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Noble Map Pack impressions

David Hughes's picture

The first DLC map pack for Halo: Reach debuted on Xbox Live yesterday. Here are HULIQ’s impressions.

Multi-player products are notoriously difficult to review—as ‘reviewing’ something implies a set of final thoughts about the product, which is essentially impossible when it comes to competitive multi-player. New tactics and ways to use the space will continue to evolve, and as is the case with Bungie, the maps themselves may get tweaks now that they are out ‘in the wild’. After all, two maps that shipped with Reach have already seen significant changes: ‘Hemorrhage’ has seen the Scorpion tank removed from most game types and ‘Zealot’ has seen its low-G space environment all but walled off.

If anything changes significantly with any of the three maps in the Noble Map Pack, HULIQ will be sure to comment. That said, here’s how the maps play so far.

Anchor 9

The ‘first look’ video of the map provided by Bungie compared this map, set inside a space station with a low-G environment separated from the main space by two shield doors, to the Halo 3 classic ‘The Pit’. The resemblance is definitely there, as both spaces offer a symmetrical battle-field with a large central area that is partially walled off, but once you get into a real match, the differences come to light. Comparing the two really highlights the advances Bungie has been able to make with the Reach graphics engine—whereas ‘The Pit’ is essentially a very blocky, geometric map, the details all over ‘Anchor 9’ make it feel like a more organic space.

In the current DLC playlist, which is 6 versus 6, the map plays rather frenetically. It hasn’t come up yet in a standard Team Slayer hopper, but it will be interesting to see how different it plays with 4 versus 4 matches. That said, considering its size, the number of stairways and hallways still allow 12 players to play comfortably.

The low-G section encompasses two large open walls as well as a fair number of hallways and ledges that are also governed by the floaty physics. Some players use it as a shortcut to the other side of the roughly U-shaped map, but other creative types bait players through the shield door in cat-and-mouse battles reminiscent of ‘Snowbound’. Like that map, there is already a variant with the shield doors removed, called ‘Unanchored’.

‘Anchor 9’ is a very balanced space, but a coordinated team can easily dominate the central space from the many vertical vantage points available. Rather than comparing it to ‘The Pit’, it could effectively be described as the symmetrical version of ‘Boardwalk’. That said, perhaps the only critique of the map would be that for users of the Jet Pack, the ceiling is not terribly tall—which leaves you very exposed to ground fire.

Tempest

This somewhat larger map plays comfortably in 6 versus 6 and gives the Forge World art palette a slightly more organic feel. Instead of the cleaner palette of that map, Tempest has numerous rocks and scraggly evergreens dotting its hilly landscape. Present throughout are some interesting Forerunner ruins, many of which are partially grown over with grasses and moss, that lend the map its unique flair.

For the first time in Reach, the Warthog gets some really active use. In fact, until playing matches on ‘Tempest’, it was disappointing how sparse the vehicular combat in Reach has been so far. Granted, spaces like ‘Hemorrhage’ offer vehicles, but the undulating landscape of ‘Tempest’ requires a great deal of extra skill to driving the Warthog—which makes using it all the more satisfying.

‘Tempest’ plays very well in both standard Slayer matches and Objective games like Territories, but teams with one very good Warthog team can quickly begin to dominate a match. Since the Warthog isn’t anywhere as powerful as a Scorpion, it’s not as ridiculous as some of the early matches on Hemorrhage before the tank was deleted, but the lack of Halo 3’s Missile Pod gives the vehicle a distinct advantage. Using the Armor Lock ability as well as the Plasma Pistol stun function is a must.

Breakpoint

The massive scale and color palette of this map inevitably brings comparison to ‘Avalanche’ from Halo 3, a map that I personally detested, but Bungie has done some things with this map that are very welcome in comparison. One obvious difference is the asymmetrical nature of the map, which effectively differentiates the large open vehicle spaces from the corridors and ramps of the research facility. It’s still a largely exterior space, but the number of interior pathways give players a number of ways to avoid enemy vehicles—something not really possible with the wide open spaces in ‘Avalanche’.

This is especially the case with the central part of the map: rather than the U-shaped space of Avalanche and the one shortcut that became a huge chokepoint, ‘Breakpoint’ has a large number of paths to any particular point on the map. Vehicles, particularly the Banshee, can give one team a dominating edge in the right hands, but players stuck on foot have a lot of options—something that’s very welcome on such a large map.

This is perhaps the most notable thing about the Noble Map Pack as a whole. Despite the different sizes of the three maps, they feel less wide-open than many of the maps which shipped on the disc for Reach. There are large combat spaces in all three, but there’s almost always an escape path to get away from enemy fire, and sightlines across the map are heavily obstructed. This is an impressive addition to the existing multi-player for Reach and well worth a download.

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