Halo 4 Balances New Enemies, New Weapons and New Ways to Play

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bill-swift - September 25, 2012

In Halo 4 the franchise is attempting to strike a balance of what fans have come to know love and respect about the veteran franchise and giving us a whole lot of new stuff that will set up the franchise for years to come. In our early look at the main story mode for Halo 4, your itchy trigger finger will be comfortable early on but there will be a lot to learn before you'll be any good at this one.

The decision to have the game begin aboard the Forward Unto Dawn, where we left off with Master Chief demanding that Cortana wake him if she needed him, is all for a good reason. Fighting the Covenant aboard the Forward Unto Dawn feels familiar and there's good reason for that. Your combat skills will need to be updated because even the Covenant are tougher to deal with early on in Halo 4. The Elites, Grunts and Jackals have sort of upgraded their tactics and weapon selection is still key to ripping them apart, but your UNSC weapons have been remixed. The Assault Rifle on Heroic difficulty was way more useful and seemingly powerful than before. What is fresh is the use of lighting and visual detail aboard the Forward Unto Dawn (and outside, you'll see). It looks like a "new" Halo game that's about to show you something different.

Our earlier suspicion that there's going to be a major twist in Halo 4 that nobody is going to see coming is still intact. The introduction of the Prometheans happens early enough in the game that there is still plenty of time left for things to go crazy. Essentially Cortana wakes up Master Chief because the Covenant have boarded the derelict Forward Unto Dawn. They've done so because there's something happening on the Forerunner world of Requiem that's attracted the attention of the Covenant and they thought you and UNSC were behind it. Landing on Requiem to discover that the Prometheans are responsible (and ultimately it IS Master Chief's fault) is what kicks things off.

(BTW, we didn't see this during our playthrough of Halo 4 but putting two and two together we've figured out that the Spartan Ops timeline is roughly during the early part of Halo 4. Chief and Cortana see the Infinity crash at some point during the game yet we know Infinity is up and flying just fine as its crew hands out missions to your squad during the episodes of Spartan Ops. I'm guessing somebody somewhere mistakes the Forward  Unto Dawn for the Infinity and makes both of them suckers crash on Requiem because that somebody is looking for Master Chief. </spoiler speculation>)

The Prometheans represent an entirely different challenge in combat. It's the kind of freshness that will really force you to re-learn how to shoot enemies in Halo 4. The Crawlers, Knights and Watchers have abilities and work together in ways that are an evolution for first person shooters. Knights can teleport; hovering Watchers can resurrect and build force fields around Knights and spawn Crawlers. Crawlers are easy to kill but roam in packs and crawl on walls and ceilings. Those powers are big trouble to be sure but it's the fact that each of those Promethean enemies has a way of moving around in the environment that we've never seen before and that they coordinate their moves with each other that'll test your skills.

Knights like to jump super high (as high as Watcher fly) to close distance and swipe at you with blades. Watchers present an easy airborne target until you put a few blasts on them when they suddenly fold to a much flatter profile and move quickly behind cover and away just out of range of your weapons it seems. Like Knights, Crawlers have a tendency to flank and end up behind you because they can crawl on any surface with a quickness. They really are more dangerous in a pack of six or seven, attacking from all angles.

So with all of those movement styles and special abilities accounted for, how are you supposed to deal with a Promethean squad in a tight space? Taking out the Watcher so he can't resurrect or throw a force field around a Knight will keep you looking up and not at the battlefield where Crawlers are swarming. Taking down a Knight can be tough if you don't have grenades or power weapons to do it quickly. They'll teleport away on their own and a Watcher will keep them protected with shields or resurrection. Cleaning up all of the Crawlers so you can focus on the tougher Knight-Watcher combo will allow that Knight or that Watcher to just unload on you with devastating attacks that knock off big chunks of your shields or health. And we've only barely touched on the type of weapons you happen to be carrying. Shotguns or ranged weapons will all have to be used appropriately and even then you'll have to hope it's enough. And I haven't even touched on the fact that there are different kinds of Promethean Knights, similar to how Covenant Elites came in different flavors. I'm sure there are technical names for them but the one with the big ass gun or the super tough armor are sure to make you curse.

Not that it's impossible to take out a Promethean squad, but it will take a quite a bit of strategy, work and skill. Essentially you have to do everything at once and do it well enough that you're operating efficiently. Prometheans excel at getting you to waste your ammo.

I've always been a fan of using Covenant weapons against Covenant enemies and the same applies to Prometheans. Even if it doesn't do extra damage, using a bolt pistol or light rifle on a Promethean adds a dose of humiliation that seems worth it. The long range light rifle feels more satisfying than either the human or Covenant sniper/long range rifles , at least when you're picking off Crawlers from ledges and walls at a distance. Got to keep those suckers off of you. The bolt pistol feels better than any recent iteration of the UNSC pistol or even the Brute weapons from Halo 3. The power it packs over range makes it feel way more reliable than any other pistol I've used so far and it drops Crawlers with ease. The Promethean Scattershot is one of the most discussed weapons so far in Halo 4's pre-launch life, but it just doesn't do enough for me yet. It's "splash" effect seems too dispersed where not enough killing power is going into the enemy to help anything. Maybe it's not the kind of shotgun that you can take into a point blank slugfest against a Promethean Knight, but if it isn't then I need a new shotgun because I don't plan on spending any amount time running away from a Knight or any other Promethean. In the face with buckshot has always been my approach in Halo games when I get the chance.

Overall, the introduction of Prometheans seems like the kind of update to the Halo experience that we will need in Halo 4. We only got a sliver of the three way battle where Chief faces Covenant and Prometheans at the same time. I expect this dynamic to become more important once we get deeper into the game and get more powerful versions of each type of enemy. A Hunter versus a Knight would be entertaining unless and until they turn their attention on you.