Published on March 23rd, 2011 | by Ben Gray
Review: Defiant Map Pack (Halo Reach DLC)
Release Date: March 15th 2011 (DLC date)
Genre(s): First Person Shooter
Developer: 343 Industries, Certain Affinity, Bungie
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
As Bungie start to trek on future endeavours, 343 Industries are slowly taking over the mammoth Halo franchise. In one of the steps to continuing this transition, 343i have teamed up with Certain Affinity, who have worked on Call of Duty and Halo 2 in the past, for the second map pack to hit Halo: Reach – the Defiant Map Pack. A first for the franchise, 343i and CA have incorporated a map for Firefight in this content, but this comes with the sacrifice of a competitive map, keeping the total number of maps at 3. Was this daring move by the two developers a wise one? Is this content catering for different types of Halo fans, or do people still want more of the same? These were some of the questions on my mind in the run up to the release of Defiant.
Condemned, Highlands and Unearthed; the three new battlefields that have been added to the arsenal of arenas on offer in Reach. Heading onto these maps, one thing becomes quite clear from the offset; the developers have created some of the most beautiful environments on offer in the game – environments with magnitude and scale, settings that are familiar in the universe but stand out in their own way. Condemned takes you around an orbital space station, with a waging war in the near distance, and the views are spectacular. Highlands displays the imminent threat of the Covenant, hovering above the planet, slowly glassing the surface, whilst the architecture is hyper-urbanised and complex, such as the waterfall. Unearthed showcases the expansive plains of Reach whilst the nuclear installation towers in the background. Aesthetics are at their finest in this content.
However, as stressed in many games, it’s never solely about the scenery, but the experience inside of it that the maps offer. Whilst these maps look pretty spectacular, they need to play well and offer something new to be considered the best; and this content offers a mixed bag. Let’s start with Condemned, the biggest culprit in the pack. This map revolves around one key aspect; a zero-gravity section straight in the middle of the map, with a Rocket Launcher on offer to anyone who grabs it. Because of this incentive that was first offered in Anchor 9, players are drawn to go straight to the centre upon every spawn; especially in Slayer variants, which completely leaves the rest of the corridors that circle this midpoint deserted, with the occasional battle between two Spartans throughout a match.
What Anchor 9 did to try and avoid all focus on the zero-gravity element was have it as a side route, whereas Condemned has a centrepiece that gravitates gamers towards it, which means you won’t be seeing much else of the map. In Objective games, its common sense to take the longer corridors and rooms that spiral around the map; a much safer alternative than cutting straight through the middle of the map which leaves you completely exposed. Condemned leaves too much attention on the centre which consequently results in most players not traversing the rest of the space station, which offers some interesting variation in vertical combat that goes to waste because of this.
Highlands was definitely the most satisfying for me. Offering an experience similar to Blood Gulch, the map offers a wide variety of paths throughout the terrain; safer and more contained routes for those who like to take it on foot, whilst there’s plenty of room for explosive vehicular combat. Objective games really shine on this map; a game of Stockpile turns into frantic mayhem quickly as you scatter across the map far and wide. Highlands offers a classic team experience that feels reminiscent of the original Halo games. The only criticism I have is the bases have two very wide entrances, meaning without a team or vehicle to accompany you inside an enemy base, you are most certainly screwed whether you’re entering or escaping.
Onto the final map, Unearthed, the addition to the Firefight mode in this DLC package. The arena sees you in open, construction site-like terrain beneath a massive nuclear plant, and the core focus is to vehicular combat, with the figure-8 shape that runs through the map asking for roadkill opportunities. However, whilst playing Unearthed, I did feel that the map became too dependent on vehicular combat, with enemy spawns largely far off the small space for those that like to bring the pain on foot. This addition provides satisfaction for those who prefer a wheeled approach, but those who stray far away from any Warthogs won’t find this map to their liking.
Now for the biggest complaint, and this is more of a personal preference for a certain group of Halo players. The forge palette for Highlands and Condemned is severely lacking, and for someone who spends most of their time crafting new spaces on the Forge, I felt that all I could do with what I was given was pile a few crates on top of each other. Highlands would have offered great opportunity for custom variation and creativity, but unless you can make a whole new experience out of some camping stools and pallets, you’re out of luck. The last map pack saw Tempest come with a fully fledged menu of objects to craft your map, and whilst the map itself was a rather awkward map to make levels on, it was still there. It’s disappointing to see this happen in Defiant, and I hope 343i and CA provide something similar to Foundry or Sandbox in a future DLC, as I’m getting rather sick of making map after map on Forge World.
The Defiant Map Pack, like Noble, is a mixed bag that will appeal to particular types of players. Once again, Halo lovers are going to be satisfied with the new maps on offer, and whilst they offer some eye candy, Highlands is the only one that seems to provide an all-round experience that caters for the different approaches to combat. What 343i must do now is listen to its community and deliver what they want; otherwise the developers may be in risk of degrading its fanbase.
- Incredible aesthetics
- Offers both competitive and Firefight experiences
- Highlands offers great gameplay
- Condemned gravitates players to one spot
- Unearthed too reliant on vehicular combat
- Lacking Forge palette