The Infinite Zenith

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Feedback and Reflections on Insider Flighting with The Master Chief Collection: Halo 3: ODST

“A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library.” –Shelby Foote

A few weeks ago, 343 Industries conducted a flight for Halo 3: ODST, during which several campaign missions were playable, alongside the fondly-remembered Firefight mode and an updated Halo 3 multiplayer which was intended to address issues surrounding hit detection in the retail build. This marks the first time that I’d ever played Halo 3: ODST, an entry in the Halo franchise that is often forgotten amongst the giants like Halo 3 and Halo Reach. As I progressed through the campaign missions, it became clear that at least, for the campaign, Halo 3: ODST is ready to roll. Having experimented with both the Rookie’s free-roam in the deserted streets of New Mombassa and the flashback missions, I found no major issues with gameplay or performance. Events trigger appropriately at the stipulated points in the campaign, movement and shooting feels solid. The smart HUD and VISR function as expected. Although the campaign playlists meant levels were played back-to-back rather than as the campaign originally arranged them (the flashback missions should be started when the Rookie finds evidence in the streets of New Mombassa), I imagine that these are merely loading mechanisms, and the campaign should be functional when it hits the Master Chief Collection later this month. I will, of course, be reserving my impressions of Halo 3: ODST, with regard to the themes, enjoyment factor and contributions to the franchise in a dedicated post once the retail version becomes available, and in this brief reflections post, I will be showcasing my exploration of the New Mombassa streets on legendary difficulty.

The playlist for the city streets only allowed the Rookie to explore New Mombassa with Halo‘s toughest enemies, bringing back memories of the year that Halo 3: ODST came out for Xbox 360. Back in those days, I was acclimatising to life as a university student. During that first term, I found myself in an unfamiliar environment, and my classmates all had different schedules. Having made a small mistake during registrations early on, I ended up reshuffling my schedule to fit everything in, resulting in a chemistry lab that ran into the evening. On days where I had labs, I would spend my free time studying in the basement of building housing the largest lecture halls on campus. Down here, it was quiet, making for a good place to hit the books in peace. After finishing any review and assignments I had, I would head to the chemistry labs in the building over. During these study sessions, I listened to Halo 3: ODST‘s soundtrack, whose film noir elements created a compelling sense of loneliness that I would come to associate with that far-flung corner of campus. During those late nights, darkness crept back into the world as fall gave way to winter. Exploring the deserted hallways of campus had a melancholy feel to it, a melancholy that the Halo 3: ODST captures well, and at present, after spinning up Halo 3: ODST and wandering the streets of New Mombasa, memories of those days return to me as I locate a biofoam injector, bent-up sniper rifle and a helmet embedded in a screen. Provided that the retail version of Halo 3: ODST handles as smoothly as it did in the flight (there were no game-breaking bugs, crashes or performance issues that I found during the time I spent exploring), I anticipate that Halo 3: ODST will be a very smooth launch.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Halo 3: ODST was originally released on September 22, 2009 for Xbox 360 and became a distinct entry in the Halo franchise for its focus on an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper (ODST) known as the Rookie. These special forces are known as “Helljumpers” for their mode of being deployed into a combat situation, and during the Battle of New Mombasa, a small squad is sent on a clandestine mission that goes awry.

  • The flight allowed me to check out most of Halo 3: ODST‘s campaign, but for this post, I’ll purely focus on the streets of New Mombasa after dark – there is actually quite a bit going on in the story, well beyond the Rookie investigating New Mombasa for clues on a stormy night, so I’d figure that I’d showcase some of the more interesting places around New Mombasa now and then save the campaign moments for the full post later on.

  • The biggest surprise I had going into the New Mombasa playlist during the flight was that this was locked to legendary difficulty, which created an additional element of immersion. Even simple grunts and jackals, which are trivially easy on normal, become a challenge to engage, and every individual brute is a mini-boss, capable of absorbing a magazine-and-a-half of sustained fire from the suppressed submachine gun. It therefore became a matter of picking my fights (and avoiding them) as I picked my way through the deserted city streets.

  • Compared to its standard variant, the M7S suppressed submachine gun is a little more accurate and deals less damage per shot. It also possesses a reflex sight that is linked to a smart optic, giving the M7S a bit more reliability at long range. The Rookie has the M6C/SOCOM, a semi-automatic pistol with an integral suppressor and a VnSLS/V 6E which allows for shots to be placed with accuracy out to a longer range than the M6C. Against grunts and jackals, a single well-placed headshot will deal with them swiftly, and despite being a relatively weak weapon, it is also immensely satisfying to use.

  • When Halo 3: ODST released, the university had not yet undergone construction work to modernise it, and as such, campus relied entirely on sodium-vapour lamps to illuminate pathways with an orange glow. While waiting for a ride on evenings where I had chemistry labs, I would wander around the darkened campus, which had a very similar atmosphere and aesthetic as the streets of New Mombasa.

  • In retrospect, I was never too fond of chemistry labs, since they were set in an old building that, while still satisfying safety code, had outdated equipment that could be fickle at times. I found myself wishing I was back in secondary school, which had more modern facilities and a generally more relaxed atmosphere: university chemistry labs were a ways more stressful and we were also assessed based on how successful our yields and results were. The labs themselves dealt with relatively simple, practical applications of the theory we learnt in lecture, and at least in my first year, I performed decently well in the laboratory component.

  • Even during the academic semester, campus empties out very quickly at night, with only a handful of classrooms being occupied by lectures or tutorials. My days thus fell into a familiar pattern: once a week, I would stay late on campus to do my labs, and I had a four hour break on those days, so I would study in the basement hallways of the largest lecture building on campus until it was time to start the lab. Because my linear algebra course had the lightest textbook, I would often do most of my linear algebra here while listening to Halo 3: ODST‘s soundtrack.

  • In this way, my first term would pass in the blink of an eye, and after final exams ended, I found myself with a decent performance. During the winter break, I ended up reconfiguring my schedule somewhat to reduce the amount of time spent on campus after dark, and because the Halo 3: ODST soundtrack reminded me of those lonely days spent drilling on eigenvalues and testing for invertibility by means of Gaussian Elimination, I promptly stopped listening to the Halo 3: ODST soundtrack. Halo 3: ODST similarly fell to the back of my mind as I started the new semester, which I spent studying with friends in a much more well-lit, inviting space in the student centre.

  • During the moments exploring the more remote reaches of campus in the time after a lab and before my ride arrived, I typically walked around the outside of campus to figure out the best routes between different buildings, or else went into the basement network that linked most of the science buildings together. In my first term, all of my courses were concentrated in the sciences area, so it was easy to get around, but later on, courses would be scattered in unusual areas based on classroom availability, so knowing how to get between buildings quickly was of value. However, the engineering building was intimidating to me, and I rarely went in there early on. It wasn’t until the summer I began exploring campus more fully.

  • I managed to find a shotgun during my trek through New Mombasa, which was an immensely valuable asset in that I finally had something with the stopping power to deal with brutes, even on legendary. One thing I did notice during the Halo 3: ODST flight was that I never encountered the battle rifle, which was my go-to weapon in Halo 3 for being a solid all-around weapon: Bungie deliberately cut the battle rifle from Halo 3: ODST in order to really drive home the idea that the Rookie and other ODSTs were vulnerable, lacking the overwhelming power that the Master Chief’s presence brought to each fight.

  • When I first opened up the New Mombasa streets playlist, I was quite unaware that it had been on legendary difficulty, and even after I took out my first enemy squad, the difficulty didn’t seem to be an issue, although I had felt that I used a bit more ammunition than I’d intended to. However, after reaching the first building and entering a courtyard full of grunts, what I’d thought to be an easy fight suddenly turned into a slaughter, as a few stray plasma rounds ended up wiping me out.

  • Playing on legendary is supposed to be the iconic Halo experience: enemies are incredibly tough and hit hard, and the player’s own damage and durability are reduced. On legendary, it becomes clear as to just how vulnerable the Rookie is on his own, when even a lone grunt can wipe him with a plasma pistol. In conjunction with the lack of a motion sensor integrated into the HUD, one must use the Visual Intelligence System, Reconnaissance (VISR) display to plan out their next move, knowing when to fight and when to quietly sneak by.

  • Other parts of Halo 3: ODST‘s campaign are set during brighter hours of the day, and the Rookie’s segments are extremely dark. Fortunately, the VISR also has a special low-light mode that enhances brightness somewhat, as well as highlighting enemies in red, resources in yellow and allies in green. For these screenshots here, I’ve disabled the VISR so that each scene is as they would appear, but during combat situations, I leave the VISR engaged for improved visibility. The VISR is also immensely valuable for locating evidence, emitting audible cues as one closes in on something important.

  • Because YouTube had not been quite as user-friendly during the game’s original release, Halo 3: ODST remains the Halo title I’m least familiar with, and as such, the flight actually marks the first time I’ve seen much of Halo 3: ODST – this iteration of Halo did not come with a full multiplayer component, instead, using Halo 3‘s multiplayer and consequently, I don’t think any of my friends picked up the title. We never did Firefight during LAN parties, so ODST wasn’t really a title that any of my friends had experience with.

  • Instead, Halo 3: ODST stands out to me for its music, which has a completely different feel than the epic guitar and Gregorian Chant from earlier Halo games. Instead, composers Michael Salvatori and Martin O’Donnell adopted a jazz noir sound that evokes a mysterious, contemplative feeling through the use of saxophone. However, rather than the contemplative tone that traditional jazz noir creates, Halo 3: ODST has a more melancholy sound for its nighttime segments. The combat sequences and flashbacks, on the other hand, have a more traditional, militaristic sound.

  • That Halo 3: ODST balances both out, creating the film noir atmosphere for the Rookie’s segment, and then returning to the form that Halo is known for, creates a very compelling atmosphere during different segments of the game. The film noir tone, however, calls for the orange-yellow glow of sodium vapour street lights, and some years ago, my city transitioned away from those to LED lights. The university followed suit shortly after, replacing all of the aging lamps with modern LED ones.

  • This simple change transformed the campus’ nightscape to be a shade brighter, less shadowy. In the years following, I carefully timed my labs so they did not occur during the evenings, and most of my late-night stays on campus usually resulted from taking exams. In my graduate degree, I stayed late to help with various events around campus or invigilate exams. On the occasions where it was dark by the time I left, I noticed that the brilliant white lights of the LEDs helped to create a more inviting environment.

  • While the flighting has ended, and we’re likely due to see Halo 3: ODST somewhere later this month, I note that I’ve deliberately chosen to write about the flight now because it coincides with the first day of lecture, which admittedly took some getting used to. I believe today should also be the start of a new semester, as well. As I moved through my university program, the first day of lecture became less noteworthy: by graduate school, I regarded the first day of lecture as little more than a time for when hallways became busy again.

  • For the actual Halo 3: ODST discussion, I’ll delve into more plot-related elements and gameplay mechanics. There are enough differences in Halo 3: ODST to warrant playing with a different style, but some elements remain unchanged (such as the fact that ODST can hit as hard as Master Chief can when meleeing enemies). With this being said, it’s time to wrap things up: I realise this is my third games-related post in a row, so I assure readers that my next post will return to anime.

  • Altogether, it took about two hours to hit each piece of evidence and wrap up the streets of New Mombasa in full on legendary: once I reach the building that leads into a complex housing the Superintendent’s data core, this playlist concludes. I will be returning at some point in the future to write about Halo 3: ODST proper, and having gotten this bit of reminiscence out, that leaves me free to focus entirely on Halo 3: ODST without lapsing into nostalgia about university.

Once Halo 3: ODST hits retail, all eyes will turn towards Halo 4, the first Halo title that 343 Industries developed. The previous Halo titles, Halo 3 in particular, have set the precedence for what to expect, and moving into the future, I am anticipating a very exciting launch for Halo 4, as well. It is a little surprising to see The Master Chief Collection nearing completion, around a year after Halo Reach first released to PC, and in all honesty, The Master Chief Collection coming to PC was probably the biggest event in gaming this year, outstripping even the likes of Call of Duty: Warzone for me. Admittedly, a lot of gaming these days has begun straying from the path of what makes them enjoyable: the Battle Royale genre is one I have no patience to play, either dispensing with skill (such as Fortnite, where dirty tactics like camping are accepted) or falling to its own success (Call of Duty: Warzone and its cheaters, for instance). Seeing classics make their appearance on PC has been most welcome: Halo has always been about immersing players in a different world through its campaign, and striving to improve and learn through its multiplayer. To see the Halo approach to gaming still standing strong after over a decade, against modern titles, attests to just how well-designed and innovative the series is, and the Master Chief Collection will be something that continues to give its players enjoyment long after Halo 4 releases and finishes off the collection, keeping people engaged and excited as 343 Industries works toward releasing Halo Infinite.

World of Warcraft: Clearing Blackrock Depths and an Incursion into the Molten Core

“I’m glad it’s finally hot enough to complain about how hot it is.” —Unknown

On the hottest weekend of the year about a month ago, I had the idea of going into Blackrock Depths to see what soloing a dungeon would be like in World of Warcraft. During the time I spent on my friend’s private server, we’d only ever done one dungeon together with everyone on the server as a consequence of our schedules; when final exams rolled around, I typically became unavailable to party up with my friends, and by the time summer arrived, it was tricky to coordinate a group event, what with everyone travelling and otherwise capitalising on the beautiful weather that accompanies summertime. By the time term started again, my friend ended up deciding to get everyone together for a dungeon in the Eastern Plaguelands’ Stratholme, where we smashed our way through for fun. This was an experience to remember, although I don’t have any screenshots of our run through Stratholme. Subsequently, most of my time in World of Warcraft was with my rogue friend, although grouping together for epic dungeon runs no longer happened. Since starting my own server, I’ve been able to now venture into places that I’d never explored previously. After refamiliarising myself with the mage I’ve built, I decided to attempt several of World of Warcraft‘s most quintessential dungeons on my own, and Blackrock Depths was high on my list of places to explore. Located at the heart of the Burning Steppes and Searing Gorge, it is an intimidating underground realm ruled by the Dark Iron dwarves that is one of then largest dungeons of World of Warcraft. A party of five is estimated to take anywhere from four to six hours to complete the entire dungeon on account of how many nooks and crannies there are, and in classic World of Warcraft, this was the dungeon to hit: it was a veritable experience that defined what the endgame of an RPG should be. As expansions came out for World of Warcraft, players would eventually become powerful enough to solo Blackrock Depths on their own without trouble, although serious players would find it to be inefficient to farm gear from here at higher levels.

It was on an August Sunday afternoon that I decided to enter Blackrock Depths for myself, just to see what it the solo dungeon experience was about. After arriving at Blackrock Mountain and travelling down a secret set of stairs into a subterranean mine below, I crossed into the dungeon instance. The dungeon is massive, and although I had no trouble decimating everything that moved, the fact was the area was labyrinthine, making it very easy to get lost. I eventually would push on away from the starting area into the Dark Iron dwarves’ city, slaughtering my way through the dungeon. There are a few doors that must be opened to allow for progression, and tracking down the necessary keys and puzzles was also a bit of a time-consuming endeavour. About two hours after I started, I reached the end of the dungeon and destroyed the dungeon’s final boss, Emperor Dagran Thaurissan. Even though I had been powerful enough to trivially mop the floor with the dungeon’s mobs, the sheer size of the place made it a lengthy process to go through. I subsequently stopped for coffee, and then proceeded to complete the attunement quest for the Molten Core. The Molten Core raid proved to be of a level that I was simply unequipped to deal with: even standard mobs had more than a hundred thousand points of health (and I can only hit for about ten thousand points of damage with my most powerful direct-damage spells), and the bosses themselves were ludicrously powerful, making each fight an arduous process. As the evening set in, and I grew exhausted from the raid, I ended up reaching Ragnaros’ chamber, but realised that there were a few things I still needed to do before it was possible to summon him. The combination of 28°C temperatures and six hours of almost-nonstop World of Warcraft (it was punctuated with periodic breaks) rendered me quite exhausted, and I decided to call it a night. Having now gone through Blackrock Depths and reached the Molten Core, I feel that I’ve gotten a good measure of why raiding can take groups entire afternoons and evenings to complete.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I’d passed over Blackrock Mountain numerous times: the flight path between Stormwind and Ironforge travels over both the Blasted Lands and Searing Gorge, two volcanic regions dominated by lava and smoke. At level thirty, I had no chance of safely exploring these areas, which have a minimum requirement of level forty. It thus felt a little intimidating to visit these regions for myself, despite knowing that I had been more than geared for this journey.

  • Just for the purpose of running Blackrock Depths, I equipped myself with the Tempest Regalia, a tier-six raid set that would’ve stood as one of the best mage sets available in Burning Crusade. By the time of Wrath of the Lich King, higher-tier sets supersede the Tempest Regalia, although its appearance remains quite compelling, and I’m rather fond of the headpiece that it comes with: close inspection of this will find that a magical discharge rises between the prongs, forming a sort of Jacob’s Ladder.

  • I started Blackrock Depths with my fire spells, but realised that most of the enemies down here had enough fire resistance to slow down the pace that I could move through the dungeon. I subsequently switched back over to the frost spells I had on hand, using a combination of Frostbolt and Ice Lance to blast enemies. While the most mundane of a mage’s arsenal, frost spells are great for slowing foes down, and I’m especially fond of Ice Lance, as it allows me to cast while moving.

  • Blizzard is perhaps the most powerful spell I have in my repertoire for dealing consistently high amounts of AoE damage: anything caught in the impacted area quickly falls, and it was against the inhabitants of Blackrock Depths that I was able to appreciate how powerful Blizzard really is. Entire groups of enemies would be felled in a matter of seconds, and I found myself moving much more swiftly through the area; the tunnels were quite tricky to navigate, so even though enemies were dealt with more quickly, there was still the matter of finding my way around.

  • The downside about Blizzard is that, compared to the other spells available, it is much more mana intensive. Fortunately, with a high spirit value, mana regenerates relatively quickly for me, and as long as I’m not casting Blizzard faster than my mana can be restored, I will always have access to my spells for damage-dealing. In the worst case, I do have a wand equipped, which allows me to continue being effective in the (unlikely) event that my mana is completely depleted and I have no regenerative potions on hand.

  • Blizzard must have altered the properties of the Water Elemental: when I played through World of Warcraft‘s Starter Edition, my Water Elemental stuck around until I dismissed it. Here in Wrath of the Lich King, however, Water Elementals will only be active for a minute, during which they can act as a source of extra damage and can draw attention off oneself briefly. In the Blackrock Depths, I found that two to three spells were oftentimes more than enough to handle whatever I had been facing.

  • On an ordinary run, players would come here with a group of five: two damage-dealers, two tanks and one healer. The tanks typically will draw focus onto themselves and absorb damage while damage-dealers focus on handling the enemies. Healers will then keep the tanks topped off, occasionally replenishing the damage-dealer’s mana or otherwise resurrecting anyone who sustained too much damage. Here, I will remark that one of my decisions to spin up my own server was that, during my time in the Starter Edition, I used the dungeon finder to do a dungeon that was supposed to help me get a rare quest item.

  • However, for one reason or another, I got kicked from the group shortly after joining for no reason. It became clear that power-tripping is still very much a thing, and much as how some people would kick others from their party in The Division for having too low a gear score. Arbitrary kicks absolutely degrade the experience, and to the party leader of that day, if they are reading this, they ought to know that they did contribute to me spinning up my own server, so that I could explore in peace without individuals like that mucking things up. After reaching a tomb, I interacted with several ghosts that would turn hostile. Again, I imagine they would’ve put up an impressive fight for level-appropriate characters, but I ended up mopping them.

  • Pushing through into the final areas of the dungeon, I reach the Lyceum, which is a vast hallway with stone pillars resembling that of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Dwarrowdelf. Since I’ve not played Lord of The Rings: Online, this is probably the closest I’ll get to seeing the vast stone halls that the Fellowship passed through on their way to the other side of the Misty Mountains. The way on is blocked by a doorway that must be opened by lighting two torches, and the entire time, I was wondering if I would run into the equivalent of a Balrog while here.

  • In an ironic twist, the temperatures today are supposed to be just as hot as they were when I ran Blackrock Depths. However, the morning is still quite cool, and the hot weather isn’t to last; as we enter the long weekend, the forecast calls for cool, rainy weather that won’t be quite conducive for spending time outdoors. Instead, it might be time to curl up with a good book, Survivorman‘s Director’s Commentary and a cup of Okanagan Lavender tea with honey, which has been my go-to drink for cooler days.

  • Because it had been such a hot day when I chose to take on Blackrock Depths, the heat of the underground and its volcanic fires felt even more visceral: squaring off against Magmus here really felt like fighting the Balrog Durin’s Bane, although with the power difference between myself and Magmus, I swiftly defeated him and pushed forwards into the last sections of Blackrock Depths. Durin’s Bane, on the other hand, is on a completely different power level: it took Gandalf fighting it at full power to bring it down, and even then, Gandalf himself died in the process.

  • Two dwarves act as the final boss of Blackrock Depths: I’ve read that if I spare the princess, it will be possible to unlock a quest, but since I was new to Blackrock Depths, I instead ended up melting both bosses. For level-appropriate players, the gear dropped in Blackrock Depths will be of a decent quality; a handful of items will be usable, and otherwise, can still net one a decent amount of coin once sold. For me, however, I have access to the game’s items through GM commands and so, the looting aspects of World of Warcraft really becomes secondary to exploration.

  • Having said this, I do get the full experience in something like The Division, so for World of Warcraft, I am completely content to simply venture into the different places of Azeroth. Altogether, it took me about two hours to clear Blackrock Depths on my own, including exploration and backtracking time. With this dungeon in the books, I had one remaining objective: entering Blackrock Depths, I accepted a quest to attune myself for the Molten Core raid, and so after completing it, I became curious to see what the Molten Core was like.

  • Back in Wrath of the Lich King and earlier, the Molten Core required that one be a part of a party to even enter – the raid required five parties’ worth of players to be viable, as even the standard enemies were ludicrously powerful. When I tried entering the Molten Core, an error message popped up, and I ended up changing some server configurations so I could get in. It soon became clear as to why solo players were barred from entering.

  • When I targeted the nearest enemy, I was surprised to learn they had the same amount of health as the bosses I faced earlier: the standard Molten Giants had a hundred and twenty thousand points of health, while the Firelords were rocking about ninety thousand health. What’s more, they dealt enough damage to take me down to half health within the space of seconds. The raid had clearly been designed for 25-player groups, whose members had clearly assigned roles to pull and engage the enemies one at a time to avoid getting overwhelmed.

  • As such, given the vast disparity in health and damage, it became apparent to me that soloing Molten Core as it was in Wrath of the Lich King, without a considerable boost to my survivability and damage model, was simply not viable. Further to this, because I’d not completed a long and complex quest chain to allow for Ragnaros to be summoned, I wasn’t quite ready to experience the raid as it was meant to be played.

  • However, I still wanted to try my hand to see how effective I was against some of the weaker bosses in the raid. To even things out I little, I enabled some of my GM powers to mimic being in group, but even then, each fight was an incredibly long experience as I unloaded onto the bosses with everything I had: while I am capable of dealing a decent amount of damage, and the bosses themselves fortunately do not have any healers, their vast health pool and resistances still made each fight a lengthy one.

  • In anything past Cataclysm, the increased level cap and attendant power scaling means that players are able to trivially solo Molten Core. In addition, bosses in later expansions appear to have been scaled down for solo players: for instance, Ragnaros had north of a million health in World of Warcraft, but only possesses around three hundred thousand health if soloed in a newer expansion: later dungeons do appear to scale enemy strength to match the number of players in a party.

  • Soloing in any given game offers a different set of challenges: being flanked and surrounded is probably the trickiest thing to deal with. In a party, multiple players have the advantage of covering different areas, and games typically compensate by sending in more enemies or tougher enemies. Having soloed more or less the whole of The Division and The Division 2, I’ve found that there is an incredible journey to be had in playing that game solo – it really accentuates the impact a single agent and their skills can have in The Division.

  • By the time I decided to call it quits, it had been some six hours since I started. Fortunately, since this was my server, I did take breaks in between to stop for afternoon tea and dinner, as well as stepping outside to water the flowers. Even with quarter-hour breaks spaced in between hour-long sessions, however, it was still quite exhausting, and I looked forwards to getting some proper rest. In retrospect, the Molten Core and Blackrock Depths was remarkably entertaining. Since I’m currently working on the Hornet manhunt in The Division 2, I hope to try and wrap that up before the season ends, and then I’ll return to World of Warcraft.

Having finished one of the more iconic World of Warcraft experiences, I found it to be quite thrilling even though it had been only me soloing the content: because the Blackrock Depths had been the endgame content for the classic World of Warcraft, the maps and enemies were well-designed, clearly intended to provide players with a proper challenge once they’d hit level sixty. Even though World of Warcraft is nearly sixteen years old, the quality of Blackrock Depths remains evident, and I certainly had fun exploring what would’ve been the most advanced and sophisticated dungeon of World of Warcraft as it had appeared to players back then. With Blackrock Depths in the books, I’ve found that for five-man dungeons, my mage should be adequately equipped to handle almost everything in World of Warcraft without too much difficulty, although with the mechanics in Wrath of the Lich King, it appears that soloing 25-man raids is not going to be a particularly easy task in the absence of my GM powers. As such, I imagine that with my mage, I should be reasonably well-prepared to continue exploring Outland and Northrend, which were areas that, owing to time constraints back in the day, I never fully explored. With these constraints absent, there still remains quite a bit to do in World of Warcraft, and I think that after I visit some of Azeroth’s more picturesque places, it’ll be time to cover Outland.

World of Warcraft: Beginning A Private Journey to Explore Azeroth

“You can embrace nostalgia and history and tradition at the same time.” –Sturgill Simpson

During lunch break in a March day many years earlier, one of my friends asked our group if we would be interested in participating on his World of Warcraft server: it’d been a few months since said friend had set up a Ragnarok Online server, and since that proved to be a fun experience, we quickly agreed. After a weekend of tinkering about with the installation and configuration, the World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade server was online and ready to roll. I decided to play a mage, having found the mage class in Ragnarok Online to be superbly enjoyable, and after wrapping up my assignments, I spun up a Genome mage. In the snowy forests of Dun Morogh, I began getting my character up to speed, completing quests in the starting area. I’d hit level five the next day, and my friend decided to gather all of us to Goldshire to make it easier for us to party up: if memory serves, he’d been a Draenei druid, and another friend had rolled a Night Elf rogue. After setting my mage’s home to Lion’s Pride Inn, my other friend and I headed for Westfall to fight the Defias amidst the rolling hills and wheat fields. Being quite enthusiastic about World of Warcraft, said friend who had rolled the Night Elf had been a full fifteen levels ahead of me, which made it easier to complete some of those earlier quests involving elite enemies. Within a month, I reached level twenty, we would move our adventures over into Duskwood. At this point in time, the school year was drawing to a close, and I would set World of Warcraft aside to ensure that I could perform on my exams. Spending countless evenings with friends on a private server was my original experience with World of Warcraft, and it had been fun to roam the Eastern Kingdoms to complete various quests and be immersed in the lore surrounding the world that Blizzard had created. Towards the final days of secondary school, my friend decided to shut down the server. We’d had an excellent run, but with university upcoming, we agreed that it would be wise. However, my friend also gave me server files in the event I’d ever wished to return, along with the Ragnarok Online server files.

At the time, I’d been immersed in Halo 2 and never got around to setting the files up, and had been focused on gearing up for my undergraduate programme. When my first term ended in December, I ended up putting the Ragnarok Online server back up, hosting it locally so I could get screenshots for my website. My interest in World of Warcraft returned, and I resolved to get the private server operational that summer. However, I’d been unsuccessful, and so, World of Warcraft fell to the back of my mind as I continued through my undergraduate programme. In the present day, having gone through World of Warcraft‘s Starter Edition, I’ve decided to try my hand at bringing the server back to life. The server had been running World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, which was the version of World of Warcraft I had been looking to return to. This time around, I was able to get things back online: compiling binaries is not as arcane to me now as it had been a decade earlier, and I configured the server’s IP and port settings for my current requirements of running a server locally. I then modified the client to point towards the new realm, started the server and created an account. I subsequently rolled a Human mage and crossed my fingers: I wasn’t too sure if I’d actually be able to access the game world, since this was as far as I’d gotten last time. A few tense seconds later, the opening cinematic played, and I found myself standing in a field in Northshire. To be sure, I talked to a quest giver, beat up a bunch of wolves and finished it. The private server had been successfully set up, running for the first time in ten years, and suddenly, it dawned on me – I now had an entire world running on my machine just waiting to be explored to my heart’s content.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Before I continue, I will remark that these World of Warcraft posts will feature a lot more reminiscence than my usual materials, and further to this, I will not be playing World of Warcraft the way it’s meant to be played. The actual MMORPG involves a more considerable time investment, handling more similarly to The Division in that one is always on the hunt for better gear. However, I spun up this server with the intent of exploration – I have the GM commands available to me, so I used this to kit my character up with a range of gear to help improve survivability and spell power.

  • Unlike the retail World of Warcraft, my private server has me as the only player, and so, Goldshire is very quiet. However, the Lion’s Pride Inn remains as inviting as ever, acting as the starting point for finishing the early quests in the Elwynn Forest, which would allow me to boost my reputation with Stormwind. At low levels, players won’t have access to a steed, and traversing areas in World of Warcraft becomes quite time-consuming. Later expansions to World of Warcraft add more Flight Masters, which reduce the amount of time spent running around.

  • When I began World of Warcraft, I had played Ragnarok Online for roughly five months prior to that. I can’t quite remember my story there, but I think my friend had configured that server to have twenty times experience rates, so I was able to become a high wizard on short order. Ragnarok Online was very enjoyable, and I remember really getting into the swing of things after smashing my way with some friends on the bridge just north of Geffen on the night of a lunar eclipse. My friend who’d been hosting the server played as a crusader.

  • I ended up spending many evenings with another one of my friends, who’d played an assassin, in various dungeons. Since I don’t have many screenshots from this period, it is left to my recollections as to how I ended up reaching the level threshold to become a high wizard. We ended up exploring most of Ragnarok Online‘s maps, and my friend began considering taking things to the next level with a World of Warcraft server after he’d taken a bunch of us to some of the coolest places in Ragnarok Online.

  • After finishing double German, I ran into my friend in the school hallways. As we made our way to our usual lunch spot, conversation convinced my friend to take the project up, and that weekend, a server was spun up. Back in those days, ISPs provided simpler modems, and we required an extra wireless router connected to the modem to create a wireless network. This gave us more control over some aspects of the network, such as setting up a static IP address, which was needed to run a private server.

  • Today, most modems that ISPs lend to customers have a built-in wireless transmitter, which makes it very easy to run both a LAN and WAN. This comes at the cost of flexibility: to run a network with a static IP, for my ISP, a call to them would be required to switch the modem into bridge mode, after which I can hook my own router to it. This is the main reason why my attempt at running a private server failed: I had originally been attempting to configure it so I could connect to it externally.

  • For my current private server, I’m running everything off a local host, since this server is purely for me to use. As a result, setup has been very smooth. Since I’m starting in the human area this time around, I’ve been able to explore the whole of Elwynn Forest and its points of interest: this time around, I have access to a swift Palomino, so getting around was considerably faster than it had been when I first came here. In those days, travelling between the farms, east and west reaches of the forest took upwards of ten minutes both ways.

  • With my rogue friend, I remember spending a considerable amount of time questing in Westfall so I could get my mage up to a level where I could be helpful on later quests. In secondary school, the workload had not been insurmountable, and after the lecture part of a course, we were always given plenty of time to take a crack at our daily assignments. I usually finished all but a handful of questions, saving them for home. When World of Warcraft entered our schedule, I remember working to help my friends with their work, as well, so we could go questing in evenings.

  • On a weeknight, I usually had around an hour or so of extra time available, but whenever tests and exams came up, I was more likely to be found studying. I recall being a fairly studious secondary student, and between studying or gaming, I usually preferred the former. This was one of the reasons why among my friends, I was always lower level. However, on evenings where there was spare time and no exams on the horizon, I recall having a blast with my friends.

  • After three months of running the server, my friend asked us if we were ready to experience more of the endgame content, such as dungeons. Having fully explored Elwynn Forest, Westfall, Redridge Mountains and Duskwood, we agreed immediately. Using the GM commands, my friend levelled us to the cap of seventy (this had been a Burning Crusade server) and equipped us with gear sets, as well as weapons of our choosing. With the additional talent points, I ended up rolling a fire mage since I prefer the burst damage. However, before we could party up and do any dungeons, final exams were upon us.

  • I still remember having chemistry, physics and history that term, which was the second toughest term I’d had. While I had been getting by in German, history proved to be a little tricky owing to the way the instructor expected us to write papers with, and Newtonian mechanics has never really been my forte. However, I had been smashing my way through stoichiometry. As finals came nearer, I spent less time in World of Warcraft to focus on ensuring I did well in everything.

  • One particular memory from that time stands out to me: I went out to participate in German Day, a competition of students learning German: I was to recite a poem, and ended up finishing third. This day coincided with a chemistry exam, and I ended up taking the test after classes in the science labs. I still managed to stomp this exam, and would go on to perform well enough on my finals. As summer vacation rolled in, I intermittently played World of Warcraft, exploring different reaches of Azeroth with my now-level seventy mage. However, my friend had now a new challenge to face: one of the people we’d invited to the server continually would send messages asking if the server had been turned on for the day.

  • This ended up being enough of a nuisance to earn that individual a ban, and over the course of the summer, I ended up spending time levelling a Blood Elf warlock at the request of my rogue friend, who had just rolled an Undead character to experience things from the Horde perspective. In exchange for my time, said friend would eventually help me out on a particularly tough quest in the Ghostlands. I’ll continue reminiscing on these experiences another time, and at this point in time, I’ve begun making considerable headway in exploring the Eastern Kingdoms.

  • To help me determine where to explore next, I typically accept a handful of quests and then look through which ones send me to an interesting location. Here, I ended up accepting a mage quest that required a visit to Loch Modan, which was what gave me the reason to initially hit Dun Morogh. Unlike expansions past Cataclysm, the Loch Modan of Wrath of the Lich King still has the Stonewrought Dam and the Loch intact: post-Cataclysm, Azeroth has permanently changed, and many locations I were familiar with are now altered in dramatic ways.

  • Sunsets from Stonewrought Dam are beautiful, as the high elevation offers an unobstructed view of the skies, and while the graphics themselves may not even come close to what contemporary game engines are capable of, there’s a simple beauty about World of Warcraft‘s visuals: the orange, violet and pinks come together to create a remarkably vivid sunset that can’t be seen anywhere else on Azeroth.

  • Post-Cataclysm, Loch Modan is permanently changed with the destruction of the Stonewrought Dam. Having returned here in the Starter Edition by evening, I found no vantage point from which to watch the sunset. I’ve heard that Cataclysm is one of the more reviled expansions to World of Warcraft, but most players don’t seem to have an issue with the numerous, permanent changes to Azeroth’s layout, as they were done to increase accessibility.

  • World of Warcraft‘s day and night cycles are dependent on the realm time, which is computed using the system time. As such, most of my screenshots will usually be taken from the evenings, which is when I typically have the most time to fire up the server and go for a few quests. One thing I’ve wondered is whether or not sunrise and sunset times in reality affect the sunrise and sunset times in-game: we’re in the middle of summer now, and that means later sunsets, but it would be interesting to see if days are shorter in Azeroth during the winter, as well.

  • After I’d finished exploring all of the old areas, I decided to test my loadout and setup against a few dungeons. In the old days, I primarily spent my time in World of Warcraft exploring and doing quests with my rogue friend: since our schedules had been the most similar, we were often online at the same time. My other friends typically came on and stayed much later into the evening, when I was sleeping, so I never got around to exploring dungeons and getting better gear out of it.

  • I decided to start my dungeon experience off with Stormwind Stockade. For level-appropriate parties, this is a relatively short and simple dungeon that takes anywhere from half an hour to forty-five minutes to complete. Being kitted out with higher level gear meant I was trivially mopping floor with everything in the dungeon, and all of the drops I got, I would end up picking up to sell. A part of the reason why I’ve allowed myself to run a fully-levelled (for the Wrath of the Lich King expansion) character was because I’d wanted to go visit all of the areas I never got to back in the day.

  • Consequently, I don’t particularly feel like I’m missing out on the dungeon experience simply because I’m able to burn through every enemy in a lower-level dungeon in a single spell. As a mage, I’ve got access to some excellent area-of-effect spells: I’m particularly fond of Dragon’s Breath, a fire-based spell that damages all enemies in a cone in front of the player and disorients them.

  • After annihilating everything that moved in the Stormwind Stockade, I completed my first-ever dungeon experience on my private server. It was rather entertaining, although I am fully aware that as I move through dungeons that are more level-appropriate for me, it will be increasingly challenging to clear them on my own. Most players consider that one should be able to be reasonably effective in a dungeon if they are ten levels above the level requirement, so I should be able to explore everything in Azeroth and Outland without too much trouble.

  • With the Stormwind Stockade in the books, I turned my attention towards the Deadmines in Westfall. For Alliance players, Deadmines will be the first dungeon they take on: it’s hidden away in Moonbrook, and the entrance is located deep in a mine. It’s a bit of a fight to get here, and the first time I decided to try the Deadmines with my rogue friend, we wondered if this was the dungeon.

  • The Deadmines consist of the actual mines themselves, a Goblin foundry, and a vast pirate ship concealed in the deep caverns: the dungeon is actually quite large, and as the first Alliance dungeon, it does have a bit of everything for players to try out. The entrance into the dungeon is located deep in the mineshafts of Moonbrook, and even at level 20, it was a bit of a chore to fight our way to reach the instance portal.

  • Even with an unoptimised loadout for my mage, the fact that I was at the level cap meant that this time around, I was able to mow my way through the Deadmines and not worry about being wiped. I decided to try out the frost spells I had access to for this run: compared to fire, frost is about reducing enemy movement and speed. The standard frostbolt slows enemy movement by up to fifty percent, and in the Starter Edition, I typically used it in conjunction with Ice Lance and Frost Nova.

  • For mages, casting single-target spells is not particularly mana intensive, but the powerful area of effect spells are particularly taxing. In general, I don’t really notice a considerable drop in my mana unless I’m constantly channeling Blizzard, which is one of the most powerful spells I have for dealing with multiple enemies at once. I am looking forwards to seeing what Blizzard can do to higher level groups, since at lower levels, a second of channeling the spell will eliminate entire groups without effort.

  • I believe this is the first time I’ve ever reached the pirate ship: I remember that with my rogue friend, we attempted this dungeon as a two-man party shortly after I reached level 20, and while we’d made reasonable progress, the fact was that it was taking us a while, so we never reached the end. We’d run later into the evening, and it was a weeknight, so I ended up calling it in after we cleared the first section and realised it was probably another hour before we’d reach the ship.

  • Frost Nova is a staple for mages: while dealing only minor direct damage, its utility is freezing enemies in place. This makes it valuable for locking down groups of enemies, and when used in conjunction with the right spells, can be immensely powerful for controlling crowds and picking enemies off one at a time: Ice Lance, for instance, does triple damage to frozen enemies, making it a great way of swiftly damaging and whittling down the number of foes one deals with.

  • Admittedly, one of the reasons I spun up my private server back up was because I wasn’t having too great of a time with using the dungeon finder in the Starter Edition: since I’m not running a full account and therefore cannot give rare items to myself from a higher level account, I wasn’t competitive enough in the damage department. During my first and only dungeon, the party decided to kick me simply because I wasn’t doing enough damage. I’ve heard that being kicked isn’t uncommon, but it was going to be a drag to have to wait a quarter hour to find a party, only to get booted for no discernible reason. The main perk about a private server, is that I am free to explore to my heart’s content without impacting other players.

  • For level-appropriate players, the fight with final boss, Edwin VanCleef, would’ve been an epic one; in retrospect, I would’ve very much have liked to at least go through these dungeons with all of my friends on the old private server, since it would’ve given us a chance to really work together to beat an enemy that, while powerful, was not ludicrously challenging. Like the Stockade, though, I was a one-man wrecking crew, and I ended up finishing the Deadmines in the space of fifteen minutes.

  • My return to Azeroth has been an excellent, enjoyable experience so far, and now, my only goal is to really just keep exploring the different places available in World of Warcraft, documenting my journey here as time allows. This is a bit of an open-ended project, so I can’t say for sure how many posts there will be, but for now, I can say that my next World of Warcraft post will be about Blackrock Depths and the Molten Core, which I attempted a few weeks ago, on the hottest few days of the year. I am also planning to write about my travels in Outland, some of the places in Azeroth with a more distinct aesthetic, and eventually, Northrend (which I never set foot on).

World of Warcraft, like any other role-playing game, was designed to be a time investment, where levelling up is a central part of the experience and the goal is to reach the endgame, which is where the hunt for excellent gear begins. However, for me, World of Warcraft represents one of the most enjoyable games for exploration: the game offers an incredible diversity of biomes and environments, from gentle forests and lakes, to volcanic hellscapes, festering swamps, frigid mountains and a shattered planet. When my friend’s server shut down, I had explored a fraction of Azeroth and most of Outland, but never got around to hitting Northrend. For the longest time, I had longed to return and continue my journey – I originally bought Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim to fill the void, and while Skyrim is a beautiful game with its own, extensively list of merits, it’s not World of Warcraft. My desire to revive a private server was for the sake of exploration, and to this end, I’ve decided to play World of Warcraft as a player returning to it for the first time in a decade. I’ve configured my account to have GM-level permissions, allowing me to trivially spawn items, gold and other elements: because I’m the only person on my server, I intend to play World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King solely to explore every corner of Azeroth and Outland, rather than complete raids and optimise my character for its intended function. Exploring World of Warcraft on my own, without a party consisting of a tank and healer, can be tricky, and further to this, there is no level scaling in Wrath of the Lich King. I see no qualms in using my GM powers to create a powered-up character that is ready for an adventure to the coolest places in Azeroth, allowing me to pick up where I’d left off eleven summers ago.

World of Warcraft: Exploring the Wandering Isle in the Starter Edition

“Why do we fight? To protect home, and family; to preserve balance, and bring harmony. For my kind, the true question is: what is worth fighting for?” –Chen Stormstout

As a Pandaren, players begin their journey in the Wandering Isle, a massive island on the back of Shen-zin Su, a giant turtle. After completing a few basic trials, Master Shang Xi sends the player to meet the different elemental spirits, starting with the fire spirit at the Temple of Five Dawns. This quest has players meeting spirits of fire, water, air and earth: from helping the water spirit out, to clearing the farmer’s fields of vermin, the player heads next to the Morning Breeze Village and defeats the Onyx Serpent. Master Shang Xi imparts some final wisdom for the player, and the player learns of a large thorn embedded in Shen-zin Su’s side. This turns out to be The Skyseeker, a crashed gunship. Players help both Alliance and Horde alike, defeating Vordraka and helps to dislodge The Skyseeker. Healers step in to heal the resulting wound, and the player heads back to the Temple of Five Dawns, where they must choose whether they will align with the Alliance or Horde. The Pandarens were added with World of Warcraft‘s Mists of Pandaria expansion, which launched in 2012, along with Pandaria, a new continent, and a new storyline where players are pitted against the Sha, a malevolent entity that was an ancient enemy of the Pandarens. While initially met with cool reception, World of Warcraft players have come to count Mists of Pandaria as one of the better additions to World of Warcraft, and in 2014, Mists of Pandaria joined the base World of Warcraft, with its content being freely available to all players, including those who were running the Starter Edition.

The Wandering Isle represents one of the best starting experiences I’ve had in World of Warcraft – as players complete quests and level up, they simultaneously discover more of the lore and regions of the Wandering Isle, as well. The way the quest-lines are written, they naturally invite players to venture into new areas: by the time players are ready to choose a faction, they have become familiar with game mechanics and have fully discovered all of the areas in the Wandering Isle. The Wandering Isle itself is beautifully portrayed, and each area has a distinct, Chinese style to it. From small villages and wading pools, to farm fields and bamboo forests, the Wandering Isle is a wonderful interpretation of Chinese architecture, and the Pandarens themselves are a rather amusing, but sincere portrayal of Chinese culture and martial arts: from the wooden dummies Pandarens train on, to the incidental music, Blizzard has done a great job introducing the Pandarens in a very self-contained, concise package for new players, as well as those looking to run a Pandaren, but for players of a higher level, they can also immediately head over to Pandaria and begin immersing themselves in the new lore and quest-lines without rolling a new character.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Immediately after spawning into the Wandering Isle, I was impressed with the aesthetics: World of Warcraft might be a sixteen-year-old game, and Mists of Pandaria might be eight years old, but the game hasn’t aged too dramatically from a visual perspective. I decided to go for the full Pandaren experience and ran with a monk, a hybrid class that can handle tanking, DPS and healing depending on one’s specialisations.

  • If memory serves, after hearing about Mists of Pandaria in 2012, I decided to give it a go when I learnt that the content was integrated into the main game in 2014. However, I cannot remember the reason why I did not do so: according to the blog’s archives, I was immersed in Battlefield 3 at the time, and I think when I asked one of my friends about the Starter Edition, they suggested that the experience from the Starter Edition would be too short to be meaningful.

  • Since Battlefield 3 and Skyrim had been my focus at the time, I decided to pass on World of Warcraft‘s Starter Edition, and World of Warcraft soon fell from my mind as I explored other titles. Ever since watching KonoSuba and Bofuri, my interest was rekindled, and I decided to give the Starter Edition another go. Since 2014, World of Warcraft had seen four more expansions, and the game now requires at least 70 GB of disk space, up from 15 GB in the Wrath of the Lich King days. For me, it took two hours for the download to complete.

  • As a monk, I had access to a range of melee attacks inspired by Chinese martial arts. Standard attacks use energy and create chi, which is used for more powerful moves, similarly to how warlocks generate soul shards from mana-consuming spells, and then the soul shards can be used for devastating destruction spells or in summoning minions. It did feel a little strange to be dependent on martial arts in World of Warcraft, and while the basic melee isn’t particularly damaging, all monks begin with tiger palm, a powerful strike. As I levelled up, I unlocked a range of kicks that could be used to supplement my combat.

  • The Wandering Isle is a scaled back version of Pandaria itself, providing new players with a relatively peaceful place to explore the unique architecture the Pandarens have. The Pandarens’ buildings, from dwellings, to inns and temples, all have draw upon elements from Chinese architecture, making extensive use of the pagoda style roof, pillars of red and golden accents. In China, only buildings for royal use were permitted to sport golden-yellow rooftops.

  • When Mists of Pandaria was originally announced, the World of Warcraft community was in disbelief: the Pandarens had originally been an April Fool’s joke dating back to 2002, when Blizzard announced that there would be a fifth race for Warcraft III. Many would continue to believe that Blizzard was joking about Mists of Pandaria right up until it released, but with the expansion’s content, players came around fairly quickly. While Mists of Pandaria may not be the player-base’s favourite expansion (Legion and Wrath of the Lich King are the two most-mentioned as a favourite), it is considered to be decent.

  • In combat, I found that my favourite combo was to use the blackout kick first, if I had sufficient chi from an earlier fight, and then follow up with a tiger palm to build my chi back up (or start with a tiger palm if I had no chi). After reaching level ten, I also unlocked the rising sun kick (basically, Guile’s flash kick from Street Fighter II). Cycling between these attacks allowed me to hold out reasonably well in combat, using a range of moves to ensure that I did not waste any cycles while waiting for cool-downs and recharging.

  • Having long played caster classes like the mage and warlock, melee combat in World of Warcraft was a completely different experience for me: I’d grown quite accustomed to hanging back and dealing damage from a distance using a range of spells using classes that would fall apart in close quarters. The monk can specialise for damage under the Windwalker setup, and eventually gain access to some ranged attacks that further their abilities.

  • After reaching the Morning Breeze village and decimating the invading Hozen, players fight the Onyx Serpent, an airborne cloud serpent who floated outside the range of a monk’s fists as their first boss. I hit for roughly 50-100 points of damage per move, and this foe has 1980 health, meaning it would be quite difficult to fight him.  Fortunately, this fight was made simple by the presence of fireworks that can be used to damage him, and a handful of Pandarens will also assist in this fight.

  • Once players finish a set of quests in one area, they are given an option to take a cart into the next area, which definitely beats walking. Upon entering the Wood of Staves area after recovering the four spirits, I was greeted with a different aesthetic: a shaded wood. Here, players speak with Master Shang Xi, who tasks the player with clearing the area of sprites. When the task is done, Shang Xi has one final bit of wisdom to share with players, setting in motion the last quest line for the Wandering Isle.

  • The Mists of Pandaria cinematic is probably my favourite of the expansion cinematics, and even today, the visuals have held up very well. In the time since Mists of Pandaria, however, the technology powering video games has seen considerable improvements, and we are at a point where advances have allowed the game to look as good as, if not better than, cutscenes and cinematics on account of the latter being rendered in the game engine itself. Of course, were World of Warcraft to be given such a radical update to the visuals, it would take away from the game’s unique aesthetics and increase the hardware requirements: while World of Warcraft itself has been given improvements over the years, the system requirements haven’t been terribly steep, and most modern computers will be able to run things without a problem.

  • The revelation that the Wandering Isle is on the back of a giant turtle brings to mind the lion turtle that Aang encounters in Avatar: The Last Airbender, as well as the school ships of Girls und Panzer: the former for its design, and the latter for the surprise that the Pandaren starting area is actually a giant turtle. When Girls und Panzer came out, viewers were shocked that its first episode had been on a massive, 7.1-kilometre long aircraft carrier the whole time, and since Mists of Pandaria released a few weeks before Girls und Panzer, Blizzard can lay claim to being the first to surprise people that year in such a fashion.

  • I’ve read that World of Warcraft has allowed for transmogrification, the act of replacing armour appearance freely or even hide them, since Cataclysm. Provided that players previously picked up an item sporting the look of an item they want, they can visit a special transmog vendor, and for a price, alter the current item to look like the desired item while retaining the current item’s attributes. While there are certain restrictions, the system is very powerful and allows players to create incredibly cool-looking armour for their lower-level characters.

  • Transmogrification explains the level twenty players I’ve seen running around with epic-looking gear, but since I have no higher level character, I ended up running default skins on everything. Having skipped past the Temple of Five Dawns earlier, I stopped briefly here to take in the surroundings: the aesthetics of the Wandering Isle are quite different than anywhere I’d previously visited, and from a high vantage point, it was fun to just stop and admire the scenery. Once players reach level twenty and leave the Wandering Isle, it is not possible to return.

  • The time had finally come to go explore the “thorn” in Shen-zin Su, a crashed gunship named The Skyseeker. This takes players into a bamboo forest, where players will encounter the first of the Alliance and Horde characters, both of which are under attack by the Wandering Isle’s indigenous wildlife and lizard-men. After helping Horde and Alliance alike, players will enter the wreckage of The Skyseeker and pull out injured sailors.

  • Once The Windseeker’s crew is evacuated, Vordraka, an elite, appears. On my own, this would’ve been a tough fight, but fortunately, other players who were participating in the same quest had been fighting Vordraka, as well. I thus stepped in to get some damage in, helped them defeat this elite and finished the quest. The wreck is secure, and Ji, one of the Pandarens helping out, decides to dislodge The Sunseeker using explosives. While successful, this creates a massive gash in Shen-zin Su’s side.

  • Alliance and Horde healers come to Shen-zin Su’s aid, and during this time, players must fend off wave after wave of lizard-men so the priests and druids can focus on their task. This was the toughest quest yet, and I died here several times as a result of being overwhelmed by the lizard-men. Eventually, I ended up using a new power, the Crackling Jade Lightning, to pull the lizard-men away from the healers and beat them down, one at a time. With help from other players who were working on the same quest, Shen-zin Su was healed, and this brought my journey through the Wandering Isle to an end.

  • Doing all of the quests in the Wandering Isle will bring Pandaren players to just a few points shy of reaching level twenty, and there is one final quest to finish. From start to finish, it took me roughly four hours to hit level twenty: World of Warcraft originally had a much steeper progression system, and levelling up took much longer than it does now. Back during my Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King days, I remember it taking at least a month (averaging around an hour over weekends and then a half-hour on weeknights) to reach level twenty, and my friends, who had a three-week head start on me, was only about ten levels ahead.

  • As it turns out, with region scaling, it’s become much faster to level, and Blizzard’s probably intending to push players into the endgame content faster with this approach. Here, I finish off the last of the Wandering Isle quests, hit level twenty and prepare to choose a faction. This brings the last of my World of Warcraft Starter Edition posts to an end, and in the future, I will be writing about my experiences on my own server. With this first post of August done, my next two posts will be anime-related: one for Koisuru Asteroid, and then one for A Whisker Away.

I’ve actually been curious to see what Mists of Pandaria had been about ever since watching the original cinematic trailer: watching a Pandaren using a staff to out-manoeuvre and best both a human and orc simultaneously in combat while embodying the spirit of Chinese martial arts was superbly enjoyable, and when I learnt that World of Warcraft would include the Pandreans in the trial, I had intended to give the starting area a go. However, my usual propensity for procrastination meant that this would not materialise until now, when I decided to give the Starter Edition a go for kicks. My experiences have been positive, and brought back memories of the hours I spent on a friend’s server back in the day – however, having now levelled three characters to twenty and explored some areas of Azeroth with these characters, it becomes clear that the World of Warcraft today is quite different from what I had experienced through The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King. My journey in the Starter Edition thus draws to a close for the present: I may return in the future and advance the characters I’ve built, but at the time of writing, I have successfully gotten my own server going now. As such, I am looking forwards to continuing my journey where I’d left off a decade earlier, as well as recounting old experiences from a simpler time.

Review and Reflections on The Master Chief Collection: Halo 3

“You know me. When I make a promise…”
“You…keep it.”

–Master Chief and Cortana

After crash-landing on Earth, Master Chief is recovered by Sargeant Johnson and The Arbiter. Master Chief helps the UNSC forces defend an outpost where Commander Keyes and Lord Hood are planning a counter-offensive against the Prophet of Truth to prevent him from activating a Forerunner artefact. However, this is ultimately unsuccessful, and Truth is able to use the Forerunner artefact to create a slipstream portal. In the chaos, a Flood-infested Covenant cruiser crashes on Earth: Master Chief fights his way through the horde of Flood and boards the vessel to try and find Cortana, while The Arbiter and the Elites glass the area to stop the Flood from spreading. While Master Chief is only able to recover a recording from Cortana, it convinces Hood to send UNSC forces through the slip-space portal. Upon passing through the portal, both the UNSC and Elites discover a vast Foreunner construct known as The Ark, a structure containing the means to remotely activate the Halo array. After touching down on the surface, Master Chief and The Arbiter fight their way to the Cartographer. They locate Truth using the Cartographer; he is hiding in a Citadel defended by a powerful shield. Upon deactivating the shields from three towers, the Gravemind appears and suggests they form an alliance to stop Truth from eradicating all life in the galaxy. With the Flood fighting alongside the pair, The Arbiter and Master Chief reach Truth and kill him, only for the Gravemind to betray the pair. Both barely manage to escape and agree to activate a lone Halo ring to eliminate Gravemind. Meanwhile, the remains of High Charity crash onto the Ark’s surface, and Master Chief heads off into its cavernous interior to find Cortana, who has the Index needed to activate Halo. Once Master Chief finds Cortana, they rejoin The Arbiter and Johnson, heading into the new Installation 08’s control room to fire Halo. However, when 343 Guilty Spark reveals that Halo is not ready to be fired yet, as construction is still ongoing, Johnson overrides him and primes the Halo to fire. 343 Guilty Spark kills Johnson and is in turn destroyed by Master Chief. Regrouping with The Arbiter, the pair use Johnson’s warthog to escape, barely reaching the Forward Unto Dawn and escaping. In the aftermath, the Forward Unto Dawn splits in two: The Arbiter manages to make it through the portal and pays respects to those who have fallen with the Earth’s commanders, while Master Chief prepares to enter cyro-sleep, asking Cortana to wake him should anything happen in the future.

Halo 3 is, in every way, bigger than its predecessor: nowhere is this more apparent than in the design of the levels and scale of each mission. Using a new engine, Halo 3 sported vastly improved visuals over its predecessors without increasing polygon count, and further to this, was able to render a much larger number of agents on the map at once, as well as create more complex agents. Together with larger levels, Halo 3 is able to create a sandbox feeling in some of its larger missions, giving players an opportunity to fight at a scale that had hitherto not been seen in previous Halo titles. This created an exciting new pacing not seen in older titles: multiple squads of Covenant force players to choose their fights wisely, and in what is probably the finest example of what Halo 3 is capable of, players are able to fight two Scarabs at once, disabling their legs to board them and then destroying a reactor to finish them off. The Scarabs of Halo 3 are fully-realised agents capable of independent movement, and it was exhilarating to fight them, as giving them autonomy made them somewhat unpredictable to fight. Similarly, the Flood are able to become an intimidating foe once again: the more powerful engine allows Halo 3 to render a much larger number and more varieties of Flood than before, making them feel like a properly overwhelming, frightening enemy as they had felt in Halo: Combat Evolved. Halo 3 is able to create the sense of large-scale battles in its levels; while the game is still decidedly linear, no Halo game had previously been quite as open as Halo 3, and consequently, in conjunction with refinements to the weapons and the introduction of deployable equipment (essentially power-ups that can be used strategically to help one’s situation), Halo 3 is a straight upgrade to Halo 2. Upgraded gameplay and a sense of scale mesh well with Halo 3‘s story, which provides the closure to the Halo series in a satisfying manner.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Thirteen years after Bungie launched the acclaimed Halo 3 for Xbox 360, I finally step into the jungle of Halo 3‘s first mission, and this marks the first time Halo 3 screenshots grace this blog. For Halo 3, I’ve decided to go with 50 screenshots to give readers a good scope of what the game looks like, without creating something that would take me too long to write. Halo 3 released to overwhelming praise in 2007: at the time, I had grown somewhat familiar with Halo 2 as a result of spending Sundays at LAN parties, and reading about the campaign from a strategy guide that was available at the local library. This was back during a time when the library still had an excellent selection of books to check out: today, most of those books are only available at the central library downtown.

  • When Halo 3 released, I was impressed with the gameplay footage I did see, but found myself a little less awed at the soundtrack. I remember discussing this with a friend at the school’s library: overall, if there was one part of Halo 3 that did not eclipse its predecessor, it was the music. Halo 2‘s soundtrack was intense, captivating and also surprisingly emotional at some points, while in Halo 3, the music felt a little less noteworthy. Today, I still stand by my belief that of all the Halo games, Halo 2 has the best music, and in the Anniversary edition of Halo 2, the soundtrack took everything about the original and improved them even further.

  • I only had the vaguest idea of what Halo 3‘s campaign missions were like, and so, entering Halo 3 myself for the first time, I was immediately blown away. Even though Halo 3 might be a thirteen-year-old game, it’s aged very gracefully with the work that 343 Industries have done on it. At 1080p and enhanced settings, lighting effects and visuals are still strong, looking as good as many modern titles, and the handling is excellent. The only thing that feels a little dated are the textures and models.

  • The assault rifle of Halo 3 is a straight upgrade from its Halo: Combat Evolved incarnation, having superior accuracy and damage, as well as a shorter reload time, at the expense of more rounds. It is a strong all-around weapon, and when paired with the battle rifle, one is reasonably assured of being able to deal with almost anything in Halo 3. With the Elites no longer an enemy, Brutes take their place, and the battle rifle is particularly strong against them on PC. The assault rifle now reduces the utility of the SMG for most close-quarters engagements.

  • One touch about Halo 3 I particularly liked was the fact that Phantoms can now be destroyed, marking the first time these Covenant drop-ships can be taken out of a fight. The last segment of the first mission has players reaching a dam of sorts to rescue Sergeant Johnson, whose Pelican crashed. A veritable army of Brutes stands between Master Chief and Johnson, but with liberal use of explosives, it is straightforwards enough. Once Johnson is rescued, a pair of Phantoms appear, but will be destroyed by Pelicans.

  • The second mission sees Master Chief and The Arbiter defending a UNSC outpost from Brutes. Halo 3‘s missions are rather long, and made up of several distinct sections. My favourite part of this mission entails going a little further into the tunnels and listening to Marines argue about a password. This is apparently an Easter Egg, a callback to the Red versus Blue series, which was a famous Machinema (a video made using game engines, often to tell a story) using Halo: Combat Evolved.

  • My favourite Machinema series is Freeman’s Mind and Arby n’ The Chief; the former is a Half-Life series following the neurotic Gordon Freeman and his vociferous ruminations as he experiences the events of the Half-Life (and later, Half-Life 2) campaigns, while the latter has a Toy Story-like setup, with a Master Chief and Arbiter figure coming to life, playing Halo and going on zany adventures both within and without of their worlds. I admit that I’ve not followed Arby n’ The Chief closely since season five ended in 2011.

  • According to one of my friends, season six and later (2011 to present) is more of an existential drama, and at this point, while the humour is still present, it becomes increasingly dark (admittedly, too dark for my liking). I’ve always felt the best jokes to come from the earlier seasons, whether it be Chief’s gloating about Recon armour and losing it after resorting to cheats, Josh Butterballs and his perceptually useless advice for improving in Halo, or my personal favourite, “Digital Fruitcakes”, which has Chief introduce his squad of friends and their defeat at Arbiter’s hands after Chief unwisely gambles a week’s worth of Xbox time on the outcome of a four versus one.

  • Lines like “he only stops playing halo 2 drink m0ar cough syrup” or “MAGNUM ADN SPRINT? / THATS IT? / U CANT B SRS” are iconic, and my best friend and I still reference Arby n’ The Chief in our everyday conversation. Unfortunately, the series does feel quite obscure at times, and no one else I know, either in reality or through blogging, are familiar with the series. As such, the notion of “magnum and sprint”, meaning “the basics” for me, isn’t something others will immediately get.

  • Meaningful, well-written jokes have existed long before advances in internet communications made meme culture popular, and unlike the crass, unoriginal memes of the present day, jokes from the age of Halo 3 are much more civilised and thoughtful. I’ll take “All Your Base” and “Steamed Hams” over Pepe The Frog and Fortnite dances any day of week: jokes are the most funny and meaningful when the concept being ridiculed is universally understood, and the jokes of old appealed to many as a result of the effort people put into them. Memes of the present, on the other hand, are more of a low-effort inside message that are a dime-a-dozen and incomprehensible to those outside of the loop.

  • After clearing out the outpost, rearming a bomb that the brutes disabled and facilitating for an evacuation, Master Chief heads to the town of Voi using the Tsavo Highway. It is here that the size of Halo 3‘s campaign maps become apparent: more so than its predecessors, Halo 3 makes use of wide, open areas that break up the claustrophobic design of a map. While the game is still very linear, these arena-like spaces and large-scale battles are epic.

  • One of the leading gripes I had following the Insider Flighting was the fact that the weapons of Halo 3 sound nowhere near as powerful as they did in earlier games, and with the retail version of Halo 3, I think that the weapons sound slightly better, if still a little weak. Fortunately, in the campaign, the battle rifle still hits hard despite its firing sound, and it is my go-to weapon of choice against Brutes. Ammunition for the battle rifle is uncommon, and while it’s an excellent weapon to use, finding rounds for it and its Covenant equivalent, the Covenant Carbine, can be a challenge.

  • Halo 3 introduces the idea of equipment, extensions of the overshield and active cameo, except this time, players can choose when to deploy them, extending their utility. On standard difficulty, they’re curious assets, but I imagine that at Heroic and above, knowing when to deploy or switch out equipment could make a difficult fight considerably easier. My favourite equipment would probably be invincibility, which negates all damage the player takes, and regeneration is not too far behind, allowing me to instantly regenerate my shields.

  • The shotgun in Halo 3 is completely different than the shotgun of Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2: unlike the M90 of the earlier Halo games, which held twelve shells, the M90A of Halo 3 can only hold a maximum of six rounds, and while having a longer effective range than the M90 as seen in Halo 2, is still inferior to that of Halo: Combat Evolved‘s M90. Its stopping power, however, has been restored, and in general, aside from only having six shells, the shotgun is the ultimate weapon for close quarter combat.

  • For the last portion of the mission, I commandeered a Wraith and used it to tear through an entire Covenant armada. While considered a tank by in-game mechanics, the combat role and performance of a Wraith renders it more similar to a piece of self-propelled artillery: a main battle tank like the Scorpion is designed for direct fire with tanks, whereas the Wraith and its plasma mortar lobs superheated plasma in an arc against infantry and other vehicles. In reality, self-propelled artillery and main battle tanks further differ in manoeuvrability and armour: the former lack heavy armour and are more mobile. Halo portrays the Wraith as being a little more nimble than the Scorpion thanks to its gravity propulsion drive, but otherwise, the Wraith has similar durability.

  • After punching through tunnels and opening the gates for the column of UNSC vehicles, Master Chief and The Arbiter are tasked with decimating several anti-air Wraiths. These anti-air vehicles cannot be operated by players, and if one were to board it, the vehicle will explode after the pilot is neutralised. The first of the compounds gives a sense of what this fourth mission is about: as Master Chief blows away the anti-air Wraiths, the clouds in the sky darken as Truth begins to activate the Forerunner artefact.

  • Drones and Jackals are among my least favourite enemy to fight in Halo: the portable shields that Jackals hold can deflect a large amount of damage, and the most effective way of dealing with them is either a well-placed grenade or carefully aiming at a small opening in their shields using a precision weapon like the battle rifle. Drones travel in swarms, and while individually weak, can overwhelm players with a nonstop hail of plasma pistol fire. Against drones, the assault rifle and submachine gun are excellent weapons, as well as the Brute Spiker and plasma rifle. Thanks to the superior physics engine in Halo 3, Drone swarms are far more terrifying than they were in Halo 2 on account of being much larger, although thankfully, Drones still land periodically, allowing them to be picked off.

  • Scarabs were amongst the most powerful ground vehicles the Covenant deployed, and in Halo 2, the Scarab that tears through New Mombassa was unstoppable until Master Chief boarded it and annihilated it from inside. By Halo 3, the game engine was advanced sufficiently such that the Scarab was a fully autonomous agent: Scarabs are smaller and more frequently deployed, possessing fully destructible parts. In particular, when the legs take enough damage, the Scarab will “kneel”, allowing players to board it. There’s a special reactor in its rear that, once destroyed, will cause the Scarab to explode spectacularly.

  • When I played through this section of the mission during the Insider Flighting, I had trouble finding the location of the reactor. This was not a problem by the time I returned to Halo 3 and, once the Scarab is destroyed, Master Chief continues through a warehouse to reach a large anti-air cannon. This mission marks the first time that players face off against Hunters: unlike the end of Halo 2, which saw the Hunters backing The Arbiter up, Halo 3‘s Hunters are enemies. This was a deliberate design choice to minimise player confusion, and the Hunters of Halo 3 have armour plates that fall off when they sustain enough damage. Like the previous iterations of Halo, it is best to flank them and fire on the exposed orange flesh to dispatch them, although if one has heavy weapons available (such as the rocket launcher or missile pod), Hunters can be dealt with trivially.

  • The last section of the fourth mission entails clearing the forces defending the Type 27 anti-air gun, and then firing on an exposed power coupling to destroy it. While intended for use against small targets, it’s been claimed that a single Type 27 would be able to shoot down a Charon-class Frigate like the Forward Unto Dawn. Once this gun is destroyed, the UNSC fleet begin opening fire on the Forerunner Keyship, the Anodyne Spirit, but even with direct hit from MAC arounds and missiles, the advanced Forerunner armour meant that not even a scratch is dealt. As Truth begins to ascend into the portal above the Anodyne Spirit en route to the Ark, a Flood-controlled Covenant ship crash-lands nearby.

  • Once the Flood arrive, the lighting and atmosphere in Halo 3 immediately shifts: the area is now covered with a noxious haze of Flood spores, and hordes of Flood begin overrunning the area. In short, it feels a great deal like the American Deep South as seen in Left 4 Dead 2. Compared to earlier Halo titles, Halo 3‘s portrayal of the Flood is a cut above – infection forms travel in much larger swarms, and it is now possible to watch real-time infections unfold as an unfortunate victim becomes transformed into a combat form. Carrier forms, when destroyed, now release up to three times as many infection forms.

  • Halo 3, in short, makes the Flood feel terrifying again, and after a lacklustre presentation in Halo 2, the Flood are a return to form, being a highly menacing enemy against which prolonged combat is not an option. Master Chief and The Arbiter also encounter Pure forms for the first time in these missions. With a calcium-based exoskeleton, Pure forms are highly resilient against damage and come in three varieties: the spider-like Stalker, Ranged forms which can spew toxins at the player from afar, and the massive Tank form.

  • While all weapons will be effective against the Flood in some capacity, in earlier Halo games, kinetic weapons were more useful against the Flood, and in particular, the M90 was the ultimate weapon for handling The Flood. Halo 2‘s Energy Sword proved to be even more useful, being able to disintegrate Flood biomass and prevent corpses from being reanimated. By Halo 3, plasma weapons have been upgraded so that they can deal more damage to the Flood, making dual plasma rifles a potent choice for situations where one is low on shotgun or Energy Sword reserves. In-universe, plasma weapons, with their high thermal output, are generally superior, being able to burn Flood tissue beyond recognition.

  • Halo 3‘s campaign handles smoothly, but one aspect I disliked were the Cortana moments (and later, Gravemind moments): I felt them to break the flow of the game somewhat by slowing things down dramatically. With this being said, they accentuate Cortana’s descent into rampancy (a state where AI begun functioning erratically) and the Flood’s madness well, and further to this, while disruptive, Bungie did an excellent job of placing them such that they only play when players are not in any danger. As an added layer of safety, when a Cortana or Gravemind moment plays, players are rendered immune to all damage – this would be especially valuable in co-op, if one player triggers the moment while the other is still mid-firefight.

  • When Keyes learns that Cortana might be in the crashed ship, she sends Master Chief into the bowels of the Flood-infested ship in search of her while The Arbiter and other Elites remained outside to prevent any Flood from entering. The interior of the ship is a putrid mess of Flood biomass, and as it turns out, Cortana isn’t present. Instead, it’s a recording of her, giving vital information on how to stop the Flood and also, the imminent arrival of High Charity, now under the Gravemind’s control. In the aftermath, Hood consents to send a task force through the portal to The Ark, and the Separatist Covenant forces, now allied with the UNSC, prepare to glass Voi and its surroundings to stop the Flood from spreading.

  • After passing the portal and running into a Brute Fleet, the Elites prepare to engage them while UNSC forces prepare to hit the Ark’s surface. Upon landing, they find themselves in a completely different area well outside the Milky Way galaxy. While one ODST is impressed with the sights, the others are unperturbed and push forwards with the mission. Master Chief opens the mission with a sniper rifle; this mission is supposed to be an amalgamation of Halo: Combat Evolved‘s third, fourth and fifth missions, since players start off with a sniper rifle, are seeking out a Cartographer of sorts, and has the chance to use vehicles.

  • The sniper rifle is best suited for engaging Brutes and Hunters: a single headshot will neutralise the former, and hitting the latter in the back will down it immediately. Against weaker enemies like Grunts and Jackals, the sniper rifle is overkill, and since players can only carry a maximum of twenty-four rounds (four in the rifle and then twenty in reserve), the sniper rifle is best used for engaging tough targets. The Covenant equivalent, the Beam Rifle, also appears in Halo 3, but most Jackal Snipers in Halo 3 carry the Covenant Carbine instead, making them rather less lethal than their Halo 2 counterparts.

  • A pair of Hunters is deployed at the end of the first area. Halo 3‘s Hunters are tougher than their Halo 2 counterparts and require multiple shots in their exposed regions to eliminate: even with a sniper rifle or beam rifle in hand, it takes at least two shots to kill them. Besides being more durable, Hunters are also faster and possess more armour plating than their predecessors. Offsetting their incredible power is the fact that Hunters are comparatively rare: only eight appear in the whole of the campaign: two during the fourth mission, four here, and then two more in the next mission.

  • Once Master Chief clears out an area of anti-air Wraiths, the Forward Unto Dawn arrives and drops off a bunch of Scorpion Tanks. Unlike its Halo 2 incarnation, drivers no longer have access to a co-axial machine gun, and instead, require a gunner. Beyond this, the tank remains very powerful: its main gun can devastate almost everything. When Master Chief first boards a Scorpion and begins dealing damage with it, a marine will comment that the tank beats most anything, Wraiths and Hunters alike. With enough fire, even Phantoms can be destroyed. While players must abandon the Scorpion to reach the next section of the mission, the UNSC forces will bring another Scorpion into the next area.

  • Having a Scorpion makes the fight against the Scarab much easier: the 90mm shells will make short work of the legs and force it to shut down, giving one enough to to board it and overload the reactor. Scarab fights are immensely fun, easily the biggest highlight of Halo 3 for me: there are plenty of options for how one approaches dealing with Scarabs. In this area, players can use the Scorpion, a Gauss Warthog and its coil-gun, any shoulder-fired weapons like a rocket launcher or fuel rod gun, to knock it down for boarding, and once the reactor is melted, watching the resulting explosion is immensely satisfying.

  • The Cartographer lies just ahead of this point: Halo 3‘s map room looks incredible, featuring a large platform opening out to a waterfall that makes Niagara Falls look like amateur hour. Once Master Chief finds the map and locates Truth, The Arbiter appears shortly after with Johnson and they head off in hot pursuit of Truth. Being able to play Halo 3 means being able to finally walk areas I once could only watch on YouTube at 480p: when Halo 3 came out, any friends I had with an Xbox 360 were more interested in the multiplayer than the campaign, and during LAN parties, our entire focus would’ve been Team Slayer.

  • When Halo 3 released in November 2007, I still vividly remember pushing my way through fall term as a student. At this point in time, one of my friends had just put together a working Ragnarok Online private server and invited a bunch of us together to try things out. I ended up rolling a mage and spent countless hours in the Payon Caves farming undead. Back then, my days consisted of studying, doing various extracurricular activities and then playing Ragnarok Online. LAN Parties were the only time I would be able to play the most cutting-edge games, and consequently, The Master Chief Collection is something that now allows me to experience what my peers experienced back in the day, albeit with a mouse-and-keyboard, at 1080p and 60 FPS.

  • The Covenant is the single longest mission in Halo 3, and it’s one of the few places where Master Chief has access to the Spartan Laser, which is, on a per-shot basis, the single most powerful weapon in all of Halo 3. However, it is only limited to five shots, and in this mission, I’ve found that it is best to hang onto the weapon until one encounters and defeats the Hunters: the Spartan Laser will one-shot Wraiths, and players encounter a pair of Wraiths en route to the first shield tower. Once the Hunters are defeated, the Spartan Laser should still have a single shot left in it, and giving this to a marine prior to boarding the Hornet will allow one to have vastly improved firepower while in the skies.

  • Featuring a mix of vehicular combat in wide open areas and closed corridors, the seventh Halo 3 mission shows off what Bungie is like at its finest: large squads of Covenant and transitioning between long-range and close-quarters combat at the drop of a hat means that players must switch constantly between different weapons to adapt to the situation at hand. Halo‘s two weapon only loadout means that players can’t get attached to a particular setup and change out weapons based on the combat scenario, as well as what ammunition is available. More so than the previous games, Halo 3 pushes players to manage their ammunition well and make snap decisions in when to drop a strong weapon in favour of a weaker weapon whose ammunition is more plentiful.

  • Of all the vehicles I’ve flown in a Halo campaign, the Hornet is high on my list of favourite vehicles. Handling like Halo Reach‘s Falcon, the Hornet has excellent firepower, being able to make short work of other air vehicles and armour alike. The Hornet sports a .50 calibre heavy machine gun for dealing with light vehicles and infantry, as well as dual missile pods that are suited for anti-armour functions. In the temperate shores of the Ark, Master Chief engages numerous enemies en route to the last tower.

  • Wraiths and Phantoms stand no chance against the Hornet’s missiles: in exchange for its versatility, the Hornet has weak armour, and can be destroyed quite easily. However, as long as one is taking care to circle a target, the Hornet should remain in good condition for most of the fight leading up to the final tower. The shield surrounding Truth’s citadel can be seen here, along with the remains of a Phantom I’d just shot down. Altogether, this mission, dubbed “The Covenant”, is probably the best of Halo 3‘s campaign missions, featuring a variety of combat options and grand settings that capture the scale of what Halo 3‘s capable of.

  • Once the last tower is disabled, Master Chief boards a Scorpion and rides into a snow-filled valley. At the end of the path are a pair of Hornets: the Hornet becomes invaluable here, as two Scarabs are deployed into the valley in a last-ditch attempt to stop Master Chief and The Arbiter to keep Truth Safe. A combination of missiles and gunfire will quickly halt a Scarab, and while the most skilled of players can then manoeuvre the Hornet behind the Scarab to destroy its reactor without disembarking, I ended up dropping the Hornet on top of the Scarab, disembarked to take the reactor out and then boarded the Hornet again to deal with the next Scarab.

  • I believe that, during the Insider Flighting, I lost my Hornet after taking the first Scarab and was forced to deal with the remaining one with shoulder-fired weapons. Here, I circle the first Scarab as it fires on me with its main gun: the Scarab gun might not be as powerful as its Halo 2 incarnation, but it still packs a punch and can pull a Hornet out of the skies in seconds. In Halo 2, I did end up going for the Scarab Gun and Soccer Ball achievements: in a conversation with a friend, we agreed that achievements are for folks who really want to get the most milage out of their game. Said friend had been completing some of Halo 3‘s trickiest assignments on Legendary difficulty for fun, and I admire that dedication – with my schedule and habits, I don’t see myself doing that any time soon.

  • After the two Scarabs are eliminated, Master Chief and The Arbiter enter the Citadel, clearing away the Brutes between them and Truth. They are aided by Gravemind and The Flood, but once Truth is dead, Gravemind betrays them, and the pair must fight their way back outside. The narrow bridges leading out of the Citadel make survival tricky, but somewhere along the way, I picked up an invincibility power-up and used it to push through the last section, bringing the longest mission of Halo 3 to an end.

  • Of all the levels in Halo 3, none are more unsettling than the penultimate mission. By this point in time, High Charity has been changed beyond recognition, filled with endless halls of Flood biomass. Having crashed into a lake, most of the familiar cityscape have been submerged. The doorways and portals are now sphincter-like in appearance, and the entire level was very unsettling to wander throughout. I’m betting that Halo drew inspiration from Alien in some design aesthetics: Sevastopol Station in Alien: Isolation began taking on a very similar look as the Xenomorph begins creating a nest of sorts to spawn new aliens.

  • Like Halo 2, the Energy Sword is the best weapon to use against the Flood: a single slash is enough to destroy a Combat form and Pure forms. Swords are found in moderate abundance in High Charity, along with incendiary grenades and even a flamethrower: fire is immensely effective against the Flood, and a single grenade will burn a tank Pure form in no time at all. Unlike Halo 2, if the Energy Sword is not available, the shotgun is an acceptable substitute, as it can now disintegrate Flood bodies, as well.

  • It is very easy to get lost in the halls of what remains of High Charity, and I got lost in the labyrinthine tunnels of Flood biomass. There is, however, a bit of a trick: the Flood will stop spawning in areas Master Chief has already cleared, so one knows they’re headed in the right direction if there’s more Flood to fight. One thing to be mindful of are the Flood pods on the walls: when destroyed, they spray Infection forms everywhere, and moreover, are camouflaged rather well with the other biomass. In the heat of a firefight, when bullets are flying this way and that, these pods can make a tricky situation worse, so it’s worth checking one’s fire before shooting.

  • When Master Chief finds Cortana, she’s a little worse for wear, having endured the Gravemind’s countless intrusions into her mind. Seeing Master Chief helps her to regain her composure, and she reveals that she’s got a copy of the Halo activation Index, and when the Gravemind realises what’s happened, he sends hordes of Flood to stop the pair. In order to buy some time, Cortana proposes destroying High Charity’s main reactor, bringing to mind how Master Chief and Cortana destroyed Installation 04’s Pulse Generators in Halo: Combat Evolved.

  • The resulting explosion will destroy all of High Charity’s interior, leaving only the outer hull. From here, Master Chief escapes on a Pelican bound for Installation 08, a reconstructed Halo that replaces Installation 04. The Gravemind survives the destruction of High Charity and is attempting to reestablish itself on Installation 08. The final mission thus becomes clear: activate the new Halo ring and destroy Gravemind for all time.

  • However, after arriving on the snowy wastes of Installation 08, it becomes clear that reaching the control room and activating Halo is not a trivial task: an entire army of Flood stand between Master Chief, The Arbiter and the control room. This canyon brings to mind the setting of Halo: Combat Evolved, but with no Banshee available, one must fight through the legion of Flood. Here, the best setup would be an assault rifle and Energy Sword, and on my play-through, I found it more effectual to only engage anything that stood in front of me, rather than anything that moves.

  • Master Chief and The Arbiter must wait for The Monitor to unlock the door leading into the Control Room this time around, and a seemingly-endless stream of Flood await both. On the ramps leading up to the door, there’s a flamethrower, but since the flamethrower will reduce one’s movement rate, it’s not an option I would choose. Instead, it is possible to pick it up and give it to Johnson: the flamethrower is the ultimate weapon against the Flood, and even a quick burst, consuming 2-3 units of fuel, will ignite and kill the tank Pure forms with ease. By this point in the campaign, I’ve gotten used to the controls for dual-wielding, and while it’s not as effective as using a two-handed weapon, it can still be fun. Dual wielding is actually a fair option against the Flood: if one manages their reloads well, they can more or less fire continuously.

  • The Monitor reveals that Installation 08 is not ready to fire, and when Johnson makes to override him, is fatally wounded. In turn, Master Chief destroys the Monitor using the Spartan Laser, the only weapon in Halo 3 capable of dealing any damage to him. Johnson’s death hit the Halo community hard: tough talking, reliable and sporting a big personality, he was portrayed as well-respected amongst the UNSC marines and for the player-base, was a source of amusing jokes and one-liners. Once the Monitor is done, it’s time to escape Installation 08, and players will get to pass through familiar sights that were seen in Halo: Combat Evolved‘s Assault on the Control Room.

  • Yesterday evening, I finally had clear skies in my region, after a tornado warning was issued during the afternoon and a massive cumulonimbus cloud over the city centre began rotating. As the sun set, it was as though there was no storm at all, and so, I decided to see if I could catch a glimpse of Comet C/2020 F3 (better known as NEOWISE). Media outlets had advertised the comet as being visible to the naked eye, with an apparent magnitude of around 1.0 (while not as bright as a star, it should still have been easy to find). Such was not the case: when I got out there, NEOWISE was at magnitude 7, not visible without binoculars. I only managed to find it using a star chart, and after star hopping with my 10×50 binoculars, saw an underwhelming smudge. This was disappointing, and I’ll be looking for another shot at seeing it as weather favours.

  • While NEOWISE might’ve been a disappointment, Halo 3 has been anything but: the final mission is an absolute trill to play through. In a callback to Halo: Combat Evolved‘s driving mission, Halo 3‘s last segment features a race to the Forward Unto Dawn as Installation 08 begins collapsing from the premature firing. The scaffolding that forms the path for Master Chief and The Arbiter to travel along will begin falling apart. Cortana’s countdown and urgent tones are not for show: even though there isn’t a countdown time, there’s a rush to the finish, since the disintegrating scaffolding is set to explode and open up as scripted events on a timer.

  • With the Forward Unto Dawn in range, Master Chief prepares to make one final jump, bringing the gameplay of Halo 3 to an end. For me, this means finally finishing the fight as I’d longed to do since 2007. I had fun every step of the way through Halo 3‘s campaign, and it appears I’ve also timed this post nicely – yesterday, Microsoft revealed gameplay of Halo Infinite, which sees Master Chief working to save humanity from the Banished, a fanatical Covenant splinter group who’ve found a Halo ring and intend to activate it in revenge. The footage looks beautiful, and the game looks like it is was Bungie originally intended Halo: Combat Evolved to be. Set for a holiday 2020 launch, Halo Infinite will be available on PC, as well as Xbox One. This brings my latest Halo post to an end, and as we head towards the end of July, I’ll be looking to do a talk on Warlords of New York, as well as Oregairu Kan after three episodes.

At its conclusion, Halo 3 answers the questions left open by Halo 2: Truth is dead, and with this, the Covenant do not pose a serious threat to humanity, having splintered apart. Gravemind has been eradicated, and the Flood appear to have been neutralised, no longer troubling all life in the known galaxy. For players in 2007, Halo 3 was a well-deserved conclusion to a journey that spanned some six years, and in The Master Chief Collection, Halo 3 is a welcome addition. Despite lacking any of the remaster work that went into Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2, Halo 3 still looks and feels excellent. Granted, some of the textures look decidedly dated, but beyond this, the lighting and effects in Halo 3 holds up to this day. Overall, it is easy to see why Halo 3 is considered to be one of the best games of all time: besides decisively closing off the Original Trilogy of Halo, gameplay and engine improvements make Halo 3 the most refined Halo game of its time, demonstrating a culmination of the lessons learned from Halo 2 and Halo: Combat Evolved. Having now gone through Halo 3 myself, a meagre thirteen years after the original released to PC, I definitely appreciate why people consider Halo 3 to be the apex of the Halo franchise. While representing the end of one era, Halo 3 would also foreshadow a continuation: players tenacious enough to finish the game on the legendary difficulty were treated to a cinematic of the Foreward Unto Dawn drifting towards an unknown planet that was dubbed the “Legendary Planet”. This hinted at the idea that Master Chief’s journey was not yet finished, and until 2012’s Halo 4 continued the story, the Legendary Planet was subject to much speculation even as Bungie released Halo 3 ODST and Halo Reach. I am immensely glad to have had the chance to go through Halo 3 for myself now, and at this point in time, only Halo 3 ODST and Halo 4 remain. The former is to be released in the very near future, being a side-story of sorts that follows a rookie ODST in New Mombassa following Regret’s jump to Delta Halo, and I am looking forwards to finally stepping into a game whose unique atmosphere and soundtrack brings to mind memories of my first term as an undergraduate student.