player has a wide variety of tools and potential strategies at their disposal. Zero Bloom turns halo into a game of checkers… Both teams know exactly what each other are going to try to do. It’s just a matter of who can do it a little better. Now, there is no doubt in my mind that some gamers prefer it that way (Call of Duty, anyone?) but to me it just removes everything that makes Halo’s combat so dynamic and special.
85% bloom is another story. Personally, I still find that 85% bloom causes all the same problems as Zero Bloom, just to a far smaller degree. Kill times are slightly faster, the average combat distance gets pushed out a little farther. The emphasis of the game still becomes “Which team can out-DMR the other team from long range”. I think that 85% bloom will be generally far more well received than zero bloom…. I just worry that decreasing bloom in any way will have more negative effects than positive ones.
Here’s the thing: the most common complaints about Bloom center around how it effects close/mid-range combat. Some players feel that the precision weapons feel too “random” when firing more quickly at a close-range target. The catch is that reducing or removing bloom doesn’t actually solve this problem. Close/mid-range combat does not get better, it becomes almost non-existent. The DMR and NR simply weren’t designed to be that accurate at that speed from so far away.
Having said all of this regarding the adjustments to reticule bloom, I want to be very clear about something: I am very glad that 343 Industries has used the Title Update to make these changes possible. There will certainly be players who prefer various different levels of bloom, and 343 now has the ability to make a gametype for everyone. But when it comes to standard, everyday Reach gameplay, I would suggest leaving bloom exactly where it is. I don’t think it can be changed without breaking other elements of the sandbox.