Halo Reach Title Update Beta Playlist Impressions

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.


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14 Responses to Halo Reach Title Update Beta Playlist Impressions

  1. Bizargh says:

    I pretty much agree 100%.

    The Armour Lock is now not undefeatable, and the removal of sticky escape really balances the smaller scale gametypes it’s favoured in, Elite Slayer especially, but it still retains it’s intended use of a damage blocker from incoming instant death like rockets, vehicles or a swarm of grenades.

    I find the changes to the Active Camo just as unnoticeable as you. I think it’s targeting the camo snipers Big Team players encounter. Otherwise, it’s only use I ever see with it is a motion tracker scrambler, and that’s more of a giveaway of their location than a loss of your navigation (unless they use it on a multi-storey area. Smart).

    And for Bloom, definitely with you. People forget back in the old days, we had projectile travel time and a fixed accuracy randomisation to balance the weapon’s effective ranges. That changed with the removal of projectile travel time, and bloom became the balancing mechanic that defined the use of a weapon, and it really made every weapon in the game useful, one way or another, not just a softener for melee. Take it away, and without projectile travel time and the idle bloom at pinpoint accuracy, the DMR & Needle Rifle become power weapons without a counter other than themselves, or the pistol which with bleed through added became just as, even perhaps more powerful. But that said, I congratulate them on making it a fully adjustable trait, so if 85% doesn’t work out (which for me I like, especially for the pistol), it can be adjusted, as for anything else.

    The Bleed Through system on the other hand I’m not a fan of, though not very fussed to see it in Classic gameplay. But in Vanilla Reach gameplay, I despise the very thought with a passion. It made melee almost the only weapon to use if you didn’t have a precision or power weapon, and in the TU’s settings and the health pack glitch that surfaced with it, it really ruins the Vanilla gameplay. The purpose of the sandbox gameplay is to be able to use each weapon at your disposal without thinking “Great. This weapon’s weak and completely useless. Melee’s my only option now”, and there are armour abilities that really benefit melee encounters like Sprint (I know that’s developed a reputation for “Sprint-Bashing”). The Vanilla health system really benefitted the sandbox gameplay, defined the weapons’ strengths and weaknesses and pushed melee to be more effective in last resort, stealth or surprise attack uses. The bleed through changes that too greatly. A guy can smack you with half a shield straight down to half, even low health, making you far too easy for the attacker or even another guy somewhere else to put a quick bullet anywhere in your body and kill you with it. Or in the case of a DMR, you can get shot in the head without the warning as your shield doesn’t protect you from the headshot, thus eliminating the warning of vunerability the shield popping gave you, which was an important factor of encouraging a player to consider his options in an engagement. I see it working in Classic play where you don’t have Armour Abilities to give you the option to run, lockdown or hide in an engagement. But in Vanilla Gameplay, it is probably the worst addition that could be added to it.

    That’s just my two pence on the matter at least.

    • Gabe says:

      I think your right mostly but the melee system actually makes people want to use weak guns now because of the advantage of close range and melee. People would just not use them but now they serve a purpose, and maybe 85% bloom is too little but 100% is too much.

  2. Nick says:

    I’m sorry to disagree, actually I’m not. Bloom made Halo Reach a very clumsy game. When you have been a halo fan from the beginning it is very difficult to all of the sudden become familiar with the bloom in Reach. I wanted the game play to be a lot closer to Halo 3 and I think it actually is. Very happy with the title update!

    • CruelLEGACEY says:

      I’m glad you’re happy with the TU 🙂 I’m happy with it as well, since it just provides more options for everyone.

      Regarding bloom, the problem is that the entire game was designed and balanced around that mechanic. You can’t just remove it without having a lot of other negative effects to balance and map control.

  3. HC Sangheili says:

    I must say, I agree with your analysis of the bloom changes. I still find AL a gameplay mechanic that slows down the pace of the match almost too much, but not one that can’t be overcome. (I lol each time I see a player in AL and the opposing team grenade spams without giving time for AL to be exhausted).

    After a week of TU Beta play, unless the existing maps are balanced (including ROF adjustments), bloom should remain untouched in Vanilla Reach.

    I’m assuming that bloom changes will be present in the 7 maps coming with CE:A, but that’s only an assumption that could be completely wrong.

  4. Bro says:

    Point of the TU was to make the game play like Halo: CE. From your review, it sounds like they accomplished this. Cheers.

    • Redoer says:

      Halo CE wasn’t hitscan, nor was there as much auto aim imo, and although the pistol was dominant it was not pinpoint accurate like the sniper was, (or to no-bloom DMR,) so unlike the no-bloom DMR, pistol dominance only extended to mid to short range encounters, and other weapons still had their place.

  5. Time Glitch says:

    Reducing the RoF with ZB is an acceptable compromise. However, I completely disagree with you that Bloom is somehow a good thing. All it does is create randomness with weapons that should never be random. The fact that there is a chance, no matter how low, that a pacer can lose to a spammer makes Bloom unacceptable. Halo is about aiming skill, strafe, and strategy…Not trying to gamble on odds that are impossible to predict.

    • CruelLEGACEY says:

      You are using the same flawed argument that I have seen 1000 times by people who don not understand how bloom works. Just because someone is firing quickly doesn’t mean that they aren’t firing accurately as well. Bloom is neither random nor predictable. If your target fills your reticule, you will hit them 100% guaranteed. Just pull the trigger the moment your target fills the reticule!

      Besides, this actually has nothing to do with the point I make in the article. Whether you like or dislike bloom, the fact remains that the entire Reach sandbox was balanced with bloom in mind. You cannot simply take bloom out without drastically effecting the weapon balance. As I said in the article, even people who hate bloom never complain about the way it works at long range… the area of contention is short-mid range combat. Without bloom, the DMR and NR are God-weapons. No other weapon in the game is worth using.

      IF you are the kind of player who enjoys Halo with only 1 weapon, then Zero Bloom is for you. In my opinion, that just isn’t Halo. But again, what is great about this Title Update is that it will give all players the ability to play a version of the game that they enjoy.

      • Alex says:

        So what would you reply to the randomness argument? That’s the main reason there are so many haters, since they -believe- that if you fire the gun faster, your bullets can go anywhere, including the head, so pacing is not really a better option.

      • FighterHayabusa says:

        Removing bloom is the only option if you want a competitive game. The problem with bloom is many fold, but I’ll make a list for you: (1) It places a limit on how quickly you can kill someone based upon distance, (2) it puts much more emphasis on power weapons, and (3) it decreases the skill gap. The bloom means that you will nearly always lose against more than one person, to a power weapon, or to someone with superior position. The reason for this is that it severely limits how quickly you can kill someone. Without bloom it becomes possible to kill more than one person, to kill someone with a power weapon, and to kill someone in a better position. This is all provided that you are a better player than they are though, but that is the point of a competitive game.

        The power weapons aren’t useless, but they are situational now. Numbers don’t mean as much when a skilled player can kill someone so quickly, and the same goes for someone getting the first shot off on you. The game just becomes much more about skill than about circumstance. It also gives you a fighting chance right off spawn even against the power weapons. Having played both ZB and Halo Anniversary I can tell you that the game does not degenerate into long distance if you play smart. Besides that, the maps work fine without bloom, there is still more than enough cover to protect yourself. You just have to be smart about it now. You can’t go too far from cover and think you can just run away, because you can’t. You can; however, try and kill them first, and that is possible in both of these settings.

  6. Abderion says:

    Zero bloom + reduced rate of fire = best solution for everyone in my opinion.

  7. i loved this mini review of the tu. i think same as you. reach feels random without bloom (one of the reasons i hate COD…) these weapons are too strong with zero bloom… i hope 343 puts different percentages. i think it will be ok with 90%.

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