Counterpoint: Multiplayer Unlocks Don’t Ruin Halo 4
And here we go…
by Arthur Kotsopoulos
©2012 Arthur Kotsopoulos
Over the last month I’ve had a few issues with the level of quality journalism from our colleagues at Kotaku, from the abysmal THQ Humble Bundle article to the criticism of why the Bioshock Infinite cover is terrible and why it matters.
As we all know, the third time’s a charm when another Kotaku article caught my eye, this time criticizing why “This Year’s Biggest Shooters Remind Me Why Multiplayer Unlocks Suck“.
At first I thought: “Okay, it’s a bit of a stretch but I’ll bend my imagination, give this article a read and see what the fuss is about.” The first paragraph sums up the article and its outrageous claims nicely:
Kotaku: The other day, a colleague mentioned that she felt like there was something off about Halo 4′s multiplayer. She was getting destroyed by others players, eventually feeling like she didn’t have much of a chance when up against people with advanced abilities or gear gained from level unlocks.
I’m not sure what game the supposed colleague was playing but as far as I know, Halo 4 doesn’t include advanced abilities, nor any type of gear you can unlock at higher levels that even remotely attributes to a stronger Spartan.
Sure, Halo 4 includes Armor Abilities, Tactical Packages and Support Upgrades, but neither of these substantially increase the player’s chances of being an unstoppable killing machine.
When GameInformer broke down the inclusions of Halo 4‘s multiplayer aspect, a lot of gamers cried foul about how Halo 4 was moving away from its roots and becoming another Call of Duty among the plethora of generic shooters.
Winds of Change
I decided to write a piece looking at how COD-ifying Halo 4s multiplayer would make it better. It was met with a generally positive response.
I sought out John Elliot of StickyTrigger.com, to weigh in with his thoughts about the article over at Kotaku, as well as Halo 4’s unlocks in general (as he and I have frequently done battle in Halo 4‘s multiplayer):
John: Halo has always been one of the most balanced multiplayer experiences, with every player starting out on a level playing field, and this had always been achieved by predetermined loadouts, and weapon pickups. But Halo 4 changed this, by allowing players to now customise their starting weapons.
At first, I hated the idea and was a little disappointed that my favourite shooter series had taken this turn. What I found to be the case, however, was an incredibly well-designed personalisation factor. Halo 4 delivers the most perfect – and I do mean that literally – mix of choice, control, and balance that I’ve ever experienced in a multiplayer game.
Players start with the default loadout, which consists of the Assault Rifle, UNSC Pistol and Frag grenades. Once you reach SR (Spartan Rank) 2 you’ll receive a Spartan Point (SP) and will be able to unlock the Battle Rifle or DMR.
I’m currently ranked SR-40, with over twenty hours of playtime and still use the DMR and UNSC Pistol. Why? Because these weapons are still formidable, and with a little bit of practice, can match a player using the Promethean Lightrifle or Boltshot.
In instances where players are wielding a DMR/Battle Rifle, up against another player with a short range weapon such as the Assault Rifle or Promethean Suppressor, chances are that unless you’ve fired off a few early shots to lower their shields you’ll end up with the short end of the stick.
John: Even still, there are only a handful of guns and abilities able to be chosen, even for the highest level characters. And these all provide a playstyle able to be used to the players’ advantage, as well as the oppositions. They all have obvious gains, and weaknesses.
The very first weapon available to you, the Assault Rifle, is able to destroy enemies at close range. Take the fight to the enemy instead of sitting back, and a skilled player will easily come out on top. Unlock yourself a Battle Rifle or a DMR, and make sure to take to higher ground and take on the enemy from a distance, because if they get close with an automatic weapon you won’t be pleased with the results.
All the game’s possible starting weapons are balanced to one another, better suited to different situations, all able to be countered by a skilled player, and all tailored to just be useful to personal preference. If you like a weapon, you’ll be able to use it well, no matter what it is or how early you unlocked it.
Unless you know how to specifically use any of these upgrades or abilities to their full advantage, they are quite useless, and offer little to no help on the battlefield. I to this day still use ‘Hologram‘, due to the fact that enemy players still succumb to the pressure of seeing me run into the battlefield and assume it’s an easy kill.
They don’t realize it until it’s too late, and by the time they react I’ve abruptly ended their life, and gained a kill towards my name.
I arise victorious not because it’s an advanced piece of gear I’ve unlocked, or because it automatically gives me a substantial advantage over everyone else, but because I know how to use the ability’s strengths. That’s not to say the ability is flawless.
Even I’ve shown lapses in judgement and run up to a Spartan running aimlessly, only to result in my death. A stupid move on my part, but a testament that no one is perfect in Halo 4, regardless of the equipment they have.
When a player falls into such a trap, anyone who uses the mini-map will notice a red dot behind them, and depending on the ability they have equipped, can easily counter. If they have a ‘Thruster Pack’ equipped they can move away, turn around, and then have an even chance of eliminating the opponent.
If they have a high sensitivity they can spin around, raise their Hardlight Shield (if that’s the ability they’ve equipped), and retreat to safety in the hope of a teammate being nearby and coming to help.
The article itself seems to be completely ignoring the human factor behind these technological abilities, solely blaming unlocks as the cause for poor multiplayer balance. If you give a player the best weapon in the game, that doesn’t automatically mean they’ll be unstoppable.
Invoke a little bit of strategy and you’ll take them down before they have the chance to use it.
Practice Makes Perfect
Another part of the article refers to a previous Halo 4 article on Kotaku, where “Kotaku’s own” Tina Amini puts it well when she says this about Halo 4:
Kotaku: Getting the fanciest weapons requires real dedication, so it feels like it could be representative of how adept a player you are.
The fanciest weapons available in Halo 4 are power weapons that are only accessible via an Ordnance Drop or if you’re fast enough to pick them up at the start where they spawn. There’s no real dedication involved to obtain them, and it isn’t an indication of how adept a player one might be.
John: The items that you are able to unlock and use for your loadouts are very basic. They’re the simple guns of the game – standard issue assault rifles and carbines. No power weapons, no one hit kills. No shotguns, no sniper rifles, no rocket launchers – unlike most other shooters with customisable loadouts.
If you want the good guns, you’ll have to earn them. Find and fight for them on the field, or earn ordnance to have them dropped to you. And speaking of ordnance – essentially Halo 4’s version of ‘killstreaks’ – the game chooses what is available to you based on map and gametype.
No picking and choosing the most useful or powerful rewards and having them in each and every game – again, unlike most games with this mechanic.
Any of these power weapons in a player’s possession can easily be countered with an Armor Ability. Any ability can be stopped with a power weapon or even a regular weapon if you’re skilled enough.
Thus eliminating the whole “getting destroyed by other players, eventually feeling like she didn’t have much of a chance when up against people with advanced abilities or gear gained from level unlocks” statement.
New game type, new tricks
Dominion is a great example to showcase true knowledge for Halo 4‘s abilities and loadout system. Power weapons are available from spawn and when fortified bases resupply themselves, there are no Ordnance Drops available to the player.
Already this evens out players from the moment they start the match, and a test of speed will ensure they pick up a weapon which helps them capture a base right off the bat.
Each Spartan ability in Dominion has its advantages when it comes to capturing bases and defending them. On the map Longbow, both the Alpha and Charlie bases have main entrances from ground level, as well as the roof of the structures.
If you have a jetpack equipped you’ll have the advantage of avoiding ground firefights and attacking from above.
If you’re defending, equipping the ‘Regeneration Field to heal yourself and any remaining team members will allow a few crucial seconds of survival for any other team members to spawn and provide defensive fire.
Running across the map in Exile or Ragnarok? Using the Thruster or Hardlight Shield will ensure avoiding any type of fire from the UNSC Sniper, Binary Rifle, Battle Rifle and DMR from across the map. In previous Halo games, this type of death would obviously result in extreme frustration, but in Halo 4 you actually have a chance.
It’s a chance to survive longer, to enjoy the game more, and to prove to the online community that it’s an all-around fair game now, because the player with the sniper doesn’t hold all the cards.
Many players regardless of skill tend to camp and defend bases, which in this game type is perfectly fine, and in fact players are rewarded for base defense kills.
Having the Hologram ability equipped grants the leverage of running to the base entrance projecting your Hologram in front of you, watching the enemy player camping in the corner either running up to you to melee you in the back or shoot you.
You’ve got the jump on them, gaining the advantage, but little do you know they have a Hardlight Shield equipped, evening out the playing field and giving this player even chance to compete.
You got to fight, for the right
Kotaku: Beyond forgetting about it, I feel as if there’s this weird community thing where it’s like “Well, if we have to bear it, so can you.” Isn’t that a bad sign? When you have to tolerate something? Or like it’s a right of passage, a tradition. You need to grit your teeth because everyone else does it, and if everyone has to do it, what’s the big deal?
It’s one thing to play on single player and have a sense of progression, feel like you’ve earned the right to be powerful. It works there. It lends itself to games that feature progression not only narratively, but mechanically: and that’s important.
But I shouldn’t have to earn the right to play at what would normally be my most competitive in a mode where the entire point is to be competitive. Non-cosmetic unlocks work against the very point of multiplayer, they get in the way of embracing why you’re there in the first place.
Sure, no one should have to earn the right to play and be competitive in multiplayer but personally, Halo 4 is one of the most balanced multiplayer titles I have encountered.
Ever since Halo: Combat Evolved, it’s still as much about skill as it is about luck.
No one is forcing you to play multiplayer to obtain weapons and abilities. If it’s that much of a disadvantage, practice in Spartan Ops.
Any experience accumulated will carry over to multiplayer, again eliminating the factor of other players who have had the game since launch and have this so called ‘advantage’ with unlocked gear.
If Halo 4 had implemented the XP penalty that it did in previous Halo titles, then I would agree with the article, stating that the unlocks result in an unfair disadvantage to those players who play casually and have a bad connection, drop out and lose experience making it harder to obtain any other weapons or abilities.
By looking at the less than stellar Kill/Death ratio many players level 50+ and a few 80+ (and a select 100+) leveled Spartans seem to have, Halo 4 rewards players based on all aspects of gameplay.
Medals can be earned for avenging another teammate’s death, or getting revenge or the player that just killed you. The more skilled the player, the more medals and experience they will earn at the end of a match. No extra weapon unlocks or abilities which will empower them greater than average players.
John: All you need to unlock weapons are Spartan Points, which are handed out like candy as you progress levels early on. You can have your favourite loadout weapons possible set up before you hit level 10, and with just a few hours of playing and you can have access to all of your desired abilities before level 20.
And that’s it; you don’t get better weapons or powers when you reach higher levels, it’s all there for low level players if they want it. All you get are visual armor upgrades and weapon skins that don’t change gameplay whatsoever.
Higher levels in Halo 4 do not have any advantages, except the obvious bonus of experience. And that’s what Halo is all about; experience and skill. If you’re getting smashed by the higher level players, it’s not because they have access to better weapons, it’s because they’re better than you.
I’m not sure what Patricia Hernandez was trying to accomplish with this article by complaining why multiplayer unlocks suck. If they’re incorrectly implemented, of course they will hinder the enjoyment within a game, but when looking at Halo 4 in hindsight, it’s one of the most balanced FPS experiences in a long time.
Higher ranked players don’t necessarily mean they’re going to be better than you.
You’ll notice players still using standard UNSC weapons, ignoring any Promethean or Covenant weapons. They do this because they’re comfortable with what they’re familiar with, not because weapons unlocked later on are more powerful.
If you look beyond the unlocks of Halo 4‘s multiplayer and delve deeper into how to use them, you will see that unless the player behind the weapon or ability knows how to utilize it effectively, it will contribute absolutely nothing to the overall battle.
Halo 4 is a game which requires skill to reign on top, and if you’re lacking in that department take some time to practice with different weapons and armor abilities.
Get some friends together, create custom match types and enjoy what Halo 4 has to offer, but don’t go out on a limb and criticize the game’s unlocks and how their presence automatically decides that unlocks in multiplayer suck.
Compared to Halo 3 and Halo: Reach, they’re balanced and open up a plethora of extra tactical decisions the player must make.