Zunair: Well for the people who don’t know you, who are you?
Duji: I normally go by Duji and I’ve been playing FPS games ever since GoldenEye on the N64. I eventually played H:CE on the Xbox and my mind was blown by that game. The big open world, the powerful magnum… yadda yadda — pretty much what everyone says about the game really and it holds true for me as well. I eventually downloaded the Halo: CE free trial on the PC and had a lot of fun there playing it casually. I started to become serious into the whole FPS thing when one of my online friends (whom I met from an RTS game) suggested that I should play Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory (best free FPS game ever by the way). It turned out to be my favourite multiplayer game and it still is actually. On top of that, I can say with the utmost confidence that W:ET has the qualities that the hardcore audience likes. Details such as responsive strafes & crouches, fast kill times, and rewarding teamwork but not requiring a team shot to win all made the game great.
Every single one of those details were in H:CE and I believe they work extremely well for arena-type shooters. During my time with the game, I continued to play the Halo games and finally decided to switch gears to Halo 3 after I got Xbox Live for the very first time (in January 2008). The game wasn’t even close to being on the level of Halo: CE or W:ET in terms of competitive play due to BR spread and annoying gimmicks (like equipment) but it would be a lie to say that I didn’t have fun ranking my way up to 50 with my friends. Unfortunately Halo: Reach had neither great gameplay or a working ranking system so it turned out to be a huge disappointment.
Anyway, I believe building a multiplayer game from the ground up for the competitive audience will naturally bring in the so called casuals and is better for everyone overall. If you don’t believe me, just look at StarCraft, DotA, CS, Quake, UT, SSBM, and of course H:CE. Each and every one of the previously mentioned games have achieved legendary status, are featured on many “greatest multiplayer games of all time” lists, and are adored by casuals and hardcore gamers alike. This was accomplished by creating balanced games with enormous skill gaps, not by watering the game down to prevent the lesser skilled players from getting destroyed (BR spread) and thinking of competitive balance as an afterthought. Many members of the Halo community fear that Halo shifting its focus to competitive balance will deter casuals and kill the population. This so called theory is completely unsubstantiated and is plain old fear mongering. I would like these people to try to explain how on Earth League of Legends — a game with a ginormous skill gap — is the #1 most played game on the PC right now.
I can partially understand why developers don’t want the skill gap to be too big. I mean, who wants to go into a game of Halo and get destroyed 50-0? But instead of addressing the problem directly by focusing on creating a matchmaking system where players of similar skill are matched up (like SC2), they water the game down. Ever watch a Halo montage recently? The only thing you see is sniper kills because the kill times for the utility weapons are so ridiculously long that it makes flanking an unsuspecting team solely with BR/DMR impractical as it gives the enemy so much time to react. H:CE, on the other hand, isn’t like this at all (I recommend everyone to check out “Image of the Invisible” by Jeenyus).
Game developers aren’t always trying to “water the game down”: sometimes they prioritize lore (Reach Spartans running slower) and realism (strafe acceleration) over creating a skill gap which in turn waters the game down. And on the topic of a ranking/matchmaking system, placement matches (like in SC2) are an absolute must so that skilled players won’t have to match up with newbies and grind for 50 games just to guarantee themselves fair matches with people of their skill. With Halo 3′s ranking system, the higher range of ranks (48-50) consisted almost exclusively with players of deserving skill while the lower ranks had players of all skill. Where’s the consistency? Also a team Elo system needs to be used to completely get rid of boosting (SC2 & LoL have this, and no, it’s nothing like Halo 2′s Elo). It really blows my mind that developers waste time making new ranking systems when we already have tried-and-true ones right in front of us.
In total, my experience with FPS games totals up to a dozen or so odd years, which is actually not that much compared to many of the other Halo players around.
Before I talk about Halo 4, I would like to mention that I played Halo 4 four times at PAX: two games of Regicide on Haven (both of which I came first [pics attached]), a game of Exile CTF, a Spartan Ops run, and watched numerous people play the game. I also talked to my friends that accompanied me to PAX and got some feedback from them. It’s been awhile since then and consequently (and inevitably) the excitement of playing a new game for the first time has died down for me, which makes this a good time to reveal my observations since I can be more objective. So hopefully you now have a good idea of how much my observations and opinions are worth after hearing my tirade on competitive gaming as well as being aware of my practical experiences with Halo 4. Let’s get into it.
Zunair: And this is why I enjoy talking to you! You definitely know more about FPS’s than the average joe does.
So lets get the nitty gritty questions in the air, when it comes to the games Utility weapons, do you feel that the weapons are balanced? Do you feel any might be way too powerful?
Duji: Let’s start off with the newest weapon of the bunch: the Lightrifle! The Lightrifle definitely stole the show at PAX for anyone that actually used it (Bravo and Nexy being prime examples [perhaps Walshy as well]). I personally can see many veteran players down the road using it provided the current balance remains unaltered. The scope increasing the power of the weapon is an interesting concept (4 shots to kill vs 5). Perhaps we’ll see some sort of a pattern vaguely similar to the optimal pacing of the Reach 100% bloomed DMR, but referring to combinations of the firing modes instead of firing cadence (1,2,1,2,1 was the optimal pattern for the DMR in Reach). Who knows, maybe scoped, scoped, scoped, unscoped is the way to go. If you’re only getting body shots, the scoped shot kills in only one more shot than getting all head shots rather than the traditional two or three (usually it takes 3 body shots to kill after the shields pop), resulting in only five scoped body shots for the kill. I think two or three more shots similar to the DMR would be better competitively as missing the head shot would result in the player being punished more. Overall, the LR is a very versatile weapon but it’s probably not the best for competitive play due to spread, burst nature (it’s easier to head shot with a burst weapon), and the fact that it takes only five body shots for the kill.
As for the DMR, if I were to describe it in one word — solid. It has a great feel to it and is extremely reliable with a bloom so small that it will only make you miss while shooting at extreme distances and probably only at half the time given the circumstances. This contrasts with the LR’s very noticeable spread while shooting from the hip. If two players of equal skill face off in a DMR vs LR battle without any scoping involved, the DMR user will win every time. Same goes with the BR. My money is also on it having the least amount of magnetism when compared to the other utility weapons, making it the most ideal weapon for competitive play. All in all the DMR is a great all-purpose weapon and is my weapon of choice.
I’m pretty disappointed with the balance of the Carbine. Requiring more shots (eight with the PAX build) to kill while having a longer minimum kill time than the DMR is pretty backwards if you ask me. It also takes a whopping five shots to clean up a shield-less opponent if you’re only getting body shots. (refer to Machinima’s Solace gameplay @ 4:05). Weapons that require more trigger pulls per second such as the Carbine are arguably more difficult to use and should take slightly less time to kill, not more. Think about it. The more your index finger moves, the more your thumb moves. This test can be performed without a controller. Just raise your hand out, tap your index finger up and down to simulate the pulling of an Xbox 360 controller trigger, and change the speeds up while watching your thumb. You’ll notice that it’s harder to control your thumb the faster you move your index finger. The Carbine taking less time to kill compared to the DMR would add to the whole risk/reward factor of using the Carbine thereby creating an interesting meta game, not to mention more options for the player. Those who have steady enough thumbs to control the Carbine should be rewarded, not given the shaft.
Not only does the Carbine kill in a longer amount of time than the DMR and is arguably more difficult to use, it also
has an inferior clip-size to shots-to-kill ratio (18:8 versus the DMR’s 14:5), meaning that the DMR has a higher damage output per clip. What disappoints me the most is the fact that 343 actually did the weapon justice with the E3 build (7sk & less time to kill than DMR). Other features that don’t help include the distracting green tint that appears when you scope in and also the green contrail that reveals your position. Long range, the Carbine does have its pros. Even though it only has a 2x scope opposed to the DMR’s 3x, the faster RoF will really throw off the aim of an opposing enemy that’s trying to scope you out. I can imagine the Carbine being a great anti-sniper weapon for this reason and would consequently perform quite well in a 1v1 scoped fight against a DMR. It’s also probably the best weapon for SWAT since it can pop heads faster than any other weapon. As for magnetism, the Carbine seems to have a lot more than the DMR resulting in fewer missed shots if your aim is slightly off. It’s actually hard to tell if the weapon even has spread because the magnetism is so high. Other factors such as reload time seemed very similar to the DMR. Overall, while the Carbine may be the best weapon for throwing off scoped assailants due to it’s fast RoF, it’s difficult to use nature and longer kill time makes it difficult for me to choose it over the DMR.
The Battle Rifle is without a doubt the most disappointing weapon of the bunch. Let’s compare it to the LR. Both kill in exactly the same amount of time when fired from the hip and require the same amount of trigger pulls. Okay, let’s look at how they compare while scoped in. Holy hell. On one hand you have the super deadly four-shot-kill, pinpoint accurate, holy beam from the heavens and on the other hand you have the BR’s inaccurate, random, five-shot-kill mess which becomes more inaccurate the further the target is. And THEN, 343 decided to throw some recoil on top of that as if it weren’t enough. Let’s also not forget that both the Carbine and DMR will kill faster than the BR. So after hearing all of that, why on Earth would anyone want to use the BR now? Nostalgia? Should we call it the Nostalgia Rifle from now on? Alright, enough of that. In all seriousness, the BR may have more aim assist and/or magnetism than the other weapons. One of my friends really stressed on how the BR felt so much easier to use compared to the other utility weapons. Personally, it didn’t seem too different from the LR but then again I definitely touched the BR the least out of all the utility weapons. I did notice that the spread seems less than the LR when both are fired from the hip. Perhaps that ease of use aspect makes up for it’s inferior range and high minimum kill time. Even then, I would still have a hard time choosing it in favour of the LR, which is basically a better BR. All in all I really don’t see how MLG pros could win an event with an all BR-equipped team while the other team has Carbines… or LRs… or DMRs. MLG Dallas will be very interesting to say the least.
I would say the overall weapon balance is decent at best. The BR and Carbine are simply worse versions of the LR and DMR respectively. Some might argue that facts such as minimum kill time and shots-to-kill hold little practical weight and that the BR and Carbine will reveal their strengths upon more experience. I say to those people: look at Reach’s Needle Rifle and Halo 3′s Carbine. Both take longer to kill than their utility weapon counterparts AND have more magnetism than their counterparts just like H4′s Carbine and H4′s BR, and barely anyone uses them because they are inferior weapons. I really do see this as being history repeated, except I think the BR will still receive use due to its iconic status (gotta love the nostalgia junkies). The only way I see the Carbine and the BR being balanced is if they happen to have ridiculous magnetism. And even then, they become poor for competitive play so what’s the point?
I’m also very disappointed that none of the above weapons are capable of killing more than two enemies with one clip aside from scoping with the Lightrifle and hitting every single shot. This is unlike the previous Halo games, especially Halo: CE where one could theoretically get four kills with the magnum. This just seems to promote more “teamshotting” and less individual play — a problem that the competitive community has complained about and is becoming more prevalent ever since Halo 2 released. Personally, I prefer games where team-shotting isn’t absolutely necessary to win in high-level gameplay. Perhaps those who want Halo to be even more team-oriented in the shooting department will enjoy this change.
One thing that I would like to mention but isn’t really related to the utility weapons is the ordnance drops, and no, I’m not talking about the personal ordnance you get during Infinity Slayer games. The initial reveal from that one Game Informer article that mentioned a random weapon drop system was received with major criticism (and for good reason). 343 responded by telling us to relax as the system is not entirely random. Guess what 343? You are right — it’s not entirely random. But it sure as hell is random. When I played, I tried my best to understand the weapon drop system but nothing was very clear. After my friend used the Binary Rifle (which is the only multiplayer Binary Rifle footage to date as of this writing), I decided to look back at the footage and see how it dropped to the map. The first thing that happens is a small circle appears on your radar. Five seconds later, the weapon’s icon appears on your screen and points to its location. That’s the system, I kid you not. I encourage everyone to look at the video and see for themselves. I looked at more videos and found out that ordnance can range between 1-5 drops on the map (including grenades), can spawn at odd times like 3:13, and often drop beside spawning players. I tried to see if weapon drops were affected by other weapon drops being picked up, but the results were very inconsistent. Because of all this, I also highly doubt that weapons come in on set intervals. 343′s main reasoning as to why the system is not that random is due to there being predetermined locations.
All I have to say is: this system is unpredictable — predetermined locations or not. I really don’t see how one can set up for one of these weapons other than camping at one of the many predetermined weapon drop locations and praying. In summary, the only thing not random about the entire system are the predetermined drop locations and the fact that weapons don’t drop every 10 seconds, that’s it. I can see this being a huge issue for competitive play. One might argue, “It doesn’t matter if a noob team luckily gets all the weapons since the pros will still beat them.” The problem is when two teams of nearly equal skill vs each other and one of them steaks the other due to the snipers and rockets spawning next to them. Even if there so happens to a a fool-proof method of predicting the weapon drops, it obviously isn’t as easy to figure out as the old system, ultimately defeating its purpose of being more accessible to newer players. With the old system, a new player would have to play only two games of the same map to realize that rockets always spawn in the same place. This completely contrasts with Halo 4. Every Regicide game on Haven that I’ve seen has different weapons spawning at different places and at different times, and I, being an experienced player (or so I would like to believe), was unable to figure anything out and neither were my friends. I’m really trying to see the value in this system but I can’t. It really should be thrown out or overhauled.
Zunair: Some like the Armor Ablities in the game and some don’t. Do you feel any could be used for eSports and competitive play?
Duji: Providing feedback on Armour Abilities is much more complex than providing weapon feedback due to Halo: Reach being the only game with knowledge on the matter that I can fall back to. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert as it’s hard to tell how some of these AAs will affect the meta-game without extensively testing each and every one of them out. Some AAs might seem to add something to the game but they might end up being useless distractions. Does anyone remember when MLG adopted the notorious Armour Lock as a pickup? It was very short lived and nearly everyone hated it. But, if there’s one thing I’m sure of about with AAs, it’s that I think they are better as pick ups instead of being able to spawn with them. I would rather have more movement around the map honestly.
If there’s another thing that I can be sure of, it’s Active Camo. Let’s look back to history, shall we? It worked infinitely better as a power-up by promoting map movement and was extremely rewarding if used correctly. Controlling it and putting it to better use than the other team were skills that added a lot to the game in my opinion. It had the ability to turn the tide of the game and it was very exciting watching pros do so on the MLG main stage. Did anyone ever complain about it being a power-up in the H1, H2, H3 days? I can honestly say that I’ve never heard a single complaint from anyone suggesting that it should be removed as a power-up. I really can’t say the same about it as an AA though. The competitive gametype designers out there should steer clear of the Active Camo AA.
I also noticed something about AC in H4. Whenever an enemy was using it, they would appear on the radar as a bunch of blue dots. If they happened to start firing their weapon, the one blue dot that is really them turns into a red dot while the remaining blue dots remain unchanged.
Thruster Pack: I think out of all of the AAs, the Thruster Pack has the most competitive merit due to it’s ability to perform jukes. I also feel that it’s pretty balanced unlike Halo: Reach’s Evade which felt like a get out of jail free card. The one-use every 5 or so seconds is much better than the Evade’s two uses because carelessness is more severely punished. I also like how it instantly puts you back into the action instead of adding a completely needless delay.
Autosentry: I used the Autosentry a couple times and I learned that using it in the midst of a 1v1 fight is impractical as it takes a few seconds to deploy and immobilizes you throughout. Maybe having it as a pick up will be useful to support your team mates. I don’t really know how much damage it does though. I don’t think anyone knows that right now for that matter. So we’ll see.
Promethean Vision: No merit at all for competitive play if you ask me. Most competitive gametypes don’t use radar in the first place so why on Earth would they use PV (which is essentially wall hacks)? Let it be used as a crutch for those who forget to look at their radar in matchmaking as 343 likes to put it.
Regeneration Field: Never used it, but it looks bad. Having an AA that forces enemies out of your comfort zone and heals you with unlimited uses doesn’t sound good at all for competitive play. Toss it.
Jetpack: Funny how this seemed to be the least used AA from PAX. I did hear somewhere that you can’t soar with it like in Reach so that sounds pretty good if it’s true as the Reach Jetpack had a reputation for breaking maps. Perhaps it could work competitively as a pick up on certain maps.
Hologram: Might be actually useful as a pick up now that it makes the enemy’s reticle turn red. Nexy was utterly destroying with it in his PAX gameplay.
Hardlight Shield: Maybe having 1 on the map as a pick up will bring in new teamwork strategies or maybe it will needlessly slow the game down. We’ll have to wait and see.
Zunair: Hmm, well from your description the AA’s at least seem a bit toned down compared to Reach. But how were the armor mods/perks in Halo 4?
Duji: Honestly if you want to find out about the perks you’re better off just reading their descriptions instead of asking me as I didn’t test them out that much. Perks are also a tricky subject to talk about when it comes to Halo as it’s hard to tell how things will turn out, but I’ll talk a bit about them nonetheless.
There are categories of perks like CoD, but only two in Halo’s case: support packages and tactical packages. For the support packages, I exclusively used the Dexterity perk to get that faster reload. I apologize for not testing more things out but I just loved Dexterity too much. I really felt the faster reload gave you a huge advantage in combat. I think all competitive gametypes should really consider leaving it on by default as it empowers the individual to a much greater degree. For the tactical packages, I mainly used Firepower just so I could test out as many primary weapons as possible.
What I’m really curious about is whether or not 343 will give us the ability to stack perks of the same category in Custom Games. At the very minimum, I think that Dexterity and Resupply (which enables the player to pick up grenades from dead bodies) should be on by default in competitive gametypes.
Zunair: Yeah, the options in Halo 4 can be a big thing in this game.
How did you feel the games movement was like? If you were to relate it to any Halo game, which would you choose?
Duji: It is very hard to choose a single game to compare the movement to, so I’ll use the entire Halo series.
Halo 2′s strafe, Halo 3′s jump height & gravity, and Halo Reach’s base movement & sprint.
Zunair: What was the melee combat like? Did it feel similar to any other Halo?
Duji: I didn’t get into too many melee encounters. But when I did, the lunge felt shorter than H3 to say the very least. A few others from PAX also reported on the short lunge. I can’t comment too much on the melee lock-on but if I were to say anything, I’ll say that it’s a bit less than Reach’s. Take that with a grain of salt. Bleed-through was also nice to have. Overall it was a decent melee but don’t be expecting a classic Halo melee system where things like jumping are factored in. I would say it’s most similar to Halo: Reach.
Zunair: And now to our last question! As of now what do you think of the game? Do you think it could be a good competitive game?
Duji: I think it has potential to be a good competitive game, but not a great one like Quake. I will say with confidence though that I think the game has far more potential than Halo: Reach, Halo 3, and Halo 2 given the right settings. And the settings that I’m thinking of are all out of the box settings. This is completely unlike Halo: Reach where we had to wait a year to get no bloom. The one thing that worries me the most though is whether or not 343 will include the option to drop the flag later on down the road. But since they always speak of having classic playlists, I don’t see why they wouldn’t *crosses fingers*. I really want to stress that CTF lacking can really make or break the game for me.
In reality, talking about the game’s competitive potential is somewhat meaningless unless good competitive settings become popular within the Halo community. What Halo’s competitive life really depends on right now are the settings that MLG decides to use and how the community reacts. I’m really hoping they get it right. Even if they don’t, I still plan on having a lot of fun with the game.
So after reading all of this I hope I provided you with a good idea of what to expect with Halo 4. This took me quite awhile to write so I really hope you took something out of it.
Zunair: Oh we definitely did Duji!
And to finally end this interview Duji made a table with attributes of Halo 4′s Utility weapons!