The 5 Most Bitter-sweet Elements of Halo’s Warzones

Halo 5’s Multiplayer has been universally praised for its fresh (or at least, fresher) approach to the genre, and the Warzone mode’s expansive skirmishes have contributed in no small part to that.  But it’s not all peaches, cream and fully-loaded Oathsworn shotguns.  Some of the features, while undoubtedly fun, left players confused.  Cole Wyatt offers an explanation.

 

Req. Packs

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Requisition ( or Req) cards are the star of the show in Halo 5’s new warzone mode. Much like the burn cards in Titanfall, these cards offer the player temporary advantages. Ranging from powerful weapons, vehicles, and player buffs there’s seemingly no limit to the awesome stuff you can gain access to with enough of these little beauties. Most of these cards can only be used once per spawn though, with a few of them allowing the player to permanently alter their starting loadout.

Req cards are necessary because weapons don’t spawn on the map in Warzone. Needless to say, this can be a bit of a bummer early in your experience. Thankfully, 343 gives new players some free req packs, but they’ll quickly run out on you, and when you do run out, the only way to get them any faster is to spend real world cash money, I’m afraid. The result is exactly what you’d expect.  The players who spends the most money have the biggest battlefield advantage, making it feel a little bit ‘pay to win’.

To maintain balance between the haves and the have nots (ie. me), each req card has a number in the top corner denoting the req level required to use it. All players start each battle with zero req levels, but each time you help your team out, you’ll get points towards increasing the level of cards you can use. Having to gain req levels over the course of the match before players can use cards of the corresponding number pumps the brakes on cash-flush players intent on using their wealth to edge you out of the competition. In addition, each time you use a single-use req card, the amount of req points it costs is temporarily deducted from your req levels, forcing players to wait before they can summon more.

Waiting for these req levels to refill balances exactly when players can deploy their reqs, and prohibiting players who pour money into the req system from deploying a power weapon or ability every single spawn. It helps to curb the ‘pay to win’ game model, but it also has another interesting little quirk. It affords each player more control over turning the tide of the battle and forces us to make some pretty strategic decisions.

Numerous times when a legendary enemy would spawn, I’d have to make a difficult choice between spending less reqs on a moderate power weapon, and still be able to spawn with another when I was killed, or go all out and summon the largest artillery I could, and to hell with the consequences of temporary death. It’s this added depth of strategy that makes req cards a great addition to the Warzone game mode. Spawning with powerful weapons (instead of having to hunt them down across the map) is the kind of instant gratification other shooters embrace, but until now Halo hasn’t incorporated the same style of frantic gameplay. More importantly, the strategy these choices demand keep the game interesting in a way that all rushing for the same weapon drops never did. Of course, the biggest shame is the obvious bare-faced greed of it. 343 and Microsoft don’t seem in a hurry to give non-paying players better reqs a bit faster, or allow them to earn a significant amount of req points without adding to the game’s $60 price tag.

 Map Sizes

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With the market dominance of Call of Duty and Battlefield, I’ve grown accustomed to large maps. That’s why the first thing noticed in my fledgling Warzone career was how foreign huge maps feel to Halo multi-player. Having grown up on Combat Evolved and Halo 2 LAN multi-player matches, I was taken aback by the sheer scale of Warzone’s play areas. These maps are expansive both horizontally and vertically, with underground networks of tunnels connected to caves and cliff-side pathways to mix up gameplay for the better. 343 has done a great job with designing these bigger maps effectively, but unfortunately without solving any of the detrimental effects large maps have on Halo specifically.

You see, larger maps lead to players dying while moving from point A to B. This isn’t really a problem for other popular first person shooters because there’s no real penalty for death. In other shooters, players respawn almost instantaneously and start with the same loadout of weapons every time. However in Warzone, your worthwhile weapons and power ups are valuable and finite and losing them just because you were trying to make your way to an objective is quite infuriating. Even vehicles aren’t immune to this frustration. Many were the times when I would use a req card, intending to take out a legendary enemy or wreak some havoc at a base, only to be shot in the back while hauling my ass across the huge map to get there. As a result, I would lose whatever req I had deployed and wouldn’t be able to use another one because I had to wait for my req level to replenish.

In Warzone, there’s no way to condense the maps, and I’m not really sure if I’d want 343 to, if they could. The maps are great and ultimately not the issue here. What needs to be fixed is the req system. If a player dies within 15 seconds or so of burning a req card or perhaps without firing a shot, maybe they could be refunded the card, or at least the req points they used to activate it. Instead, it again feels like 343 has hamstrung the system this way intentionally to get people to fuel their pay-to-play business model.  Which is just greedy.

It’s not all bad though! What 343 does right with these maps creates a lot of fun and memorable moments. Not only do the maps look great, but they are clearly designed with care. Having nooks and crannies all over the place to pop out of or hide behind is great fun, if you can get to them alive. The fun is amplified by removing the closed nature of traditional Halo multi-player maps in favour of map design that can be approached from almost any angle. Several times I was part of a team that was struggling to defend or take a base. Instead of remaining pinned down until a team-mate finally got a grenade through the enemy doorway, we were able to find another approach and flank the enemy. Variable map design isn’t something that the Halo series is known for, but the unpredictable approaches it creates are a welcome addition. To compliment map variability, players can now spawn at any base they control, a nice little touch that keeps the action going and each team pushing forward for every hard-won inch of ground.

Legendary Enemies

whatalegend

 

Of all the additions 343 has made to the Halo franchise, incorporating AI-controlled opponents into multi-player is the most bitter-sweet. Teaming up and calling in the biggest reqs your team can muster to take down a legendary opponent is, without question, the most satisfying part of Warzone. Each boss is incredibly powerful, and they look just as menacing. I’ve seen entire squads ambush AI enemies like the Warden Eternal and get wiped out.

When legendary enemies are finally defeated, players can pick up their powerful weapons and really upset the battlefield. Using enemy weapons isn’t the only way to increase your team’s chance at victory, however. Whoever strikes the kill-shot on the enemy will add a cool hundred or more points to their team’s total, sometimes awarding as much as 15% of the total number of points it takes to win a match outright. The fact that these enemies appear multiple times over the course of a match means that the team that kills the majority of these AI opponents has an exceptionally high chance of winning the match.

Sounds good so far.  Then again, the problem with the best new feature in Halo multi-player is that what determines which team is awarded the points for defeating a legendary enemy is based solely on which team lands the kill shot. Numerous times my team would sustain an effort to best these enemies for several minutes, only to have the other team swoop in and land the coup de grace at the last moment. This is one of the most disheartening video game experiences I’ve had in recent memory. And it happened over and over again.

This left me with a couple of options. I could forgo engaging these legendary enemies altogether and focus exclusively on capturing and defending bases for points. When I did this, it became clear that without the large injection of points killing legendaries provides, winning is nearly impossible. My other option was to give in and engage in the same behaviour, ignoring NPC enemies until their health was critically low and kill-steal like so many other teams had done to me. This gave me an equal chance of nabbing the points the other team worked hard for, but I missed all of the fun of engaging with these awesome enemies properly and honestly, I felt a little dirty.

Ultimately, 343 wants to encourage fighting these adversaries, not avoiding them, but the player is often burned for doing so. To avoid this, perhaps 343 should be reducing the amount of points a team receives for killing a legendary, instead distribute some of those points proportionally for the amount of damage each team does to the enemy. Even if the majority of points are still gained by landing the killing blow, giving a team that’s worked hard to take down a legendary enemy some type of insurance against kill-stealing would soften the sting a little and balance the match outcome. Don’t get me wrong, it would be a mistake to over-correct this system and award points solely based on individual damage each team is responsible for. Having these foes turn the tide of the match is a great mechanic. It just needs to be fair enough for players to stay engaged with AI enemies the entire time they’re on the battlefield, instead of only hunting them down when their HP is low.

 

Game Length

length

 

On average, Warzone matches are at least twice as long as Halo multi-player games have been in the past. If the games were any shorter, players simply wouldn’t have the time to work up to higher-level power weapons and vehicles, or take part in the extended skirmishes that bases and legendary enemies demand. Steadily gaining new req levels while holding, capturing, losing, regaining and defending bases creates an enjoyable back-and-forth pacing, keeps tensions high and players engaged. When bosses drop in the middle of this action (overturning the entire match) is when Warzone really digs its hooks into the player, making this mode an absolute blast to play.

All of these exciting new elements are only made possible because long matches allow the tide of battle to turn multiple times over the length of a good scrap. In the best matches, the tides will turn multiple times before (hopefully) your team narrowly kills the last legendary, or clings tooth-and-nail to that crucial inch of turf right before the victory screen. Incorporating all these mind-blowing moments into one game mode is massively ambitious, and can only be accomplished because long matches give all these individual elements time to play out satisfactorily. These zealous decisions pay off for 343 most of the time. Sadly two regular occurrences left me lamenting these prolonged matches almost as much as I enjoyed them.

In my 15 or so hours of play, most of my games were pretty crushing defeats. Not often enough to discourage me from playing altogether, but enough to severely dishearten me. About 20% of the time, the opposing team would capture every single base and kill every legendary enemy on the field. As a result, the other team’s req levels would skyrocket, giving them access to powerful artillery that my team simply couldn’t match pace with. About halfway through the fight, when our team finally gained some req levels, I was faced with a disappointing scenario that echoed right across the team. My squad was demoralized, feeling that the match was a lost cause, and refused to use their req cards. Of course, not spending req cards meant that my team was even more severely out-gunned, and led to further trouncing. Those that did try to retaliate with our own req cards were quickly dispatched because they had absolutely no support from teammates who (rightly or wrongly) didn’t want to waste their reqs. Matches like this soon became an exercise in gritting my teeth for the next 15 minutes, waiting for the other team to get their 1000 points as quickly as possible.

This wantonness for brevity meant that I stopped engaging with bosses in the fear that I would actually kill them and prolong my own team’s torture. Depending on how badly we were bleeding points, I’d stop attempting to take bases as well. Sometimes, matches like this ended under the 10 minute mark, but for the most part they still took about 20 minutes, because no-one on the opposing team decided to attack our core.

Each team’s home base has a core that if destroyed will result in an instant victory for the team that destroyed it. However to get to the core, the opposing team must have a hold of all available bases on the map. The problem is that most teams don’t even attempt to attack the enemy core, even when they have hold of all three bases and a sizeable lead for most of the match. It makes a grim kind of sense; when the other team has a complete hold of the map, they are going to have more fun decimating the other team than simply going ahead and ending the match.

This criticism might suggest that Warzone or the match-making system 343 uses for this mode are imbalanced, but no game mode or match-making is ever going to get it done perfectly, and honestly I think as online multi-player games go, 343 got pretty close to mark on matchmaking. Instead, I think the solution to these prolonged landslides is simply to end the match if the enemy controls 3 bases or have more than a 150 point lead for longer than 5 minutes. At the very least, giving the losing team an option to end the match sooner might give them a chance to be put in a match they have a chance at winning.

 

Destroying Enemy Cores

destroythecore

 

In Warzone, the first team to 1000 points wins, but they can also win by destroying the enemy’s core. Teams can gain the points required for victory by taking out enemies or capturing and holding bases. A team can only destroy their enemy’s core if they have control of all three bases on the map. The problem is, as stated before, that nobody seems to want to destroy the enemy team’s core.

In at least half the matches I played, one team or the other had control of all three bases for some considerable length of time, but only in one match did a team take advantage of this and destroy the opposition’s core to win. In fact, over the course of roughly 30 matches, I only ever saw this happen once.  In my experience, even when teams have the opportunity to gain victory by attacking the enemy core, they are actively choosing to not even attempt the immediate victory a large majority of the time. Instead, teams seem content to just hold the bases for as long as they can until they lose one (and with it their opportunity at an insta-win).

The ability to attack the enemy core is one of the most interesting mechanics of any Halo game variant I’ve played. It offers teams that are lagging behind a chance to surge ahead. Conversely, it offers teams that are dominating the battlefield the opportunity of putting that final nail in the enemy’s coffin before they can even hope to turn the tide of battle.

A counter-argument to going for the core is that it’s a risky play with a perceived low success rate. One response to this is that it’s no more high-risk than leaving your base to kill a legendary enemy, which offers the same large risk with a much smaller reward. Additionally (probably because I have seen so few even attempt to destroy enemy cores), it’s not clear to me that its success rate is all that low. In theory, the ability to attack the enemy core is a pretty viable strategy that should add yet another level of strategic decision-making to an already deep multi-player mode.

Instead, it’s almost completely ignored. It’s done so rarely that I’ve been in more than a few games where nobody on my team even bothers to defend their home core when it’s vulnerable. In the one match I played where a core was destroyed, it was done so quietly, and with zero opposition. So, not only is it a viable strategy, but it seems to be one that teams don’t expect (or even prepare for) because it’s so amazingly underutilized.

At this point, I haven’t figured out exactly why people don’t try to win by destroying enemy cores. Perhaps there’s so much going on the battlefield already that an enemy core being vulnerable is just so much extra noise. Maybe, even when given the opportunity, it seems too daunting to infiltrate the enemy’s stronghold no matter how few defenders there might be. It could also be that the winning team simply doesn’t want the match to end, but instead just wants to elongate their domination. Whatever the case, anyone playing this mode should start making a point of strategizing around destruction the enemy core, or at the very least attacking it when the opportunity presents itself.  It’s not like anyone is going to try to stop you.

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