Saturday, December 4, 2021

How Halo Infinite’s Equipment Reshapes Its Golden Triangle

Six long years after Halo 5: Guardians, Halo Infinite is ready to pick up the mantle of Xbox’s flagship franchise. This time, the man in green gets an open-world playground of his own, Zeta Halo. And with a new playground comes new tools to even the odds against the Banished.

What isn’t new is equipment that can be carried and deployed to change the momentum of any game. Equipment was first introduced in Halo 3, and is now a vital part of Halo’s ecosystem.

Why is equipment a big deal? Equipment disrupts Halo’s golden triangle of damage dealing: melee, grenades, and guns. The golden triangle lies at the heart of every Halo game, though the term grew in popularity after being mentioned in a Halo 3 documentary. And while Halo’s approach to health and movement is unique too, the golden triangle is what’s responsible for the skill-based combat that Halo is most known for. Halo Infinite even mentions it by name across hints dropped during multiplayer matches.

Through the last 14 years, equipment meddled with Halo’s golden triangle in both good and bad ways, and nothing Halo devs have introduced since has made such a long-lasting impression. Before we take a look at how Halo Infinite implements it, let's dive into the checkered evolution of equipment through Halo’s formative years to today, where it’s become a staple of gameplay in Halo Infinite.

Although equipment didn’t enter the picture until Halo 3, Halo: Combat Evolved brought a lot to the first-person shooter buffet back in 2001. Bungie’s history with the Marathon franchise shaped the golden triangle and kicked off the studio's obsession with mechanics that threw a wrench into that triangle over the years. Regenerating health, for example, drastically altered the mode of engagement by encouraging risky plays. Master Chief didn’t need to duck behind cover against plasma fire as he tore through Covenant ranks...unless you were playing on Legendary, of course.

Restricting players to carrying two weapons added a pinch of strategy to the mix, making power weapons like the Energy Sword and the Sniper Rifle even more meaningful. These weapons would temporarily sink their teeth into Halo’s golden triangle, forcing players to adapt to the change in rhythm. Bungie wasn’t afraid to experiment with its brainchild and this elevated firefights to the status of a dance to the death.

The second shuffle in Halo’s arsenal were powerups, temporary boosts on the field that could tilt the golden triangle in the wielder’s favor. Overshield beefed up your shields while Active Camo turned players near-invisible until they peppered a poor opponent with lead. Halo’s balance didn’t slip, however, as powerups could still be countered by skill or sheer determination.

Halo 2

Powerups would go on to become a mainstay in subsequent Halo titles, and the LAN party sleepovers were just getting started. But Halo 2 had other ideas when it came to polishing the golden triangle, and the big-budget sequel built on everything that made the original so compelling. Master Chief’s second adventure cranked up the heat with two big additions: Xbox Live multiplayer and dual-wielding.

Emptying a magazine into a Covenant Elite was one thing, but two magazines at once? Glorious. The uptick in versatility meant players could wield a plasma pistol and a Magnum at once, a combination lethal against both enemy shields and armor. This made for some spicy multiplayer encounters. Balance issues led to it becoming a short-lived addition to the franchise, though. Dual-wielding didn’t make it past Halo 3.

Halo 3

But the third iteration of Halo brought about the most radical disruption to the golden triangle yet: powerful single-use pieces of equipment that could be deployed at any time after they had been picked up. Both Covenant forces and Master Chief had access to tricks that gleefully complicated Halo’s refined melee-grenade-gun formula. Exhibit A: The protective bubble shield.

While the Deployable Cover and the Regenerator helped shore up defenses, other pieces of equipment let players go on the attack. The portable gravity lift and shield-depleting Power drain allowed Spartans to rewrite the rules of engagement. Battles could be won before the first shot, a change that sent the golden triangle spinning. Even vehicles like the Warthog weren’t safe from equipment like the Trip Mine.

But the additions divided fans and critics. Some believed Halo had completely lost sight of the golden triangle and was becoming the videogame equivalent of a buffet. Others argued the new equipment brought some welcome spectacle to the sport’s steadfast ruleset. Regardless of where you sat, Bungie knew it wasn’t perfect. The vision-blinding Flare, for example, was deemed unbalanced shortly after launch and met a quick end.

Halo 3: ODST

A year later, players could no longer wield one-time-use equipment in Halo 3: ODST, the spinoff that ditched Master Chief for a band of ODST marines. Players now had a limited health pool and a detective scan that tracked beacons across the game’s semi-open world. Finding a beacon put the player in the shoes of one of five squadmates, defining ODST’s non-linear narrative. Halo Infinite adopts this scan as well but seems to use it solely for useful collectibles.

Even if you couldn’t use equipment in the campaign, it still remained a national pastime of the Brutes, one of Halo’s many deadly foes. Equipment was fair game in multiplayer though as ODST borrowed its multiplayer chops from Halo 3. The golden triangle’s uneasy relationship with Halo 3’s equipment would only deepen with game studio Bungie’s last hurrah, Halo: Reach.

Halo Reach

Halo Reach attracted controversy once again through the introduction of reusable Armor Abilities. Instead of equipment, players could obtain armor abilities from enemies in Campaign missions. While many considered the addition of Sprint heresy, other abilities came under fire too. Multiplayer matches let Spartans pick loadouts with a Jet Pack or an Armor Lock, and the latter was even more notorious than Sprint.

Armor Lock turned players invulnerable at the cost of freezing to the spot. While it did take a moment to work, a Spartan could now make a mockery of power weapons and vehicles. When single-use pieces of equipment disrupted the golden triangle in Halo 3, it did so temporarily to inject unpredictability into firefights. But Halo Reach’s reusable Armor Abilities, despite being restrained by timers, disturbed the positive aspects of the golden triangle that Halo fans had come to respect. After Bungie’s exit, 343 Industries ended up stirring the equipment pot once more.

Halo 4

When 343 Industries took up the helm of Halo 4, fans were surprised they didn’t play it safe. Sprint was now available to every Spartan and Armor abilities returned for round 2. Fortunately, the more divisive abilities like Armor Lock were sent off into the sunset. Unfortunately, Armor Abilities weren’t the only things that made Halo’s golden triangle do a cartwheel this time around.

While abilities like Promethean Vision and Hardlight Shield didn’t break the system, armor mods and support upgrades pushed Halo dangerously close to its modern shooter rivals. Passive armor mods like quicker shield recharges could dictate the outcome of firefights. Faster reloads and stronger grenades were support upgrades that fractured Halo’s earlier emphasis on giving players an even footing. While Bungie’s implementation of equipment wasn’t perfect in Halo 3, it rewarded any skilled player. In Halo 4, players could level up and tinker with custom loadouts to drop in with more powerful gear.

Fans went from skeptical to downright frustrated by these changes, clamoring for a return to Halo’s skill-based combat. And 343 Industries listened. Halo 5 would do things differently. Very differently.

Halo 5

Lackluster campaign aside, Halo 5: Guardians doubled down on the golden triangle fans adored. Armor mods and support upgrades were gone for good. But that’s not to say that 343 Industries didn’t try putting its own spin on Halo once again. Equipment remained absent, and Spartan abilities changed form to now be available to all Spartans. Being able to clamber on edges and slide into firefights felt like a natural evolution of the franchise’s sci-fi heritage.

Halo 5 tried adding more options to Halo’s toolset, with mixed results. 343 wanted to make the triangle more of a square with the addition of another pillar: movement. In Halo 5, players could dash in any direction, letting them drop in and out of encounters. Unfortunately, this served as a “get out of jail” card against well-aimed grenades and rockets.

In addition to dashing, being able to aim down the sights of any weapon or use thrusters to stabilize a fall felt like an attempt to woo modern shooter fans. And at a time when Call of Duty and Titanfall both had their boots off the ground, it looked like 343 Industries wanted a slice of the action without sacrificing its fundamentals.

Abilities like a Ground Pound from above or sprinting into a Spartan Charge were departures from previous titles but didn’t significantly alter Halo’s refined golden triangle. Despite that, fans still heaved a collective sigh of relief when 343 went back to the drawing board for its next title, Halo Infinite.

Halo Infinite

Two decades after it first debuted, Halo remains a cultural juggernaut in the hotly contested FPS space. Halo 5: Guardians may have suffered some setbacks due to its mediocre campaign and lootbox-heavy Warzone mode but its Arena multiplayer remains great to this day. Halo Infinite captures the sense of wonder of Bungie’s earlier titles while catering to the ever-shifting landscape of shooting games.

While 343 Industries abandons some core elements of Halo 4 and 5, the move is ultimately a win for both veterans and newcomers. The golden triangle returns in all its glory, coupled with the homecoming of an old friend: Equipment. What changed, you ask? The objective did.

This time, 343 Industries wanted to put its spin on Halo without drifting away from its core pillars. The equipment that shows up in Halo Infinite is balanced and toned down compared to its predecessors. A potent feature that was once left unchecked is now integrated into the Halo experience.

Powerups can be picked up and deployed at will in Halo Infinite, just like equipment. Halo 5’s dash has been reduced to a piece of equipment with a limited number of uses. Clamber and slide have fortunately made it into Infinite intact. In addition to modified versions of favorites like the Drop Wall, Halo Infinite offers new tools that maintain Halo’s focus on tight gunplay. The Grappleshot and Repulsor fit right at home in the open-world sandbox.

They add a dimension of verticality that was missing from Halo without entirely taking Spartan boots off the ground. These tools encourage players to make use of their environment to gain an edge against rival Spartans. Grappling towards a flying vehicle or pushing a Spartan out of the map with the Repulsor are little wins earned by skill alone. Equipment changes the ebb and flow of firefights just as they did in Halo 3. But clever design coupled with limited uses means they fill a similar role as power weapons. 343 turns the classic melee-grenade-gun golden triangle... into a pyramid.

Halo Infinite’s campaign also features equipment upgrades, letting you shock Banished forces as you zip towards them with your Grappleshot for instance. Despite these additions, the golden triangle is alive and kicking, decades after the franchise found its stride. Master Chief’s brand-new tech promises even more ways to outwit the Banished and we can’t wait to step into his heavy boots once more.

Antony Terence writes about everything from video games to tech and fiction. Yes, that includes to-do lists. Find his work on Medium, Twitter, and Instagram.


No comments:

Post a Comment