Some months ago, we started hearing about your "next project," and with good reason, most of the fan community believed it would be the highly anticipated Halo 3, and the jaw-dropping announce trailer at E3 2006 confirmed our expectations. This will undoubtedly be one of the biggest games of 2007, and will likely be the most popular and successful Xbox 360 game to ever come out. As a fan of the Halo series, I'd like to not only offer my thougts on the first two games, but also recommendations on how to make Halo 3 the epic it can and should be. Hopefully my suggestions are not too little, too late, but since it is not supposed to be released until sometime next year, I hope you take some of what I say into consideration, as a lot of my thougts and opinions are shared by many others in the fan community.
Halo: Combat Evolved was a masterpiece of video gaming, redefining the first-person shooter genre for the 21st century. I've been a gamer for over 20 years, and I have to say that it is one of the best action games I've ever played. Among the many things that made this game great are a long single-player campaign with huge stages and an engaging story. What started off as a sci-fi staple — humanity embroiled in a war with aliens bent on their destruction — evolved into something much bigger. As we unlocked Halo's secrets, we learned that it was not simply a massive fortress world, but rather it was "the gun pointed at the head of the universe," a superweapon of unimaginable power designed to study and contain the parasitic Flood and, on the event of their release, destroy them in a rather indirect fashion that we're all familiar with. The unleashing of the Flood was one of the most unexpected and suspenseful plot turns in all the games I've played outside of an RPG. I also like how the game referenced several other sci-fi titles, including Larry Niven's Known Space and the Alien movies.
Not only was the story great, but the game also looked, sounded, and played well. It had superb graphics and sound and an excellent physics engine. There was a tremendous amount of detail in the game, graphical and otherwise. Everything from the character designs to the level architecture and everything in between was a sight to behold. Marty O'Donnell's music was some of the best I had ever heard in a video game, with one of the most recognizable themes ever. The sound effects were great too. There was even a decent amount of chatter among your fellow soldiers. The controls were very intuitive and simple, and could be customized in several ways. There were some great gameplay features that were rare in FPSs such as being limited to carrying only two weapons at once (as compared to most other games in the genre where you can hold an entire arsenal of weapons at once), an innovative melee system, and the first truly effective and enjoyable usage of vehicle combat in an FPS. And of course there was the outstanding multiplayer mode that, thanks to the system link abilities of the Xbox, gave us many enjoyable LAN parties. Then November 9, 2004 rolled around, giving us one of the most anticipated sequels in the history of gaming.
Halo 2, while not revolutionary (sequels rarely are, usually being quite similar to their predecessors), improved on many things that were lacking in Halo 1. A common complaint about the Campaign in Halo was that the stages were repetitive, with some using pretty much the same map (Assault on the Control Room and Two Betrayals being the most obvious). The Library in particular was derided as being monotonously repetitious. The Campaign stages were not as repetitive in Halo 2 and had plenty of variation in design. Thanks to Halo 2's new graphics engine, they were also on average a lot more atmospheric and better looking with more impressive backgrounds than what was seen in Halo 1. Like that one Marine said near the beginning of Delta Halo "Wow. It's just like a postcard, man." Awesome landscapes, giant functioning MAC guns, space stations in the background being destroyed, sprawling cityscapes, Covenant fleets dropping out of slipspace, battles between spaceships, and even a floating structure of some kind (a Sentinel factory, from what I understand) getting shot down in the background of the chapter "100,000 Years War" in the stage Sacred Icon (you later have to fight through the wreckage, which was neat). By comparison, the backgrounds in Halo 1 were rather bland, boring, and otherwise nondescript; the only notable features were the arch of Halo, and Threshold, Basis, and their parent sun in the sky. The stages of Halo 2 looked great as well in terms of design. In particular, the Covenant architecture seen in the High Charity stages was truly awe-inspiring. Many of the stages are also far more dynamic than those in Halo 1. For example, there are the moving parts of Cairo Station's MAC gun that can interfere with the player's movement, various pieces of machinery operating in Forerunner installations (e.g. the elevator sequence in the stage Oracle, among others), and there are various goings-on in the backgrounds, such as the In Amber Clad dropping out of slipspace on High Charity, the humans' gondola seen in the distance near the end of Quarantine Zone, and various other things. Even little details like wildlife (e.g. flying creatures on Delta Halo and High Charity, little insect-like critters in the brig on High Charity, fireflies on Backwash) were nice little nuances. Besides the appearance of the stages, the graphics were pretty good elsewhere too, with some of the best lighting effects I've seen in a console FPS. Certain character designs, most notably the Master Chief's and Cortana's, were greatly improved over how they looked in Halo 1. Overall, Halo 2 is one of the best console games of its generation in terms of graphics, and in many ways looks better than the first Halo.
There were many fun and exciting events in Campaign, such as attacking the Scarab in Metropolis and severing the cable holding the Threshold installation on the stage Oracle. I also liked the newly expanded roster of enemies. There are more Elite ranks, including the extremely tough white-armored Ultras, the impressive-looking Honour Guards, and the flying Elite Rangers. The Drones were a great new enemy and the Hunters were harder to defeat. Sniper Jackals were tough new opponents, and I like the way Jackals run now (much more bird-like). Sentinel Enforcers were a nice addition as well, as were the little "Constructor" machines seen repairing the Sentinel wall. The Flood seem even more intimidating than they used to (their shrieks were very creepy), and they now can control vehicles. It was neat seeing an Infection Form resurrect a fallen Attack Form, and it was awesome being able to completely explode the attack forms to put them down for good (Flood gibs=win). The new "ragdoll" death animations were pretty sweet and looked a lot better than the fully scripted and very limited death animations from Halo 1 (There were only about two or three standard death animations each for Master Chief and the various Covenant species in Halo 1, plus one each from getting thrown through the air by an explosion).
The voice acting was great, and I must applaud your casting director; Michael Wincott, Keith David, Ron Perlman, Kevin Michael Richardson, Robert Davi, Dee Baker, David Cross, and the returning actors from Halo 1 all had stellar performances. I really hope that the voice actors for all the surviving characters reprise their roles in Halo 3. The dialogue was well-written and there was more chatter among your allies and enemies, and there were a lot of great one-liners. There was even some neat background chatter, such as Regret's sermons on Delta Halo and Truth, Tartarus, and Gravemind's dialogue over the loudspeaker in High Charity. The music was superb, with Marty O'Donnell's original score topping his already great work from Halo 1. There was some pretty good rock music in a couple of parts as well (the instrumental version of Breaking Benjamins' "Blow Me Away" heard when Master Chief enters the Mausoleum of the Arbiters was killer). I own all of the soundtracks and listen to them all the time.
The story was awesome as well. The game had a very good plot and writing just as the first one did. While I was at first disappointed that Halo 2 didn't involve Earth as much as we initially thought it would, the quality of the story more than made up for this. Unlike some people, I actually enjoyed playing the Arbiter and liked seeing things from the Covenant's side, and the apparent "humanizing" of the Covenant didn't at all disappoint me (though I do miss the Elites' backwards English; Halo 3 needs more "Wort, wort, wort!"). The Covenant, after all, is an intelligent group of species despite their genocidal actions towards humanity. They have emotions, they form bonds of friendship and camaraderie, they have personal and social ambitions, they have religious beliefs, they have art, they (presumably) have families that they care for, and they obviously express a host of other all-to-human behaviors, both evil and good. As for other story elements, the introduction of the Gravemind was perhaps the biggest plot twist in the game outside of the Covenant civil war, and said character will obviously have a tremendous impact on future plot developments. The cliffhanger ending was for the most part pretty decent in my opinion, even though it did leave me wanting more. Many good trilogies have a second installment ending in a cliffhanger, after all. Overall, the Halo series has some of the best storytelling in video gaming, especially considering that it's part of the action genre. Writing of such quality is normally only seen in high-profile role-playing games.
There were also some interesting gameplay additions as well. Vehicle jacking, rockets that could home in on vehicles, being able to swap weapons with your allies in Campaign, and more interactive environments such as boxes and whatnot could actually be moved around now were welcome additions. Another thing I liked was being able to let your Marines (or fellow Elites, when you're the Arbiter) drive certain vehicles while you serve as a gunner, and I liked how it now takes more than a slight nudge for a vehicle to make roadkill of someone. Vehicles also have better handling than before. The ability to destroy vehicles has also been uniformly applied to all vehicles in both Campaign and Multiplayer, whereas in Halo 1 only Covenant vehicles in Campaign could be destroyed. Multiplayer had some great additions also. Matches are no longer limited to two teams; up to eight teams can now be supported in Multiplayer. There is a larger degree of options for customizing games, such as turning off active camouflage and overshields, determining what types of vehicles there are, determining exactly what starting weapons you want, and so on. The ability to play online not only allowed people to play more frequently with their friends (LAN parties are not an everyday thing for most people; I and my friends only got together once every several weeks or so), but it also allows them to play with people who don't live in their community. Many of the multiplayer stage designs are more intricate and impressive-looking this time around as well. Moving stage parts that can obstruct or distract (e.g., the piston on Waterworks, the fan on Zanzibar, the radar dish on Ascension), gates and teleporters that could be opened, hazards such as fusion cores, mines, the stalactites on Waterworks, and the train on Terminal, all made for more dynamic stages. There are also a wider variety of larger, more open maps. The spawning system seems somewhat improved as well, most notably the better variety of spawn points in Coagulation (as compared to Blood Gulch where there were only four spawn points out in the open at each base). The player is also no longer penalized for being betrayed by a teammate, which was one of the few problems I had with Halo 1. I also liked the more detailed post-game stats, including accuracy, shots fired, headshots, best spree, and other stats not included in Halo 1. Another neat addition was being given awards for certain achievements such as sniper kills, vehicle jacking, assassinations, running people over, and so forth. Longer killing sprees and multi-kills were given a wider variety of names (Berserker, Overkill, Killtrocity, etc.), which was a nice touch. Finally, I liked the fact that you had teammate status icons which let you know their location and what shape they are in. Same for the icons that let you know certain things in objectives games such as if the enemy has your flag.
However, I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to say that I believe that Halo 2 was lacking in many ways, and that Halo 1 was an overall better game. There were many things in Halo 2 that many people, myself included, feel were detracting from the game to such a degree that, despite the improvements, it failed to be as good a game as the first Halo. For example, the Campaign is more linear than ever despite the more varied terrain. The stages in Halo 1 were far less linear and provided for a much more entertaining experience despite reuse of stage geometry. Even if it was rather repetitive, The Library had a lot of wrong turns and dead ends, and the level itself was truly intimidating. Furthermore, the repetitive nature of Halo 1's Campaign can be seen as having a certain narrative purpose, as has been outlined in several fan sites.
More importantly, there are also various changes to the basic gameplay and physics. In retrospect, some of the new gameplay additions (esp. dual wielding), despite seeming innovative at first, come across as poorly executed and could have been done without entirely. Also, some of the gameplay features that made Halo 1 such a fun and challenging game have been drastically altered or amputated altogether. Many of these changes turned out to be IMO unnecessary and really detract from otherwise decent gameplay. Some of the changes and new gameplay additions make the game rather oversimplified, removing a lot of the skill needed to be successful at the first game. It seems like Halo 2 was made to be more accessible to beginners and casual gamers. To put it bluntly, it feels in many ways "dumbed down" and like it caters to the lowest common denominator or, as Mothergoat, webmaster of Mothergoat.net, put it, "to casual gamers who can't aim." There are fewer variables in gameplay, and fewer things that one must pay attention to in order to survive, much less perform well. This reduces the amount of forethought, strategy, attentiveness, and overall skill a player must employ, and there are fewer consequences for certain actions. The learning curve has been decreased as a result. It also seems as though a "spray-and-pray/spamfire" style of combat and a "run for the best weapons and then camp" gameplay are encouraged in Multiplayer (some have even mockingly referred to Halo 2 as "Spraylo"). This is not to say that it takes no skill to play — skill obviously still plays an extremely important role in a player's performance —, but rather it takes less skill to play than the first Halo.
Not only are these various gameplay changes considered unwelcome by many, but they also illustrate an obvious lack of consistency and continuity between the two games. For example, there's the replacement of relatively strong and accurate weapons with newer, weaker, less accurate armaments, the disappearance of fall damage, and the addition of a physics-defying melee lunge that can, among other things, change one's direction in midair. There are also inconsistencies in various details of the game, graphical and otherwise, both within the game and between it and Halo 1. For example, there are inconsistencies on the detail of certain small items (it's still an incredibly detailed game, however).
All in all, Halo 2 is a totally different experience than Halo 1. While being different isn't a bad thing in and of itself — and like I said, some of the differences were for the better —, it still stands that the bad changes have a tendency to completely overshadow the good changes. The first game had an excellent gameplay formula, but that formula was unnecessarily and in some ways drastically changed for Halo 2. If we learned something from the New Coke debacle (bad reference?), it is that you should never mess with a tried and true formula loved by millions. Daniel Barbour of 7hr33.org said that many players "...while entranced by the groundbreaking aspects of H1, were not looking for more broken ground in the second; new features and dynamics are great, but not when they compromise the core aspects of a title, or distract the player from taking in the story itself. Seconds, not a new restaurant. Call us old fashioned, but we just wanted more of the same."
That's why the Mega Man series of games, a favorite of mine, had such a tremendous appeal: A well though out formula of gameplay, physics, and style — most notably, picking stages in the order you wanted and being able acquire a boss's special attack, not to mention the solid gameplay — whose basics were not tampered with in any major way for some 15 games despite a few extras added or changed here and there: various abilities and gadgets such as Rush, a slide ability, a chargeable Mega Buster, energy tanks, upgradeable armor in the X series, etc., none of which significantly altered the basics established in the first game. The series has gone downhill since they changed that formula, especially when Capcom decided to take the leap from 2-D to 3-D for it. There are other series that have suffered the same fate, though there are exceptions to this rule. Final Fantasy continues to be great even though large portions of the gameplay change from game to game, but other game series managed to stay fresh without drastic change. Mario, Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Sonic are other franchises that, in their 2-D heyday, kept the same core gameplay despite whatever changes were made. They have also managed to survive the transition to 3-D while still remaining fun and sticking with a similar formula adapted to 3-D gameplay. Other series that have endured to this day, such as Gradius, have changed little since their inception, and continue to remain as entertaining as they did way back when. Sometimes, more of the same is a good thing.
Fortunately, the Halo franchise is so far one of those series that has yet to be ruined by drastic change, though there are some things that worry me about its future. Halo 2 could have been as good or better than Halo 1, but I feel that it fell short of that goal. The changes introduced in Halo 2 did not make the game better than its prequel, but rather resulted in a game that does not stand up to the original, and if that trend continues into Halo 3, it may completely alienate a large base of Halo fans. Halo 2 is still a great game, stellar and spectacular even, especially compared to most other games these days, which lack the fun factor that older games have (I'm an old-school gamer myself), but it is not the absolute masterpiece Halo 1 was. In my opinion, it would have turned out to be a much better game if it had simply used the same engine as Halo 1 with only a few minor changes, including improved graphics and correcting whatever glitches and inconsistencies were found in the first game.
There have already been quite a few critiques of Halo 2, — some brief comments, others full-blown articles; some well worded, others not. I personally agree with most of what the following articles had to say (some of the better critiques on the web, IMHO):
The Page of Whoa|Woe by Daniel "Finn" Barbour
Halo 2 Impressions by Narcogen
Mothergoat's Second Opinion of Halo 2 by Mothergoat (obviously :p)
Legendary Observations by mike miller
However, I still feel that you can never have too much constructive criticism, and so I will now go over the various problems with Halo 2 (at least what I and other like-minded individuals consider problems) and some suggestions on how to improve them for Halo 3. I'll also add some suggestions, some unrelated to the two previous Halo games, on what could be some great additions to Halo 3. I may reiterate myself on a couple of occasions, as some parts of this letter have overlapping subject matter, and of course some of these comments have been heard before from other individuals, but they bear repeating.
The remainder of this letter is quite long, mainly because there are so many details and aspects to the game, and because I intend to be as detailed as humanly possible and explain my reasonings behind my various comments. It is divided into several sections regarding specific areas of the game: General Gameplay and Physics, Multiplayer (including Xbox Live), Campaign, Weapons, Vehicles, and Miscellaneous. Afterwards, I will finish with my thoughts on the past, present, and future of the Halo franchise as a whole.
1. Grenade Physics
This was the very first thing I noticed about Halo 2's new physics engine, so I'll address it first. When I first tried throwing a grenade, it didn't go near as far as it did in Halo 1 (they could be thrown some 90 to 100 m in H1, while it looks to be about 20 m less than that in H2). This is quite unusual, considering we're dealing with the same grenade thrown by the same individual. Did Master Chief get weaker, or did the grenades get heavier? Since the average soldier can throw a hand grenade some 40 meters, then it's not unreasonable for a Spartan or Elite to be able to throw one 100 meters. Furthermore, frag grenades simply bounce around differently. They're harder to toss into places you want them to go. This has obviously affected grenade use in combat a great deal. Combined with their overall properties as weapons (see "Weapons" below), grenades, rather than being a weapon that required strategic use, are now simply used to spam an area with explosives. Finally, and of somewhat lesser importance, a grenade thrown a split second before death will often not deploy, which combined with the smaller blast radius, makes it hard to use them as a means of posthumous revenge. The physics of grenades is the first of many things that I will suggest should be reverted back to the way it was in Halo 1.
2. Melee Attacks
One of the more drastic changes made to Halo 2's gameplay was giving melee attacks a new lunge ability. The melee lunge has a range of up to about 4 meters, give or take a half-meter, and it covers that span in a split second. This has not only affected gameplay to a significant degree, but it also comes across as very unrealistic, both physically and in appearance (seriously, it looks awful). Not only have melee attacks been given a lunge ability, but they can now also be used in rapid succession. Also, it has the bizarre ability to change a player's trajectory, up to and including reversing it, while in mid-air (see my commentary on the Sword for more). This is just physically impossible, and it simply adds to the ridiculously unrealistic nature of the lunge ability. I know Master Chief is supposed to be fast and strong, but there's no way he can do these things.
Personally, I didn't really begin to notice the melee lunge until after the first auto-update. (At first, I thought it was actually added during the first AU, but it turns out I was wrong and that it was in multiplayer from the beginning. I guess that's because meleeing was much more rare pre-AU.) The first AU gave a boost to the melee attack, and it seems to have encouraged a far, far greater amount of hand-to-hand combat. Beatdown awards are now much more common as a result of this newfound desire to bash your opponents skull in rather than fire your gun during close-range combat. I still remember during my first post-AU game where I was in a close-range gunfight with someone, both of us dual-wielding, when all of a sudden my opponent drops one of his guns and lunges right at me, killing me. You pretty much have to fight in this manner in order to survive close-range combat, as more often than not your opponent won't even bother firing his weapon and will instead try to beat you to death.
I find the melee lunge to be rather awkward to use and that it tends to ruin the experience of close-quarters combat, which usually devolves into a fistfight rather than a gun battle. (Many people don't even bother firing their weapons in close-range combat.) A missed melee can throw you off balance, sling you off ledges, and can leave you wide open to a blindside attack. Furthermore, all of that lunging about makes it easy to lose track of your opponent, regardless of whether or not it was you or your opponent who lunged. It's also hopelessly random and chaotic, being nothing but a bunch of wild flailing about, jamming on the B button in hopes that you can lunge the fastest and get the first hit. It feels almost like a fighting game in this respect, despite the first-person perspective. Another problem is that the melee lunge has the tendency to bounce off of an opponent, especially if you're attempting to assassinate them. There've been many occasions where I've snuck up behind an opponent and lunged at him several times only to have the melees not work, and, in frustration, gave up and started firing my weapon.
Melee combat should be restored to the way it was in Halo 1. You were still able to hit someone within arms reach without having to lunge in a wildly unrealistic and chaotic manner, and it required decent timing instead of simplistic button mashing. Plus it was more of a backup or last resort attack or a means to kill an opponent from behind, not a (the?) primary means of attack at close range. The Halo 1 melee system was more user-friendly, realistic, graceful, and all around better than the maddening and unrealistic thrash-fest that is Halo 2's melee system, and thus it should be used in Halo 3.
3. Fall Damage
Another unwarranted and unnecessary change to Halo 2's gameplay was the elimination of fall damage. It's incredibly aggravating seeing your opponent jump off of a 50 or 100-foot ledge in order to retreat, only to have him incur no damage from the fall — or not get killed from the fall after being severely damaged — and get away from the encounter unscathed. Getting rid of fall damage has done nothing but provide a crutch to players who are either inattentive to their surroundings, looking for an cheap shortcut, or seeking an easy way out of an encounter that isn't going their way. In Halo 1, you had to watch your footing. If you screwed up, you could fall, either giving yourself a suicide or giving your enemy a kill, or at the very least damaging yourself to some extent. Same thing if you were looking for a quick escape or a shortcut. Crouching to absorb some of the impact to lessen damage from a fall took precise timing. This was just as much a factor in Campaign as it was in multiplayer. There were several places where if you were not watching what you were doing, you would suffer damage or get killed. Same if you tried to take a shortcut by jumping off a ledge. Furthermore, fall damage also had the effect of momentarily stunning you in addition to inflicting damage (assuming you survived the fall, that is), which added to the consequences incurred from too far a drop. Under normal circumstances, a roughly 20 meter fall was fatal, while anything between that and about 11 meters caused varying amounts of damage depending on height fallen and whether or not the player timed a crouch landing correctly.
In Halo 2, you are not penalized at all for falls resulting from not watching your footing or for missing jumps while in a high place, or for ejecting from/being thrown out of a Banshee at high altitude for that matter. It lessens the amount of skill involved by reducing the number of variables that factor into gameplay, thus lessening the amount of details one must pay close attention to in order to perform well in the game. It also encourages players to take the easy way out of an uncomfortable situation or simply take convenient shortcuts that detract from any intended or incidental challenge. Whatever consequences there are for falling a long distance in Halo 2, if any, are too minor to note. Therefore, I believe that fall damage should be reinstated in Halo 3.
(As a side note, having fall damage in the game would get rid of the problem of superjumping really quick, assuming that glitch somehow makes it into Halo 3. Attempt a superjump, and *splat*, you're dead or severely damaged when you hit the ground.)
4. Shields, Health, and the HUD
Health was another one of the factors that a player had to pay attention to in Halo 1. It gave you a decent idea of how well off you were and whether it would be a good idea to go in guns blazing or back off from a potentially suicidal fight, find some other means of attack, and/or wait for reinforcements. Also, relating to fall damage, it gave you a good idea of how far of a fall you could survive (assuming that the fall wasn't one lethal to everybody, even one overshielded and with full health). The problem with Halo 2 is that your character has health, but there is no health bar. In other words, the variable of health is there, but you have a complete inability to monitor it. There's no telling how well off you are at any given moment, which completely eliminates any strategy involved in picking your encounters or assessing risks. You have no clue as to whether or not the slightest tap could kill you once your shields are down. The fact that a player has a finite amount of health but cannot monitor it renders the entire system unreliable. Player health does regenerate (it can take up to 15 to 20 seconds to do so completely), but I believe this removes a lot of the urgency associated with health that does not restore on its own. It can also be argued that since the player's health regenerates, it encourages him to be less careful, since if they do get wounded, it doesn't matter since their health will restore itself between encounters. However, even if it does regenerate, it still doesn't alleviate the problems associated with not being able to monitor one's health. Furthermore, I'd like to point out that regenerating health is not very realistic, nor is it consistent with the rules established in the first Halo, not to mention the fact that Spartans or Elites have never been described as being able to regenerate wounds.
The lack of a health bar also extends to passengers in a player's vehicle. As with their own health, the player has no way of monitoring how well off the passengers are. The player may be unknowingly stuck with a gunner who could be killed by a single hit. In Halo 1, the ability to keep track of a passenger's health was quite useful, and the player could manage which passenger sat where on basis of their health, and often had the chance to get another ally who is on foot to take the place of a passenger who had less health. (This is all assuming that AI health does not regenerate in Halo 2, which is something I never got around to testing.)
Because of these problems, I believe that Halo 1's health system should be restored. Health should be visible to the player and it should not regenerate on its own, either for the player or for AI characters.
Another problem is the new location and structure of the shield bar. Instead of the larger and more easily readable bar located in the top right-hand corner we had in Halo 1, we have a much shorter and more compact bar located right on top of the motion tracker (a shield bar similar to Halo 1's is also seen in earlier betas of Halo 2; another beta had one located where it is now, but with a longer vertical orientation). A common complaint is that it's often difficult to read it in the middle of combat due to its size. Its size also makes it less accurate and thus less reliable. I understand that its new location was likely chosen to have a place for an ammo bar for duel wielding as well as for reasons of convenience, but size, structure, and location-wise it was better having the longer shield meter from Halo 1. If dual wielding is left intact in Halo 3 (more on this later), it would probably be better to replace the game progress bars in the lower right-hand corner (an unnecessary convenience; hitting the Back button was good enough) with a Halo 1 style shield & health bar, perhaps something like the long vertical shield bar seen in other Halo 2 betas (located roughly where the current one is). Better yet, give the HUD a certain degree of customizability to fit a player's personal preferences. Of course, if dual wielding doesn't make it to the next game, then the old Halo 1 HUD, or at least one nearly identical, should be reinstated.
I've also noticed the motion tracker has a much shorter range now (no more than half of the old range of about 60 meters) and it much more sensitive, and thus it gives you a better idea of how close an opponent is — you can tell almost exactly how far away they are now — and how fast they're moving. While this seems nice at first, it turns out that it has given rise to rather cheap and obnoxious tactics such as "crouch walking," which was hardly ever used in Halo 1. Much better to have the original longer range & less sensitive motion tracker of Halo 1, which merely let you know an enemy was nearby and what direction they are in, but not giving you the ability to gauge exact distances, something that was reserved for your own two eyes. Another problem with the motion tracker is that it is no longer visible whenever zoomed in with a scoped weapon like the sniper rifle. I'm not sure why this was done, but it would be nice to have the motion tracker available when zoomed in. Furthermore, I would have liked for the motion tracker to be removed entirely from the screen when turned off like in Halo 1, rather than remaining the constant eyesore/obstruction it is now.
The player should also have a slightly larger field of view. One of the more common complaints about the HUD is that the player has less peripheral vision than in Halo 1 or most other FPS: 70° vs. 90°, according to most sources (for comparison purposes, most humans have a FoV of about 180°). While it is not exactly easy to notice at first for some players, myself included, Halo 2 does feel a bit more cramped at times in its FoV. A little extra peripheral vision could never hurt, and there're a lot of players out there who want such a thing. While it isn't a very big issue for me, there are nonetheless many, many players find that the narrower field of view creates the effect of tunnel vision and that it is very detrimental to gameplay, and they consider it to be one of the biggest problems with Halo 2.
There are also a couple of little details about the sniper rifle's scope, namely night vision and the range indicator. The first was a necessity in dark areas, namely the first half of Truth & Reconciliation. The second was another one of the little details that, while not necessary for functioning gameplay, nonetheless gave the game that much more depth. While there were unfortunately no night missions and very few dark areas in Halo 2 (thus negating the need for night vision), hopefully there will be such missions in Halo 3. As for the range indicator, there really was no reason for it to not be in Halo 2. I really liked the depth and detail in Halo 1, so hopefully this along with many other little details will make it into Halo 3. It would also be neat if the Beam Rifle had a range indicator that had a readout that uses Covenant numerals, and instead of night vision, it could have something like infrared/thermal vision.
Finally, I'd also like to see the return of Halo 1's objectives indicators, which gave not just the general direction of an objective, but also let you know how far away it was.
5. In-game Feedback
There are several minor things about the feedback system in Halo 2 that I think need improvement. First off is the announcer in Multiplayer. While it is nice to be alerted that you have gained or lost the lead, it can get out of hand and quite annoying during close matches. Secondly, there are the little messages letting you know who killed who, what weapon you picked up, etc. This can cause the screen to get somewhat cluttered, especially when the player has to share the screen with another player in Multiplayer matches or co-op play (this has been partially remedied by a past auto-update). Finally, there are the little tutorial messages that pop up in the middle of the screen from time to time. While this is rather uncommon, it can get quite distracting when you're in the middle of combat and the game suddenly decides to give instructions on how to dual-wield weapons, zoom in with a sniper rifle, or any of a number of basic activities that the player should already know how to do.
Like what I proposed for various HUD features, the player should be able to customize what kind of feedback, if any, he/she wishes to receive.
Another change that has affected gameplay is the increase in the height and distance that the player is able to jump. This mainly affects Multiplayer, and has resulted in many players jumping around like crazy in the middle of combat in order to make themselves a harder target to hit. This was, in my experience (and that of others, from what I've heard), a tactic that was rarely used in Halo 1. While it is relatively easy to compensate one's aiming when facing a constantly jumping enemy, this tactic is just plain annoying and it also gives a more chaotic feel to combat in general. I think it would be better for gameplay if the height and distance the player can jump were reduced somewhat. This would at the very least place more emphasis on practicing one's marksmanship and general weapons skills rather than just trying to create as much confusion as possible.
Furthermore, I'd like to point out that it is quite weird that the Chief can jump higher, but he can't throw grenades as far. As a friend of mine commented, it's as if all of his strength went to his legs. Very odd.
7. Ladders vs. Gravity Lifts
In Halo 2, ladders have been almost entirely replaced with grav-lifts and air vents. Ladders are found only on Waterworks and Headlong in Multiplayer, and on a couple of occasions in Outskirts and Metropolis in Campaign. I'm not sure why this was decided upon (more on this in a bit), but grav-lifts/air vents have some distinct disadvantages as compared to ladders. First off, they rob you of almost all control. Once you jump into one, it will automatically propel you upwards to a predetermined height. You cannot control your rate of ascent and your ability to control where you land is very limited. Some grav-lifts, such as the ones on Foundation, are positioned in such a way that if the player gets to close to the top of it, it can potentially catch him and push him back up, sometimes snagging him against a wall in the process. This can be fatal in a combat situation. Some grav-lifts are also extremely noisy (e.g. those on Colossus and Ascension), thus alerting the enemy to one's position.
Conversely, ladders offered greater versatility and control for the player. You can control how fast and how far up you want to go. If you wanted to hop off the ladder in mid-climb, you could do so at any time. Furthermore, simply touching the bottom of a ladder will not send you up it by itself. Also, you can jump down from the top of a ladder the exact same way you came up without being snatched up and carried back to the top. Finally, going up a ladder causes no more noise than walking.
While I expect grav-lifts to still be a part of Halo 3's gameplay, most notably in Covenant-themed maps, I think it would be better if more emphasis is placed on ladders as a means of going up and down between various levels and platforms. Also, if any Multiplayer maps from Halo 1 that had ladders are brought back for Halo 3, don't replace the ladders with grav-lifts.
Now, as to why ladders were replaced with grav-lifts, I've heard two reasons. First off, I heard on the video on the Map Pack CD that one of the reasons ladders were removed was that there were issues with the climbing animation (which there really wasn't one) looking rather unrealistic. However, not only is this irrelevant to matters of gameplay, one could also say that the fact that you cannot see a player's slung/holstered firearm when he has two is rather unrealistic, as is the fact that you don't see the character actually picking up weapons or ammo when he walks over them. Lack of minor animation subtleties like these is not a huge problem, unrealistic as they may be, and they've never been an issue in any previous high-profile FPSs. It's not a really good reason to alter basic gameplay aspects. Another reason I've heard elsewhere was that ladders turn the player into sniper fodder, or something to that effect. However, one could also say the same thing for grav-lifts, particularly the louder ones that alert the enemy. Like I said, the player has little control over his trajectory when he jumps into a grav-lift, thus rendering him virtually helpless. So, there really aren't any practical reasons to replace ladders with grav-lifts.
8. Auto-Aim & Reticule Magnetism
It seems that the level of auto-aim and reticule magnetism has increased quite a bit in Halo 2. While it was noticeable in Halo 1 as well, it was lesser in degree compared to how it is now. Personally, I think that reticule magnetism shouldn't even be in the game to begin with, and that the level auto-aim should be at the bare minimum required to make the game work. The player should not have the computer compensate for their aiming to any significant degree. It should be up to the player to learn the spread pattern, etc, of their weapons and adjust their aim accordingly (of course, due to the shot spread of many weapons, getting all or almost all of your shots to hit their target can be difficult even for veteran players). Furthermore, reticule magnetism has the annoying tendency to forcibly draw your sights away from the target you're aiming at and towards some other enemy. This is not only frustrating; it can be fatal given the wrong circumstances.
Unless gameplay absolutely cannot function properly without them, I believe that in Halo 3, auto-aim and reticule magnetism should be removed or diminished severely to levels far less than that found in either Halo 1 or 2.
9. Active Camouflage and Overshields
Another noticeable change in Halo 2 has been to the powerups. The active camouflage is far less effective this time around. While someone who is active is not as easy to see, it is still not too difficult to spot the camouflaged individual even from across a large stage. In Campaign, it is not too hard to spot a camouflaged Covenant from distances typical of those found in most encounters (one wonders why they can't spot you just as easy when you're cloaked). In Multiplayer, it's not too difficult to spot and snipe at a cloaked opponent from across the stage even on larger maps like Headlong. The decreased efficacy of the active camouflage in Halo 2 has diminished the challenge of facing camouflaged Covenant in Campaign, and has made it a far less useful powerup in Multiplayer, sometimes making it not even worth picking up. Compare this to Halo 1, where an active opponent was almost completely invisible at longer ranges, and it was exceedingly difficult to spot them even when they were relatively close. This made facing a cloaked enemy more challenging in Campaign, and made it a more efficient powerup in Multiplayer. The effectiveness of the active camo in Halo 3 should be more like it was in Halo 1. If there are balance issues with this, then simply reduce the duration of the active camo (it should still last long enough to be worth picking up, though).
The overshield has also suffered somewhat due a certain change made to it, namely the fact that it now encompasses whoever acquires it with a yellow glow. While the overshield still provides the same protection it did in Halo 1, the yellow glow gives an overshielded player less of an advantage. It plainly marks them as a threat, to either be avoided in one-on-one combat (unless the player has either a plasma pistol or a power weapon to use against the overshielded enemy), or to be ganged up on. The overshield glow should be eliminated in Halo 3. There's really no good reason why the overshield has to alert the other players to the fact that it's in use by someone. The Halo 1 overshield, which gave no clues to its presence when being used by a player, made it a more effective powerup. If there are balance issues with this, then simply reduce how much time it lasts.
Also, I'm curious as to why these powerups were not including in Campaign this time (though an active camo item would be unnecessary while playing as the Arbiter, for obvious reasons). While there were only a handful of them scattered about across the game in Halo 1, they were extremely helpful under many circumstances, and there are some places where you have to decide whether it would be better to grab them right away or wait and backtrack to them for a later section.
1. Stage Designs
The multiplayer stages in Halo 2, while aesthetically pleasing and more dynamic on average, suffer from what many consider to be design flaws. More than a few stages have places that are easily exploitable as campsites, especially if the camping team has acquired all the power weapons (sword, rockets, etc.). This often results in a one-sided game where one team has effectively holed themselves up in a single part of the stage, and the entire match will tend to revolve around that one particular part of the stage. There are typically no more than two ways in or out of these campsites, which makes it very easy for the camping team to monitor all possible ways in which an enemy can come at them. Thus, it is nearly impossible to launch even the most well coordinated attack against the camping team without getting ambushed and suffering huge losses. With the way the weapons and everything are set up, it is very difficult for even pros to remove a heavily armed team from their campsite (unless the camping team is extremely incompetent). The most notable examples include behind the sniper tower on Lockout, the top back hallway on Ivory tower, the sniper towers on Ascension, the central tower in Waterworks (especially in Team Snipers), the top and above the top of the parking garage on Terminal (again, especially on Team Snipers), and various others. In comparison, there were nowhere near as many campsites available in Halo 1, and the few there were did not provide very good sanctuary. It was quite easy to uproot any team from an entrenched campsite, especially with the weapon system in Halo 1 (I will deal with the issue of weapons in Halo 2 later).
2. Playlists & Gametypes
Another thing that can be improved on in multiplayer is the Matchmaking system on Xbox Live. Presumably, we will see most if not all of Halo 2's playlists return for Halo 3. There are a lot of people, including myself of course, who think that Matchmaking doesn't quite give the degree of choice of playlists they would like it to have. Most notably, the playlists for Double Team, 6 vs. 6, Big Team Battle, and Hardcore (Halo 2's de facto No Radar playlist, just with more points/time needed to win objectives games) should be divided up into two separate playlists each: one for Slayer and another for objectives games, just as there are separate playlists for 4 vs. 4 (i.e. Team Slayer and Team Skirmish). I know a lot of people other than myself who are not particularly fond of objectives games, and there are others who don't really care for Slayer games, and many would like to have the option to choose whether we want to play Slayer or objectives games in those playlists. Perhaps in the Matchmaking menu, there should be a main screen that simply has three options, "Slayer," "Objectives," and "Mixed/Others," which will take the player to one of three secondary screens listing the appropriate gametypes. For instance, clicking the "Slayer" option will bring up a list consisting of Rumble Pit, Team Slayer, Team Snipers, etc., while clicking "Objectives" would bring up Team Skirmish, 2 vs. 2 Skirmish, BTB Skirmish, etc., and "Mixed/Others" would bring up mixed slayer/objectives, training, and miscellaneous playlists such as Multi-Team and Action Sack.
There are also some gametypes that many feel should be better represented. For example, SWAT is a favorite gametype of mine and several of my friends, all of us having regularly played a No Shields/No Radar setup since the early days of Halo 1. However, as a gametype in Matchmaking, it only appears in the odd game of Team Training. Playlists for both Team and Free-for-All SWAT games would be a very welcome addition.
Finally, Team Snipers should take place on larger maps more frequently. Sniper weapons are far more suited for such maps, not to mention that the cramped conditions frequent in smaller stages result in a lot of blind, close-range firing and melee brawls. Also, it'd be nice if something like a Magnum was added as a sidearm in this playlist, as it is in the Team Slayer playlist for sniper games.
Update: In a recent playlist update in Matchmaking, BTB has been split up into separate objective and Slayer playlists, and a Team SWAT playlist (objective/Slayer mixed) has been added. Hopefully this will remain permanent and carry over into Halo 3. I still would like to suggest that Double Team and Team SWAT should also be split up into separate objectives and Slayer playlists, and that a Rumble SWAT playlist should be added. Furthermore, I've noticed that body shots don't cause damage in Team SWAT, and that only headshots count. I think that this was a bad idea, and so I'd like to suggest that shots to the body should inflict damage as well, just as they would in a custom no-shields game, or any other gametype for that matter. Furthermore, SWAT games with Magnums as the only weapon should be eliminated due to the highly inaccurate nature of that weapon and the spray-and-pray style of combat that encourages. Finally, more weight should be placed on larger stages in BTB Slayer. Cramming 16 people into a small stage like Midship or Elongation is rather ridiculous.
3. Weapon Setup
In Multiplayer, you basically have a few weak, inaccurate, rapidly firing bullet hoses as the most commonly available weapons, and in most gametypes, the player normally starts with such a weapon (either an SMG or Plasma Rifle). Since these weapons can be dual-wielded, this essentially makes them half a weapon by themselves. Opposed to these are the high-powered superweapons — sniper weapons, rockets, the energy sword, and the shotgun to a lesser extent (it isn't nearly as effective as the others) — that do not respawn under normal circumstances, and there is usually only one of each per map. The only thing between these extremes are a couple of mid-range weapons with moderate power and rates of fire — the Battle Rifle and Covenant Carbine — and though they do respawn, they are not as common as the weapons that can be dual wielded.
Given the extreme disparities in power between the weaker and stronger weapons, much of Multiplayer gameplay involves a mad scramble for the best weapons, or at least another bullet hose to go with the one they have. As I mentioned in my commentary on Multiplayer stage design, once one team has acquired most or all of the power weapons and secured a campsite, there is often very little the opposing team can do. The camping team always has the advantage in this case, since they both have the drop on and completely outgun the offense. Trying to keep them from getting the power weapons to the campsite isn't always an option when things like lucky (or unlucky) spawns can influence who gets what weapons first and then retreat to a suitable campsite. Not only that, but when the need to acquire some superweapon first becomes a primary concern, something is wrong. While the increase in BR start gametypes has offset the problem of starting weapons a bit, it still isn't enough to balance things out.
In Halo 1, there was less of a gap between weak and strong weapons, which meant that seeking out more powerful weapons was not as big of a concern. Furthermore, every weapon would always respawn. Depending on the stage, it would take no longer than 2 minutes for a sniper rifle to respawn and 3 minutes for a rocket launcher, and it would usually take 30 seconds for a shotgun to respawn. These were undoubtedly the strongest weapons within their most effective ranges in Halo 1. Since these weapons would always respawn, it would keep any one team from effectively hoarding all the stronger weapons away from the other team. Having all the power weapons in your team's possession simply doesn't give the same advantage in Halo 1 as it does in Halo 2, because the other team can come right at you with the same level of offense once they are able to get the weapons when the latter respawns.
In Halo 3, not just the weaker, more common weapons should respawn. The strongest ones should respawn as well, preferably on time scales similar to what was in Halo 1. I believe this will help balance gameplay in Multiplayer a great deal.
4. Glitches & Lag
Halo 2 feels like it is rife with glitches, especially in multiplayer. Perhaps the most notable glitch is the ability to exploit the stage geometry to perform "superjumps," which simply amplifies the camper problem. The "BXR" glitch and its variants seem to be another common glitch. "Sword flying" was another prominent glitch, but it has long since been eliminated. Terminal has a glitch where the train will sometimes appear from or dissapear into thin air. Also, I have noticed that every now and then on SWAT games, firing one's battle rifle will for some reason actually kill you and give you a suicide penalty, and not due to bullets ricocheting off of something. Another apparent glitch is that for some reason, collision detection seems rather poor on some stages. For example, a sniper will sometimes have a perfectly clear shot to an enemy while attempting to shoot them, but for some reason, the bullet will not hit its target but rather some nearby obstruction (a rock, wall, or other form of cover) that is not actually in the line of sight between the sniper's reticle and his target. Same for rockets, which sometimes clip an obstruction that is not directly in their flight path.
A lot of the glitches seem to come from lag on Xbox Live. For example, on Coagulation (and, it seems, on a couple of other stages such as Relic, but to a lesser degree), a sniper rifle perfectly targeted onto someone, even when they're standing still and only 100 meters or so away, will often not register a hit. By comparison, you could consistently snipe someone clean across the stage with a perfectly targeted shot in the original Blood Gulch. As another example, the Ghost will also sometimes fail to "splatter" someone on foot even with a head-on full-speed ram. Multiple close-range blasts from the shotgun (an already random weapon as it is) frequently fail to do anything more than mild to moderate damage. Also, melee attacks from the rear will every now and then not register as an assassination, but rather as a normal hit. The converse of this is true: getting assassinated by someone in front of you is not uncommon. These problems tend to not happen in split screen and LAN games, or at least as not near as often or as badly anyway.
While I know you don't control Xbox Live, it does seem that something is needed to reduce the lag that I would assume would feature more prominently into a more advanced game like Halo 3. I may be mistaken, but it seems that such things as more detailed graphics will translate into more information that the network must handle at any given time. While significant amounts of lag will continue to be a problem with online gaming until much faster and more efficient methods of Internet connection become commonplace (of course, eliminating it entirely is impossible due to the laws of physics; speed of light and all that), online multiplayer should be made to feel as close as possible to a LAN game in terms of how smooth it runs. So if it as all possible, I think it would be a good idea to have some sort of lag compensation built into the game, unless it would do little to alleviate lag or whatever changes to gameplay such a thing would bring about would create conditions worse than those created by typical amounts of lag.
As another suggestion, I believe it would be a good idea to centralize the hosting system. Not only would this eliminate the sometimes-ridiculous host advantage, but also from what I understand (according to people I know who are more knowledgeable about the subject than I), it would greatly reduce or eliminate the rampant cheating that continues to plague the Halo 2 Live community to this day. In addition to modders, perhaps the biggest source of cheating comes from people manipulating the network to their advantage. I know that you, I, and the rest of the legit players out there would be happy to see standbyers, "bridgers," and their ilk go extinct along with modders. If it is at all possible, perhaps you could use your clout as developer of the most popular Xbox Live game (500 million matches played!) to get Microsoft to help you implement a wholly or partially centralized hosting system, if not for Halo 2, then at least for Halo 3 by time it is released. With their tremendous monetary and technological resources, I'm pretty sure they could afford to provide dedicated servers for Halo games (and perhaps also for other popular games produced by Microsoft subsidiaries besides Bungie), and I think it would be worth it in the long run, especially once the inevitable shift from Halo 2 to Halo 3 as the most popular Xbox Live game occurs in the near future.
5. Other Misc. Multiplayer
There are a couple of things I have to suggest about how the player is able to communicate with his teammates and other people on Xbox Live. One thing I think would be a great addition would be the option to mute by default the voices of all players other than those on your friends list, in your party, or on your team. There have been many occasions where I'd simply rather not have to listen to some random, annoying 11-year-old punk, smart-mouthed teenager, or some other social misfit, but would still like to converse with my teammates. It can be quite a hassle to have to keep muting each individual person every other game, so a default muting option would be most welcome. That way they're already muted from the moment you enter the pre-game lobby. Outside of that, I think there should be something done to the proximity voice system. Not only is there a lot of potential for abuse for it — it seem to be mainly used for trash talking — but also any background noise in your house, such as a ceiling fan blowing into your mike, can potentially give away your position.
Another thing that needs to be addressed about multiplayer is the problem of "de-levelers." An option should be added to where if one of you teammates gets a certain number of suicides within a certain amount of time, depending on gametype, you and your other teammates should have the option to boot him from the match just as if he had gotten a certain number of betrayals.
Finally, the respawn system, while somewhat better than Halo 1's, still needs improvement. Getting spawn killed in a Slayer match is still way too common. The respawn system in Halo 3 should incorporate a much wider variety of spawn points that the first two games. Furthermore, it should be "smarter," being able to determine the optimum location to respawn a player, that way he/she won't be as likely to end up reappearing on top of a grenade, in the sights of an enemy, or otherwise in harm's way.
Despite the fact that the Campaign mode of Halo 2 was extremely fun — in fact, it's my favorite part of the game —, there are still some things I disliked about it.
1. Size, Pacing, & Structure of the Stages
Halo 2's Campaign had some improvements over Halo 1's. The terrains within each stage were more varied, making them less repetitive, and they looked so much better and more detailed in appearance. Combined with the excellent storyline and some very notable moments that were really cool, this made for an enjoyable experience. However it just seemed too short in duration. I finished it in a couple days on Heroic, as compared to several weeks for Halo 1 on Legendary (I only got to play about one day a week, though). This seems kind of paradoxical at first considering that the stages look on average as big as Halo 1's. However, it turns out that Halo 2 has fewer actual maps than Halo 1, even though it lists more stages: a total count of 13 playable (since The Heretic and Armory aren't really stages). All of the stages except Cairo Station are not distinct from each other and are actually sections of a larger "super stage," i.e. Outskirts/Metropolis, The Arbiter/Oracle, Delta Halo/Regret, Sacred Icon/Quarantine Zone, Gravemind/High Charity, and Uprising/Great Journey (the latter two super-stages being interspersed between each other). When you take this fact into account, it makes only seven distinct maps: Cairo Station, Mombasa, the Threshold Installation, Delta Halo part 1 (Master Chief's mission to kill Regret), Delta Halo part 2 (Arbiter's journey to the Library), High Charity, and Delta Halo part 3 (Arbiter's mission to stop Tartarus). Compare this to ten maps for Halo 1. Even though several stages shared geometry with another later stage (i.e. AotCR/Two Betrayals, T&R/Keyes, and Pillar of Autumn/The Maw), they were substantially different from each other in terms of gameplay, objectives, and atmosphere despite being superficially very much alike, and are spaced apart from each other by several other stages. This is quite unlike Halo 2's stages, which are simply halves of one long, continuous map. However, I have to admit that it's hard to tell whether the stages are collectively larger in terms of absolute size in Halo 1 or Halo 2, despite the difference in number. In fact, it becomes clear after playing the Campaign numerous times that the seemingly contradictory nature of Halo 2's stages is mostly the result of rapid pacing and very linear structure rather than the number or length of stages. Because of the linearity and rapid pacing, much of the Halo 2 Campaign sometimes feels only a couple of steps removed from an old-school run-and-gun shooter like Contra or Metal Slug, and certain scenes can feel almost like a rail shooter.
First, the issue of linearity. Despite the sheer size of the stages in Halo 2, the actual size of the playable areas seems relatively small. The pathways one must take to get from one part to the next are usually very narrow and congested, even in the parts that take place outdoors. Furthermore, there is typically only one pathway you can take to get from one point to another. Whenever there is more than one path to take, it really makes no difference in how one can possibly approach a particular situation. In Halo 1 however, there were plenty of wide-open outdoor areas, and often there were multiple pathways one could traverse to move to and from various locations. This gave a sense of size and openness regardless of the stage's actual size, and it provided for a relatively non-linear experience on many occasions. Perhaps the best examples of non-linear gameplay in Halo 1 are found in the stages Halo and Silent Cartographer.
In the stage Halo there were multiple ways to approach each of the primary encounters and mission objectives due to the abundance of open areas and multiple pathways. For example, you could face the initial wave of Covenant troops deployed via dropship, or you could simply run from them, shoot down one of the Banshees, and make your way to the rest of the stage. If you chose to fight, you could lure them across the bridge, or you could stay at the lower area near the waterfall and fight them there. When you arrive at the first set of buildings where Sgt. Johnson and the other Marines are at, there are several different ways of fending off the waves of Covenant dropped into the area. You could stay at the center building and wait for them to come to you, or you could move into the surrounding structures, coming at them from various angles, or you could simply charge right at them if you were feeling confident enough. Once you get the Warthog and made your way to the second half of the stage where you had to rescue the other Marines, you could pick each of the three sections in whatever order you wished. Each of those three sections were connected via the main river valley, with two of them connected to each other directly as well, and there was more than one way in or out of two of them. Also, if you didn't know the layout of the area, you could get lost and end up running around in circles.
In the Silent Cartographer, you could circle around the island until you got to the map room, but the doors to it would lock and you would then be forced to find the interior of the island and enter the security room to unlock the doors. Alternatively, if you already know where the security room is, you could simply go there first before making your way to the map room. Given the open nature of the island's exterior, you could approach either section from several different angles. Once inside the map room, you could fight your way all the way down to the bottom and back up, or, if you had an overshield, you could attempt to jump off the end of the bridge at the top down to the bottom area, which can save some time. If you took the long way, there was more than one route to take, and you could face your enemies in more than one way. You could have a straight up firefight, or you could opt for a stealthier approach, as you could sneak up on most of your enemies if you took the right route to the bottom (getting back to the surface was the tough part).
There are of course many other examples of more or less non-linear gameplay. There are certain occasions where you may have to backtrack or otherwise progress through a certain part of the level in a not-so-straight line fashion. Certain routes to the end of the stage may be forced upon you or become restricted if you haven't acquired a certain vehicle. Many encounters can be approached from several different angles, each with different possibilities. One route may give you the opportunity to skulk around unseen and avoid potential conflict, or you could simply fight your way through, or if that doesn't work, you could always try coming at your enemy from a different angle. While Halo 1 was not a truly non-linear game, large portions of the game could be described as "semi-linear."
None of the levels in Halo 2 give the same sense of non-linear gameplay. The player is regularly herded from one encounter to the next through very congested pathways and small arenas. Even in the outdoors levels, there is a sense of claustrophobia, and the player is highly restricted in their selection of where they can and cannot go. Numerous invisible walls and "instant-kill" zones keep the player from wandering too far out of bounds and exploring. Large sections of certain stages, such as Regret and Quarantine Zone, involve being transported to the next section on a rather small gondola or elevator that the player has little control over (hence the earlier "rail shooter" comment). Steep cliffs bound many areas, and there are numerous places where a relatively short fall will mean certain death, which is ironic considering the removal of fall damage. Thus, the apparent openness of many levels is mostly illusory. About the only parts of the game that are non-linear and provide opportunities for exploration and various approaches to combat are certain sections in Outskirts and Metropolis. I also thought the Off the Rock, Through the Bush, Nothing but Jackal segment on Delta Halo was well-designed and fairly non-linear, and had many different passageways. However, these were about the only exceptions to the rule. Rampancy's Narcogen summed up the differences between the levels in Halo 1 and Halo 2 thusly when he compared Silent Cartographer with Delta Halo:
"Like most of Halo 2, Delta Halo is extremely pretty and very detailed; however, the level itself consists of three major encounters outdoors, one of which, the middle area, feels very small and cramped. The island motif of Silent Cartographer was, in a way, a much more clever and effective method of restricting the player's movement to a relatively small area while giving them the impression of playing in a large space. Delta Halo doesn't give that same impression; the initial LZ borders a cliff drop-off that will kill you, and the level keeps you boxed up the rest of the way until it shepherds you inside a structure. Even the out-of-play areas, like those in Metropolis, are clearly demarcated with invisible walls. Silent Cartographer also had such walls, but much further away. The overall impression is that of a less expansive, if more detailed, romp over the surface of a Halo installation."
The stages are also structured in a way that results in every encounter playing out almost the same way regardless of which angle you approach it from, assuming you can even approach an encounter in more than one way to begin with. There were only a couple of exceptions. For example, Outskirts is one of the few stages that have multiple pathways through certain parts of the stage, and the aforementioned "Nothing but Jackal" segment allowed for several different approaches to the encounter. However, you usually end up only having the choice of whether you want to come at the enemy from the right or left side, and so each encounter plays out more or less the same regardless of which angle you approach the situation. There are few opportunities for stealth, sneak attacks, and the like, and so everything is almost always a straight up face-to-face brawl. You can't pick your fights nearly as often as you could in Halo 1. This highly linear gameplay that forces you from one encounter to the next also results in a game that feels overly fast-paced. This is further aggravated by the fact that you can simply blow through large portions of several stages on a vehicle without worrying about having your progress impeded by the enemy or some kind of obstacle.
While such a rapid pace and linear gameplay may be suitable for run-and-gun 2-D shooters and older FPSs, it certainly isn't suitable for a Halo game. The stages really could've used some improvement in their structural design and setup of enemy encounters. This is perhaps the most serious drawback of an otherwise excellent Campaign mode. There really needs to be more concerted effort to combine the aesthetic qualities of Halo 2's stages with the open stage designs and style of gameplay found in Halo 1's Campaign.
The first Halo was quite a challenging game, especially on Legendary. There are plenty of encounters that will give you pause, making you formulate an effective strategy rather than simply use brute force to blast your way through the enemy forces. However, the difficulty in Halo 2's Legendary is not the challenging kind of difficult that makes you think as well as act. Rather, it's the kind of difficult that makes you want to throw your controller at the screen in a fit of sheer frustration. When I first got the game, I quickly gave up trying to beat it on Legendary the first time around, opting instead for Heroic difficulty. (I did eventually get around to beating H2 on Legendary, and it was an immensely frustrating experience. I honestly doubt I'll try it again.) There are various things that contribute to Halo 2 Legendary's insane difficulty.
First is the fact that enemies are capable of absorbing an incredible amount of firepower while simultaneously dealing out huge amounts of damage against the player, even more so than in Halo 1. For example, you can empty almost an entire magazine of Battle Rifle ammo into a blue or red Elite before it will kill him, while he will easily be able to shred through your own shield in a split second with his own firearm. And don't even mention those white-armored Ultra Elites (argh!). An Elite can also withstand a slash from your Energy Sword, but he can easily kill you with a single smack to the face from his plasma rifle or carbine, which is also the case even on lower difficulties. Against any Elite rank in Legendary, unless you have some heavy weapons at your disposal, you pretty much either have to use a plasma pistol in conjunction with another weapon (due to the former's ability to drop shields with a single shot), or you have to stick them with a plasma grenade. The SMG/Plasma Rifle combo is also somewhat effective, but only if you're facing one of the weaker ranks and even then only in a one-on-one fight. Brutes have an insane amount of health and are damn near impossible to kill with any firearm unless you get a headshot with a BR, Carbine, or sniper weapon, fill them full of Needler rounds, blast them with a rocket or fuel rod gun, or stick them with a plasma grenade. They are also able to withstand a hit from the Sword while being able to kill you with one or two melee attacks. Even Grunts and Jackals have a lot of health. Unless you can shoot them in the head with a Battle Rifle or Carbine or blow them up with a grenade or rocket, it can take quite a few shots to drop one, and it can also take several melees to kill them unless you use the Sword, which is ridiculous considering that Elites can kill the Chief with a single melee despite not being much stronger than him. Also, especially when they're fighting in groups, Grunts, Jackals, and Drones are able to easily tear through your shields and health. Even the Flood are stronger; the Combat Forms can kill you with a single melee, while the Infection Forms now do far more damage when they come into contact with you. Enemy vehicles can also take quite a bit of damage. For example, when you're in a tank, a single rocket or tank blast can take you out, while it can take several of the same hits from you to kill an enemy tank. This is especially problematic given the fact that a vehicle's health is linked to that of its operator (see the section on vehicles below).
Another notable example is the addition of sniper Jackals. Having enemy snipers was a nice addition, but they are simply too difficult in Legendary. Not only with will they usually spot you far faster than you can spot them, but their accuracy is close to 100%. It is quite cheap when a Jackal, shooting from the hip right after he spots you, is able fire a particle beam clean through your brain before you even have a chance to spot him yourself, much less line up a shot. Even if you get the shot, a Jackal can take several body shots from a sniper weapon on Legendary, so you better hope you can get that headshot off or you might not survive. Combine this with the linear nature of the Campaign stages where you are normally limited to approaching the enemy from a single angle, and you've got a task aggravating enough to make even the most seasoned Halo veterans wish they never tried it on Legendary to begin with. To get past the several occasions in Campaign where you'll encounter sniper Jackals, you'll have to rely almost entirely on rote memorization and sheer luck. There's nothing skillful about this, it involves no strategy, and it's just plain unfair. Getting killed by sniper Jackals on Legendary is almost never due to carelessness on the part of the player.
Halo 2's Legendary doesn't give you the feeling that you fought a long and very hard, though not unfair, battle against a challenging enemy. It makes you feel like it's not even worth playing. It's nerve-wracking, tedious, frustrating, and seemingly impossible in many parts, and this discourages people from playing Campaign on Legendary as their standard difficulty level like they did in Halo 1. Heroic in Halo 2 is closer to Halo 1's Legendary in terms of how hard it was: difficult but not unreasonably so, yet a blast to play. Legendary in Halo 2 is just plain ridiculous, and it's not fun. There really needs to be some more extensive playtesting in Halo 3 to ensure that Legendary is hard without being cheap and unfair.
3. Boss Battles
I'm sorry, but it was rather cliché to use the old boss battle gimmick in Halo 2. It might work for some games, but not a military-themed shooter like Halo. If there are bosses, they shouldn't really be that much different from rank and file Covenant, except perhaps for better equipment, more shielding and/or health, and smarter AI. But there shouldn't be anything unique in their abilities or what the player needs to do to defeat them, unlike Regret and Tartarus, who both have attributes wholly unlike those of any other enemy. Against Regret, you had to board his hover pod and punch him to death. No other method of attack will work. (As an aside, he was supposedly going to have a unique special attack, which turned out to be a twin Hunter beam, but just colored yellow, so nothing special there.) Against Tartarus you had to wait for Johnson to drop his shields with a shot from his beam rifle before you attacked. Tartarus was the only Brute to have an overshield. His shield was also unique in the fact that it could only be disabled by Johnson's beam rifle. Oddly enough, if you have your own beam rifle, it will be completely ineffective against Tartarus' shield. Furthermore, if you manage to push him off the control room platform into the pit below (usually by using a Banshee), he is for some odd reason able to survive and reappear back on the platform. Like Narcogen said, "Just about everything wrong with the idea of a boss battle is embodied in this encounter: special weapons, special enemies, special rules. Everything you've learned about how to play Halo up until that moment goes right out the door, replaced by a mini-game where you have to repeat in lock-step a series of actions in order to reach your objective." The boss battles with Regret and Tartarus, characters governed by unique sets of rules, created a sense of disconnect with the rest of the game. At least the Heretic leader could be fought more or less like an Elite Ranger, albeit a tougher one with two holographic decoys.
4. Other Enemies
Not that it drastically effects gameplay, but there are minor changes to a couple of enemies that I dislike. First off are the Hunters. In Halo 1, they had a fuel rod cannon identical in function to that wielded by Grunts. In Halo 2, they are now armed with a weapon that, while described as a fuel rod gun, fires a green energy beam different from the fuel rod guns wielded by Grunts or those mounted on Banshees. Personally, I find that the Hunters' new beam attack is less dangerous and intimidating, not only in its capacities as a weapon, but also in the way it looks and sounds. Other than the changes to their weapon, I really liked the new and improved Hunters, as they were tougher to kill and had better hand-to-hand offense.
Also, there are a couple of changes made to the Flood that I didn't like. First off, the Infection Forms attack in fewer numbers but do more damage individually. This makes it to where the player has to focus on fewer of them and regard individual ones as a somewhat greater threat. I thought it was better to have the larger swarms of Infection Forms seen in Halo 1. They may have been weaker, but they were still dangerous collectively and were also much creepier. Secondly, the Carrier Forms have a smaller blast radius when they explode. The burst also projects less force and seems to do less damage. This not only makes them less of a threat, but also makes them less effective when the player attmepts to use their ability to explode to his/her advantage.
Weapons will always be one of the central focuses of any first-person shooter. In Halo: Combat Evolved, we had a decent array of human and alien armaments that all had different capacities for use in various situations: a strong, mid-range pistol for balanced all-around combat, a shotgun for close-range combat, an automatic rifle for dispatching individual or multiple weaker enemies, a sniper rifle for long range combat, rockets for anti-vehicle work, grenades for thinning out infantry units, and alien plasma weapons that worked well against energy shields. Each of these weapons were quite formidable when used properly.
Unlike some people, I really have no qualms with the notion that humans might still be using conventional firearms 500 years from now rather than some form of directed-energy weapon. Rifles, handguns, and other small arms have proven their lethality countless times over the last several centuries, and I expect them and to continue being used for quite some time to come. Furthermore, it provides a certain aesthetic quality, separating them from the alien weaponry as well as giving them a sense of familiarity. Furthermore, I can understand why the UNSC would be using firearms with larger calibers and stronger rounds than what most militaries use today — 7.62 mm NATO instead of 5.56 mm NATO for service rifles, sniper rifles chambered for big, powerful anti-materiel rounds instead of smaller, weaker, and more common rifle rounds, and shotguns with heavy shell loads and 8-gauge instead of 12-gauge bores — since larger caliber, heavier weight, higher speed bullets tend to have more stopping power. After all, most Covenant are physically a lot tougher than your average human, and the Elites have an overshield that makes them that much more resilient.
The human weapons were for the most part quite believable, and there were some cool little details like what you would find in a real-life firearm. For example, whenever the Chief reloaded a shotgun from empty, he would pump it to chamber a round, just like you would have to do in real life. The pistol, assault rifle, and sniper rifle also had reload animations where the Chief would chamber a round. Even the ammo packs were detailed. For example, the Assault Rifle's ammo packs revealed that it uses the real-life 7.62 × 51 mm NATO round. There were a few inaccuracies though (see each weapon's entry in subsection 4 for specifics). However, these were forgivable, as none of them really detracted from the game. The Covenant's weapons were reminiscent of sci-fi stock weapons, but they still had some innovative offensive capabilities — most notably, the plasma pistol's shield-destroying overcharge shot and the Needler's explosive rounds — that distinguished them from what you find in other notable sci-fi shooters.
In Halo 2, the weapons that have returned have undergone notable changes, mostly for the worst, while other weapons were replaced with newer weapons that, while they filled the same niche, are noticeably weaker and less effective. A rather reliable assault rifle has been replaced with a nearly useless submachine gun. The powerful pistol of Halo 1 has mysteriously disappeared, only to be replaced by a new stripped-down pistol that is extremely weak and its role as a mid-range weapon taken over by a weaker, less accurate battle rifle. While it was neat and more realistic for the player to have fewer magazines in reserve for the human weapons, their reduced strength and accuracy compared to their Halo 1 counterparts makes having less reserve ammo a major problem. The Covenant's plasma rifles fire faster, but are weaker and less accurate. Their plasma pistol's standard mode of fire is also much weaker, but its charged shot has gained the ability to relentlessly home in on its target; it is virtually useless as a standalone weapon, but the player can utilize extremely cheap tactics when using it in conjunction with certain other weapons. Grenades are weaker and have smaller blast radii. Even some of the vehicles have lost certain abilities and gained others. Why these changes were made in the middle of a war of attrition make no sense story-wise. It's as if the Pillar of Autumn and the Fleet of Particular Justice had arsenals wholly unique compared to the rest of the UNSC and Covenant, respectively. Highly unlikely, if you ask me. A military-themed, story-driven series like this should see little to no drastic change in the list of available weapons or in the capabilities of said weapons, especially considering how little time has elapsed story-wise between the two games, and the fact that the weapons the UNSC and Covenant already had were very effective. They would not have completely changed or replaced the standard-issue small arms in their arsenals without good reason, and they most certainly wouldn't have replaced them with new ones that are less effective.
Even the detail seen in Halo 1's weapons is largely absent in Halo 2. When reloading a human firearm from empty, the Chief (or Arbiter) no longer chambers a round like he should. Even the writing on the ammo packs is barely legible. There were obviously no technical limitations or time constraints that would've prohibited the addition of such details, which means that there's really no good reason for them to not be in the game. Though they were minor in scale and didn't affect gameplay, those details are among the many things that gave the first Halo its tremendous depth. Overall, the weapons in Halo 2 were lacking compared to those in Halo 1.
2. Dual Wielding
Like many other things in Halo 2, dual wielding is one of the new gameplay additions that seemed cool at first, but turned out to be poorly executed and totally unwarranted.
First off, despite the fact there are a good number of possible weapon combinations for dual wielding — given the fact that there are five weapons that can be dual-wielded, there are 15 different combinations — only about half of them are truly effective, and about half of those involve two of the same weapon. The following are probably the best overall: dual SMGs, dual Plasma Rifles, SMG/Plasma rifle, SMG/Magnum, Magnum/Plasma Pistol, and SMG/Plasma Pistol. Dual Needlers and dual Magnums are also somewhat effective, but to a lesser extent. All the other possible combinations are rarely used, and for good reason. While dual wielding seems like it'd be quite versatile, the fact that there are only a few good combos and only a couple of distinct weapon types makes it not very much so.
More significantly, though, is the effect dual wielding has on gameplay, particularly in Multiplayer. This effect is best reflected in the frantic "spray-and-pray" style of combat that plagues Halo 2. Dual-wield capable weapons are, with the exception of the plasma pistol by virtue of its charged shot (its normal firing mode is rarely used), all weak, rapid-firing bullet hoses. Also, because they are also by far the most common weapons in Multiplayer and are what the player normally spawns with, they are the ones that dominate gameplay (although gametypes with the BR as a starting weapon have been made more common). Furthermore, the simple fact that these weapons can be dual-wielded in the first place essentially makes them half a weapon. By themselves, they are exceedingly weak, and so the player has a tremendous incentive to find another weapon. More often than not, the player is forced to settle with pairing up with current bullet hose with another bullet hose, due to the fact that stronger standalone weapons are typically far less available.
Another problem with dual wielding is the fact that, while not all that complicated, it is often a very awkward system when trying to swap one weapon for another. Say you're dual wielding an SMG and Plasma Rifle and trying to exchange the half-empty Carbine you have for a rocket launcher, while still keeping your SMG/Plasma Rifle combo as your primary means of attack. You have to drop your Plasma Rifle, switch to your Carbine, swap it for the rockets, switch back to your SMG, find your Plasma Rifle and pick it back up. Due to the fast pace of most Multiplayer games, the awkward and time-consuming nature of this process can result in death for the player if faced with an enemy attack when trying to swap an old weapon for a new one, and even if you manage to avoid such a fate, you may end up being stuck with a weapon you didn't want. It can also get quite annoying when you have to keep picking up your other dual-wielded weapon every time you throw a grenade or attempt a melee attack. Obviously, such problems were not likely to occur in Halo 1 with its standalone-only weapon selection.
While dual wielding is a neat concept (though its been done before in several games over the past decade), it would be much preferable to have standalone weapons that do a decent amount of damage by themselves. After all, why have the ability to wield two of a weapon when you could have a single one that does the same thing? The Assault Rifle from Halo 1 was stronger and more accurate than two SMGs paired together, and the Halo 1 versions of the plasma rifle, plasma pistol, human pistol, and Needler were all just fine as standalone weapons, and they all had noticeably greater firepower than their Halo 2 counterparts. Dual wielding should be abandoned as a failed experiment. It is not only awkward and unnecessary, but more importantly, it also encourages spray-and-pray combat rather than accurate shot placement, and there are not very many useful or versatile combinations. Alternatively, if it is retained in Halo 3, it should exist only for Magnums (and perhaps also to the plasma pistol) due to the extreme impotence of that weapon. In any case, the current system is deeply flawed, and should either have greatly decreased prominence in Halo 3, or simply be eliminated entirely.
3. Weapon Role Duplication: UNSC vs. Covenant Armaments
In Halo 1, certain UNSC weapons had rough analogs with weapons in the Covenant arsenal. For example, there was the Assault Rifle and Plasma Rifle, M6D Pistol and Plasma Pistol, and frag grenades and plasma grenades. However, each of these weapons were still quite distinct from their counterparts. The Plasma Rifle fired slower than the Assault Rifle, but it was generally more accurate and had the ability to briefly stun an opponent and was more effective against shielding. The Needler was also an automatic fire weapon like the AR and Plasma Rifle, but it had its own distinct abilities as well. The plasma pistol lacked the range (it had no scope and its shots were slower) and power of the UNSC's pistol, but it not only could fire faster than the human pistol and could stun an enemy, it could also fire a charged shot that could remove an entire overshield. Finally, the plasma grenade not only had a longer fuze and smaller blast radius than the frag grenade, but it also had the ability to stick to an opponent, which normally results in instant death for the victim regardless of their level of shielding or health. There were also differences in the weapons technology itself. The human weapons are magazine-fed, require frequent reloading, are typically more effective against unshielded enemies, and can have an unlimited amount of spare magazines acquired. On the other hand, the Covenant weapons (except the Needler) are battery-powered and don't require reloading, can be fired continuously until they overheat, are more effective against shields, and must be replaced by a new weapon when their battery is depleted.
The concept of weapon role duplication was carried over to Halo 2, but to a much greater degree. You now have the Battle Rifle and Covenant Carbine, SMG and Plasma Rifle, Sniper Rifle and Particle Beam Rifle, Rocket Launcher and Fuel Rod Gun, and the frag grenade and plasma grenade (the shotgun and energy sword have also been considered rough equivalents, as both are strong close-range weapons). However, a lot of the distinction that the Covenant weapons had from their UNSC counterparts has been removed. Most of the differences between them are mainly in the technological basis of the weapons described above. These differences were of course in Halo 1 as well, so it really isn't anything new. Other than that, there really isn't much difference between the human weapons and their Covenant counterparts this go around, and what differences that do exist are largely superficial. For example, the removal of the Plasma Rifle's ability to stun and the increase given to its rate of fire has made it just another bullet hose that is not all that dissimilar from the SMG. The Covenant Carbine is not very different from the Battle Rifle either, other than the latter's three-shot burst and the former's semi-automatic fire. Both are magazine fed, mid-range weapons with comparable damage, rate of fire, magazine capacity, and accuracy. The Beam Rifle's only differences with the Sniper Rifle are in the technology (battery-powered vs. magazine-fed), which allows it to fire two very rapid shots in succession before overheating, or continuous shots at a much slower rate of fire. Almost none of these differences give a weapon tactical abilities that are distinct from its counterpart.
While I might expect a certain degree of convergent technology between a human and alien military, this is kind of pushing the boundaries of what could be considered acceptable. In Halo 2, we basically have two mid-range rifles, two submachine guns, two sniper rifles, two grenades, and, in Campaign, two rocket launchers. This does not create a lot of variation in Halo 2's arsenal. It may be nice to have Covenant-themed weapons similar to the human weapons when playing as the Arbiter or on stages that take place on Covenant turf, but in Multiplayer, it creates a sense of redundancy due to the overall lack of differences between the human and Covenant weapons. Even the vehicles suffer in this regard to a degree, as the only new playable Covenant vehicle, the Specter, is essentially no different from the UNSC's Warthog.
In Halo 3, there really should be an attempt to make the UNSC and Covenant weapons more distinct from each other. For example, you could restore the plasma weapons' ability to stun an enemy. Whatever you do, make it look like the UNSC and Covenant have their own firearms that give us the impression that they were created by two different species with differing levels and styles of technology. Don't make it look like they just copied off of each other.
4. The Weapons: Critiques & Halo 1 vs. Halo 2 Comparisons
What follows is the longest part of this letter (almost half the total length). Each weapon or group of similar weapons is given its own separate section, each a couple of pages long on average. I spent several hours worth of game time testing and retesting the abilities (damage, range, etc.) of each weapon. I will also use my somewhat extensive basic knowledge of firearms to provide various bits of technical info for suggestions on how to develop human weapons that are more realistic, believable, and detailed. Not that I expect the weapons to be exactly like those in real life, but I do expect some degree of realism with the weapons, especially considering the fact that some actual research was made on your part into how various firearms work. Certain mostly extraneous comments are relegated to footnotes at the bottom of this section. (Notes: Ranges from Halo 1 are based on the distance indicator provided in the Oddball gametype. Ranges in Halo 2 are approximations based on using the Master Chief's height of 7 feet as a unit of measure; I had two players faced off while a third was used as a viewpoint for measuring the range between the other two. Headshot vs. body shot damage is determined by shooting a target exclusively in either the head or torso, respectively. Except for sniper weapons, which give one-headshot kills under normal circumstances, all firearms appear to do the same damage to shielding regardless of where the target is shot.)
I've already addressed the physics of grenades in Halo 2 as compared to Halo 1. Now for their abilities as weapons.
The M9 fragmentation grenade was a certified room clearer in Halo 1. It detonated about one second after coming to rest and had a maximum blast radius of about 7.5 meters (about 24 ½ feet). At that range in multiplayer, it would completely remove an enemy's shield and take away a bar or two of health. An enemy near the center of the explosion would suffer enough damage to take them down to only a couple of bars of health. Against an already-wounded or unshielded player, a frag grenade would normally be lethal anywhere within its blast radius. In Campaign, frag grenades would normally kill any unshielded enemy (e.g. Grunts, Jackals, Flood) caught within its blast radius, and do serious damage to an Elite's shield. A blast from a frag grenade also had enough force to overturn a Warthog or Ghost, and thus proper timing of grenades was a valuable offensive and defensive strategy when facing vehicles. A frag grenade could also knock around an enemy who survived the blast, temporarily restricting their movement and even sending them flying for several feet, which could potentially send them falling off ledges.
The plasma grenade had a maximum blast radius of about 6.5 meters (a bit more than 21.3 feet), and it took longer to detonate than a frag grenade. It took three seconds to detonate after coming to rest or adhering to an enemy or vehicle. In multiplayer it did damage at a given distance in the same manner as the frag grenade, i.e. removing an entire shield and doing slight damage to health at the outer edges of the explosion, while taking down shields and causing serious damage to health near the center. It made up for the smaller blast radius and longer fuze by having the ability to stick to an opponent, which would kill them regardless of their level of shielding or health. Like the frag grenade, the plasma grenade would kill most unshielded enemies caught in its blast radius, and could do significant damage to an Elite's overshield. Sticking any enemy except a Hunter would result in a one-hit kill regardless of their level of health or shielding. The blast from a plasma grenade had similar effects on vehicles and personnel as that from a frag grenade, and one could also stick a vehicle as well.
In Halo 2, the grenades have undergone a good bit of change. First off, they arm quicker and/or have a shorter fuze length than they did in Halo 1. Instead of arming once it comes to rest, a frag grenade now arms the moment it hits a horizontal or slightly angled surface, and it detonates about one second later, even if in mid-air. A plasma grenade looks like it now takes about half the time it did in Halo 1 to detonate once it comes to rest or sticks to an opponent. They have also suffered a noticeable reduction in both blast radius and damage dealt at a given distance from the center of a grenade explosion. Both types of grenades now have an identical maximum blast radius that is no greater than 6 meters. Furthermore, at the outer edges of the explosion, damage dealt has dropped to 1/3 of an enemy's shielding in multiplayer. This means that a player can potentially survive three grenade explosions, though a fourth will definitely kill them. At the center of the explosion, a frag grenade will remove a shield and do damage to health (though how much is, of course, unknown in Halo 2). A plasma grenade's damage dropped off with distance just like that of a frag grenade, but after the first auto-update, a plasma grenade can kill an opponent who has stepped directly on it, so the damage it does drops off much quicker with distance than a frag grenade. This has the obvious side affect of not necessarily needing to stick your opponent with the plasma grenade for an instant kill, which kind of defeats the purpose of the plasma's distinguishing characteristic: having to actually stick the grenade on your opponent's body for an one-hit kill rather than simply have it land near them. This has removed a lot of the skill necessary to use a plasma grenade to its fullest potential. Granted, they practically have to be standing on the grenade for it to kill them with a single blast, but it still requires more skill to actually stick them with the grenade.
The differences in the blast effects of grenades between Halo 1 & 2 are even more obvious in the grenade chain reactions in Campaign. Whenever a pile of grenades exploded in Halo 1, the blast was enormous. Even a pile of no more than a half-dozen grenades would not only instantly kill everything in a much larger blast area than a single grenade (even the toughest Elite ranks would die, as well as the Chief if the player wasn't a good distance away, though Hunters are typically immune to grenade blasts), but the force of the explosion would send things flying everywhere. A much larger pile of grenades, especially the artificially inflated grenade piles one could accumulate on the Silent Cartographer in co-op, could even send vehicles sailing through the air for rather long distances, giving us the always-amusing "Warthog jump" trick, and would send bodies and weapons flying for hundreds of feet. Of course, very large grenade piles were exceedingly lethal out to a good distance. In Halo 2, however, grenade chain reactions seem rather impotent by comparison. The blast of an average-sized pile of grenades (3 to 6) doesn't seem that much more powerful than a single grenade blast, both area of effect and damage-wise and in the force of the blast. All in all, grenade chain reactions simply don't feature near as prominently in Halo 2 as they did in Halo 1. Chain reactions are, curiously, not present in multiplayer for either game, and thus do not affect gameplay there. I think that the addition of grenade chain reactions to Multiplayer should be considered, unless they would imbalance gameplay.
The reduction of the blast radius and damage done at a given distance by grenades, combined with their in-game physics (faster arming time, shorter fuze, etc.), has had some notable impact on multiplayer gameplay in Halo 2. Like I've already said, in Halo 1, a single grenade was enough to do serious damage against most opponents in multiplayer, while getting hit by a second grenade meant certain death. Even in Campaign they were highly effective. In Halo 2, however, players are encouraged to spam an area with a ton of grenades. Under many circumstances, this is what is needed for grenades to have any effect. Much of mid-range combat involves players simply spamming a grenade or two at their enemy and then attempting to finish them off with whatever firearm they have (typically an SMG or BR). This tactic was uncommon in Halo 1, since the way the grenades were made it extremely difficult to pull off. It is also quite commonplace for a player to walk away from combat relatively unscathed despite the fact that there were several grenade blasts close by. Such occurrences were much more rare in Halo 1 due to the larger blast radius and greater damage. This of course carries over into Campaign as well. The player must now practically land a grenade right at an enemy's feet for it to do anything. Some may say that this makes it necessary to better time throwing one's grenades, but grenades aren't really designed for accuracy like most firearms are.
Another example of the decreased efficacy of grenades is their effect on vehicles. Even with proper timing, it is much more difficult to hit a moving vehicle with a grenade blast. Due to their small area of effect, grenades are not likely flip a vehicle or otherwise affect an enemy driver's control of their vehicle, though they do actually project enough force to overturn a vehicle. I'm not expecting a single grenade to send a Warthog or Ghost flying through the air, but it should at the very least cause it to go out of control in some way, such as by knocking it off balance, potentially causing it to flip.
Destroying an in-use vehicle is another matter entirely. Due to vehicle damage being tied into the health of its driver, it can take several grenades to destroy an enemy vehicle, assuming the driver's shield doesn't regenerate (see below in the Vehicles section for more). Even sticking a Warthog or Specter with a plasma grenade will not normally destroy it unless it sticks the driver directly, though they will destroy a Ghost or Banshee.
The grenades should be restored to the way they were in Halo 1, including the larger blast radius, greater damage at a given distance, and longer fuze length. However, there is the problem of the sudden drop from heavy damage at the explosion's edge and no damage right past that, effectively making the fatality radius (i.e. killing of all unshielded enemies) encompass the whole blast, with no casualty radius (i.e. wounding unshielded enemies). So I'd like to suggest that you make the explosion even bigger, with a smooth drop-off of damage towards the outer edge. After all, a real frag grenade like the U.S.'s M67 has a fatality radius of 5 meters and a casualty radius of 15 meters. The UNSC's M9 frag grenade should deliver more punch in a slightly smaller space than a real frag grenade. In multiplayer, it should do the same damage at a given distance that it did in Halo 1 up to the old max radius of 7.5 meters (25 feet), including total removal of shield and slight damage to health against shielded opponents. At 30 feet (about 9 meters) it should do massive damage to a shield or to an unshielded opponent's health. At 35 feet (about 10 ¾ meters) it should do moderate damage to an opponent's shield or to an unshielded enemy's health, and at 40 feet (12 ¼ meters) it should do light damage to either. The plasma grenade should have a slightly smaller blast radius than the frag as it did in Halo 1, and damage done should fall off with distance at the same rate as the frag. Adjust as appropriate for their effects against Elite shields and health of unshielded Covenant.
Even if you don't implement something like this, at the very least give the grenades the same blast radius, damage, and fuze length that they had in Halo 1. (As an aside, I do like how you can now shoot a grenade out of the air with a BR or sniper rifle.)
B) Pistol, Magnum, Battle Rifle, & Carbine
The M6D Pistol was probably the best all-around weapon in Halo 1. It was balanced enough to be used effectively at almost any range, and its 2x zoom ability made it second to the sniper rifle in terms of effective range, with a maximum range of about 120 to 125 meters. It was highly accurate, and required precise shot placement to effectively incapacitate an opponent. Firing it more rapidly resulted in less accurate firing, especially when holding down the trigger for full-automatic fire. It was also very strong, chambered for a 12.7 × 40 mm semi-armor piercing high-explosive round that was far more damaging than any standard high-power pistol cartridge of its size or even most standard rifle rounds (even without the explosive tip, the rounds are likely about as powerful as similarly large real-life pistol cartridges such as the .454 Casull, .460 S&W, and .500 S&W, the latter two of which have muzzle energies somewhat less than the 7.62 mm NATO rifle cartridge and are, respectively, the fastest and strongest handgun cartridges in the world). Against a fully shielded opponent in multiplayer, it took 3 headshots and 5 body shots to kill them. A single headshot was all that was needed to kill any unshielded opponent, not only in multiplayer, but also in Campaign.
In Halo 2, the M6C Magnum has replaced the pistol. The Magnum is described as a stripped-down version of the original pistol. It still has a 12-shot magazine and it can be fired faster than the old pistol, but it is far less accurate and cannot zoom. It is also much weaker, which is odd considering it still fires the same caliber bullet. Apparently it uses a non-explosive cartridge of the same caliber — its ammo packs state that it uses an "LAP-HP" (presumably short for "light-armor piercing, high-power") round, different from the M6D's SAP-HE rounds —, which cuts its power down greatly, but the rounds still look to be a about as strong as the aforementioned real-life pistol cartridges when compared to other rounds in the Halo games.
Due to its decreased power, it now takes 13 headshots or 21 body shots to take out a fully shielded enemy in multiplayer, with 12 of those being what is needed to drop their shield. Thus, like its predecessor, it still will kill any unshielded opponent with a single headshot, both in Campaign and multiplayer, though it'll take quite a few body shots (9 in multiplayer). This is a bit less than a quarter of the M6D's strength. Since the magazine still holds only 12 rounds, the Magnum cannot kill an opponent by itself without having to reload. This renders it practically useless as a standalone weapon, and it is only effective when dual-wielded with another weapon (normally either an SMG, Plasma Pistol, or another Magnum, as those are the only really effective pairings with a Magnum). Not only is the Magnum weaker than the M6D, but it also carries less reserve ammo (four full magazines, or 48 rounds, as compared to 10 magazines for the old Pistol). Despite this, ammo is very hard to come by for this weapon, both in Campaign and in Multiplayer. This is quite odd considering how weak this weapon is, and one would expect to find copious amounts of Magnum ammo lying about all over the place. Thus, the Magnum will quickly chew through its ammo supply and the player will not get much use out of it. To put it simply, the pistol has been reduced to a mere shadow of its former self.
The BR55 Rifle is the closest weapon in Halo 2 to the old M6D Pistol in terms of function and purpose. It has a 2x zoom scope, can fire 12 times in one magazine, and is best in mid-range combat. Unlike the M6D, the Battle Rifle fires in 3-round bursts from a 36-round magazine, and uses a high-powered 9.5 mm round. (The case length of the round is difficult to read on the ammo packs; it appears to be 50 or 60 mm, different from the 40 mm stamped on the weapon's receiver. It is likely no shorter than 60, however, as a bullet of its size would likely not be very powerful with such a short case length.) However the BR is not truly an equivalent of the pistol, as it lacks the range, power, and rate of fire of the M6D. It takes 4 headshots or 7 body shots to kill an opponent in Multiplayer, assuming the entire 3-shot burst connects (each individual bullet does the same damage as the Magnum's rounds do, both to shielded and unshielded enemies). It is quite accurate, and will strike the same spot repeatedly when fired at a single spot on a stationary target (or a target moving directly towards or away from the player) within typical firing range. This applies even if the BR is fired as fast as possible, which is a good thing IMO. However, the burst spreads out noticeably whenever firing at an opponent requires a lot of vertical or lateral movement, and so it often does less damage under these conditions as the entire burst is less likely to hit its target. The further away the target, the more of a problem this becomes. It can often take an entire magazine or more even at about 40 meters or so. Even the best aiming in the world will not always guarantee that each of the three bullets fired per burst will connect. The burst also has noticeable spread at longer distances (esp. near its maximum range), and it is less likely for all three shots to connect. It thus does less damage the the further way the target is, even when said target is not moving. The pistol was accurate to noticeably greater distances and its single-shot semi-auto fire guaranteed that even at its maximum effective range, it would still take no more than 5 hits to kill an opponent. Getting screwed by shot spread was not an issue with the Halo 1 pistol, though it is quite common with the BR. The Battle Rifle, though perhaps the most useful all-around weapon in Halo 2, is simply not a suitable replacement for the pistol. In the end, its 3-shot burst fire is just another example of decreased emphasis on shot placement and the increased emphasis on saturation fire. Granted, it rewards shot placement more than perhaps any other non-sniper weapon in Halo 2, but the nature of its burst fire introduces luck and chance as a major factor into how effective it is under normal combat situations.
The Carbine, the Covenant counterpart to the Battle Rifle, takes 7 headshots and 11 body shots to kill a fully shielded opponent, though it fires faster and appears to do damage at about the same rate as the Battle Rifle. Like the pistol, Magnum, and BR, the Carbine will kill any unshielded enemy with a single headshot, though it'll take 5 body shots. You would think that with its single-shot fire, it would reward precise shot placement better than the burst fire of the Battle Rifle. However, this is not the case, as its shots have a wider spread pattern than either the M6D or the BR regardless of how fast one is shooting — apparently, the Covenant, despite their advanced technology, are incapable of making a rifle that's accurate and can shoot straight —, and because it is much weaker per shot than either of them, the player is tempted to fire as fast as possible, and thus saturation fire takes precedence. The Battle Rifle, on the other hand, is more accurate and much easier to land shots with. Furthermore, ammo for the Carbine is rare in multiplayer (except in certain gametypes), as there is normally only one or two on the map, and it starts off with only two full magazines (one in the gun, one in reserve). This means you can get, at most, only 5 kills with the Carbine before having to replace it, though more realistically you're only likely to get two, maybe three. Compare this to the Battle Rifle, which starts with three magazines, and thus can garner up to 9 kills before having to find more ammo or a replacement weapon. Ammo for the BR is also much more common. Because of its inaccurate fire and scare ammunition, the Carbine is generally regarded as an inferior weapon to the Battle Rifle in Multiplayer. However, it is still rather useful in Campaign, particularly against Brutes, Grunts, and Drones, and ammo is plentiful in the later stages, and is recommended for mid-range combat when the BR is unavailable.
One of the most common complaints about the weapon setup in Halo 2 is the lack of a true pistol equivalent. So, what to do about this? Simple. Alter the Battle Rifle to do the same damage per burst as the M6D did per shot, and increase its effective range and accuracy. It can be argued that a rifle does make more sense than a pistol for the purposes of mid- to long-range combat, after all. The BR should have a maximum range of about 125 to 150 meters, and its shots should have near-zero spread even at maximum range. It should have a faster rate of fire; the burst should fire off much quicker, preferably about twice as fast as it does now (or at least fast enough to where it will be far more likely to count as a single shot when firing at a laterally or vertically moving target), and the player should be able to fire at least as many bursts each second as they could fire off M6D rounds. Its shots should also do more damage, requiring only 3 full bursts to the head or 5 to the body. This would not only make its damage per pull of the trigger equivalent to the M6D assuming the whole burst connects, it makes more sense given the fact that the kind of ammunition it fires is likely stronger than the kind of ammo found in either the Magnum or Halo 1's Assault Rifle (refer again to footnote 1). Alternately, the BR could simply be removed and the old M6D could be brought back, or perhaps a semi-automatic rifle more or less identical in damage, range, and accuracy as the M6D could be introduced.
As for the Magnum, assuming it returns as a simple sidearm in Halo 3, it really does need a slight boost in power. You should at the very least be able to kill an enemy in Multiplayer with less than a full magazine's worth of bullets to the head. Maybe 11 or 12 headshots and 18 or 19 body shots. It's accuracy should be improved as well; the spread pattern of the bullets should be far less pronounced than it is now, preferably zero spread, given how weak the gun is.
Also, the Carbine should be upgraded as well if it returns. Its accuracy definitely should be increased. Since it's semi-automatic, it should be given the same level of accuracy as the M6D, i.e., no shot spread when fired slowly, and low shot spread when fired rapidly. Also, it should do slightly more damage than it currently does, preferably 4 to 6 headshots and 8 to 10 body shots. This would greatly improve the weapon and it would reward shot placement far more than it does now.
Finally, before I move on to the other weapons, I'd like to tackle the complaints some have made against the pistol. Despite the gripes about "pistol sniping whores," the pistol was a weapon of great skill. It required the player to be exceedingly accurate with their shot placement, and the better one's accuracy, the more deadly they would be with the weapon. In pistol vs. pistol combat, the better marksman would always win. It wasn't something that just any average player could make good use of. Furthermore, it was strong and useful at almost any range. However, unlike some players, I don't consider it to be overpowered or too accurate. It was a strong all-around weapon, but at any given range, there was a weapon that could completely outgun it. At close range, the shotgun was stronger than the pistol, at medium range, the rocket launcher was the strongest weapon, and at long range, the sniper rifle was the dominant firearm. Also, the whole idea of "pistol sniping" is flawed in and of itself. The pistol had a rather large effective range compared to most of the other weapons, but had nowhere near the reach of the sniper rifle. The sniper rifle could reach clean across even the largest stages, while the pistol had a maximum range of only about 125 meters. However, the pistol wasn't as effective near its maximum range since it was harder to hit a moving opponent at such distance (it only had 2x zoom, after all), and most combat involving pistols took place within half that range. The pistol wasn't a sniping weapon. Its main role was that of a mid-range weapon, and it was a damn good one too in that it required a lot of skill to use to its fullest potential. And as far as "realism" goes, from a story perspective, I don't see any reason why a Spartan, with their training & physical enhancement, and their MJOLNIR armor which further augments their abilities, cannot consistently place accurate pistol shots on a target 50 meters away like you are able to in the game.
C) Assault Rifle & SMG
The MA5B Assault Rifle, while one of the weakest weapons in Halo 1, was not to be trifled with, and was second only to the shotgun at close range. In multiplayer, it would take 16 bullets to kill a fully shielded opponent (the rifle did the same damage for both head and body shots). Given the fact that its rate of fire was about 15 rounds per second, it could take down an enemy fairly quickly at close range. It was also particularly useful in Campaign, especially for dispatching unshielded enemies, namely Grunts, Jackals, and the Flood Infection Forms. I always kept one with me along with a shotgun throughout most of the latter half of the game, unless the situation called for something different. (Note: While real-life assault rifles are usually select-fire weapons — meaning they can be switched between semi-automatic, full-automatic, and/or burst fire modes —, the lack of such a feature on Halo's AR is understandable due to fact that the nature of the games control scheme doesn't easily allow for secondary weapons functions like those found in games like Perfect Dark. Besides, the addition of such features would compromise Halo's intuitive, easy to use, and all-around great controls.)
The M7 Submachine Gun has replaced the MA5B as the standard fully automatic individual firearm for UNSC forces. It is noticeably weaker than the MA5B, as it uses a much weaker round. Not only does it take more shots to kill someone with the SMG — about 25 to 30 rounds, which is almost twice as many shots needed with the MA5B — it also has bad muzzle climb due to its recoil, which makes it less accurate. It is quite odd that the Master Chief, despite his super strength that lets him flip heavy vehicles over, is somehow incapable of holding a dinky little submachine gun steady but, oddly enough, can handle any other weapon just fine. The M7 SMG is in all ways an inferior weapon to the MA5B. I find it to be one of the most useless weapons in both Campaign and Multiplayer, and I don't ever use it unless it is the only thing available and/or I have something to dual-wield with it.
Bring the old Assault Rifle back in Halo 3, and get rid of the SMG. Not only is the SMG exceedingly weak and inaccurate, it makes no sense story-wise. Why would the UNSC replace their rather effective assault rifle with a submachine gun that not only fires much weaker rounds, but also has such severe recoil that even a Spartan cannot handle it during fully automatic fire? If the Chief couldn't handle the SMG, there's no way in hell a regular soldier could operate it. A firearm like that would never be approved for use in combat. The physics of the M7 SMG is absolutely ridiculous. Allow me to digress a bit into some historical & technical commentary to help explain some things.
The MA5B uses the 7.62 × 51 mm NATO round, the same used in the U.S. military's M14 rifle as well as the H&K G3, FN FAL, and other rifles and machine guns (note: the ammo packs inaccurately describe the round as the M118 "Special Ball" variant specifically made for sniping purposes, rather than the standard M59 and M80 Ball variants used by battle rifles like the M14 and machine guns like the M60). The M14 was intended to replace the M1 Garand, M1 Carbine, and M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle. One of the disadvantages of the M14 was the fact that, due to the power of the ammo it used — only slightly less muzzle energy than the .30-06 cartridge — and the relatively low weight of the rifle, it was virtually uncontrollable when fired in fully automatic mode. Because of this, it is used only in semi-automatic mode, to great effect these days as a sniper rifle. The G3 and FAL rifles had similar problems with controllability in full-auto mode.
Obviously, the MA5B doesn't have the problems the M14 had with uncontrollability when fired in fully automatic mode. Whether it had a highly efficient muzzle brake and/or some other means of reducing recoil, the MA5B was used by both the Master Chief and normal UNSC soldiers with no problems with muzzle climb. Given this fact, it is curious as to why the SMG is so uncontrollable that even the Chief can't handle it without suffering serious muzzle climb with sustained fire. Why doesn't it have a muzzle brake or some other form of recoil compensation? Besides, there's no reason why the SMG should have that much recoil to begin with.
A submachine gun (certain smaller SMGs are also called "personal defense weapons") is simply a select-fire or automatic-only firearm chambered for pistol ammo, or at least a cartridge with dimensions typical of handgun rounds. Halo 2's fictional M7 SMG uses an equally fictional 5 × 23 mm round, which so happens to be caseless. Caseless ammo is still experimental, and was obviously chosen as the SMG's ammo type mainly because of its exotic nature and rather novel technology, rather than for reasons of gameplay or storyline. The rounds found in your average SMG, all of which have conventional cartridge designs, are not particularly powerful. The most powerful rounds are no stronger than the 9 mm Parabellum or .45 ACP, the most common rounds used in SMGs. The M7's 5 × 23 mm ammo is likely no stronger that those rounds (and is probably weaker), all of which are much less powerful than the 7.62 mm NATO round, thus explaining the weakness of the SMG as compared to the MA5B. Since they have relatively low muzzle energies, the recoil from such cartridges is also a rather small fraction of that of the 7.62 mm NATO, even after taking into fact the weight differences between a typical service rifle and a small submachine gun. Thus, it simply makes no sense as to why the M7 SMG would recoil so badly in the first place. The MA5B should recoil worse, but it doesn't.
So like I said, get rid of the SMG and its ridiculous muzzle climb. The MA5B should return in Halo 3. I'd also like to suggest some improvements for it. Being a rifle that experiences no recoil, the shots should not spread to any noticeable degree. This is obviously unsuitable for gameplay, where some form of inaccuracy is needed. However, its firing pattern should spread slightly less than it did in Halo 1 and thus have a slightly greater effective range, but not much more so. After all, assault rifles like the AK-47 and M16 have effective ranges upwards of 100 meters when fired in fully automatic mode, so having an effective range of, say, 30 or so meters for the MA5B should in no way be considered unreasonable (as compared to the 10 to 15 meters as it actually is; past this, and it will not result in a kill even if you expend an entire magazine). Furthermore, if it won't affect the weapon's gameplay balance, reduce the ammo capacity somewhat, say, to about 30 rounds, 40 tops. Any more is pushing it. Based on its size, there's no way the MA5B's magazine holds 60 rounds. Modern day assault rifles with detachable box magazines have magazine capacities of no than 30 rounds, even for those chambered for the smaller 5.56 mm NATO round; those chambered for the 7.62 mm NATO round usually have magazine capacities of no more than 20 rounds, though the MA5B's magazines look like they could possibly hold up to 30 just like the 7.62 mm caliber AK-47 does. However, magazines with capacities above 50 are invariably drum/cylindrical magazines. If you're going for a 60-round capacity, give it a drum magazine. In any case, it doesn't take more than 40 rounds to drop an enemy with the MA5B when it is used at the proper range and aimed well.
Post-E3 update: From the looks of things, it looks like the good old MA5B, or at least a newer model with the same basic design and function, is making a comeback in Halo 3. Whether or not it will make it to the final version and function the same remains to be seen. Of course, I still stand by my recommendations that it be reintroduced into Halo 3 to replace that god-awful SMG, and that it should be made somewhat more accurate than it was in Halo 1 and, if it won't effect gameplay, should have a smaller magazine capacity.
D) Plasma Pistol & The "Noob Combo"
The plasma pistol in Halo 1, while perhaps the overall weakest weapon along with the assault rifle, could still be quite deadly when used properly by someone proficient with it. It was also highly versatile, with two distinct modes of fire. Though only semi-automatic in its standard fire mode, it could be fired as rapidly as one could pull the trigger. A person with a fast enough trigger finger could send a nearly solid stream of plasma bolts towards an opponent. In multiplayer, it took exactly 15 regular shots to take down a fully shielded opponent (like the MA5B, the plasma pistol was not headshot-capable). It was also highly accurate, and the plasma bolts have zero shot spread even at the weapon's maximum range. It also had the ability to slightly stun an enemy. Charged shots were of course stronger, and it took 3 hits to kill an enemy with them. In Campaign, the plasma pistol was particularly useful in dropping enemy shielding, and was especially great against Jackals and Sentinels. The charge shots were not only large and relatively fast, but they also had a slight tracking ability, though they could be easily dodged by jumping or strafing.
In Halo 2, however, the plasma pistol has undergone drastic change, and is practically useless as a standalone weapon. While still only semi-automatic, you can no longer fire it as fast as you could pull the trigger. Rapidly pulling the trigger will often cause the plasma pistol to "skip" instead of firing a shot each time the trigger is pulled. Furthermore, the damage done by the regular plasma shots has decreased substantially. It now takes 26 hits to do someone in with the plasma pistol. Even when dual-wielding two plasma pistols together, it is still nearly impossible to kill someone with them.
However, while its normal fire mode is now utterly pitiful, its newly modified charged shot ability has given rise to some rather cheap gameplay tactics. While the charged shot still takes shields down in a single shot, it no longer does damage to health. Instead, it has a greatly enhanced tracking ability. Though a charged shot moves slower now, it will follow you relentlessly. Jumping and strafing are practically useless, and the only way to avoid getting hit is to get a solid object between yourself and the plasma bolt. In fact, there was one occasion where I was being chased in a circle by one while riding in the gunner's seat of a Warthog in Campaign. I've seen similar incidents in multiplayer as well. It has also been demonstrated that a charged shot can make a sharp 90-degree turn in pursuit of its target. (This can be seen on Colossus when two players are on the bottom floor near the gravity lift. One player fires a charged shot at the other, who jumps into the lift before it connects. The plasma bolt then quickly changes from a horizontal to a vertical trajectory to follow its target. There is a video of this at http://home.exetel.com.au/pyroteq/AAPP.wmv.) It is almost impossible to dodge a charged shot now due to its homing abilities, which comes across as just plain ridiculous.
Since the overcharged plasma bolt now has unparalleled homing and moves slower and weapons can be drawn faster now, the player can now use what has now been commonly referred to as the "noob combo," labeled as such due to the fact that it's extremely easy to use despite its power. You know the drill. The player follows up a charged plasma pistol shot with a burst of fire from the Battle Rifle, which will kill an unshielded opponent with a single headshot. By time the plasma bolt hits its target — and it will hit them well over 90% of the time, closer to 100% out in the open — the player has drawn their BR, taken aim, and shot the target in its head, resulting in a quick kill. More rarely, the Carbine or Magnum (the latter used while dual-wielding with the Plasma Pistol), both of which will likewise kill an unshielded opponent with a single headshot, are used to the same effect and are also generally regarded as "noob combos." However, the Battle Rifle is not only more common, but its 3-shot burst fire makes it much easier to get headshots with than the less accurate single-shot fire of both the Carbine and Magnum, plus only one of the three bullets from the burst needs to hit an enemy's head to kill them. The plasma pistol can also be used in close quarters combat to kill someone by following up a charged shot with a single melee. With the melee lunge, this attack form is much easier to perform than than it was in Halo 1, especially considering the fact that a single melee rarely resulted in a kill when used against an unshielded enemy who's at full health. The plasma pistol is often used dual-wielded with an SMG as well, but since the SMG is inaccurate and cannot give one-headshot kills, it is not considered quite as effective as the other methods of attack involving the plasma pistol.
Needless to say, many players regard the plasma pistol/battle rifle combo and its variants as very cheap. In fact, it was considered so bad a problem that it was removed from Matchmaking in two of the stages where it was abused the most. However, it continues to be abused on many other stages as well. The homing ability of the plasma pistol's charged shot should be drastically toned down in Halo 3. In fact, give it the exact same speed and degree of homing it had in Halo 1. Even after almost 5 years of playing, I've never seen Halo 1's equivalent of the noob combo — the plasma pistol and M6D pistol — used in multiplayer, because it wasn't particularly effective (I've tried it many times), mainly because the plasma pistol's charge shot's tracking was far less in Halo 1. Furthermore, restore the plasma pistol's standard fire to the way it was in Halo 1. That is, it should fire as fast as you can pull the trigger, and it should take no more than 15 shots to kill an opponent.
E) Energy Sword
The sword was a nice little novelty when Halo 2 was first released. However, after more than a year and a half of playing and hundreds of matches played, the sword comes across as being not only unrealistic, but also ridiculously overpowered despite how easy it is to use. It has been perhaps the most horribly abused weapon during multiplayer. It may not be some invincible, unbeatable weapon of mass destruction, but it is still way to powerful of a weapon in multiplayer and is exceedingly difficult for even veteran players to counter against.
The sword has a rather long-range lunge ability, with a range of about 8 or 9 meters (around 25 to 30 feet), the greatest effective range of any close-range weapon in Halo 2. This exaggerates the already preposterous lunge ability of standard melee attacks. Like the standard melee lunge, a sword lunge will clear that full distance in a mere fraction of a second. The sword lunge also makes the physically impossible aspects of the lunge (hurling yourself bodily a long range, reversing direction in midair) all the more obvious. Being able to reverse your direction in midair and fling yourself 30 feet at your opponent is perhaps the most unrealistic aspect of any weapon in the game. Not only is the sword unrealistic, it is extremely difficult to defend against, and is perhaps the hardest weapon to counter. While it is in principle possible to defend against the sword, all of the proposed countermeasures — using the shotgun or plasma grenades, backpedaling while firing, or dodging or jumping over an attacking sword user — are extremely ineffective, especially on Live due to the added factor of lag. The shotgun is an extremely unreliable weapon that deals wildly random amounts of damage (more on this in the section about the shotgun), and thus it rarely guarantees a kill against a sword user even with decent timing. It is even more difficult to use this tactic on Live, due to lag. A plasma grenade, assuming it sticks in the first place, will take them out with you, which only guarantees a kill for a kill. Attempting to dodge rarely works due to the sheer speed of the sword's lunge. Also, there's the fact that when you use a sword lunge (or a regular melee attack, for that matter), it will still easily hit someone who tries to jump over you. Backpedaling is a bit more effective, and if you have enough space between yourself and the sword user, you can kill them with a standard firearm (BR, SMG, etc.). However, if they get within 30 feet of you, you're screwed due to the fact that it takes longer to shoot someone to death than it does to kill them with a sword lunge (unless you get a direct hit with a rocket launcher or a lucky head shot with a sniper weapon, or the sword user is already heavily wounded from prior combat). About the only way to defeat a sword user effectively at close range is to gang up on him, and even then, the attacking group will likely suffer heavy casualties even if they succeed.
Of course, using any of these proposed countermeasures in the first place assumes that, among other things, you actually see your opponent brandishing the sword. Most players will wait until they are on top of their opponent before pulling out the sword, and with the ability to fire a weapon the instant it is draw and the sheer speed of the sword lunge, few players, even those who are very skilled, are not likely to be able to attempt to use any sort of countermeasure. So, unless your opponent completely botches a sword attack (or if there is heavy lag in the match), you will not survive. Furthermore, unlike in Campaign, the sword has no limit to its energy supply.
Needless to say, its long-range one-hit-kill lunge ability, the sheer speed of its lunge, the inability to effectively counter it, and its infinite ammo supply and lack of a need for reloading makes it way too overpowered, allowing someone to effortlessly defeat an opponent one-on-one and even to engage multiple opponents and defeat several of them, if not all of them. Given the fact that the sword is so powerful and requires relatively little skill to use (no more than an SMG, it seems; I picked up on it in a matter of minutes after I first got the game), I feel that this weapon, more than any other single weapon, deserves the moniker of "noob cannon." At least the rocket launcher has a limited amount of ammo.
So, I'd like to propose several ways of toning down the sword for Halo 3. First off, get rid of the lunge ability. Elites in Campaign could never lunge, so neither should the player be able to. Personally, as I've already suggested that the entire Halo 2 melee system, with all of its chaotic and unrealistic lunging about, should be replaced with the Halo 1 melee system, the sword should likewise have a reach not much greater than a standard melee attack. It should still be able to kill with a single swipe as it does when an Elite uses it against you in Campaign. There's no reason it can't do that without having to use a ridiculously long-range lunge that is also able to defy the laws of physics by reversing your direction in midair. Even with its lunge removed and the Halo 1 melee system implemented, the sword would still be a deadly close-range weapon, though not the overpowered superweapon it is now. I know I was always intimidated in Halo 1 Campaign whenever I had a sword-wielding Gold Elite charging at me. If the player could use the sword exactly how the Elites used it in Campaign, it would still be a most fearsome weapon at close ranges. If you don't get rid of the sword's lunge, at least reduce its distance to at least no greater than half of of its current range, and make it unable to lunge in midair.
Furthermore, the sword should have a limited supply of energy as it does in Campaign. A successful kill should eliminate about 10% to 20% of its battery power (preferably the latter). As another measure to tone it down if the lunge is retained, the sword should be required to be drawn and fully activated for it to be used. None of this quick draw stuff where you can lunge nearly instantly after switching weapons. Whether you take these suggestions or those of someone else into consideration, or if you have your own ideas, please do something to tone the sword down. I know you're all about balanced gameplay, and there's a lot of people besides myself who believe that weakening the sword would definitely make things more balanced. The sword should be a very powerful close-range weapon, but at the very least it should not outgun the shotgun. Speaking of which...
The M90 pump-action shotgun was a truly devastating weapon in Halo 1. This is befitting of its 8-gauge bore size and the 3.5" magnum shells it fired. According to the ammo boxes, the shells are loaded with 00-buckshot, and they always contained 15 pellets, which amounts to about 1-7/8 ounces of shot (a shell of its size loaded with 00-buck would actually contain a bit more than that — most likely 2 ¼ ounces, which amounts to 18 pellets — but what it has is still reasonable). That's some serious firepower. It is perhaps the most useful weapon in the latter half of the Campaign whenever you're fighting indoors. It was indispensable against the Flood Combat Forms, and it could kill even the tougher Elite ranks with two or three shots at very close range.
It was also a force to be reckoned with in multiplayer. A single blast was always fatal up to a range of about 3.5 meters (about 11 ½ feet), and even two was enough to drop an overshielded enemy at that range. At 5 meters (about 16 feet) it took 1 to 2 shots to kill someone. At 10 m (about 32 ½ feet) it took about 2 to 3 shots. At 15 m (about 49 feet), it took around 3 to 5 shots. At 20 to 25 m (about 65 to 80 feet), it took about 4 to 7 shots. Past this range, damage becomes more random, even to the point where all of the pellets miss, and the shotgun becomes a far less effective weapon. For example, at 30 m, anywhere from 4 on up to 9 were needed. The shotgun could still cause damage at longer ranges, though — up to about 50 or 60 meters (over 160 to nearly 200 feet). However, not only are shots far less likely to hit the target at that range, but when they do, the damage is so light that it could take almost an entire 12-round magazine to drop an enemy's shields, much less kill them. While the spread pattern is much bigger at a given range as compared to a real shotgun — for example, a standard cylinder choke (no constriction), which has the widest spread of any standard choke, will have a spread pattern no more than a meter across at a distance of 10 m, while at the same distance in Halo 1 the spread pattern will be about 3 meters across — and the effective range somewhat less (around 40 meters or so is the maximum effective range of most shotguns using buckshot loads, depending on the choke used), it is still a very strong weapon at closer ranges and it is not too unreasonably unrealistic.
However, the Halo 2 shotgun has become notorious for its highly random nature, which has garnered it the nickname "slotgun." (Come on, lucky 7s!) It is only reliable at noticeably closer ranges than it was in Halo 1. One reason why is that the shots spread out much quicker. If the Halo 1 shotgun's spread was mildly unrealistic, then the Halo 2 version's spread is outright preposterous. Furthermore, there are fewer pellets per shell. These changes are quite odd considering it is the same model shotgun using the same shells, according the manuals of the games. Another thing of interest is that the amount of pellets per shell fired is random as well, though it averages at about half as many as the H1 shotgun's count of 15 pellets per shell. I've seen as few as 3 pellets and as many as 10, though it's usually 6 or 7. This is at least a half as many or fewer pellets per shell than what's in any actual shotgun shell of its size, even if loaded with 000 or 0000 buck. Why this is (oversight, programming error, or deliberate action), I don't know. In any case, it has made the shotgun more random than its Halo 1 version could ever be.
All of these changes are peculiar, as the shotgun is the same model in both games, and they have made the shotgun a less desirable weapon in Halo 2. Of course, when you shove the muzzle right into your opponents face and pull the trigger, one shot will always be fatal. That's a given. However, at any non-zero range that would cause heavy damage in Halo 1, the shotgun now only causes light damage. For example, at an estimated range of about 5 meters, it now takes no less than two and can take up to four shots to bring someone down — twice as many as the maximum amount at that range in Halo 1. At about 10 meters, the Halo 2 shotgun can take anywhere from 6 to over 12 shots to kill someone, if we include shots that completely miss despite the target being centered directly in the reticule (at that range, the average rate of missed shots when aiming perfectly at a stationary target can be as high as one per every three or four shots). At about 15 meters, the shotgun becomes practically useless, as very few shots will connect, and the few that do will not cause any significant damage. Past this range, you'd probably have a better chance of killing someone with a plasma pistol. But the facts are that the shots fired from the shotgun spread out faster with distance than they did in Halo 1 and that there are now fewer pellets per shell in addition to the random amounts of pellets, and this makes for a ridiculously random weapon that is only truly effective only when you are practically within arms reach of an opponent. The already random nature of the Halo 2 shotgun is even more noticeable on Live, where because of lag you can drill an opponent from only a few feet away, then hit them with a melee, and then hit them with yet another close-range shotgun blast, and yet they still survive. And of course I've already mentioned the problems associated with using the shotgun as a defensive measure against the energy sword, which has a much greater effective range than the shotgun.
Not only has the shotgun become far less reliable, it also comes across as being a rather unrealistic firearm. At the ranges cited, an 8-gauge shotgun with 3.5" magnum buckshot shells loaded with nearly 2 ounces of 00 buckshot would deal out damage in a manner closer to what was seen in Halo 1. It most certainly would NOT cause a light wound at 10 meters. It would be deadly. The fact that the shotgun has a much shorter effective range than the sword is another thing that comes across as highly unrealistic. Nor will the spread pattern be so ridiculously wide. At 15 meters, a well-aimed shot will certainly not completely miss, and definitely not on a regular basis; most of the pellets would hit. At that range, at least 80% of the pellets would hit a 30" circle with a real shotgun using a cylinder choke. So, I believe that the shotgun should be restored to its former glory in Halo 3. Give it the same spread pattern — or even better, a spread pattern closer to a real cylinder choke; tighter chokes might give it too narrow a spread and too great an effective range for the game — as well as pellets per shell fired and damage per pellet as the Halo 1 shotgun.
As an aside, I'm curious about certain decisions regarding the shotgun's design, which is the same in both games. I can understand the need for an 8-gauge shotgun firing 3.5" magnum shotshells, despite the fact that particular shotgun gauge has become obsolete. Considering the kind of alien baddies the UNSC is going up against, they'd need that kind of firepower. Then again, there's really no reason why a 12-gauge couldn't do the same kind of damage. However, the recoil from such a shotgun firing 1-7/8 ounces of shot at muzzle velocities typical of most shotshells would be absolutely brutal, and would likely be unsuitable for continuous use in combat by your typical soldier. There are several ways to reduce both actual and felt recoil in modern shotguns. First off, reducing the mass and/or muzzle velocity of the projectile will reduce recoil, but it has already been established that the shells the M60 fires are rather heavy loads that are needed to deal with certain Covenant. Second, a heavier gun of any kind would recoil less than a lighter gun firing the same ammo. Halo's M60 looks pretty bulky compared to your average shotgun, but it really can't weight any more than 5 or 6 kilos, or else it would be too heavy to be a practical combat shotgun. Ergonomic features such as recoil pads can also help reduce felt recoil. Finally, the type of action affects the level of felt recoil. Semi-automatic shotguns, particularly gas-operated ones, typically have far less felt recoil than other types of shotgun. Of course, I'm willing to suspend my disbelief somewhat with regards to the shotgun's recoil. After all, except for the SMG, no other small arms in the UNSC arsenal have problems with recoil.
What I don't get is why it was decided for the shotgun to be pump-action rather than semi-automatic. A semi-automatic shotgun not only has less recoil, it also can be fired faster. Furthermore, it would have made more sense to go with a shotgun that also has a detachable magazine rather than an integral non-detachable magazine. This would allow for much faster reloading than having to load each individual round separately. There are several notable semi-auto, semi/pump selectable, and fully-auto shotguns like this that have either box or drum/cylindrical magazines (some can use both). Examples include the SPAS-15, USAS-12, Saiga-12, and Pancor Jackhammer, as well as certain models designed to be mounted on another firearm. Given the facts that Halo takes place in the mid-26th century and that standalone shotguns obviously hadn't become obsolete by then, the UNSC would probably not still be using for combat purposes an old pump-action shotgun that has to have every shell loaded individually. They likely would have already developed a reliable, efficient semi-automatic shotgun that has a detachable magazine. I'm assuming that the decision to make the M90 a pump-action shotgun was mainly for aesthetic reasons, rather than anything having to do with making it a believable or efficient mid-26th century firearm.
My last issue with the M90's design is its magazine capacity and design. Most shotguns with an integral magazine have a capacity of 5 to 8 shells (plus one in the chamber) depending on its magazine length and the size of the shotshells it is loaded with. The M90 holds twelve 3.5" shells, which is far too many for even the longest shotgun magazine. Supposedly, it has a dual tubular magazine like the Neostead 2000, which holds 12 rounds (6 in each tube) plus one in the chamber. However, the Neostead's magazine has a side-by-side configuration where the user has to load shells into the two magazine tubes through separate openings, six in each one. This design factor is not only for increased magazine capacity, but for versatility as well, as one magazine could be filled with shotshells and the other with less-than-lethal ammo, and the shooter could switch between the two. The M90 is reloaded by inserting the shells into a single opening like most other shotguns, which seems to imply that it only has the one magazine. I'm assuming the M90 has its magazines somehow arranged in an over-and-under configuration so it can be loaded through a single opening. The problem with this, though, is that the part of the M90 that houses the magazines doesn't look large enough to accommodate a dual over-and-under magazine. Furthermore, I'm not sure if this would even be a feasible design to begin with. In any case, the M90's magazine arrangement seems to not only remove the versatility aspect of the Neostead's configuration, but also begs the question as to why the design chose for the shotgun was a slow-reloading pump-action that only has a couple more shells than most other shotguns rather than a semi-auto with a detachable magazine for more rapid reloads. After all, depending on the model shotgun, detachable box magazines can hold anywhere from 5 to 10 shells, whereas a drum magazine can hold 10 to 20 shells. It's not like a faster-reloading shotgun with a somewhat smaller magazine capacity will drastically affect gameplay. All in all, the M90 doesn't have a very innovative or believable design.
While I'd like to see a semi-auto shotgun with a detachable magazine in Halo 3, it could be argued that it would break continuity too much. At the very least reduce the number of shells the M90 can hold, preferably no more than 8.
G) Rocket Launcher
The new rocket launcher seems at first to have a more focused anti-vehicle role, compared to the Halo 1 version which often seemed more suited to dispatching enemy platoons at medium range than for shooting down the nimble Covenant vehicles. This is mostly due to the new lock-on feature, which guarantees a rocket wielder an extremely good chance of hitting an enemy vehicle. However, it has also become far more suited than ever to fighting individual enemy infantry, especially in close quarters. The Halo 2 rocket launcher can cycle to the second shot much quicker, and it reloads faster. The rockets also do noticeably less damage at a given distance from the blast center in Halo 2. In Halo 1, a rocket could cause heavy damage within a radius of about 6 to 6.5 meters (about 19.5 to a little over 21 feet), taking down your shield and perhaps taking away a couple of bars of health. A kill was guaranteed within a radius of about 4.5 meters (a bit over 14.5 feet). Basically, anything that got caught anywhere near a rocket blast was dead meat or at least in serious trouble. While the maximum blast radius hasn't diminished noticeably, the damage done drops off with distance from the blast center much quicker. At a distance of about 20 feet, a rocket explosion will only take half of your shield down, as compared to the entire shield and a couple bars of health in Halo 1. The kill radius has diminished to about 10 feet. Therefore, a rocket must explode much closer to its target in order to kill it. This allows you to get in closer than you could in Halo 1 without having to worry as much about getting killed by shooting a nearby opponent, or killing an ally with friendly fire. Indeed, there does seem to be much fewer suicides in Halo 2 resulting from close-range rocket combat. It is also much easier to survive rocket combat by jumping around due to the decreased splash damage and increased jump height.
The rocket launcher is thus not only more suited for taking out individual enemies at close range, but, like the grenades, the player also now has more incentive to simply spam an area with rockets and utilize the launcher at close range. In Halo 3, I think the rocket launcher's rate of fire, reloading time, and the splash damage of the rockets should be made more similar to what it was in Halo 1. Having a slower-firing but more powerful rocket like the one in Halo 1 means that you had better get your opponent with the first shot, as you may not get, and probably don't deserve, a second shot. It also means having to be more careful with rockets at close range or when friendlies are nearby. Better that than having it to where you have to saturate an area with rocket explosions. Furthermore, not only should the splash damage be the same at a given distance as it was in the first game, the maximum blast radius should increase as well. Since at about 20 feet from the blast center (the maximum extent of the explosion in both games), you would lose both your shield and a small amount of health in Halo 1, then at 25 feet, it should take about ¾ of your shield away, ½ of your shield at 30 feet, and ¼ of your shield at 35 feet (my suggested maximum). It should blow up big, and with a more or less steady drop off with distance. Not the sudden cut off in Halo 1 (i.e. heavy damage at the maximum blast radius, while no damage a couple of feet further), nor the rapid drop with distance like in Halo 2. Overall, the rocket launcher should be made closer to its Halo 1 counterpart in terms of how it functions (cycle period between shots, reload speed, etc.) and how much damage it does.
Furthermore, it is debatable as to whether the new lock-on feature reduces the amount of skill involved in using the rocket against enemy vehicles, or if it was a necessary countermeasure because it was too hard to hit a moving vehicle with a non-homing rocket. Having "smart" rockets seems much more realistic than "dumb" rockets, but depending on how smart the rockets are, their homing abilities could negatively affect gameplay. In Halo 1, the fact that rockets could not lock on made it a more challenging feat to destroy enemy vehicles. Vehicles are faster and more maneuverable now, so a lock-on feature does make sense. So in Halo 3, perhaps certain aspects of vehicle maneuverability could be toned down or done away with along with the rocket lock-on, most notably the boosting abilities of the Ghost and Banshee, and the latter's looping & barrel rolling abilities. Perhaps the rockets could be made to go in a straight line only as in Halo 1, but they could go a lot faster. In real life, most rockets fired from portable launchers move at several hundred meters per second or more, rather than the sluggish 35 m/sec the rockets in Halo travel (calculated by Zachary Hahn of HBO). While this is too fast for gameplay purposes, they could at least move twice as fast as they do now.
However, I think that the lock-on ability should be kept. As I said, smart rockets do make more sense for a future military, so perhaps the best solution would be to diminish the tracking ability of the rockets somewhat, in addition to removing certain aspects of vehicle maneuverablity, most notably the Banshee's looping & barrel rolling. Alternately, perhaps certain vehicles a lock-on warning if they are targeted. As it stands now, it is too easy to get a hit with a locked-on rocket, at least in a wide-open area (the odd spiral path a homing rocket usually travels in can cause it to hit other things before it hits its target, thus reducing its efficacy in cluttered areas), and combined with its anti-personnel aspects outlined in the last paragraph, it is much less skillful weapon to use in multiplayer. Also, friendly AI in Campaign is almost unstoppable when armed with a rocket launcher and facing enemy vehicles, as they invariably fire homing rockets. The bridge sequence on Metropolis is a good example. Likewise, if the enemy (usu. a Flood Combat Form) is in possession of a rocket launcher, the player won't hardly stand a chance if they fire off a shot. With the current lock-on feature, the rocket launcher is, under most circumstances, actually too effective an anti-vehicle weapon under most circumstances, which is somewhat ironic considering how most of the other weapons are highly ineffective in dealing with enemy vehicles (more on this later in the section on vehicle health).
H) Sniper Rifle & Beam Rifle
The S2 AM sniper rifle is described in the Halo literature as an anti-materiel rifle, very similar to real life rifles such as the Mechem NTW-20, which the S2 AM is obviously modeled after in appearance, and more familiar examples like the Barrett M82A1 and Armalite AR-50, both of which employ the .50 BMG (12.7 × 99 mm NATO) cartridge. (The only differences between the S2 AM and the NTW-20 are the magazine capacity & position, the scope, its semi-automatic rather than manual bolt action, and its different ammunition type; the NTW-20 uses the Russian 14.5 × 114 mm round, which has a conventional rifle cartridge design, while the S2 AM uses an APFSDS round of the same caliber, similar to the Steyr IWS 2000.) Such rifles are accurate, high-powered, long-range, large-bore firearms that are chambered for rounds that are designed for explosive ordnance disposal, penetration of light armor, and the disabling or destruction of equipment, and are not normally used for anti-personnel purposes. Such rifles are also much heavier than normal rifles, with the NTW-20 weighing in at a hefty 29 kilograms (about 60 lbs.), and are not fired while standing. I could understand Master Chief being able to use one easily while standing, but not a normal human like Sgt. Johnson. The S2 AM is presumably made of lighter materials than what we have today and obviously has advanced targeting systems and highly-efficient recoil compensators for it to be used by a normal human in a standing position without compromising the accuracy and extreme power of a rifle of its type.
Given these facts about the nature of the sniper rifle, I am curious as to why certain changes, whether intentionally or not, were made to it. First off, in Halo 1 the sniper rifle could shoot straight through several unshielded enemies, as any anti-materiel rifle would be able to in real life. This made it devastating against enemies lined up in a row, but it also meant having to check your fire for any allies that may be behind the target. This feature has completely disappeared in Halo 2, for reasons never explained. It should be brought back for Halo 3.
Furthermore, the sniper rifle's accuracy seems to have diminished somewhat in Halo 2. No longer are you able to "red dot" an enemy from across the stage on larger maps like Blood Gulch/Coagulation, which is a range of about 480 meters for the original Gulch (at about 425 m, the rifle's distance indicator cuts off and the reticule will not turn red; further distances were determined via the oddball distance indicator). In Halo 1 Campaign, I've also managed sniper kills from such distances. Also, for some odd reason, sniper shots will mysteriously disappear before they get completely across the larger stages. In addition, shots seem to fly wide at very long ranges, on the order of a couple hundred meters, give or take. Even when firing at a stationary enemy, the shots for some reason will sometimes not connect at long range. At comparable distances, you cannot get a red reticule lock when targeting an opponent. Real rifles of this type usually have maximum effective ranges of well over a kilometer, though most sniping was well within that range in both Halo games. A proficient enough sniper with the right rifle would be able to hit shots within two or three hundred meters, so a fictional Spartan-II, a highly-trained super soldier equipped with the kind of advanced sniper gear we see in the game, should be able to do so as well. So, I propose that the S2 AM sniper rifle should in Halo 3 be given the accuracy and effective distance it had in Halo 1.
Furthermore, since the sniper rifle is an anti-materiel rifle, it is curious as to why it is not very effective at damaging certain vehicles like the Ghost or Warthog. As I mentioned earlier, anti-materiel rifles are designed with the primary purpose of disposing of unexploded ordnance and disabling or destroying equipment — communications, parked aircraft, unarmored and lightly armored vehicles, and so forth — and not for killing people. The .50 BMG round can blast through something like an inch of steel and would easily tear through an enemy soldier, and the guy behind him, and probably the guy behind him too. The 14.5 × 114 mm round is even stronger than the .50 BMG, with about twice the muzzle energy. The S2 AM should then be able to do a decent amount of damage to vehicles such as the Warthog, Ghost, and Banshee, though not to tanks since even modern tank armor is invulnerable to anti-material rounds. It should also blast straight through a Warthog's windshield in a single shot or even the thinner parts of its armor, wounding or killing whoever it strikes. (Neither should the bullet be stopped by any other fragile object like a glass window.) While it takes 8 rounds to destroy a Ghost or Banshee and 12 rounds to destroy a Warthog when those vehicles are unmanned (when shooting them in the main body), destroying those vehicles is impossible when they are manned except under certain circumstances, due to the new system of vehicle health (see Vehicles section below). I would like to recommend that in Halo 3, the sniper rifle should do considerable damage to the lighter vehicles. It should only take a few rounds to their main body in order to permanently dispose of said vehicles.
As for the Beam Rifle, its capabilities should remain identical in Halo 3 to how it is now. I actually like how its temperature gauge regulates the way it is fired. It is able to fire two shots in rapid succession before overheating, or it can fire slowly and steadily at a constant pace without overheating. In certain circumstances, this can be much more useful than having to reload the sniper rifle every couple of shots.
There is one more notable gameplay feature of Halo 2's sniper weapons that I'd like to address. The practice of "no-scoping" has become quite common in Multiplayer, though it was in my experience nearly nonexistent in Halo 1 (no-scope kills were still possible, however; I've gotten a couple myself). Whether this is due to increased auto-aim or something else in the game engine dealing with the weapons, I don't know. Getting no-scope kills does seem to be more blind luck than anything else. I get them all the time, and not always intentionally. It's mostly just spray-and-pray. In any case, the fact that no-scope kills are more easily achieved makes sniper weapons almost as effective as a shotgun in close quarters. The main problem with this is that the sniper rifle isn't supposed to be useful at close range. Not only is that not its intended role in gameplay, the size of the rifle would make it awkward to use at close range in an actual combat situation, even if the user was able to wield the weapon while standing. The NTW-20, and by extension the near-identical S2 AM, is 2 meters (about 6 ½ feet) long — not exactly a practical size for a close-quarters combat rifle. The Beam Rifle looks to be of similar length. Given the strength & agility of a Spartan, I don't see why the player can't no-scope from a storyline perspective, but from a gameplay perspective, it should be very hard to do so. It should not be a common occurence.
Something should be done to greatly reduce the ease in which the player is able to get a non-scoped sniper kill. Getting such kills should be exceedingly difficult at close range and should require nothing less than the most perfect aiming and timing. First, there should be absolutely zero auto-aim for the sniper rifles when they are not zoomed in. Also, they should not be able to hit anyone within 7 or 8 feet, due to the length of the rifle.
As for certain non-gameplay features, there was one addition to the S2 AM that I really liked, and that is the new monitor found on its scope. It's neat how it shows everything in the player's field of view. And of course, there's the suggestion I made during the commentary on the HUD earlier that the range indicator on the sniper rifle should be brought back, as well as its night vision capabilities (or infrared/heat vision in the case of the beam rifle).
I) Plasma Rifle
In Halo 1, the plasma rifle was a moderately powerful weapon, though only slightly more so than the plasma pistol. It took 9 headshots and 15 body shots to drop someone with it in multplayer. Like the plasma pistol, the plasma rifle could briefly stun any opponent it hits. Its accuracy was quite high when fired in short bursts, almost approaching that of the plasma pistol. However, its accuracy dropped quite a bit during full-auto fire, but even then it was still reasonably accurate at closer ranges. Overall, it was a pretty reliable weapon in both Campaign (esp. against Elites) and in multiplayer.
In Halo 2, however, it takes 18 shots to kill someone in multiplayer regardless of where you shoot them, as it is no longer headshot-capable. If you are firing two plasma rifles simultaneously, it actually takes 24 shots rather than 18 to kill them (in other words, it takes 12 pairs of shots rather than 9). This makes two plasma rifles only 50% stronger than a single one, rather than twice as powerful as one would expect. Furthermore, its accuracy has diminished noticeably, and it is no more accurate when fired in short, controlled bursts than in full-auto. Finally, the stunning effect of the plasma bolts has disappeared. These changes have reduced the plasma rifle to just another bullet hose — a Covenant counterpart to the SMG. It is no longer a weapon distinct from the others, as the original one was distinct from the MA5B. (As a side note, what exactly was the point in creating the Brute Plasma Rifle anyway?)
The plasma rifle should be reverted back exactly to how it was in Halo 1, including its damage, accuracy, rate of fire, and ability to slightly stun an opponent.
The Needler was supposed to have been greatly improved for Halo 2, and based on certain videos from beta versions shortly before the game was released, it certainly looked like it was going to be a better weapon this time around. Most notably, it looked like it was going to have a faster firing rate and needles that traveled a lot quicker. However, the final version of the game unveiled a Needler that is in actuality no better than its Halo 1 counterpart, and is in some ways worse. The main differences are in the total number of needles you can put into an enemy, the resulting splash damage, and the weapon's rate of fire and magazine capacity.
In Halo 1, the Needler was one of the lesser weapons, but it was nonetheless capable of some serious mayhem. You could fill up an opponent with enough needles to explode several times over. It only took 7 needles stuck into an opponent at once for them to cause an explosion, which would do serious damage as well as cause splash damage to those nearby. 9 needles resulted in death. 13 needles would cause two explosions, and if you could fill an opponent with an entire magazine, it would cause three explosions. Splash damage had a maximum range of 3 to 3.4 meters (about 10 or 11 feet), and in Multiplayer was potentially lethal up to 2.5 meters (8.2 feet). The splash damage from a single needle explosion could remove an entire shield, while two can cause critical wounds, dropping the victim down to two or three bars of health. If three needle explosions hit them, they will die. You could even fill up a corpse with needles and it would still result in an explosion. In Campaign, the Needler was particularly devastating against Elites or when firing into a tightly packed group of enemies, especially when they're standing near a pile of live grenades. Fill an enemy up with enough needles, and it could set off a grenade chain reaction and kill everyone around. While the Needler could be passed up for other weapons most of the time in Halo 1 Campaign, there were still a few occasions where it became very useful.
In Halo 2, the Needler's rate of fire has decreased noticeably (by about 15 to 20%), though its magazine capacity has increased from 20 to 30 rounds. It now takes 8 needles fired into an opponent to result in an explosion and kill an enemy, so it is not much different from the Halo 1 Needler in this respect. However, you can no longer put more than 8 needles into an enemy. Once an enemy has fallen victim to a needle explosion, they become "inert" to any other needles fired into them. Thus, only a single needle explosion can result from any one enemy in Halo 2, whereas in Halo 1, you could fill an enemy up with enough needles to cause two or even three explosions. The splash damage from a needle explosion has decreased substantially as well. Even at zero range (i.e. physical contact with the target), the explosion will only remove about a third of a shield, though it is potentially lethal to an unshielded opponent. Also, while it is hard to estimate at such short ranges, the blast radius of a needle explosion seems a bit smaller than in was in Halo 1, and in Campaign is far less likely to trigger a chain reaction of any live grenades (and I've already mentioned the reduced efficacy of those). Now that the player can only get a single needle explosion out of a given enemy and the explosion's splash damage has a reduced effect, the Needler is usually effective only against a single enemy. This is not to say that the Needler is useless. It can still be quite useful in Halo 2 Campaign whenever two are dual-wielded together. They are often indispensable against Brutes, and can also be used to gib a Flood Combat Form. However, outside of these purposes, the Needler can still be passed up for other weapons in most stages just as it could in Halo 1.
The increased magazine capacity could be considered an improvement, but the lower rate of fire and other changes to its offensive capabilities have in some ways made the Needler a worse weapon in Halo 2. The ability to wield two Needlers simultaneously makes up for its lower rate of fire to a certain extent, but, like what I discussed in my commentary on dual wielding above, why have that when you could have a single Needler that has a higher rate of fire?
I think the Needler should be made closer to how it was in Halo 1. The splash damage should be identical, as should the magazine capacity. There really isn't a need for more than 20 needles per magazine, given what will happen to any opponent who has enough needles stuck in them. You should also reintroduce the ability to place enough needles into an opponent for it to result in more than one needle explosion. Also, someone who has fallen victim to the Needler shouldn't become inert to other needles fired into him. However, this alone will not suffice. The Needler should have a somewhat greater rate of fire, and the needles themselves should have a higher velocity and improved tracking.
J) Brute Shot
I don't really have much to say about this weapon, other than it is horribly inaccurate and doesn't have as much punch as it could, and thus it is mainly a spamfire weapon. This is especially problematic given its low ammo capacity. Perhaps a larger blast radius and/or greater damage dealt per grenade could be in order. In any case, something should be done to make it a more desirable weapon for its inevitable return in Halo 3.
K) Fuel Rod Gun
I really like being able to use the FRG in Halo 2, even though it's quite rare in the game (its new design is very cool, too). In Halo 1, whenever you killed a Grunt wielding an FRG, a self-destruct failsafe would activate, and so you never got to use it in Campaign (though it was available in the Multiplayer mode of the PC version, which I've unfortunately never had the chance to play). However, I was curious about a certain change made to the FRG's physics. The shots no longer travel in a parabolic arc as they did in Halo 1, but rather they move more or less in a straight line (they do lose altitude with distance, but it is to a very low degree), and they also move a lot slower. I don't know what the fan community's opinions about this change, if any, actually are, but I would think that an arcing trajectory seems like it would take more skill and precision than a flat trajectory. Furthermore, that would give it the ability to fire over certain obstacles to hit targets behind them. That would give the fuel rods an advantage over the straight-line movement of the SPNKr rockets in certain situations, while the rocket launcher's homing ability would make it more suited for vehicles than the FRG. This would also make the weapons distinct enough from each other despite their overall similarities.
Another thing I am curious about is why the FRG wasn't in Multiplayer. Supposedly, it was too strong. However, I seriously doubt that this was an unsolvable problem. If it is too strong, then reduce how much damage it does, reduce its rate of fire, or give the explosions from the shots a smaller blast radius. Or perhaps it could simply be placed only in custom games rather than in Matchmaking. I should at least be given the option to use the FRG in my own private games if I were so inclined. Just a little suggestion for your Multiplayer people to mull over.
 The BR55 fires a 9.5 mm "experimental high-powered semi-armor piercing (X-HP-SAP)" round. The BR55's bullets are probably the same weight as other rifle rounds of that caliber (typically between 200 to 300 grains). However, there's some confusion over the exact specifications of the round, as I pointed out in the BR's entry. The ammo packs look like they say that the cartridge is 9.5 × 60 mm, though the rifle's receiver states that it uses a 9.5 × 40 mm round. As a general rule, the longer a cartridge's case length, the more powder it contains and thus the faster it can propel a bullet of a given weight than can a shorter cartridge. For example, the 7.62 × 51 mm NATO round has a somewhat slower muzzle velocity than the .30-06 (7.62 × 63 mm) when firing the same weight rounds (860 vs. 887 m/sec for a 9.72 g/150 grain bullet), and thus it is slightly less powerful. The 7.62 × 39 mm Soviet round, used most commonly by the AK-47, has a noticeably slower muzzle velocity (720 m/sec) even thought it has a somewhat lighter bullet (8.1 g, or 125 grains) despite being the same caliber, and thus has substantially less muzzle energy than either the 7.62 mm NATO or .30-06. Given these facts, it seems unreasonable for the BR55's ammo to have a case length of 40 mm (as case length of 40 mm would give it cartridge dimensions similar to that of a strong handgun round, but not a high-powered rifle round). Such a short round would be rather weak, due to low muzzle velocity despite high mass; it would be no stronger than the Magnum's rounds, which are likely no stronger than the 7.62 mm NATO round (see main entry), and could actually be weaker than said round. Assuming the 40 mm case length is correct, the BR55's cartridge is similar in scale to the .460 S&W round, which is somewhat weaker than the 7.62 mm NATO.
While this explains the observed strength per bullet (equivalent to the Magnum) of the Battle Rifle, it doesn't explain the fact that the BR's rounds are supposed to be a high-powered rifle round, and thus would have a case length greater than 40 mm. Then again, I could excuse a 40 mm case length on the basis of its "experimental" designation. Perhaps the UNSC has developed a new kind of gunpowder or some other form of propellant that provides high power in a small package. In any case, though, such a round would likely have similar power and ballistics to other high-power rifle cartridges in that caliber, e.g. the .375 H&H Magnum (9.525 × 72.14 mm), which fires off a 17.5 g (270 grain) bullet at a velocity of about 820 m/sec. It would definitely be at least somewhat stronger than even the strongest handgun rounds. Since the case length of the BR55's rounds is noticeably less than the .375 H&H Mag, they are likely a bit slower and thus not quite as powerful as that round. However, I would assume that it is still going to be at least somewhat stronger than the 7.62 mm NATO round or the Magnum's 12.7 × 40 mm rounds, and this should reflect in the damage dealt by the Battle Rifle's rounds in Halo 3 by taking only 3 to 5 bursts (9 to 15 rounds) to take down an enemy, rather than the 4 to 7 bursts (12 to 21 rounds) it takes to kill an enemy in Halo 2 in Multiplayer. Compare this to 16 rounds for the MA5B or 13 to 21 rounds for the Magnum.
 Because of the unwieldy nature of the M14 in full-auto mode, the M60 light machine gun would become the U.S. military's main squad automatic weapon, and it in turn has been partially replaced by the M240 machine gun and the M249 SAW. Since the adoption of the M16 as the primary service rifle, which is far more controllable in full automatic mode thanks to the less powerful 5.56 × 45 mm NATO round it uses, the M14 and its variants (M21, USMC Designated Marksman Rifle, etc.) have been used primarily as sniper rifles. Other contemporary assault rifles (H&K G36, French FAMAS, Steyr AUG, Tavor TAR-21, etc.) also use the 5.56 mm NATO round or a round of similar strength (e.g. the AK-74's 5.45 × 39 mm round).
 For instance, most SMGs, including the Uzi and H&K MP5 series of SMGs, use the 9 × 19 mm Luger Parabellum round. As other examples, the Thompson SMG uses the .45 ACP round, the FN P90 PDW and Five-seveN pistol use the 5.7 × 28 mm round, and the H&K MP7 PDW and UCP pistol use the 4.6 × 30 mm round.
 The H&K G11 assault rifle is the most notable real-life firearm to use caseless ammo, and it employed a 4.73 × 33 mm round. Prototypes were built and tested, but it never entered production. There was also a G11 PDW variant that was to use a 4.73 × 25 mm caseless round, but it never left the concept phase.
 A rather innovative shotgun using a detachable box magazine is the XM-26 LSS, a modular firearm that can either be mounted under the barrel of an M16A2 rifle or M4A1 carbine or be converted to a standalone firearm; it is bolt-action rather than semi-auto, however. Of course, a standalone shotgun makes more sense from a gameplay perspective given the fact that Halo's control scheme doesn't lend itself to secondary weapon functions like games such as Perfect Dark (e.g. PD's Superdragon had a grenade launcher mounted under the barrel), and even if it did, having an assault rifle and shotgun in one weapon would probably cause gameplay to become imbalanced.
 Since the weapon designer decided to model the sniper rifle after a real rifle rather than creating a wholly original design, I'm curious as to why they didn't pick a more familiar example, such as one of the Barrett .50 BMG rifles like the M82A1 or the M95. The latter has a bullpup design, like the other human rifles in Halo, and it has only a 5-round magazine, which would be more suitable for gameplay than the M82's 10-round magazine. These rifles are much lighter than the NTW-20, weighing in at 13 and 10 kg respectively, are noticeably shorter, and use the more commonplace .50 BMG round (only a few rifles in the world use the 14.5 × 114 mm round). I'm guessing the NTW-20 was chosen because it was considered more exotic from a design perspective, as many players would have probably recognized a Barrett .50 BMG rifle.
5. Other Weapons
Finally, I'd like to tackle the issue of other weapons that are less-frequently used small arms used by the UNSC or Covenant, namely portable and stationary machine guns, and large non-playable artillery.
First off, I am curious as to why the player couldn't pick up and carry the portable machine gun used by the Marines on Cairo Station and the New Mombasa stages, or its equivalent, the portable Covenant automatic plasma cannon, seen used mainly by Grunts throughout the game. You see them carried around and deployed by their respective users, and both the player and AI can use them, but they cannot be picked back up and redeployed elsewhere by the player. Very odd.
Secondly, I believe that the old Shade turret should return to take the place of the smaller, shielded, plasma turret seen in Halo 2. The Halo 2 plasma turret seems rather weak and ineffectual compared to the Shade, and it lacks the fun factor of the Shade. If the Shade is brought back, it should be identical in its capacities to its Halo 1 version and it should be fully destructible. If not, then the current plasma turret (or whatever new model shows up in Halo 3) should have the same damage, rate of fire, etc. as the Shade. Or you could make it like the turret mounted on the top of the Shadow transports.
Finally, I'd like to address the issue of artillery. I would have really liked for the Covenant plasma artillery cannons seen in the E3 2003 trailer to have figured into the game. While one was shown bombarding a building in said trailer, in the final version they were merely static objects sitting on the beach in Outskirts. These weapons should be in Halo 3. I don't expect them to be playable, but I do expect them to be actual, functioning destructive devices that the player has to deal with. I'd also like to see some form of human artillery as well.
1. New Vehicles in Halo 2 (Or Lack Thereof)
One of the more notable disappointments in Halo 2 is the lack of new vehicles. Despite the fact that there were several brand new playable vehicle types featured in early production art & renders as well as betas, — for example, the "Mongoose" ATV, the "Kestrel" hovercraft, and several new varieties of Warthogs — the only ones that made it into the final version of the game were the Gauss Hog, the only new Warthog variant that was added, and the Specter, which was nothing more than the Covenant version of the Warthog; nothing really original or innovative. All in all, the selection of playable vehicles is more or less the same as it was in Halo 1, with the exception of the ability to actually pilot the Wraith now (the only thing significantly different as far as playable vehicles go).
There were several brand new non-playable vehicle types, though, including the Phantom dropship, the Scarab walker, the Shadow troop transport, and the Seraph fighter. However, the Phantom and Scarab were the only new non-playable vehicles prominent in the game. The Shadow was hardly used and the Seraph never figured into gameplay to any degree. A convoy of Shadows was seen in the highway tunnels in the stage Outskirts. A Seraph can be seen briefly in the cut scene at the end of Cairo Station, and another is seen docked in the Threshold installation and was featured as the Heretic leader's personal ship. Like the playable ones, there's nothing much in the way of new non-playable vehicles (though the Scarab was awesome).
So for Halo 3, I think it would be great if there were a larger selection of vehicles. This time around, bring back the vehicles you had to cut from Halo 2, including the ATV (complete with a relatively weak, foward-mounted machine gun to make it the human equivalent of the Ghost), the Kestrel (or some similar vehicle that would serve as a playable flying UNSC craft), and of course the other Warthog variants, including the arctic, jungle, and troop transport 'hogs, with suitable stages for them, of course (more on this in a later section). Speaking of Warthog variants, I think it'd be neat to add the civilian 'Hog as a "just for fun" vehicle. Also, boats would be a cool addition for water-based assaults. Imagine giving the player the chance to storm the enemy from the ocean or a river. While the Covenant has a wider variety of vehicles than the humans, perhaps an as-yet unseen type with completely novel and innovative abilities could be added as a new vehicle, and perhaps new variations of the already-existing Covenant vehicles could be introduced. There should also be a wider variety of common non-playable vehicles as well, rather than simply having to deal mainly with dropships for most of the game.
2. Particulars Regarding Specific Vehicles (Including Suggestions for Halo 3)
There is not really much I have to comment on about this UNSC mainstay. The e-brake helped make the Warthog a lot more maneuverable, and the 'hog is also less prone to rolling over. Both of these were nice additions gameplay-wise, though the Warthog's controls and physics were more fun in Halo 1. I always liked how the Halo 1 'hog got more hang time from jumps and being launched through the air in a crash or by an explosion. Except for that, I really have no complaints about the basics of this vehicle. In any case, though, my only suggestion would be the one I expressed earlier about having a wider array of variants, including the arctic, jungle, troop transport, and civilian models. There could very well be other useful varieties of the Warthog to be had as well.
My only complaints about the Ghost are its controls and weaponry. While I applaud the more responsive controls (the Ghost drifted too much in Halo 1 and couldn't change direction as well as it does now), the addition of the ability to boost (which is universal now among playable Covenant vehicles), and the fact that it doesn't flip as easy, I still prefer the overall maneuverability it had in Halo 1. Its top speed in Halo 1 was much greater than the standard non-boosting speed it has in Halo 2. Furthermore, it could move backwards and at angles as fast as it could when moving forward, and it could also strafe at a decent speed. So, I think that the controls of the Ghost in Halo 3 should combine the faster base speed and overall maneuverability of Halo 1 and the more responsive controls of Halo 2. I think this would greatly improve the overall handling of the vehicle. In fact, I think this could possibly warrant the elimination of the boost feature.
As for its weaponry, the Ghost fires a lot faster now than it did in Halo 1. The new rate of fire looks to be about twice as great (roughly 4 or 5 shots per second in Halo 1 vs. 7 or 8 shots per second in Halo 2; this is if we assume that we count the twin bolts fired by the Halo 1 Ghost as a single shot, as its plasma cannons were linked and they always fired simultaneously). The Halo 2 Ghost also does more damage per shot fired. In Halo 1, it took 8 bursts (16 plasma bolts, if we count them separately) while in Halo 2 it took 9 individual plasma bolts, or 4 ½ bursts (while a slight pull of the trigger can fire a single bolt, it normally fires in two-shot bursts). The Halo 2 Ghost's plasma cannons are also generally more accurate. As a suggestion, I think the rate of fire should be cut to approximately half its current value, as I believe this will make its offensive capabilities more balanced, especially considering its more responsive controls. As it stands now, the Ghost does damage at about twice the rate it did in Halo 1.
As a side note, I really liked the fact that the portside fuel tank was made into a weak point on the Ghost. Very cool.
Like the Ghost, most of my complaints about the Banshee stem from its maneuverability and offensive capabilities. While the Banshee now has a boost feature as well as the ability to strafe and perform loops and barrel rolls, it has lost certain aspects of its maneuverability that it had in Halo 1, most notably its ability to hover while pointing downwards by pulling back on the control stick. If you attempt this now, you will quickly lose altitude. Also like the Ghost, the Banshee's top non-boosting speed in Halo 2 is noticeably slower than its top speed in Halo 1. Personally, I would gladly give up the ability to boost, loop, and barrel roll just so I could operate the Banshee in exactly the same manner as I did in Halo 1. Hovering had more practical use than looping or barrel rolling, which do not provide much in the way of really effective evasive ability. So if any change is made to the Banshee in Halo 3, it should be the reintroduction of its ability to hover and its old top speed, and the removal of looping, barrel rolling, and boosting.
As for its weaponry, the new Banshee has the same rate of fire and damage per shot as the Ghost. While I agree that removing the fuel rod cannon on the Banshee in multiplayer was a reasonable decision due to its potential for abuse, I still think that the Banshee's plasma guns are still a little too strong. It should fire just as it did in Halo 1 and do the same damage as the Ghost's cannons did.
Finally, do something about what happens to them whenever they get destroyed. In Halo 1, when you shot down a Banshee, you'd better make damn sure to get out the way or its burning wreckage would crush you dead. That's no longer a concern in Halo 2, since when it gets blown up it often gets sent flying at some random angle. The way it exploded in Halo 1 was so much better. (This is also the case with the Ghost as well)
This was another vehicle that benefited from improved controls. In Halo 1, you were forced to drive in the direction the turret was pointed. In Halo 2, things are different. You now have the ability to drive in one direction while having the turret pointing in another. This allows you to take care of a vehicle behind your tank without having to stop moving. Its Halo 2 controls should carry over into Halo 3 without any major revisions. Another nice addition was the new fully sealed hatch that provides full protection for the driver, as compared to the old hatch, which left the driver exposed to enemy fire, especially from snipers. The new hatch design is more realistic, as no modern tank leaves its driver exposed like that. The whole point of a tank's armor is to protect its crew. Very few of the U.S. military's M1A1 Abrams tanks have been lost due to battle damage, and out of those, only a handful of crew members have been killed.
My only complaints with the Scorpion are the changes made to its weapons. The main cannon fires a lot more rapidly now, but the shots seem to do less damage and have a smaller blast radius. Personally, I preferred the slower rate of fire and the larger damage and blast radius of the Halo 1 version. Both are at least superficially balanced, though, but the main cannon's damage and rate of fire seemed more realistic in Halo 1. Furthermore, the slower firing of the original Scorpion cannon meant that you had to aim better, or you might not get a second shot, while the faster firing and smaller blast radius of the new Scorpion's cannon is simply another example of the saturation fire all too commonplace in Halo 2. Also, the coaxial machine gun is more accurate now, which makes it way too easy to tear through enemy infantry. I believe that either reducing its accuracy to that of the Halo 1 Scorpion or reducing its rate of fire somewhat would be more balanced. Damage-wise, the machine gun performs reasonably. It fires an unspecified 7.62 mm round (probably the NATO round, just like the Abrams' M240 machine gun uses), and thus should, and seems to do, about the same amount of damage per shot as the MA5B Assault Rifle.
The only thing I have to suggest about the Wraith is that the player should be given the ability to use the small anti-personnel plasma guns that the AI pilots are able to use. This should replace the boost function. Being a tank, the Wraith really shouldn't have and doesn't need a boost. On the other hand, perhaps the boost could be moved to the B button while the L trigger fires the guns. The anti-personnel guns should fire no faster and do no more damage than the Ghost's plasma cannons.
The plasma cannon on this vehicle seems rather ineffective compared to the other vehicle-mounted weapons, at least when it's used against other vehicles. Being the Covenant version of the Warthog, the Specter's cannon should be more or less identical in its offensive capabilities to the M41 LAAG of the Warthog. Other than that, I have no complaints about this vehicle.
G) Non-playable Vehicles
I'd also like to see more emphasis on non-playable vehicles as well in Halo 3. Aside from the two Scarabs seen in Halo 2's campaign, the only non-playable vehicles that ever really featured prominently into the gameplay of either Halo title were the Pelican and the Covenant dropships. In the E3 2003 demo of Halo 2, Longsword fighters were seen providing heavy air support, destroying a Covenant plasma mortar. Something like this would be awesome in Halo 3. Having to call on air support, whether it is via an automatic scripted event, or by the player radioing it in as a mission objective, would be a great addition in Campaign and would add just that little bit extra to the depth of the gameplay. Furthermore, the Seraph fighter could provide a similar heavy air support role on the Covenant side of things. The Shadow transport, which was seen in only one part of Halo 2, should play a greater role as well, deploying Covenant troops into battle and whatnot (they only carried Ghosts in Halo 2). There could very well be other non-playable vehicles filling other functional or strategic niches. For example, I've noticed that Pelicans now have chin-mounted miniguns and a machine gun mounted in the passenger bay. I've also seen a couple that are equipped with wing-mounted missile pods. So, I think it'd be neat if the Pelicans would provide armed support (which they did only in a very limited amount in H2) rather than simply picking up and dropping off troops and supplies.
3. Damageable/Destructible Vehicles & Vehicle Health
This is the final issue I have with Halo 2's vehicle system. While the ability to damage and destroy any and all vehicles was a welcome addition to gameplay (only Covenant vehicles in Campaign were destructible in Halo 1), I think that said feature could have been implemented better than it was. First off, damage to a vehicle is wholly cosmetic, and does not affect its performance in any way, shape, or form. Damaging a Warthog's wheels does not affect how it steers, nor does destroying the engine pods or control flaps of a Banshee affect its basic maneuverability or its ability to boost, barrel roll, and loop. Thus, I'd like to suggest that in Halo 3 any form of damage to a vehicle should impair its maneuverability to an appropriate degree (if it is in any way possible to implement such a thing in the game's engine). For example, blowing away the engine pods or control flaps of a Banshee should, in addition to affecting its basic controls, impair or eliminate its ability to boost, barrel roll, or perform other maneuvers.
As for totally destroying a vehicle, performing such a task depends on certain factors. For example, an unmanned vehicle can only take a certain amount of damage before being completely demolished, which is quite useful for keeping an unwanted, unneeded, or otherwise unused vehicle out of enemy hands. However, when a vehicle is being driven, things change drastically. The amount of damage a manned vehicle can take before exploding is, as a rule, more or less directly tied into the health of its pilot. That is, as you damage the vehicle, the shields of its operator are depleted as normal, though damage is reduced depending on the type of vehicle, the type of weapon being used against the vehicle, and where the vehicles is hit and/or when the vehicle itself is hit rather than the driver. For example, someone piloting a Banshee is fully enclosed by the vehicle and can sustain a decent amount of small arms fire before going down. Hitting certain parts of a vehicle — namely, any part that isn't in the general area of the driver, such as the wheels of a Warthog or wings of a Banshee — will do no damage to the driver at all. Some weapons such as the sniper rifle and sword will do no damage to a vehicle unless it directly strikes the driver (when applicable). The Scorpion and Wraith are practically immune to most small arms fire (as they should be). And of course, a single direct hit from a rocket or a tank cannon is normally enough to take out any vehicle. If the driver is slain after sustaining enough hits, the vehicle will usually be destroyed as well.
There are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if you shoot the driver out of a fresh Warthog or Ghost, usually by sniping them out of it, they will die but the vehicle will remain intact. However, if the vehicle is heavily damaged and/or under heavy fire, finishing the driver off with a sniper shot without actually hitting the vehicle will destroy it as normal. Another exception is when you're driving a Warthog or Specter and have a passenger and/or gunner, and a rocket strikes the vehicle. You will usually die but your gunner or passenger, or possibly both, will survive and the vehicle will not be destroyed. The last exception is destroying the fuel tank of a Ghost that is in use. This will completely destroy the Ghost, but the driver will survive if he hasn't already sustained much damage.
The most notable aspect of the tying in of a vehicle's health with that of its operator is that when the operator's shields are down, he can retreat from combat in his vehicle and wait for his shields to regenerate. This effectively gives an in-use vehicle the ability to absorb a potentially infinite amount of damage without being destroyed, assuming the driver manages to keep himself alive during the entire time he is operating it. This system has clearly demonstrated its capacity for abuse. As perhaps the most notable example, the Banshee's enhanced maneuverability and its capacity to absorb rather large amounts of small arms fire makes it very difficult for players on foot to compete against without use of a rocket launcher. The Banshee pilot can simply make an attack run, and then fly away to cover while his shields regenerate from whatever damage he sustained. If the Banshee pilot's teammates have the rocket launcher (which, being a power weapon, will not reappear under normal circumstances if it is being held by another player if it is the sole one on the map), then that team's opponents are left without any truly effective countermeasure against the Banshee..
This is also a problem in Campaign. For example, it is easier to destroy a Wraith piloted by a blue Elite than one piloted by a Brute or a white Elite. Also, Elite-driven vehicles have the problem with regenerating shields I mentioned above. This can result in the unusual situation where an enemy tank can take several rockets or blasts from a tank cannon, but your own tank will be destroyed with a single hit from the same weapons. It's quite ridiculous and unrealistic that a particular vehicle is easier or harder to destroy simply because its pilot has more or less health than another pilot. Each type of vehicle should have a uniform amount of health for each unit. Thus, I am of the opinion that the current system of vehicle health is not realistic and it results in noticeably unbalanced gameplay whenever vehicles are in use.
I would like to suggest that in Halo 3, a system of vehicle health like the one featured in Halo 1 should be implemented, both in Campaign and Multiplayer modes. This system, while only applicable to the Ghost and Banshee in Campaign mode (the Wraith, while not useable, was destructible as well), and even then only when they were in use, was still quite realistic and innovative. Those vehicles had a finite amount of non-restorable health independent from that of its operator, and once one took a certain amount of hits, it would be destroyed. If your vehicle's health was in the red, it was a clear sign that you'd probably want to abandon it and look for a new one. (As a side note, I still wonder why this health system wasn't used in Halo 1's Campaign for the Warthog and Scorpion as well rather than leaving them invulnerable, or why vehicle health did not feature into multiplayer. Like I said, that's one of things I didn't like in Halo 1.) Such a system of vehicle health in Halo 3, combined with the preceding paragraph's suggestion of specific forms of debilitating damage for vehicles, would greatly balance things and would also add to the game's realism. The vehicle's health and the health of its driver should be completely independent; damaging the pilot should not damage or destroy the vehicle, and damaging the vehicle should not cause damage to the driver (though destroying the vehicle has always been fatal to the driver, except certain occasions where the Ghost's fuel tank is destroyed, and I don't expect that to change). Of course, certain vehicles should have differing amounts of health than others, appropriate to its size and defensive capabilities — that is, the larger the vehicle and the heavier its armor, the more shots it can sustain before being destroyed (obviously, a tank should take far more damage than a Ghost or Warthog, and the Banshee should be the most fragile vehicle of all) — and, as it has in the past, the different types of weapons being used against the vehicle should cause differing amounts of damage.
Also, it would be nice if all non-playable vehicles in Campaign could be completely destroyed as well in Halo 3. For example, instead of simply being able to blow off the guns of a Phantom dropship, you should also be able to shoot it down, causing it to explode (like what was seen in the E3 2003 demo). Of course, taking down a dropship should be made rather difficult, perhaps by giving it something like 3 or 4 times the health of a tank, or by performing some other task like dropping a piece of a building on top of it (again, like in the E3 demo) or hitting it with heavy artillery, perhaps as part of a scripted event. If the Scarab returns in Halo 3, it could perhaps be given something like 10 or even 20 times the health of a tank (which would make it insanely difficult to destroy). And of course, non-playable vehicles should be made to suffer specific forms of damage that could possibly affect its combat capability.
1. The Story
While hardly anything was revealed in the E3 2006 trailer, we do know where we left off. The Covenant are now in the middle of a civil war. The Master Chief has stowed away on Truth's Forerunner ship. Tartarus has been slain by the Arbiter. The Elite faction on Delta Halo has begun a truce of sorts with the UNSC. All of the Halo installations are on standby mode, ready for remote activation. Cortana is stranded on High Charity along with the Gravemind, and the Flood now have free reign to scour the galaxy. And of course, Earth has finally been overrun by a full-scale Covenant invasion. Everything is set for the final climactic battle.
There are of course many questions to be answered. Why did the Forerunners devise such a roundabout way of killing the Flood? Was the "Let's take them down with us" approach really the only thing that would've worked? If so, then why were the Halo installations ineffective at eradicating the Flood? Just who were the Forerunners anyway, and how exactly are they related to humans, and what is the history between them and the Covenant? What exactly does Truth know that the other Covenant don't? Does he even know what Halo does? Why did he betray the Elites, thereby instigating the Covenant civil war? Does he have ulterior motives? Why are the Prophets so hell-bent on exterminating humanity anyway? What impact will Tartarus' death have on the Brutes? Will the Elites form a permanent alliance with the humans? After all, it is suggested in the "Conversations With the Universe" booklet that some of them desired the addition of humans into the Covenant. How far does their current alliance extend? The Elites on High Charity still attacked the Chief even though they were fighting the Brutes, so apparently some parts of the Elite faction still regard the UNSC with the same degree of animosity they always had despite the development of the Covenant civil war, and they are obviously no less zealous in their religious fanaticism. Is there any way such a permanent Elite-Human alliance could work, given the history between the two? What are the origins of the Gravemind and the Flood? What will they do with Cortana, High Charity, and the numerous Covenant vessels they undoubtedly control? What role will the Arbiter, Sergeant Johnson, Miranda Keyes, Rtas "Half-Jaw" 'Vadumee, 343 Guilty Spark, and other Elite and UNSC forces stranded on Delta Halo play? Will the Arbiter be able to convince the rest of the Elite faction of the truth of Halo and the Great Journey? Was what we saw in the E3 trailer the Ark? If not, what is it, and what/where is the Ark? Will the other Spartans or Dr. Halsey show up in the game? Will we get to see the Chief's face? Will he ever see Cortana again? Most importantly, how will he stop Truth's invasion forces and prevent the activation of the Halo network? The latter poses another problem in and of itself, as the Chief has no clue that the Halo installations are all on standby. Of course, these are not the only questions yet to be answered, and there are a lot of plotlines that will hopefully be resolved in the next game.
Finally, there's also the ending. Not only is there the question of how everything will end, there's also the question of how long the ending will last. The endings of Halo 1 & 2 were rather brief, only being a couple of minutes in duration not including credits. Since this is the last game of the series, there should be a grand finale waiting for us when we finish the game, with an ending that will last 5 to 10 minutes, not including the credits.
You have proven your ability to create games with compelling stories, as evidenced by the first two Halo games. I of course will expect nothing less than an epic story in Halo 3.
2. Campaign Stages
Since Halo 3 will most likely take place primarily on Earth, the stages in Campaign should encompass a wide variety of terrain: arctic regions, thick forests, deserts, jungles, plains, swamps, mountains, islands, cities, and so forth. Since the UNSC High Command is supposed to be located in Sydney, perhaps there could be a stage set in a futuristic version of said city. Glittering towers of steel and glass suddenly being reduced to rubble by a Covenant assault as the stage progresses sounds like a cool idea. I also understand that there's supposed to be huge facility called The Hive underneath the UNSC HighCom base. Of course, there could also be stages in other cities or military bases from the Halo-verse, such as Boston, Songnim, or Diego Garcia. The terrains and environments should be even more varied that what was in the first two games, and should more closely resemble what we'd be more likely to see in real life, and should include stuff like hills, streams, waterfalls, and so forth in addtion to larger-scale features and whatever foliage there is. Some of the suggested terrains could also make use of the various specialized Warthog models that were developed but never made it into the final version Halo 2. A desert scene like the one in the "Desert Brigade" wallpaper at Bungie.net would be another possibility. It would be cool to lead a large squad of UNSC vehicles on an assault of a Covenant base stationed in the middle of a desert. A mission that takes place on the Moon would be a neat idea as well, if for no other reason than to give the player more opportunities to fight in a low gravity environment (there was some low-G stuff in Halo 2 on Cairo Station, but it wasn't much). There should also be a stage that takes place on a Covenant vessel, a la Truth & Reconciliation. Such a stage might take place in orbit around Delta Halo, where the Arbiter, Johnson, Keyes, and 'Vadumee commandeer the Brute vessel stationed near the Control Room (IIRC, that's what 'Vadumee was on his way to do at the end of Halo 2). This would give you the chance to show what Covenant architecture & ship design would look like rendered with the 360's graphical abilities. Also, since the Chief is currently a stowaway aboard Truth's ship, perhaps the first mission could take place there. There are of course many other possibilities. Finally, the stages should take place in various times of day. There should be daytime, nighttime, and dawn/dusk missions. Having to fight Covenant in the dead of night with very low light conditions would be awesome. Whatever the final result, we should see a wide variety of terrains and environmental conditions. After all, it'd be quite dull if every mission with the Chief took place in the ruins of New Mombasa and the surrounding environs.
There should also be more emphasis on mission objectives. In Halo 1, you usually had to accomplish certain objectives, albeit rather simple ones, to finish a stage, e.g. escorting Captain Keyes off of the Truth & Reconciliation (if he died, you'd have to start from the last checkpoint), finding the security room on Silent Cartographer, disabling the phase pulse generators on Two Betrayals, and having to destroy the Pillar of Autumn's fusion reactor and then escape in time on The Maw. In Halo 2, you really didn't have to do much other than blast your way through the enemy forces and make your way to the end of the stage. About the only required mission objective that wasn't simply blowing away a bunch of bad guys was when the Arbiter had to cut the tether holding up the Threshold installation on Oracle. Even then, there was no sense of urgency. You were in no rush to catch the Heretic leader before he could escape, nor did you have to worry about the installation getting destroyed (and thus killing the Arbiter) as it plummeted further into Threshold's atmosphere. Also, the last stage in the game, The Great Journey, didn't have the same balls-to-the-wall intensity of the climatic escape sequence in The Maw. You didn't have to worry about actually guarding Johnson's Scarab, because it was invincible, and you didn't have a time limit when you fought Tartarus, so no worries about stopping Delta Halo from firing before it's too late. Even on Cairo Station, you didn't have to worry about getting to the bomb in time.
Some possible mission objectives for Halo 3 could include:
Of course, there are other possibilities as well. Whatever you decide on, there really should be more to the game than a simple "fight enemy, get to the end of the stage" formula.
As for the stage designs themselves, they should be huge. The stages in Halo 2 were supposed to have been really big. In fact, it was claimed that you could fit the entire Halo 1 Campaign into a single canyon in Halo 2 — an obvious exaggeration. However, due to the huge draw distances upwards of 13 or 14 miles made possible by the 360's graphics capabilities (see below), there's no reason that the stages cannot span a rather huge distance. Most of the larger stages in the previous games were only a couple of miles long from beginning to end, so I fully expect the stages in Halo 3 to be two or three times as long as that at the very least. Furthermore, I expect the outdoors stages to have parts that are much more wide open than even what was seen in Halo 1. It'd be neat to test your sniping skills against enemies that are a kilometer away. I want to see something that gives the effect of Assault on the Control Room or Two Betrayals, but on a much grander scale.
There should also be a lot more stages than what the previous games had. If this is going to be the last Halo game, then it needs to be big, big, BIG! There should be at least a dozen or more distinct maps, as compared to ten in Halo 1 and seven in Halo 2, and each stage should on average dwarf those found in Halo 1 or 2. If you can have draw distances of over 10 miles, then the stages should be at least 10 miles in size. To paraphrase you guys, all of Halo 2 should literally, in terms of physical scale, be able to be fit into the largest stages of Halo 3. Give us a Campaign so huge, grandiose, and fun that we'll still be playing it 20 years from now. We know you can do it.
Finally, try and refrain from any crazy stunts during the cinema scenes like the Chief's kamikaze dive from Cairo Station (I'm talking to you, Joe). There were just too many coincidences in that scene, all arranged just so he could destroy a single ship and get to the In Amber Clad. It seemed too much like something out of a big-budget Hollywood action flick, and seemed rather over the top compared to what we're used to seeing in Halo. Other than that minor complaint, keep up the good work. The rest of the cut scenes in both games were really good, and I expect nothing less than the best in Halo 3.
3. Multiplayer: Classic & New Maps, etc.
In addition to whatever new maps there are going to be in Multiplayer, there should be a return of some classic maps from the other Halo titles, especially those from the first game since it was never an Xbox Live game. It would be neat to see some of those old maps rendered in the Xbox 360's graphics. The stages I'd most like to see return are Hang 'em High, Chill Out, Sidewinder, Boarding Action, and especially Damnation, the best Multiplayer map in the entire Halo series. I also expect another Blood Gulch clone to appear. I'd also like to see all of the maps from the PC version of Halo 1. They all look pretty neat, especially Gephyrophobia, Danger Canyon, and Infinity, and there are a lot of people who have never had the chance to play them. As for Halo 2 maps, I liked Containment, Relic, Headlong, Waterworks, Terminal, and Zanzibar. Even if none of these are offered in the initial release of Halo 3, they should at least be offered as part of a series of "Classic map packs" (e.g. Halo 1, vol. 1, Halo PC, Halo 2, vol. 1) some time shortly thereafter.
Whatever classic Multiplayer maps are brought back in Halo 3, they should be left structurally identical to the way they were originally. No drastic changes like Longest had made to it when it was re-released as Elongation. The only differences should be greatly enhanced & detailed graphics.
Also, I've seen quite a few interesting looking fan-made multiplayer maps for Halo Custom Edition while browsing the internet (thought I could do without some of the kooky custom-made weapons and vehicles I've seen in a few). Maybe some of those could be adopted for Halo 3 as well. Perhaps the people in charge of Multiplayer could, once or twice a year, review fan-made designs for multiplayer maps — or maybe even subjecting them to a popular vote at Bungie.net —, and offer for download those that are approved. Just a suggestion.
As for the new MP maps that will be in Halo 3, the only suggestion I can think of is having at least a few stages that have unusual environments, such as nighttime and very low-light conditions, low gravity (i.e. a stage that takes place on the moon), or varying weather conditions (see subsection 8 below). Other than that, I can't really think of much beyond ensuring that there aren't any problems like those mentioned in the Multiplayer section of this letter. They should be playtested to make sure that there are no easily exploitable campsites, and the weapons setup (including spawn times) should be more balanced.
Furthermore, glitches like superjumps and the BXR & other buttom combos shouldn't be in the game at all. The game should be tested to make sure they don't make it into the final version. Despite what some "gamers" out there might say, neither I nor anyone else should have to spend hours on end trying to learn and perfect some glitch in order to play the game on even ground (plus the use of said glitches has already been called cheating by paid Bungie employees).
Finally, as this will likely be the last Halo game, the game should have extra maps — whether they are original Bungie-made H3 maps, classic maps from the first two games, or fan-created maps — available for download from the Xbox 360 Marketplace or as part of a Map Pack disc (or both) at regular intervals in addition to whatever the game has from the outset. Whether the game starts with Halo 2's original count of 12 or its current count of 21, it will get stale playing the same stages over and over in a few years. A limited selection of stages is the biggest problem with Halo 1's otherwise superior multiplayer mode. The addition of new maps every now and then will help keep things fresh for a long time. Three new Bungie-made maps and one or two player-made maps once every 6 months sounds good, though if you can release more maps more frequently, then by all means do so. This is of course in addition to my suggestion of releasing several "Classic Map packs." Such support should last at least until the end of the Xbox 360's life cycle (early 2010s), or until the off chance that some other game in the Halo universe gets created. By that time, I hope to see 40+ multiplayer maps, both new and classic, and possibly also fan-made. Like I said, this game needs to be big and should have tremendous replay value even greater than the first two games.
4. New Covenant Species & Other Baddies
Now that the Elites, Grunts, and Hunters have apparently made an alliance with the humans, we are left with only the Brutes, Jackals, and Drones as the only regular Covenant enemies to fight. Since this is half of the number of enemy Covenant in Halo 2 and one less than in Halo 1, I think it would be a good idea to create a couple of new Covenant for Halo 3. Perhaps the Drinol beast, which never made the final cut of Halo 2, could be introduced into Halo 3 as the Prophet faction's answer to the Hunters. Or how about introducing that "Sharquoi" we've heard about? Also, a new generic foot soldier should be made as well. The Jackals and Drones are rather specialized enemies, and thus don't serve as a fully suitable replacement for the Grunts. Finally, there should also be a new enemy that is equipped with a shield like that of the Elites. Otherwise, plasma weapons would have greatly diminished importance in Campaign. Also, if at all possible, try to fit the Engineers into the game. They may be non-combatants, but it'd still be nice to see them. As for non-Covenant enemies, the Flood Juggernaut that never made it into Halo 2 seems like it'd be a nice addition. Finally, it seems likely that the Forerunners left some sort of defense mechanisms in that facility shown in the E3 trailer. I'd like to see something new here, such as older but more advanced types of Sentinels and Enforcers.
An expanded roster of enemies would be greatly welcome since we might not get to fight Elites, Grunts, and Hunters in Halo 3. Then again, there's no telling how far the UNSC-Elite alliance extends. After all, you and the Marines still had to fight the Elite faction on High Charity even after the Covenant civil war began. So maybe we will get to fight the Elite faction members when playing as the Chief.
As tough as the enemy was in Halo 1, their AI was not particularly sophisticated. It was smarter than those in many previous FPSs, to be sure, but it was still not that bright. And of course, the friendly AI had a reputation for being rather stupid and unhelpful. In Halo 2, the AI was supposed to have been more advanced. Marines flipping tables for cover, Covenant troops taking cover when one of them gets sniped, Jackals walking in formation, and so forth. While the Marines' AI seems to make them a bit more useful this time around, they're still rather incompetent in combat. Same for your Covenant allies whenever playing as the Arbiter. Falling victim to friendly fire is still a rather common occurrence. When playing against the Covenant, they still use the same tactics as before, mainly just running at you and shooting you, though they were more aggressive in Heroic and especially Legendary. Also, while it was great that you could have an ally drive a vehicle for you, their driving skills definitely leave something to be desired. They never drive as effectively as the enemy; they often drive slowly, get stuck on obstacles, and whatnot. There were a couple of aspects of the AI that were pretty neat, though, such as when Elites climb up on things like boxes to try to gain the high ground. Also, there was one occasion when an Elite flipped a Warthog over onto its side, obviously in an attempt to keep me from using it. I thought that was a nice touch. Overall, though, there isn't much difference in AI between the two games.
I'd also like to point out that the AI in Halo 2 sometimes felt, well, glitchy. For example, enemies would every now and then get stuck continuously running into walls or corners, or would act as though they forgot that they were engaged in combat, and sometimes even ignore the player.
In Halo 3, the more advanced Xbox 360 will likely make more advanced AI possible. The enemy forces should be able to form tactics, strategize, fight in formation, etc. For example, an escaping Drone or Jackal could run away to alert a Brute, who would bring in reinforcements. Also, we could have a squad of Jackals lined up in formation while a Shadow stationed behind them provides covering fire, just like in the E3 2003 trailer. Enemies should notice dead bodies and react appropriately. Allies should be better at what they do as well. The ODSTs in particular should be made at least somewhat smarter and tougher than regular Marines. In fact, I think it'd be cool to have something to where you can give basic orders to your allies — move out, retreat, provide cover fire, form up, etc. — by using the D-pad (then again, this could turn H3 into just another squad-based shooter, so maybe that's not really a good idea). Finally, allies should also have greatly improved driving skills.
Whatever the end result will end up being, I really hope I will feel like I'm actually fighting an intelligent enemy that won't just simply outgun me, but can outwit me as well, and that I have allies that have some common sense in battle.
6. Graphics & Special Effects
We've all seen the trailer for Halo 3, which uses the actual in-game graphics engine. What was shown was quite impressive. Thanks to the power of the Xbox 360, the graphics were far more detailed and had higher-resolution that what was seen in the first two Halos, and the draw distance and size of the objects was impressive as well. We were treated to a huge Forerunner facility that was 3 miles in diameter, and the draw distances were stated to be upwards of 14 miles or so. This is far larger than anything in Halo 1 or 2. Furthermore, this allows for backgrounds that are actual stage geometry rather than static 2-D painted backgrounds. In other 360 games, I was surprised to find that what looked like a static background in the distance was actual stage geometry that you could get up close with. Such games were also highly detailed on smaller scales, with more realistic looking people, plants, buildings, vehicles, mountains, and other things. Colors seem more vivid as well. I've also seen some pretty badass looking flame and spark effects in several 360 games. It'd be cool to see a Covenant vehicle erupt into orange flames and blue plasma mixed together when they get destroyed. I also like the more realistic lighting effects made possible by the 360. It's been stated that Halo 3 will be using HDR lighting, self-shadowing, and other effects such as real-time reflections on the Chief's visor. Finally, I'm glad we won't have to deal with the on-the-fly rendering that marred Halo 2's otherwise excellent graphics. We all know what the 360 is capable of, and we know what you guys are capable of, so we all know that Halo 3 will end up being one of the best, if not the best, Xbox 360 titles ever in terms of graphics, and the E3 trailer seems to confirm that expectation.
However, there are a couple of little details I need to mention. For example, there were some awesome spark effects in Halo 1 whenever a wall or other non-living object was shot, especially those created by the plasma scoring left by Covenant weapons. The plasma pistol's charged shot in particular left a large, bright scorch mark that spewed a shower of sparks and debris. It even resulted in spray of sparks if it struck an enemy, which looked quite painful for the victim. Shots from a fuel rod cannon would similarly leave a trail of green sparks in their wake. Sparks would even fly from vehicles that ground up against a wall or other surface. In Halo 2, however, there are hardly any sparks from gun blasts & vehicles collisions, and hits from plasma weapons look more like a glowing bug splattered on the wall rather than the result of a hot, energetic plasma bolt. Plasma attacks in general also seem rather weak and tenuous, instead of looking like searing, electrically charged gas like they did in Halo 1. Even bullet holes are hardly noticeable whenever a surface is shot. Certain small objects (e.g. ammo packs) also lacked a lot of the detail they had in Halo 1. Also, large explosions don't cause the screen to shake as much, which makes them seem less potent. Given the power of the 360, I honestly hope these details missing in Halo 2 make in into Halo 3. Other weapons-related graphical details include the appearance of the energy sword and the explosion from a cluster of needler rounds. The sword should look more like its made out of hot plasma rather than the glowing, crystalline appearance it currently has. The needle explosions should look more like the damaging explosion in Halo 1 rather than the weaker-looking glassy burst seen in Halo 2. Remember, every little detail counts and adds to the overall depth of the game.
As far as other graphical effects that could be in the game and that weren't in the other games, I don't have much in the way of suggestions. Perhaps there could be a heat shimmer/mirage effect on desert stages or other places you'd find a really hot surface. Clouds of smoke or dust that obscure vision would be nice, too. Small light sources should cast more realistic glows. Also, shooting out lights should properly affect the level of light in the room, causing AI to react appropriately. Dust and debris should be thrown around more realistically by vehicles, explosions, and bullet impacts. Water and water-related effects should look more realistic as well. And of course, the core gameplay-related graphics — explosions, weapons effects, blood sprays, etc. — should all look more detailed & realistic as well.
7. Physics & Interactive Environments
Halo 2 had far more interactive environments than the first game thanks to the new physics engine. While the only things you could interact with in Halo 1 were enemies, allies, vehicles, glass windows, and stray weapons, in Halo 2 you could interact with practically anything that wasn't bolted down. It was even possible to use loose objects offensively, since it was possible to get a "splatter" award for an object hurled into someone by an explosion. There were even some parts of the environment that were destructible, but these were uncommon and really never factored into gameplay that much.
Halo 3 should expand further on the interactivity found in Halo 2. Not only should you be able to interact with any loose object — crates, vehicles, equipment, fusion cores, etc. —, the stages as a whole should give the feeling of being in an actual, living environment. Environments should have a higher degree of destructibility, perhaps to the degree of figuring into gameplay rather than simply being for cosmetic purposes. (Not that I'm arguing for totally destructible environments like in the game BLACK, but they should be somewhat more destructible than they were in Halo 2.) Ice patches should be introduced into gameplay again if snow/arctic stages are planned. Lights should be able to get shot out, affecting the light level in a room. IIRC, this was supposed to have been in Halo 2. Even glass from shattering windows should fall more realistically.
Finally, the ragdoll death animations should be even more varied and realistic looking. Furthermore, enemies should recoil more realistically whenever they get shot or otherwise injured, and should be thrown through the air by explosions in a more realistic fashion, and Flood gibs should be more varied and realistic as well. In Halo 2, the initial parts of the death animations were still rather limited, though the ragdoll physics made up for it by giving added realism. Also, there was a glitch of sorts with the death animations in Halo 2 that should be fixed. Dead bodies commonly clipped stage geometry in such a way that caused them to flop around like a fish or reappear on the ledge they just tumbled over, sometimes several times over. Other than that, I really liked Halo 2's death animations, and I hope we get newer and improved ragdoll death animations again in Halo 3. Related to the death animations are the vehicle destruction animations. Vehicles should suffer damage and blow apart in more realistic and varied ways, with more persistent shrapnel and debris. They should also flip, crash, and fly through the air with more realistical physics. Even plants should blow around realitically in windy environments, or when a fast-moving vehicle passes them, or when they are subject to the blast effects of an explosion.
8. Dynamic Weather
Related to the issue of interactive environments is the weather conditions found in the stages. Something that was strangely absent in both Halo games was any form of weather than could affect gameplay. We had light snowfall (Two Betrayals and Lockout), light rain (343 Guilty Spark and The Great Journey), and fog (343GS and Backwash), with the fog being the only example of adverse conditions. Heavy rain, wind, thunder & lightning (with appropriate light sourcing), heavy snow, thick fog, and so forth should play a larger role in Halo 3, and should affect gameplay by affecting visibility, interfering with vehicle maneuverability, and so forth, as well as making the game more atmospheric (no pun intended). Furthermore, weather conditions should also transition during gameplay. For example, it could start pouring down rain in the middle of an outdoor portion of a stage.
This should also factor into Multiplayer gameplay. Certain outdoor stages should either have adverse weather conditions as a default, or give the player the option to change the weather conditions. Time of day should also be variable/adjustable. This would greatly add to the degree of variation to be found in the game.
9. Music & Sound Effects
The music. What can I say? Marty O'Donnell did an incredible job with the music in Halo 1, and he surpassed himself with Halo 2's outstanding award-worthy score. I've seen the announce trailer for Halo 3 and heard its music, and it looks like Marty's poised to outdo himself yet again, which is a feat unto itself. The piece he composed for the trailer was nothing short of perfect. I can't wait until the day that I can hear H3's complete score, and I will definitely be getting the soundtrack when it is released.
As for the sound effects, that's a different matter entirely. While certain things, like the drowned out sound effects in the parts of Cairo Station that took place in the vacuum of space, sounded pretty damn cool, other things could've sounded better. I think they could use a little improvement over what was heard in Halo 2. The weapons in particular sounded toned down compared to the loud, often vicious sounds they had in Halo 1. The shotgun now sounds all muffled and metallic. The explosion that results from filling an enemy with Needler rounds now sounds like a light bulb falling on the floor, as compared to the violent crashing sound heard in Halo 1. The plasma rifle has a high-pitched, "laser-y" sound to it, while the lower-pitched sound it had in Halo 1 sounded far more intimidating. The frag grenades sound like they're made of plastic rather than metal whenever they bounce off of something. Even the explosions from grenades sound quiet and muffled. As for new weapons, the Carbine could have sounded better as well. I think a deeper sound would work better. Even the vehicles sounded differently. The Warthog sounds higher-pitched, the Ghost sounds less like an alien hovercraft, and the Banshee has lost the loud howling sound that gave it its name. Also, whenever a Flood Carrier Form explodes, they now make a wet, squishy sound rather than the loud pop heard in Halo 1. There are a couple of exceptions, though. The plasma pistol and sniper rifle sound almost just like they did in Halo 1, and the Battle Rifle sounds pretty cool. I also like the sounds the vehicles make whey they crash into things or when the player melees objects or parts of the environment.
While it may not be integral to gameplay, improving the sound effects would definitely improve the overall quality and auditory atmosphere of the game, which in Halo 2 was still great but could have been better.
10. Putting the Game on Multiple Disks
Like I said, this game should be BIG. The Campaign should have more stages than the other Halo games, and each individual stage should be much, much bigger in physical size. There should be a large selection of Multiplayer maps as well. In the off chance that things prove to be too big to be put on one disc, then put it on two: One for Campaign, the other for Multiplayer. Don't scrimp on anything just to get the entire game on one disc.
11. Gamer Achievements
Another detail lacking in Halo 2 was the little icons in the Campaign stage select screen that indicated which stage you completed and on what difficulty. Beating the game on a given difficulty level doesn't give you anything to show for it. For example, not having the alien skull icon means you have no way of proving it when you tell someone "I beat Halo 2 on Legendary" or just having it there for your own personal satisfaction.
Related to this is the player's Xbox 360 Gamer Score. Some achievements are obvious, such as awarding larger amounts of points for beating Campaign on tougher difficulties. Also, points could be awarded for achievements in Multiplayer such as accumulating a certain number of wins, kills in Slayer, medals (sniper kills, plasma sticks, double kills, etc.), headshot kills, and so on. The multiplayer achievements should only be able to be unlocked in Matchmaking, since people could simply play system link or split screen matches or custom games on Live to get them the easy way. I don't have much in the way of suggestions as to how many points should go towards one's gamer score for a given achievement, but they should be close to what is seen in other games. For example, you could award 300 points for beating Legendary, 15 points for accumulating 100 of the easier-to-get medals such as beatdowns or sniper kills, or 30 points for getting 1000 of them or for getting one of the extremely difficult medals such as a Killamanjaro or Overkill.
12. TAKE YOUR TIME!
One of the main reasons we were given as to why so many things — new vehicles, new enemies, certain new gameplay features, and various other things — never made it into the final version in Halo 2 is that there simply wasn't enough time. While we were told, "It'll be done when it's done," I wouldn't doubt it if there was pressure from higher-ups in Microsoft to get the game out by the 2004 holiday season, and you didn't get the time you needed to finish the game. Otherwise, the game would've been better than it already is, rather than the seemingly unfinished product we were given. Whatever the case may be, I know that you guys can make damn good games given the right amount of time. If it had come out in Q1 of 2005 after a couple more months of work, I believe that the final version of Halo 2 very well could have been just as good as Halo 1.
That's why you really, REALLY need to take your time with Halo 3. "2007" is a pretty non-specific release date. This gives you guys anywhere from about half a year to about a year and a half to bring us the final version of Halo 3. That's plenty of time to make sure that everything you plan on putting into the game actually ends up in the final product. Don't leave anything out. If a weapon is imbalanced, tinker with it until it's balanced. If a vehicle is hard to control or flips too much, work on it until it handles well enough to be added to the game. If everything is done satisfactorily early enough for a Q1 2007 release, then great. However, if you can't get it done the way it needs to be until near the end of next year, that's fine too. I don't mind waiting until December of next year so long as I get the complete version the way it was intended. Better that than getting another game where, when we finally get the game in our hands, it turns out that numerous features we though that were going to be in the game end up being left on the cutting room floor with little to no advance warning and the excuse, legitimate as it may or may not be, that "We ran out of time." Don't let the Microsoft higher-ups push you into releasing the game before you're finished, either. You've got them by the balls. Halo sells Xbox consoles. Without you guys, Microsoft's foray into console gaming would most likely have been a disaster. They owe you. I know you can make a good game. I and many others like me just want you to take your time so we can get the best possible quality of work from a great video game company.
I've been a fan of the first Halo since it came out in 2001. I've spent countless hours playing it on Campaign and in Multiplayer. It was a total blast being able to play via system link, and it was the first time I had experienced something like that on a console, having only played Quake on a LAN several years before. When I first heard about Halo 2 back when it was announced in August of 2002, I was ecstatic, as were countless other gamers. Then the E3 2003 demo simply upped our anticipation. When the official release date was finally announced, I was quick to reserve my copy, putting down the extra $10 for the Special Edition (nice "Making Of" documentaries, BTW). Like hundreds of thousands of others, I sat in the freezing cold on the night of November 8, 2004, waiting in line to get my hands on the copy that I had pre-ordered.
Now that over a year and a half has passed since its release, I have mixed feelings about the game, as you can plainly see from the above critique. Like I've said, there are just so many things that changed, most of them not for the better. However, this doesn't mean it's a bad game. Not by a long shot. Halo 2 is a damn good game, to be sure, and there were a lot of things I liked about it, most of which I mentioned near the beginning of this letter. It's just that I and many other Halo fans feel that the bad changes outweigh the good. For many of us, Halo 2 will not have same replay value and staying power of the original. While I still play Halo 1 all the time to this day, I have doubts as to whether I'll be picking up Halo 2 on a regular basis 3 or 4 years from now except maybe to play Campaign every once and a while, and I'm pretty sure there are many others who feel the same.
Like other Halo fans, I am simply comparing it to the first Halo. Neither game is perfect (no game is), but many of us, including myself, a lot of my friends, many people in the online fan community, and even a lot of complete strangers I've talked to regard the first one to be the better of the two games. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give Halo: Combat Evolved a 9.5, while I give Halo 2 a 7 or an 8. However, this is saying a lot coming from me, considering that I would give most games that come out these days less than a 5. Like you guys, I am part of the jaded crowd. I've been playing video games for over 20 years, and with each successive generation of consoles, I find that the number of great games continues to dwindle, and that style and trendiness has become more important than substance and quality gameplay. I believe that what defines a good game can be asked by the question "Is it fun to play?" Does it combine outstanding gameplay, excellent replay value, reasonable difficulty, and, depending on genre, excellent graphics, sound, characters, and story? And that's all that matters. Not what platform it is on, not how popular it is, not whether it is original or not, but simply whether or not it is fun to play. If it isn't fun, then it isn't worth playing. Of course, what constitutes "fun" is subjective. I just don't find as many newer games to be as fun as I did back in the late 80's and early 90's. There have been a few standout titles over the last few years, though, the Halo games being among them. However, these are becoming fewer and farther between. When it comes to video games, with each passing year I become more and more convinced of the truth of Sturgeon's Revelation that "90% of everything is crap."
The purpose of this letter, as well as the various other critiques of Halo 2, is to make sure that you guys never fall into that 90%, or even into the lower parts of the good 10%. Not that I find this likely, but I do have my worries. There is after all a very good reason why this letter is mostly a critique of Halo 2. I feel that it is my duty to speak up on the changes that I feel have detrimentally affected the game, as I'm concerned that these changes might become part of a trend, albeit a short one, as Halo 3 will likely be the last in the series. As Daniel Barbour said "Is it not in the best interests of the immediate community to question these things? To provide honest feedback in the hopes of holding the game's creator's to a higher standard? We would like to think this is our responsibility as players and, in a more general sense, as consumers." They may be "just games," but they're something we enjoy a lot in our spare time and have spent our hard-earned money on.
The release of Halo 3 will be a crucial juncture in the history of Bungie. Depending on how it turns out, it may end up alienating a substantial portion of the Halo fan community. Halo 1 was widely considered to be a game geared towards a more hardcore audience of gamers. It did very well with them, but it also found a place as a mainstream hit, selling millions of copies. Rightfully so, I'd have to say, given how great of a game it was. Halo 2 already had the success of the first game and the huge hype surrounding its release behind it, and we all knew it was likely to be a huge seller as well, and it was. However, I often get the feeling that the hardcore Halo players were, whether intentionally or not, overlooked in favor of a more general audience this time around, all while thinking that the former would have no problems with the changes made to the gameplay. Whether this is the case or not, I don't know. I'm not going to pretend to know your motivations. What I do know is that a lot of people who were devoted Combat Evolved fans were put off by the sequel. Personally, I'd be completely flabbergasted to find out that the changes made to the game were intentionally implemented to appeal to wider audience. Such changes would have been unnecessary to get the game to sell. Halo 2 could have had the same basic engine as Halo 1 with just a few minor changes, such as a couple of tweaks to the physics (i.e. more interactive environments), improved graphics, and a few extras (new enemies, vehicles, & weapons), and it still would've sold millions of copies. People were going to buy it regardless.
Halo 3 is "make or break" time for you guys, at least with regards to the more devoted members of the fan base, many if not most of whom like Halo 1's gameplay more than Halo 2's. I've already heard from quite a few players that they have reservations about getting Halo 3 on launch day, and that they may rent it or play it at a friend's house first. Some have even gone so far as saying that they won't buy it at all if the gameplay is like Halo 2's. (Personally, I want to get the game just to play Campaign and see how the story plays out.) There's no doubt that the game will be a huge blockbuster, and this places Bungie in an interesting position. You still have the opportunity to make a game that will appeal to the hardcore Halo fans that have been your most loyal fans since day one and still manage to sell millions of copies among the general public. So, will you make Halo 3 the game that most of your base wants, or will you have a game that, whether intentionally or not, is designed for the lowest common denominator of gamers? Halo 1 did well with the latter despite not being tailored especially for them, and so can Halo 3. I know you guys can make an awesome game that will satisfy everyone, from the hardcore Bungie and Halo fans who prefer Halo 1's gameplay to the casual gamers who will buy the game regardless of how it plays simply because it's a Halo game.
Well, there you have it. All my thoughts on the Halo games, both the good and the bad, and my suggestions and prospects for Halo 3. It took me several months working on and off to finish this letter, and I've made several revisions and additions to account for the announcement of Halo 3 and some recent Halo 2 playlist changes. I had originally intended it to be only a few pages rather than the sprawling monstrosity it is now. The fact that I was able to write so much is a testament not only to how deep the game is despite its flaws, but also to how devoted I am to the Halo series. I wouldn't have written this if I didn't care. I know a lot of people out there will disagree with my points in this letter, and I'll deal with their opinions as they come, time allowing. I would also like to apologize if any of the above segment came across as hyperbolic or presumptuous. That was not my intent. I hope you take this and the various other critiques out there to heart, and I'll be looking forward to seeing what you'll have in store for us once Halo 3 comes out next year. Give us a game we'll be proud of. Good luck, and thanks for bringing us the Halo series. Even with its flaws, I believe it will stand the test of time and, like Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy, and other series before it, it will be regarded as a classic that gave us many fond memories, and the Chief will undoubtedly be regarded as one of the all-time greatest video game characters.
Concerned and devoted Halo fan
(Originally posted here - mirrored for bandwidth relief)