Halo 4: Five problems that 343 can improve in Halo 5

Halo 4 Screenshot - 1127760

Halo 4 is a fun and solid entry to the Halo franchise. Sometimes I forget that it took an entirely new studio saddled with impossible expectations to make it happen. The multiplayer is fast and addictive, and the campaign was one of the most brisk and digestible entries in the series.

That said, even 343 admits that they can improve. For most people, Halo 4 is indistinguishable from any other Halo game, but for an eagle-eyed super fan of the series, it’s easy to see where some of the Bungie magic is missing. At the same time, 343 has a unique vision for the franchise going forward, something that I think they didn’t take far enough in Halo 4. Here are five problems with Halo 4 that a sequel could fix...

1) Spartan Ops isn’t Firefight

Halo 4 Spartan Ops

Halo ODST and Reach’s Firefight modes were brilliant. Yeah, sure, it was basically Horde mode from Gears of War, but the Halo gameplay makes all the difference. It created a way for four players to tackle Halo’s combat sandbox with endless variety.

Spartan Ops, in some sense, is the more ambitious mode. It attempts to funnel Firefight gameplay into an episodic story that continues the saga on the planet Requiem. The weekly episodes, in theory, are a great way to keep players coming back.

In practice though, Firefight told a better story through its gameplay than Spartan Ops ever tells through its rote mission design. Firefight offered a sense of escalation and danger that Spartan Ops rarely approaches. When the odds are stacked against you, Spartan Ops feels less like peril and more like BS. 

Almost all 50 Spartan Ops missions follow the same basic design. They simply barf out walls of enemies without much thought, and then run you around the map pressing buttons while poorly written/acted dialogue blares over your comms. The resulting grind, as you endlessly respawn and chip away at the enemy, doesn’t really feel like being in a Spartan’s shoes. In the last few weeks it has really started to feel like work.

In Halo 5, Spartan Ops should instead follow the campaign design, with linear missions and proper checkpoints. It should feel like a special co-op campaign. Meanwhile, Firefight should return as a separate mode that people can enjoy between Spartan Ops episodes and seasons.

2) The Multiplayer Progression System is Weak

Halo 4 multiplayer progression

In Reach, Bungie limited its progression system to cosmetic upgrades, refusing to fall in line with the rest of the FPS crowd. Playing Spartan dress-up was fun because the armor pieces were well-designed (compared to Halo 4’s anime armor) and the progression was smartly implemented across all modes. The most important thing is that people didn’t play any less Reach just because they couldn’t unlock guns.

Despite this, Halo 4 includes custom loadouts and a weapon/perk unlocking system a-la Call of Duty, BF3, and everything else under the sun, and it feels like a compromise. Halo 4’s multiplayer combat is changed substantially without concepts like map control and scavenging for weapons. Everyone can start with precision weapons across any modes, toss plasma grenades with wild abandon, and more.

That would be fine, except the benefits of all this change aren’t really there. Halo’s combat balance is so particular that 343 had to limit the variety. Your primary weapons are easily boiled down to two styles (precision and rapid-fire), grenades are toned down, Armor Abilities are less game-changing than they were in Reach, and the various perks are so minor that you’d never know what an opponent was using. Armor Lock may have been controversial, but its Halo 4 counterpart, the Hardlight Shield, is boring and nearly worthless.

Compare this to Call of Duty on a good day, where players vary between sprinting shotgun ninjas, scoped-in military warriors, gadget geeks, and riot police. Sure, the player base has watered down that variety in recent entries, but at least it’s offered. In Halo 4, the customization doesn’t go far enough, and Halo 5 should be more ambitious if 343 plans to stick to a progression system.

3) The Multiplayer Maps are a Mixed Bag

Halo 4 maps

Halo’s map selection hasn’t felt truly special since Halo 2, but in the one area 343 had a good chance to ascend past Bungie, they seem to have taken a step back. Say what you will about Halo map design in the last few games, but every Bungie map was easily understandable from square one. Halo 4’s selection, on the other hand, is maze-like. It isn’t more complex, it’s just harder to identify where you are without the smart landmarks and sightlines of previous entries. Once you get your bearings the maps are fine, but special or memorable? Not by a long shot.

Look no further than Haven, which has become the most played map in multiplayer as far as I can tell. The reasons are twofold. One, it’s a bright, simple, symmetrical map. Out of the entire selection it’s the easiest to learn, so players seem to skip the curve and just replay Haven all day. Two, the map plays into that gross mentality among the tourney crowd to boil a game down to only a handful of variables. This isn’t a good thing, Halo 4 is already a bit watered down on its own.

The map selection is made worse by the almost immediate DLC map pack grind. Don’t get me wrong, the new maps are solid entries, but they aren’t exciting in the least. Halo 2’s DLC maps added elements like bullet trains and evolving bases that made them feel special. Nothing about Halo 4’s DLC makes it stand out. Is that really worth splintering the community between haves and have-nots so early on?

Oh, and Forge? Don’t even get me started on that. Just watch this hilarious video:

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Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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