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Review: Defiant Map Pack for Halo: Reach

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Halo: Reach launched last September to much controversy among Halo players. Some people loved Armour Abilities, others not so much – some liked the smaller tweaks like bloom and the removal of the Battle Rifle – others thought it was the worst thing to happen to the series (talk about hyperbole, right?).

Indeed the Halo player base is so diverse it seems that the community can’t seem to agree on anything – so from what point of view am I reviewing this map pack from? I consider myself to be in between the casual and competitive crowd – I’m probably average in terms of player skill, and I generally don’t care if I win or lose a multiplayer game. If you’re the type of person who rages about Armour Lock and Bloom this review probably isn’t for you.

An interesting note to make is that these are the first maps for Reach that aren’t made by Bungie, the developer of the game. Instead this map pack was made by a division of Microsoft called 343 Industries (Or 343i as it’s often called) and Certain Affinity – a developer made up of a number of ex-Bungie employees, and it’s also played a hand in some previous Halo related content – such as the Blastacular Map Pack for Halo 2.

The Defiant Map Pack was released on the 15th March and comes with three new maps: two are traditional multiplayer maps, and the other is a new Firefight map. The Defiant Map Pack will set you back 800 Microsoft Points (approximately £6.85, or $10). So lets get this review underway by taking a look at each individual map:

Highlands

Highlands is the biggest map in the Defiant Map Pack – and it’s suited to 6 v 6 or higher games. Highlands feels like it could be a spiritual successor to Valhalla from Halo 3 – with two bases on either side of the map and key areas in the middle of the map that are worth defending.

On paper Highlands has all the right pieces to be a good map – there are key areas to hold, some vehicles to play with and different paths around the map so everyone doesn’t get congested in to one spot (an issue that Valhalla in Halo 3 used to suffer from). Instead of placing power weapons in the middle of the map, they’re placed on the sides, giving you some breathing room.

The trouble with Highlands is that there’s too many different places to go – the map is generally too big and there are too many places to go. In a 6v6 match (the only way you’re guaranteed to get a match on Highlands at the moment) the map feels empty and I found myself getting bored of wandering around with nothing to shoot. Objective games like Capture the Flag give the map a little more focus, but it’s not enough to save the map from becoming a complete snoozefest. If Highlands was a little narrower things could be better – what’s worse is that the Forge palette for Highlands is extremely limited, so if you want to change the layout of the map by adding in walls or doors then you’re out of luck, so what we’ve got is a map that’s too big for most game modes with no easy fix.

Condemned

Condemned is the second multiplayer map in the Defiant Map Pack and focuses more on infantry combat rather than the more large scale, vehicle focussed affairs provided on Highlands. The general layout of the map is simple: A large circular structure with a small, low gravity room in the middle.

Condemned works well for 6v6 games and is probably the best map in the map pack but it’s hard to imagine it working for less than twelve players unless you’re playing a free-for-all game. The middle, low gravity room is a fun gimmick, but you quickly realise that the entire room is a death trap since you can’t jump (or fall) as quickly as you can in regular gravity, opening you up to fire from all sides.

Condemned features a slightly better Forge palette than Highlands does but it’s still something that could be improved. You can spawn small scenery items and items that change the special effects on the map (Like changing everything to black and white, increased colour saturation, etc) but there aren’t any options for adding in doors or walls to block parts of the map off – so if you’ve got an idea for a cool map varient then you’re out of luck.

While playing I found that Condemned worked particularly well for Elite Slayer (as seen in the video above) and other objective game modes, but I found that the experience fell flat in standard Slayer modes.

Unearthed

Unearthed is the Firefight map that comes with the Defiant Map Pack – and promises to provide a more vehicle focussed take on the survival game mode. Similar to Beachhead (a Firefight map that shipped with the full game) you get a Rocket ‘Hog to ride around in.

Those of you who don’t feel like slaying hordes of xenophobic aliens in a four wheeled death machine with an unlimited supply of rockets (and if you don’t – what’s wrong with you?) can take advantage of the elevated walkways to get the jump on some unsuspecting squid heads. Bip Bap Bam!

Unearthed is a great map – and it’s nice to get some more Firefight maps that take advantage of the arsenal of vehicles within Reach – it’s just that I think that 343i are missing a trick with this one. So far all of the Firefight maps in Reach only have Rocket ‘Hogs, Ghosts, Wraiths and Mongooses – but what about the rest? No Falcons, no Banshees (none that you can use at least), no Revenants, and no Scorpions. I’d really like to see future Firefight maps that properly take advantage of the vehicles in the game, rather than just having Beachhead 2.0.

The biggest problem with Unearthed isn’t necessarily with the map itself, but rather the monumental effort it takes just to get Matchmaking to give you a game on it. It took twelve attempts over the course of about 30 minutes just to get one game on Unearthed – and after that I decided that I couldn’t be bothered any more. Perhaps this is a situation that’ll improve over time as more people get the Defiant Map Pack, but my initial thoughts weren’t positive – what’s the point in a new Firefight map if you never get to play it?

Overall thoughts

The Defiant Map Pack isn’t bad – but it’s not great either – we’ll file this one under “it’s okay”. More Firefight maps are a welcome addition but I feel that these should be bundled separately from the other competitive maps – so that way people who aren’t interested in Firefight don’t get forced in to buying a map that they don’t want.

Beyond that the two competitive maps are okay, but nothing revolutionary or groundbreaking, and at times lack the smooth flow and focus of other Halo maps, with Highlands in particular being devoid of any action in even the most populated game modes.

Only the hardcore Halo fans need apply here – more casual players will probably be content with what’s already on the map, or would be better off buying the Noble Map Pack that was released several months ago. I feel that there’s a serious issue with the value that these maps provide – since outside of the dedicated Defiant Map Pack playlist it’s unlikely that you’ll see these new maps appear in Matchmaking. Is it worth paying 800 points for three maps that you’ll rarely get to play? I’m not convinced that it is.

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Written by Pokeh

March 17, 2011 at 1:13 pm

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