A new era begins for Master Chief and the Halo franchise starting today with the release of the 343 Industries' Halo 4. It's been two years since the last proper Halo game and five since the story that continues in the new release was last explored. Unless you're a super-fan, you probably haven't played a lot of Halo in recent months, and there's a slightly different flavor to 343 Industries' take even if you have.
All of which means you're looking at a little bit of a learning curve when you fire up Halo 4 for the first time. That's why we've assembled this little starter guide. Learn what's new and get ahead with a few useful tips before you dive in to witness Master Chief's latest adventure firsthand.
It's Still Halo
Fundamentally, Halo 4 plays the same as every Halo FPS game that preceded it. Right trigger to shoot, left trigger to chuck grenades, and click the right stick to aim with your scope, provided your weapon is equipped with one. The right bumper lets loose with a melee smack and the left bumper activates whichever armor ability you have equipped. Master Chief is a nimble super-soldier, darting quickly around the battlefield and capable of jumping to roughly one-and-a-half times his height.
Sprinting is no longer classified as an armor ability in Halo 4, meaning you can put on a burst of speed by clicking and holding the left stick as you move. Scoped aiming is also a much more viable tactic now, since taking damage while you're lining up a shot won't immediately knock you out of your sighted view. Master Chief's grenade carry capacity is also bumped up thanks to the introduction of the new Promethean variant; you can carry two of each grenade type for a maximum total of six, with the D-pad used for swapping between them
Halo has always been a run-and-gun-focused shooter and Halo 4 is no exception. There are plenty of sniping opportunities scattered throughout the game, but the bulk of Master Chief's engagements are close-to-mid-range affairs. Seeking cover is a necessary tactic for restoring your shields, but taking potshots from a protected position won't necessarily bring you success in Halo 4. It's necessary to strike a balance between that and run-and-gun mayhem.
Tactical awareness is the real key here. Regardless of whatever obstacles lie before you on the battlefield, you'll see a lot of checkpoint restarts if you don't pay attention to where your enemies are and how they're behaving. The Covenant and the Prometheans employ very different tactics, but you can expect both factions to take full advantage of the battlefield. Moreso than in most other FPS games, your foes will constantly challenge you for tactical superiority. It takes some quick thinking to keep them from gaining the upper hand.
Longtime Halo fans will probably find 343 Industries' most dramatic change on the multiplayer side of the game. Profile progression and XP-based leveling isn't new to the series, but the unlocks you can earn in Halo 4 offer more than just cosmetic enhancements to your armor. Players now have the option of crafting multiple custom loadouts, using gear unlocked through leveling milestones and subsequently purchase with earned tokens (one per level).
In addition to primary weapon, secondary weapon, and grenade, custom classes can also be outfitted with a player-selected Armor Ability as well as the new Tactical Package and Support Upgrade. Both of these are effectively perk slots, offering bonuses like infinite sprint or increased explosive damage.
Then there are Specializations, which stand apart from your custom loadouts. Everyone starts out with the Spartan IV specialization, but players are free to select their own once an XP milestone has been reached. Specializations effectively offer a second leveling track that allows players to unlock additional armor pieces and, once enough XP has been earned, a Specialization-specific perk.
There are eight Specializations in all, though only two are available at launch. However, those who pick up the Limited Edition of Halo 4 or those who connect their standard edition to Xbox Live before November 20, 2012 will be able to access all eight Specializations early (once the Spartan IV milestone is reached). All of these customization features are accessible from a separate menu that you can call up by pressing Start at the Infinity menu (or any of its sub-menus).
There are a few other new features as well that only manifest once you're in a match. The big one that should please fans of the previous games: weapon drops are now completely randomized, realized as "Infinity Ordnance" supply drops. You won't have to worry about campers jumping on the rocket launcher spawn anymore since there's no way to predict where that or any other weapon will appear.
Also new is Personal Ordnance, which is sort of analogous with killstreak bonuses that you see in other multiplayer FPS games. As you play and score kills/assists, you fill a meter. Once the meter is topped out, a D-pad prompt appears on the screen that allows you to choose between three different weapons and temporary boosts (such as Overshield) options. Custom loadouts in Halo 4 are restricted to the various human/Covenant/Promethean iterations of assault/battle rifles, so Ordnance drops -- Infinity and Personal both -- offer the only way to get your hands on the good stuff.
Continuing The Story In Spartan Ops
Also new in Halo 4 is Spartan Ops, an episodic series of solo/co-op mini-missions that serves as a replacement for the Firefight survival mode seen in previous games. 343 Industries is committed to releasing 10 weeks of Spartan Ops content post launch, with each week bringing five new missions (for up to four players) and a new cinematic cutscene that continues the post-Halo 4 campaign story.
Your custom loadouts and armor selections (including Specializations) all carry over to Spartan Ops. More importantly, you earn XP in this mode that contributes to your level progression in multiplayer as well. If Halo multiplayer isn't for you but you can't resist the lure of dangling unlockables, Spartan Ops will provide.
The first week's worth of missions are all pretty standard-fare Halo. There's no one tactic that will help you push through them all, though the general Halo strategies outlined above certainly apply. However, it's important to remember that your scoring is influenced by your performance. There's nothing stopping two players from tackling an Op on the Legendary difficulty, but unless they're really good, they stand to earn more XP at a lower difficulty with fewer deaths.