Although Bungie has made no secret of the fact that Halo: Reach will be its last game in the series, the developer has assured fans that it will support the popular shooter well after release. Fans already saw that promise at work a few weeks ago with a significant update to Reach's online matchmaking playlists, and in a few more weeks Bungie will continue the trend with brand-new multiplayer maps. Dubbed the Noble Map Pack, this downloadable content will offer you three new locales in which to shoot, stab, or explode anyone that looks at you the wrong way. We took a trip to Bungie's offices last week to see what's in store.
The smallest of the bunch, Anchor 9 is a symmetrical map designed for matches of four versus four. It's set in an orbital docking facility high above Reach, with an impressive view of the planet outside the main docking bay. Anchor 9's layout makes the map best suited for Slayer matches, though its symmetrical nature allows it to work well with Multi-CTF as well. This is the sort of map where you're never far from a scuffle, and you're frequently able to "pick up the scraps" so to speak by walking into two players going at it and disposing of one or both of them pretty easily. There are ways to escape conflict when your shields are down, though, because there are a number of stairways leading to platforms above the main floor. But overall, this map's modest scale makes it dense with conflict, so you'll definitely need to brush up on your twitch-based reflexes before jumping into it.
One of Anchor 9's interesting features is the aforementioned docking bay, a sort of massive window looking out into the deep expanse of space. An energy shield separates the main indoor area from some platforms on the outside of the docking facility. When you're outside, you're in an (almost) zero-gravity environment, making it easy to leap up to higher platforms, though it's also equally easy to accidentally leap out into space for an embarrassing suicide. Among our favorite moments playing in Anchor 9 was getting into a fight with an opponent who had a jetpack equipped when we didn't. He rocketed upward to flee for safety once his shield had been drained, and we simply jumped, lifted high up by the lack of gravity, and melee attacked him from behind for the kill.
Headhunter on a sloped map like Tempest can lead to some new strategies.
Tempest is an outdoor wilderness map dominated by Forerunner architecture, both in the far distance and on the map itself. The center of the map is one big hill with a beach on one side and a waterfall feeding into a shallow stream on the other. Directly facing one another at the top of the hill are a pair of towering Forerunner structures that serve as team bases. Tempest looks like a fairly straightforward map, but it has a few secrets tucked away, such as a cave tunnel leading from the beach to one of the bases. It's a medium-sized map that's pretty easy to get around in thanks to an abundance of man cannons and ground vehicles.
There are some quirks to the map geometry in Tempest that allow for some pretty interesting strategies. In a game of Headhunter, you can do pretty well by avoiding the action at the top of the center hill by simply letting the skulls come tumbling down to you while you wait in the safety of the shallow creek. Another tactic is to use the armor lock ability and hang out on one side of the hill, because warthogs inevitably come blindly charging up one side without any idea what awaits them over the crest. Tempest is also the one map of the bunch that's geared toward Forge players, giving you a big palette to work with and plenty of potential game modes that work well with the layout.
Breakpoint is loaded with vehicles.
This one's the biggest map of the three, a frozen collection of snowy rocks and ONI research buildings situated right next to a cavernous abyss. Fans of the Invasion game type will be thrilled with Breakpoint because it's a map designed very much with that mode in mind, though it also works well with Big Team Battle games. The entire map is essentially one big loop with claustrophobic underground pathways cutting through the middle section. In an Invasion match, Elites start on a large hill dotted with rocks for cover, move down to activate a pair of trigger points flanking a small building, and then move on to trying to bomb a pair of doors on a much larger building on the other side. Between those first and second objective points, the attacking team has a choice of going underground through the tunnels or trying to flank the Spartans by taking the big loop that runs around the entire map. It's definitely a map with a lot of options for getting around.
Fortunately, there's a huge selection of vehicles to make moving around that much easier. Among your options on the map are a Warthog, a Banshee, a Falcon, a Wraith, and a Scorpion. The effectiveness of a given vehicle tends to vary depending on the game type. In a Slayer match, Warthogs can run rampant by just driving along the circular loop and gunning down anything in sight. But in an Invasion game, getting into a Falcon is your best bet. The final stage of an Invasion game draws most of the action down to the cliff portion of the map, and all those bodies running around tend to be easy targets for a Falcon flying around up high.
The Noble Map Pack is going to be available on November 30 for 800 Microsoft points. Come back then for GameSpot's final impressions.