As Halo players already know, Halo: Reach is one of the most complete first-person shooters ever created and includes an amazing singleplayer campaign and a multiplayer experience crammed to the gills (the gills!) with features that make other offerings from similar games seem shallow in comparison. Not to mention it’s great fun!
With the release of the second multiplayer map pack for Halo: Reach, Defiant, Microsoft has extended the range of online playgrounds available to multiplayer gamers with three new arenas – two for competitive play and one for the round-based, enemy-wave-destroying Firefight mode.
Not only is the Defiant map pack important for Halo fans in order to freshen up gameplay a bit and provide new levels to sink their teeth into, but it’s also a significant piece of content because it is, in effect, a ‘passing of the torch’ from previous franchise stewards Bungie to the new Halo custodians, 343 Industries, as well as that company’s development partner, Certain Affinity.
While Certain Affinity has played in this sandbox before with the creation of sets of Halo remake maps for Halo 2 (and the fact that the team comprises former members of Bungie), this is the first time (to my knowledge) that an original piece of playable Halo content has been created by anyone other than Bungie.
With these new maps, has Certain Affinity successfully encapsulated the world of Halo with some fun multiplayer arenas to boot? Definitely.
The maps included in the Defiant map pack have all been created from the ground-up for very specific kinds of gameplay and multiplayer situations, and we can first talk about ‘Condemned,’ an enclosed arena good for all kinds of competitive play but especially suited for smaller Slayer (deathmatch) matches and quick objective-based rounds. Thanks to the circular design of the level and the central low gravity area it’s never difficult to find opponents in a full match, and even with lower numbers you can quickly cut through the centre of the level to reach different areas very quickly.
I especially appreciated the multi-layer design of Condemned, as well as the multiple pathways and hidey holes for flanking opportunities. Although Condemned is a smaller space, there’s still plenty of room to use your different abilities such as the jetpack and sprinting, while still retaining the intimate feeling of close, intense battles. The fact that there are so many opportunities to take enemies by surprise and fight from different vantage points makes this my favourite map of the lot.
Highlands is the complete opposite of Condemned. This is a much larger, open map suited for ‘capture’ game types, as well as big Slayer and objective-based battles. Naturally, there are plenty of sniping opportunities, but this isn’t a problem for the discerning run-and-gunner because there’s usually always a way to close the gap between you and the player looking down the scope – take those shots while you can, snipers!
I found gametypes that aren’t clearly objective-based (Slayer, for example) to be a little boring on Highlands as players are out for themselves, content to roam around aimlessly looking for their next kill. As mentioned, objective-based gametypes (CTF is great, and even a roaming objective gametype like Headhunter works well) are better here as they keep players flowing from point to point with purpose. The inclusion of different ground (Warthog and Mongoose) and flying (Ghost) vehicles will also help you get to objectives much faster and team up for an assault, and again, are kind of wasted in Slayer matches.
Highlands also houses a few smaller enclosed areas that break up the pace and kind of combat that happens on the map as you weave in and out of the open middle areas and look for close-quarters skirmishes with enemy players in the buildings around the periphery. If you come undone in the dead centre of the map, there’s a crashed Pelican you can hide in so you can gain a little respite before barrelling into the action again (which came in handy many a time while playing). If you’ve got a full map (or even a half-full map with eight to ten players), Highlands is full of action.
The last of the maps in the Halo: Reach Defiant map pack is Unearthed, dedicated to the game’s Firefight mode. In terms of layout, Unearthed is a good mix between the large, open nature of Highlands and the structure-heavy design of Condemned (although there aren’t too many fully enclosed areas).
As Unearthed is specifically designed for Firefight, you’ll be fighting off waves upon waves of enemy AI in a group of four players, with access to Ghosts and Warthogs to help you get around very quickly. It is possible to hole up in one area of the map and let the Covenant come to you, but when things get hairy (with the latter waves of enemies) it behooves you to move around the level not only to create some space between you and, say, two Hunters, but also to pick up extra health, ammunition and weapons to continue to be an effective fighter.
While I was unfortunately unable to play as many matches of Firefight in Unearthed as I would have liked (it’s still difficult to get Firefight matches with people not on your friends list), it’s clear that the map has been designed with longevity in mind, and the chance for different strategies to emerge over time.
When Halo: Reach first released, I wasn’t too enamoured with the visual quality of the game (in my mind, the Halo games have never been the best looking on the market), but true to the Halo franchise the art direction is still top-notch and these maps are striking, visually, despite certain areas being a bit bland to free up multiplayer movement and keep things running at a good clip.
The team at Certain Affinity has done a great job on the creation of the Defiant map pack for Halo: Reach and have truly imbued each of the included multiplayer levels with a sense of history and intrigue befitting the rich Halo fiction. I would say that the price of the Defiant map pack is just a tad steep as you’re only getting two ‘real’ multiplayer maps, and a single dedicated Firefight map, but if you’re a dedicated Halo: Reach player you’ll definitely want to add this collection of levels to your roster.