“Spartan Sarah Palmer, Infinity Commander to all Navy, Army, and Marine forces, you can relax. The Spartans are here.” –Sarah Palmer
After Master Chief defeats the Didact, the UNSC Infinity is deployed to Requiem again to mop up remaining Covenant and Promethean forces. This sets in motion the events that would become known as the Second Battle of Requiem. The Infinity smashes through a Covenant armada and lands on the surface to begin a land invasion. Fireteam Crimson secures a landing zone and heads off to disable Requiem’s teleportation grid, allowing the UNSC to begin deploying power stations and laboratories for science teams. Covenant forces begin hassling the science teams, and once the UNSC learn that the Sangheili Parg Vol was responsible, send Fireteam Crimson to assassinate him. By this point in time, the Covenant manage to access Requiem’s teleportation grid, and Covenant Fleet Master Jul’Mdama arrives to oversee operations. While unable to kill Jul’Mdama, the UNCS manage to acquire a Forerunner artefact known as the Didact’s Gift, which revealed that Prometheans were synthesised from human memories. Fireteam Crimson manages to shut down the teleportation grid and defends the extraction team who’ve come to retrieve the remaining scientists. After reaching a cache of UNSC equipment, Fireteam Crimson fends off the Covenant and secures the gear before being deployed for another location, but are shot down. Spartan Ops‘ first season draws to a close here, depicting the events following Halo 4‘s campaign and providing an expanded insight into the lore of Halo while simultaneously allowing players justification to continue blowing up Covenant and Prometheans alike outside of the campaign and multiplayer modes.
Because Spartan Ops is a different game mode, it handles like a cross between Halo 4‘s campaign and multiplayer: there are objectives to complete, but players are given a lot more freedom in how they can go about completing them thanks to the availability of loadouts. Being relatively new to loadouts, I found that being able to create weapon and equipment configurations for a range of scenarios added a considerable amount of depth to Halo 4, allowing me to choose weapons, perks and armour abilities to best fit a given scenario. Different loadouts are therefore valuable: I might need something for dealing with swarms of prowlers one mission, and then return to fighting Covenant forces in the next, so being able to swiftly adapt made this a fun experience. My experiences in going through missions was largely pleasant, and while perhaps facing more enemies than I’d seen in the campaign, I was still able to complete the first season solo: despite being intended for groups, seeing that Spartan Ops could be done without a squad shows that the challenge within the mode is still fair. It helps that one has unlimited lives, and that the mode features persistence (if one neutralised five enemies in a group of ten and then died, upon respawn, there’d only be five enemies left in that group). The only real strike I have against Spartan Ops is the repetitive maps, which use a combination of recycled campaign and multiplayer levels, but this is a very minor gripe, and I am finding the mode to hold my interest in Halo, for the days where I’m inclined to shoot stuff without being in a campaign mission.
Screenshots and Commentary
- To my surprise, Spartan Ops required that halo 4‘s multiplayer be installed. In retrospect, this makes sense, since Spartan Ops makes use of multiplayer maps and assets. The first few missions were straightforward, being set on the desert maps that the Reclaimer mission took place on, and while not conducive for the best screenshots, gave me a chance to familiarise myself with the setup. Unlike campaign missions, there’s a bit more freedom in Spartan Ops and players occasionally have access to vehicles, which changes the way the game is played.
- The biggest importance of setting up a good collection of loadouts becomes obvious. Halo 4 does not allow players to spawn with any of the power weapons, and while some missions will provide weapon drops to help players out, having options is always important: I typically find that against Covenant, starting with the Battle Rifle and pistol is a good choice: Covenant forces also drop the Storm Rifle, which is a solid automatic weapon for cutting up Elites. Conversely, against Prometheans, the assault rifle is how I prefer to play: the Watchers are perhaps the single most irritating enemy in the whole of Halo, and a good automatic weapon is needed to fend them off.
- Of course, when the moment calls for it, Spartan Ops is very generous with weapon drops: during one of the earlier missions, I was given an endless supply of Spartan Lasers to clear the skies of Phantoms. Having now used the Spartan Laser, I find it to be my preferred anti-vehicular weapon owing to its power and lack of travel time: the Spartan Laser will instantly destroy any Ghost or Banshee in one shot, can take down a Wraith in one shot to the rear, and a few shots will be enough to bring down even Phantoms, although it’s usually not a good idea to expend the Spartan Laser on these aerial vehicles.
- Conversely, the M41 SPNKR rocket launcher is rendered obsolete in an anti-vehicular role – its 102 mm rockets, while powerful and capable of dealing an impressive amount of splash damage, have a slower travel time and cannot reliably track vehicles as its Halo 2 incarnation could. I prefer using it against large groups of infantry and Hunters. With this being said, at close ranges, the rocket launcher is more forgiving than the Spartan Laser, since one can quickly follow up with a second shot if needed.
- For my preferred loadout against the Covenant, I originally took a battle rifle and pistol with cloak, faster shield recharge and dexterity. Eventually, I transitioned over to the jetpack for the ability to reach places more quickly. Having a battle rifle as my starting weapon generally gave me a decent all-around survivability on maps with Covenant forces: Grunts and Jackals both fall quickly to well-placed headshots from the battle rifle, and the weapon can deal with Elites in a reasonably effective manner, as well.
- However, on maps with Promethean enemies, the battle rifle did feel considerably less effective: against Crawlers and Knights, the battle rifle fares well enough. However, the Watchers were a constant source of frustration – before I could land the finishing blow with the battle rifle, they’d hover away into cover, regenerate and come out good as new. Against Prometheans, I typically run with an assault rifle or suppressor simply because their high rate of fire makes it much easier to deal with these airborne threats more readily, while at once remaining useful against both Crawlers and Knights.
- While I found some of the maps a tad repetitive in Spartan Ops, Two Giants was always a source of enjoyment: this canyon is home to two spires that act as communication beacons, and is supposed to be a remake of Halo 3‘s Valhalla, itself an update to Halo 2‘s Coagulation maps. With its blue skies, evergreen trees and green grass, Two Giants was easily my favourite of the Spartan Ops maps,
- Initially, I ran with the M6H pistol – Halo 4‘s pistol retains the stopping power of its Halo Reach counterpart, but allows players to melee, switch weapons and throw grenades faster than if another weapon were equipped. As a secondary weapon, it is a decent all-around weapon, acting like a pocket-sized DMR in practise in that it is great for picking off Grunts, Jackals and Crawlers with ease.
- Spartan Ops‘ story was meant to be a continuation of the story in Halo 4 and introduces the AI Roland, who has a central role in Halo 5. While the lore covered by Spartan Ops was enjoyable, the main draw behind Spartan Ops for me was the Firefight-like gameplay where I’d be pitted against a large number of enemies to fight. Firefight is a very enjoyable mode for me all around, providing a sandbox-like space for me to square off against foes. I’ve come to greatly enjoy sandbox-style modes in games of late, since they allow me to play at my own pace. This stands in stark contrast with PvP multiplayer games, which are comparatively stressful.
- Ever since support for Battlefield V ended last June, I’ve not done competitive PvP multiplayer: as much fun as it was, there was also a frustration component brought on by the fact that my reflexes are not what they were back in my Halo 2, or even Battlefield 3 days: revisiting older articles here and on my old website, I’ve done things that certainly feel unfeasible now in multiplayer games, whether it’s getting a Killimanjaro on Lockout or going on Combat Efficiency streaks in Battlefield 3. My favourite recent achievements in Battlefield include abusing the Ilya-Muromets to score Killionaire in Battlefield 1, and going on a 34-streak with the Ka-Mi in Battlefield V.
- Cheating continues to be a problem in multiplayer games: I’ve heard that Call of Duty: Warzone is rife with cheaters, and Battlefield V certainly had a cheating problem. This is the primary reason why I’ve pulled back from PvP multiplayer games of late; while they can be very enjoyable and give rise to emergent moments that can only happen in the chaos of online gaming, the prevalence of cheating means that this experience is greatly degraded. Halo‘s multiplayer has a different problem: controllers are given aim assist and bullet magnetism to offset their reduced precision, but bad choices on 343 Industries’ part means that the aim assist and bullet magnetism handles more like an aimbot.
- Consequently, while having a great deal of fun in Halo 2: Anniversary‘s multiplayer, I’ve not really gone back into the Halo multiplayer experience as I imagined that I would: there is a gap between playing players who are legitimately skilled, and playing those who are using hardware the game mechanics favour. I’ve always been a firm believer in a fair, honourable fight in games: given a set of constraints and rules, those who have the skill and knowledge should generally hold out alright. As such, when this skill piece goes out the window, a game is no longer properly fun.
- This is why the single-player experience is so important for me: in an environment where it’s just me and the game mechanics, my skills are properly tested. Spartan Ops, despite being more challenging to solo, remains fun precisely because even if the deck is stacked against the player (especially through armadas of Watchers and Knights capable of teleporting at will), the game doesn’t actively punish players for dying. As a result, while I’ve had very rough matches in Spartan Ops, none of them were ever rage-inducing because I knew I’d be able to come back and whittle away at my foes.
- One of my best friends had the tenacity to solo Spartan Ops on legendary, and for this effort, was met with a special achievement. The most challenging traits of Halo are brought out on this difficulty, and I remember sharing several lengthy conversations about the idea of balance in Spartan Ops: my friend is even more of a Halo fan than I am, having gone through all of the campaign missions on legendary solo. With this level of experience, I have no trouble taking their word that Spartan Ops does have mechanics that are, compared to Halo 4‘s campaigns, make things more difficult (e.g. Elites and Knights seem tougher to kill in Spartan Ops than in the campaign).
- Having said this, the foes in Spartan Ops are AI enemies with a finite set of behaviours, and that means over time, it’s possible to learn them well enough to have a suitable response. In my case, I found the Watchers to be the most problematic, so equipping an automatic weapon and fighting them up close gave me a fighting chance. This sort of thing is why PvE will never be as frustrating as PvP: in the former, I can response to any mission giving me trouble by taking a break and re-attempting later.
- There had been such a mission in Spartan Ops that required me to defend a pair of relays from a Promethean onslaught, and while it was challenging, I managed to succeed with some perseverance. Patience and knowledge are key in PvE modes, making them suited for folks such as myself. While as a student, I possessed the time and reflexes to improve in multiplayer games, a combination of shifting priorities and slowing reflexes means that I have a decreasing inclination to play such games. Conversely, games that allow me to explore and progress at my own pace remain highly engaging for me.
- Having now completed the first season of Spartan Ops, the aforementioned friend has expressed interest in running through all of the missions co-op: I immediately see the enjoyment in doing this, since it would mean we now have four different weapons between the two of us, allowing for a greater versatility in different combat scenarios. During February, the two of us had revisited Halo 4‘s campaign together and blasted through areas of the game that took me longer to individually complete: it was immensely valuable to have a gunner while I was driving, and my CQC style complimented their sniping perfectly.
- I would expect that in a co-op scenario, we’d probably equip a setup that allows us to be a bit more specialised for our preferred ranges, and this could prove remarkably entertaining. At some point in the near future, I would also like to recount our Halo 4 co-op experience: while the two of us had been familiar enough with the other Halo games so that teaming up made things somewhat easier, in Halo 4, playing co-op was dramatically different to the point where we’d actually completed missions in under the par time.
- For Spartan Ops, I ended up using the power weapons like the sniper rifles and rail guns for handling Elite and Knights. While I originally was quite conservative with ammunition, it turns out that so as long as one doesn’t drop their weapon, they can continuously top off at resupply stations, and as such, I was able to deal with threats a lot more quickly. Having vehicles around on a mission also helps, although one should be mindful that if they should ever die, their dropped weapons will de-spawn very quickly, leaving one at a disadvantage. It is for this reason that I tend to save the power weapons for moments that really call for it, lest I lose them at critical moment.
- My favourite moment in Spartan Ops‘ first season was the final mission to the fifth chapter, during which an entire armada of Hunters are deployed against Fireteam Crimson. While this sounds daunting, the UNCS also calls in a supply drop that provides a nearly endless supply of Spartan Lasers. On standard difficulty, one shot from the Spartan Laser will kill a Hunter, and even the Wraiths that the Covenant deploy become reduced to smoking piles of rubble on short order. Spartan Lasers had been comparatively rare in Halo 3 and even Halo: Reach, so I relish the chance to use them. With the first season now in the books, I get to turn my attention towards Spartan Ops‘ second season, and also look towards finishing off the last of the Left 4 Dead 2 campaigns.
Spartan Ops, when it was first announced, represented an exciting new direction for Halo 4: it would add cooperative missions in which Fireteam Crimson, a squad of Spartan IVs, are sent to Requiem to handle the aftermath of Halo 4‘s events. Here, players get to participate in a Firefight-style battle, except each chapter is driven by a story and has objectives to complete. The missions were evidently designed for the co-op experience, and while only adding tangentially to the lore in Halo, allows players a chance to blast Covenant and Prometheans alike in the manner of their choosing: players do have access to their loadouts for Spartan Ops. Altogether, while perhaps not technically impressive, Spartan Ops ends up being a fun excuse to shoot things in environments beyond what was seen in the Halo 4 campaign with a bunch of friends. Levels are objective based, but in practise, things end up more like Firefight in that one has to contend with waves of enemies. I found that missions were geared towards full squads and do not scale for solo players: the sheer number of enemies one must deal with were far greater than anything I had seen in the campaign, and besting missions required a combination of patience, reflexes and map knowledge. Altogether, Spartan Ops represents a fun addition to Halo 4 that provides players with another option (in addition to the enjoyable campaign and expansive multiplayer), one which is especially nice to have for days where one just feels like fighting Covenant and Prometheans.