I would like to voice my concern over how 343i’s game mechanic changes will affect vehicle play in Halo 5. Specifically here, I am talking about Warthogs. The thing that kept me popping Halo 3 and then Reach into my Xbox over other games was always the vehicle and objective play. So let’s take a look at how 343i handled their first outing.
I feel some of Halo 4’s most concerning issues stemmed from going all in on the path Reach took the first steps towards. In the process it began to resemble other games of the time, losing what identified it as distinctively Halo. However, in the realm of the vehicle mechanics in a multiplayer FPS, Halo was unique. Games like Battlefield 3 had vehicles but their play was drastically different, spare aspects of the Attack Helicopter (balancing retreat vs. aggressive offense / Co-Op communication to succeed). Therefore, let’s assume Halo 4 is a good indication of 343i’s design outlook on vehicle mechanics and will balance Halo 5’s vehicles against the new mechanics much the same way they balanced them in Halo 4 vs. that games new mechanics.
Halo 4 Vehicle Issues:
343i decided that the Warthog (ergo vehicles) would no longer be the apex power weapon on large maps. They systematically degraded most aspects of the Warthog towards this end:
1. Load Outs / Ordinances: No longer did you have to fight the other team for the paper to the Warthogs rock; scouring the map for sparse power weapons (a core Halo mechanic). You could simply spawn with a Plasma Pistol / Plasma Grenade combo in your back pocket or call in a Rocket Launcher in your Ordinance. This made the game of managing threats as a driver ridiculous, since there was no limit or general location of vehicle destroying tools on the map.
2. Whittling Damage: DMRs / BRs / Light Rifles did significant damage to vehicles. This made it so that from a great distance you could disable a vehicle with no real penalty, unlike having to blow through your precious sniper ammo in previous games to stop a dominating force.
3. Independent Vehicle Health: Vehicles having their own health that could be taken away with ease made it so that after one engagement a Warthog crew had to bail or become a double kill. However, unlike your enemy you could not spawn in with a new Warthog in your back pocket. Hogs were sparse, like the tools to kill them should have been. Having a Warthog’s health higher (Reach) or tied to the occupant’s health (Halo 3) forces skill shots to kill the occupants, instead of casual shots at a large target.
4. Chain Gun Balance: The most dangerous zone for a Warthog’s safety is close range. Yet despite the overabundance of vehicle killing tools in the hands of the enemy the decision was made for a shorter range, inaccurate chain gun. This forced any offensive play straight into the danger zone, every time.
5. Mini-Map Indicator: The addition of ultra clear, orientation displaying vehicle icons on the mini-map made camping around a corner waiting for your Plasma Pistol /Plasma Grenade combo multi-kill a breeze. Whereas in previous games a Warthog’s approach was slightly veiled by the vague indicator on the mini-map.
6. Level Design: And finally, the level design. Instead of Spartans taking a risk passing through an open area on the map towards an objective, it was the Warthogs taking the risk as they were funneled down narrow paths littered with infantry cover.
Why I Love Halo Vehicles (Halo 3 / Halo Reach):
So now that we have an idea of what I feel bad vehicle mechanics are, let’s discuss why I fell so deeply in love with vehicle play in Halo (mainly Warthogs and Falcons).
The Warthog presents an impressively cooperative mechanic. Hop in the Warthog gunner seat alone and maybe you can defend a spot for 15 seconds before enemy grenades have flipped you over. Hop in the driver’s seat of a Warthog alone in Slayer and maybe you get a few splatters. However, you get two teammates in sync with each other in that thing and it’s magic. The base mechanics are easy enough to learn, but mastery of co-op sync and managing threats is a skill.
As a Driver:
1. Control: First off, Warthogs are fun to drive. The controls are tight and make sense. The e-brake mechanic allowed for some awesome split second maneuvers, like breaking over a well placed enemy grenade to send you into a rolling blender of pain towards your enemies. Also with the physics making flips semi-frequent, the ability to affect the outcome of your spinning added a real nice skill check to the controls.
2. Cooperative Focus: The enjoyment one gets out of syncing with a teammate is very unique when the majority of mechanics in games we encounter are lone wolf endeavors. You had complete control of your gunner’s line of sight on the enemy, which required skill as you often are not looking where your gunner is shooting due to the manner in which vehicles are driven in Halo. The gunner also relied solely on you to manage their vulnerability. As soon as you saw those shields stripping off, you had to find an out or you’d have a dead gunner.
3. Dynamic Threat Management: As a driver you had the ability to improve success by managing threats via situational awareness. Heightened caution near the spawn of vehicle killing weapons and the places people retreat to when they acquire those weapons could greatly improve success rates. Also having clear visual and audio indicators of imminent danger (Plasma Pistol Glow / Spartan Laser Glare / Missile Lock Sound) allowed you to respond in an attempt to save yourself. These things created nice skill check layers in your engagements.
4. Offensive Capability: You did not need to simply be a supporting player behind the wheel. You could tip encounters to your favor in offensively unique ways. A well placed collision with an enemy vehicle could send one of you tumbling into a free kill for the gunner (great risk vs. reward mechanic). If retreat was not an option, you could push forward and splatter or knock off the shields of enemies in a final attempt to stay alive. The key was that all of these offensive options were tied to your primary job, driving.
5. Map Design: Vehicles could breathe in these maps. You find a lot better balance in the common areas between Infantry Zones and Vehicle Zones. A good Hybrid Zone would not have a small funnel with tons of infantry cover; nor would it have wide open space with no cover. However, there were still very distinct Infantry Zones and Vehicle Zones. Players would be enticed into passing into an opposing zone (Power Weapons / Objective Shortcuts for Infantry & Objectives / Holdouts for Vehicles). You could take vehicles wherever you wanted. It wasn’t typically easy to drive a Hog into these high risk areas and you usually didn’t last long, but you had the choice and freedom to get into exciting and unusual places.
6. Play Maker: Some of the most exciting moments in objective games and also the most soul crushing for me usually revolved around vehicles. These things could turn the tide of battle in the final moments in incredible ways. From crushing a flag carrier on a mongoose with a Warthog collision to a sudden death triple base splatter flag return for the win, vehicles were the apex power weapon. The feeling of loading up in the Warthog for the final Hail Mary in an objective match always got the blood rushing.