From Visegrad With Love

Best for Last

As the saying goes, from the beginning we knew the end of Reach, and any doubt was removed by the opening moments of the first cinematic. What we didn’t know is how we’d get to experience the end of Noble Six. Lone Wolf is less a mission than a vignette, a coda to the story of Reach’s fall, and Noble Team’s along with it. While the desolate, increasingly desperate scene lasts but a few moments, the impact it has on the game is oversized.

Its impact echoes out to repeat playthroughs of the Reach Campaign, when we see that helmet — our helmet, hard earned and hand selected from the Armory — shattered on the scorched earth. It creates a sense of foreboding and dread that hangs over all the subsequent missions, and it personalizes the impending doom that is settling over Reach that no simple cinematic could have pulled off.

Reach wouldn't be the same without Lone Wolf.

In placing us in an impossible situation and letting us slug it out to the bitter, inevitable end, Bungie brings a closure to Noble Six’s story as satisfying as it is unsettling. It is an effect built from the fusion of a game feature (customizable armor), cinematic narrative and gameplay design, and it’s the bravest story telling moment in the Halo series. Reach’s story takes many missteps along the way, but it ends on a powerful demonstration of gaming’s potential as a narrative medium.

Full Circle

The team at Bungie that created Reach deserves great praise for the balance it struck in its final Halo Campaign, for refusing to make Reach purely a greatest hits of Halo encounter and gameplay design. Risk taking with successful franchises is difficult and should be encouraged. Reach’s high points are quite high (often literally so) and are the result of great ambition. Perhaps it was the resources poured into those ambitious set pieces themselves that caused key aspects of the gamplay such as NPC AI and vehicle design to atrophy. At the same time, Reach also demonstrates that the quality of the combat sandbox and the way it is doled out must mesh with the mission designs in order to facilitate Halo’s signature open-ended combat. The excellent mid-range encounters that punctuate the campaign serve as contrasts to the rest of the infantry combat and showcase where the Campaign goes awry.

Despite these flaws, the game remains incredibly fun to play throughout, even with the odd frustration or the rough edge present. Reach’s satisfying feedback loop and superbly crafted enemies keep combat engaging and rewarding, and it’s all set within a gorgeous and meticulously detailed, slowly dying world. In many ways, Reach’s setting feels like a fully realized artistic vision, with a richness to the visual design that has made the gulf between its concept art and final game all but nonexistent. But in allowing the gameplay to so often lose sight of Halo’s defining fundamentals, Bungie’s final Halo Campaign has left true greatness just out of reach.

GhaleonEB

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15 Comments

  1. August 11, 2011
    Reply

    Nice job elaborating on Reach’s strengths and weaknesses – we shared many of the same opinions here, but you did a much better job examining them than my brain did. 🙂

  2. August 12, 2011
    Reply

    Woah….. there’s a lot of thought in there – I’d never really thought about how the change to DMR really changed up the play from H3/ODST to Reach – I think it’s a sign of a great game where most players would not have noticed this variable change – at least in their first run through.

    Cheers

  3. HSAR
    August 12, 2011
    Reply

    I shared much of these thoughts myself, but as Leviathan has already said, you pulled much more out of it than I managed to.

    I really wanted to love Reach, but these rough edges that you touched upon, combined with the loss of signature Halo music (which was much more of Halo than I thought, because I missed it constantly) really hampered it for me.

    I still think of Halo 3 when I think of the Halo series in general.

  4. August 12, 2011
    Reply

    It’s like you took the most wonderfully high level of vocabulary I don’t have and used it to write out exactly how I felt when playing every bit of Reach. Bravo, sir. This surely was a pleasure to read through.

    Being able to put words to how Reach makes me feel is a powerful thing.

  5. deep_nnn
    August 12, 2011
    Reply

    I liked the Magnum’s roll in campaign. During LASO challenge runs, I’d use it up whenever it was available over using the DMR. Gotta save that precious DMR ammo for the long range encounters. As you know, prepping for LASO or any other high difficulty is an important part of the game plan. If the Magnum is in limited supply during the easier difficulty settings, is that really a problem? Perhaps it’s all part of a required redundancy to accommodate the variety of difficulty settings.

  6. deep_nnn
    August 12, 2011
    Reply

    I think I prefer the Halo 3 Hornet over the REACH Falcon. I believe it filled campaign and multiplayer roles better. I know your document is about campaign but the inability for the Falcon to carry objective holding passengers in multiplayer has me ticked off at it.

    Regarding the Chopper. You said “a shadow of the Chopper where the gulf between a skilled and unskilled pilot was vast”. I feel you let multiplayer capabilities creep into the discussion here. I doubt driver skill level plays a serious role for either of these two vehicles in campaign. They both have a fairly good stand off capability in campaign though I’m quite sure the Chopper had greater range with easier aiming than the Revenant has. That would make it easier for unskilled pilots to use in campaign. As for multiplayer, I think the story is reversed.

  7. deep_nnn
    August 12, 2011
    Reply

    Regarding vehicle health decoupling. I am okay with vehicle strength being completely independent from personal health. I also believe occupants with any shields and full health should survive the exploding vehicle. While playing campaign, this situation was never a problem for me. It is a bigger problem in multiplayer.

    I am very impressed with your inclusion of video examples.

  8. Dwayne515
    August 12, 2011
    Reply

    Absolutely spot on. Many issues in this article are ones which I picked up myself but couldn’t seem to fathom [i]how[/i] it was an issue, something which you have enlightened to me now. I have to agree with HSAR’s opinion of Halo 3 being the monument of Haloness. I think we will see these issues much more clearly when Halo:CEA is released. Thanks for writing such a brilliantly thought out article.

    • Dwayne515
      August 12, 2011
      Reply

      Wow, italics fail on my behalf ^. Still kinda new to that kinda stuff =D

  9. deep_nnn
    August 12, 2011
    Reply

    Regarding the Crow’s Nest, hallway and Brute encounter. I always used the same approach with the BR as I now do with the DMR. Whittle away the shields or armour with lesser weapons and then headshot them with the BR. There was a perfect yet narrow range for this combat to occur. So I guess I disagree with your opinion on the BR vs DMR in some situations even though I agree the DMR has a greater effective range.

    One thing that must be considered is, the statistical information the developer has acquired from previous titles. I.E. They know how many people have completed the campaign and on what difficulties. Some of the design decisions you are unhappy with may have been the result of an effort to attract more players into playing further into the game and at greater difficulty settings. If successful, the game could become more satisfying to a larger player base. The side effect of such efforts is the loss of the game’s long standing veterans. Perhaps such losses are inconsequential when it comes to selling games and dare I say, ‘beneficial’.

    Sorry for the multiple posts. I am not sure when I’ll stop reading the article and when I might get back to it. So I am reading a bit and posting a bit.

  10. deep_nnn
    August 12, 2011
    Reply

    The space flight sections were what I enjoyed the least. Like so many flight/space battles, you wind up chasing pixels. Specks of information on the screen which you target and destroy. The enemy is rarely close and the narrow POV makes for either extremely difficult or very easy combat. Once I learned to hide behind the main station structure or behind the Savannah later on, the battles became boring while praying not to get killed on the higher difficulty settings. I simply endured the situation.

    I was skimming at the end because it was so extensive and my attention span had expired. Perhaps you should have released this in segments starting months ago.

    Great write up GhaleonEB. I’ll bet a couple of developers, who are near and dear to us, are going read this very carefully.

  11. Cailus
    August 12, 2011
    Reply

    Much of what’ve you said, I agree with. It’s a superb analysis. There is one bit though, which disappointed me more than any other facet of Reach’s design, and that’s the story.

    In the FoR novel, there are incredible opportunities to create the greatest Halo campaign of all time. Almost all were ignored. We get no true sense of grandeur, or epicness, save for the truly brilliant New Alexandria mission. Noble’s Spartans are very poorly utilised, as you pointed out. The game failed for me, spectacularly, and was almost insultingly easy to complete on Legendary. Only the Halo 2 campaign failed worse than this, in my opinion. If I want to remember Halo ten years from now, I’ll play Halos 1, 3 and ODST…and Reach will lie forgotten.

  12. scarab
    August 13, 2011
    Reply

    I hope 343i take head of your comments about friendly AI and your comments about their driving.

    If 343i can’t fix friendly driving then don’t have them drive unless they have been told to drive via script. Or… there are plenty of spare buttons and axes available when you are a hog gunner for giving the driver instructions (stop/go, directions) and for fast position switches that wouldn’t even require dismounting.

    We should have Warthogs in Halo 4 but will we have friendlies?

    -PS

    You can ditch Jorge in the spire encounter – equip jetpack and drive one of the trucks. Jorge will take his gunner position and then you can drive the truck over the cliff. Jorge will have no hard feelings about it and will give you encouraging comments from time to time from his position at the base of the cliff.

    You will find it easier to board a Banshee without Jorge shooting both craft out of the skies.

  13. DandD.
    August 13, 2011
    Reply

    I disagree on multiple points. The biggest one has to be saying that Combat Evolved had a rafined combat. Once the Magnum was introduced, all of the levels became a walk in the park. The only moderately difficult level was Truth and Reconciliation, and that was because it had no Magnum. That Pistol, like the DMR, lead fight on long ranges where enemies did not stand a chance, and it was, honestly, the best weapon for all enemies and ammo for it was abundant.

    Another thing I disagree is on weapon “babysitting”. Combat Evolved did have that…in massive amounts. Take Assault on the Control Room, once you get outside you have a Sniper and Rocket. Ok? You are basically set for the rest of the level. There is ammo in the first area you find them, then there’s ammo in the next area near the Scorpion (another tool that makes the level a cake walk), then you have ammo inside the cave, once outside you have, yet again ammo near the pillar structure in the next canyon. Once you go through there, you have ammo again after you defeat the hunters. Another thing is that massive battles are seldom avoided by the use of active camo, which is found in lots of convenient places. The camo in AotCR is found in the big pillar, and it gives you enough time to make it to another one where the Marines are pinned down by the Hunters, and that ones allows you to run from a massive army. The saddest thing is that, without that camo, you could have actually helped the marines which were pinned down from the Shades, but no. Another one is found in the invis elite room, and allows you to walk outside in the Control Room canyon and jack a Banshee and end the level…? All you need is to replay the level and you are set. Like you said in some cases in Reach, you can diversify the combat, but you are risking by not accepting the easier way out. That is true in the encounter I mentioned earlier. Why fight your way to the pyramid when you can just jack the Banshee and skip?

    Another thing that i disagree is the Marine/Noble team friendly AI. Noble team needs to be the meat shields, the NPCs that kill few enemies, since they are pretty much invincible, they are automatically overpowered. If you have enough patience, you ca let them do everything, yet it takes a long time. That’s the general concept of not making hard difficulties easier by aid of invincible allies. As for Marines, they will generally do a good job at shooting, I mean you can play easy normal, and see that they do a pretty good job, the only thing they really don not do well is driving, i agree on this. Their driving is horrible. But aside from that, as in previous Halos, arming them with better weapons will give you a great advantage. In ONI, i got Kat on the Gauss turret, and a rocket marine in the side seat. They tore through everything, yet you still had to drive them well. The Hog is a teamwork vehicles, be it in MM or Campaign, bot the driver and gunner need to do something. If you just drive the Hog close, stop and expect the AI to kill everything, the enemy will take advantage of that. You need to navigate the vehicle so that the gunner has a chance to shoot, while the enemy has a hard time to react.

    Yet another thing is the vehicles, they do “seems” to have a random explosion pattern, but it is not the case once you start to learn them. Revys and Wraiths can take a beating and will not explode even when smoking. Ghosts and Warthogs will once the vehicle’s body begins to degrade and when fire/smoke rises from it. In that case, the solutions are to either abandon it or to driver through and maneuver is such a way as to not get shot. Elementary. And the Revenant has a pretty big role. It’s the medium assault vehicles between the overpowered wraith and underpowered Ghost. It fills in the gap of defending medium sized area with moderate firepower, and somewhat resembles the Prowler by the added passenger.

  14. Herr Zrbo
    August 16, 2011
    Reply

    Spectacular write up, but I’m going to disagree with your analysis of Lone Wolf. It just seemed tacked on to me, like Bungie said ‘whoops, we forgot to kill off Noble 6, let’s just throw him up against some enemies in an unwinnable situation’. I would have preferred that Noble 6 die at the end of PoA, perhaps sacrificing himself somehow so the PoA could safely escape. This could have even mirrored Jorge’s death, ie, someone has to stay behind to arm the bomb. Otherwise I just felt that Lone Wolf was a rather lazy way to have Noble 6 die off, and not even in an honorable or inspiring way.

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