Halo 4 is undoubtedly one of the biggest upcoming releases. Every entry in the Halo franchise, even the spin-offs like Reach and ODST, are monumental video game events, selling millions of copies on the first day of release. Halo 4 will likely continue that success, but Halo 4 is ever the more interesting since it’s the first original Halo game not developed by series creators Bungie. Will 343 Industries be able to successfully take the reigns and deliver a new Halo experience that can compete with the other major shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield? The first Borderlands game successfully combined the FPS genre and the RPG genre. Gearbox is going all out with Borderlands 2, and it’s looking to be much more than just a worthy successor. And finally in this edition of Looking Forward, we shift gears to an ambitious Kinect-powered Fable game, Fable: The Journey. Will Fable be able to survive on Kinect, or will it flop like the recently released Fable Heroes?
Let’s kick off this edition of Looking Forward, as always, with the headliner…Halo 4!
Halo 4 picks up right where Halo 3 left off. Halo 3 was released in 2007, so we haven’t seen a major release in the Halo franchise for five years now. Hopefully that translates into a strong, fresh approach to the franchise. Anyway, Halo 3 ended with Master Chief in cryogenic sleep on a ship with his AI companion Cortana as they drifted towards an ancient Forerunner (the extinct people believed to be wipe out by the titular Halo rings) planet. Halo 4 looks to finally reveal what this planet is, and bring Master Chief back to the forefront of the franchise for the first time since he finished the fight in 2007.
Halo 4 begins with Cortana rousing Master Chief from his sleep as the ship they are on, the Forward Unto Dawn, is attacked. What follows is typical Halo gameplay. Throwing grenades, shooting, running for cover when your shields are down. It’s what you’d expect, but that’s not a bad thing. The Halo formula has proven to be quite durable, showing that Microsoft’s flagship franchise still has a lot to bring to the table.
Not much has been said regarding new enemies that players will face in Halo 4, but 343 Industries, the new developers for the Halo franchise, has confirmed that there will be plenty of new threats to deal with in this game. However, returning enemies will appear as well, with the enemies attacking the Forward Unto Dawn at the start of the game are evidently comprised of typical Covenant foes. Since the war ended at the conclusion of Halo 3 between Earth and the Covenant, it will be interesting to discover why these Covenant are attacking the Forward Unto Dawn in Halo 4.
Besides returning enemies, 343 has promised that plenty of characters from throughout the series will be returning as well. Besides Master Chief and Cortana, no specifics have been revealed in this area either, but don’t be surprised if any number of the surviving cast of Halo 1-3 pop back up in Halo 4.
Speaking of Master Chief and Cortana, their relationship will be a major focus in this game. While the relationship between Chief and Cortana was established in earlier games, 343 is hoping to make the typical Halo storyline much more emotionally-driven in an attempt to give Master Chief more of a solid character. They will do this through the subplot of the game. Apparently as an AI gets older, they slowly become insane, so Halo 4 will show how Master Chief and Cortana deal with her slow descent into madness as the game progresses.
This may seem like a lot of information to digest, especially if you are completely new to the series. But don’t worry; 343 has confirmed a prologue will start the game, catching everyone up on the relevant Halo-centric information going into Halo 4.
I’ve mentioned 343 multiple times already without going into much detail about them as a studio. I don’t think fans have anything to worry about when it comes to Bungie handing over control of the Halo franchise to 343. The reason for that is 343 is comprised entirely of people that are nuts about Halo, according to a statement made by them. 343 features ex-Bungie employees that jumped ship so they could continue working on their beloved Halo franchise, and the team is entirely dedicated to the Halo series. This allows Bungie to pursue other projects while the Halo franchise can continue to grow and evolve.
343 has already worked on the Halo franchise leading up to taking full control of it. The popular Halo Waypoint feature that keeps track of your stats across all the different Halo games was created by them. 343 also has been in control of the Halo: Reach servers since August 2011, with no complaints that I can see, and they even developed the second map pack that was released for that game, which was received well. 343 are also the folks that released Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary (in collaboration with Saber Interactive), a quasi-remake of the first Halo games with new features such as improved graphics, connectivity with Halo: Reach multiplayer, and even Kinect support.
But back to Halo 4 as a game itself. Now that you know the capability of 343, let’s go into a bit more detail regarding the changes they are bringing to the Halo formula. For one, the combat is said to be more strategic than in past games. 343 promises that as more and more enemies are introduced to battles, players will be forced to figure out different strategies to better contend with all of their foes.
Another addition to the Halo series are interactive set-pieces. These set-pieces will not just be spectacles as seen in the Call of Duty games, but rather playable sections that will be more in line with revamped QTEs than traditional set-pieces. Whether or not they will function well in the Halo franchise remains to be seen.
Even more changes come in the form of an entirely revamped HUD. 343 has changed the HUD in the game to reflect the fact that Cortana has evidently upgraded Chief’s technology during his sleep. I guess the girl had to do something to pass the time. And obviously, 343 is bringing an improved graphics engine to the table, allowing Halo 4 to be the best-looking Halo game yet.
Story-wise, the game takes place on the newly discovered planet called Requiem. Requiem features a large bubble shield around it, perhaps hinting that the Forerunners, all previously believed to be extinct, will be making appearances in Halo 4. Besides that, not a whole lot has been released about the plot, but maybe we’ll be given more information as E3 draws nearer, and certainly as the game’s release date approaches. Meanwhile, we do know that Halo 4 is part of a planned trilogy. Halo 4 is the first entry in that trilogy, while Halo 5 and Halo 6 will continue and finish the new story arc on whatever Microsoft’s next-generation console happens to be.
Revamped gameplay, visuals, and an all-new storyline are fine and good, but the meat and potatoes of the Halo games has and always will be the multiplayer. Fans are probably most interested and concerned about what 343 is going to do with the traditional Halo multiplayer when they release Halo 4. Well, a ton of information has been revealed regarding that particular gameplay mode, so you can decide for yourself if it sounds at all appealing.
First of all, the multiplayer in the game is going back to the roots of the series. Instead of allowing players to play as Elites, the only two multiplayer options will be red Spartans and blue Spartans, on par with what was introduced in the very first Halo game way back when the original Xbox launched. The multiplayer is also given a reason for existing.
Indeed, the multiplayer is said to take place on board the UNSC Infinity. This traveling spaceship is host to the new Spartan IV military models, the successors to Master Chief. These Spartan IV soldiers need combat training, so they train in simulations on the ship. Think the Danger Room in X-Men fiction, in which they can create any environment and hazard for the others to train with. So even though all the multiplayer is technically taking place on a ship, any environment can actually be featured, so don’t worry about all the maps being boring, cookie-cutter affairs.
The playable characters for the multiplayer will comprise entirely of the Spartan IV models and the multiplayer will take place on the Infinity, but the new story focus for the multiplayer doesn’t stop there. During the game’s campaign, Master Chief will actually cross paths with the UNSC Infinity, taking the story focus of the multiplayer to an all new level.
More changes are coming to the multiplayer than just a new-found focus on storytelling. Halo 4 is going to introduce customized weapon loadouts for the first time in the franchise, in the vein of the Call of Duty games. Instead of choosing from pre-determined loadouts and rushing to power weapons on the map, players will have a choice in the weapons that they start each match with. Furthermore, the abilities that were introduced in Halo: Reach are making a return, but they are also customized as part of your loadouts. There will be new armor abilities, as well as many returning ones. No new armor abilities have been revealed so far, but the Sprint armor ability is now a universal function across everyone playing multiplayer.
Players will also be able to earn experience points and level up in this game, as they did in Reach. But leveling up in Halo 4 will offer more than simply cosmetic rewards. New weapons and abilities will become available as one advances through the multiplayer ranks.
Another difference coming to the multiplayer that just sounds awesome is that the power weapons don’t spawn at the same points of the map for every game. Instead, the power weapons are dropped into the map randomly, which results in a violent scramble to obtain them. Hopefully this alleviates camping issues and encourages more offensive encounters.
As for the rest of the multiplayer package, expect all-new maps, new vehicles, and new weapons. There will also be new multiplayer modes, along with returning favorites. One of the new modes is called Regicide. In Regicide, whoever has the most points is labeled as the “king”, and every other person in the game has the goal of defeating the king to earn a ton of points, and then they become the king. It’s like reverse-Infection, and looks to add freshness to the franchise.
One of the drawing points of all Halo games has been co-op play. The original Halo on Xbox was incredibly popular in part because of its focus on cooperative gameplay whereas many other games didn’t make the effort to include such a feature. Halo 4 does not shy away from the co-op traditions of the series. Halo 4 is confirmed to include four-player online co-op through the campaign, as well as two-player split-screen for those that want to play locally. It’s likely that split-screen/online functionality will be an option as well, since it was in the previous games.
A brand new type of co-op is being introduced in Halo 4. This is called Spartan Ops, and it will be a series of co-op missions starring your multiplayer Spartan IV character and those of whoever you’re playing with. 343 hopes to make this mode weekly episodic, meaning new content will be released for it each week that tells one long storyline, similarly to a television show. The Spartan Ops content will be absolutely free, and it’s a brilliant way to evolve the daily/weekly challenges that have remained popular in the Halo series since their introduction.
If there’s one thing I can say about Halo 4 it’s that there is an obvious dedication to storytelling. From the campaign to the multiplayer to Spartan Ops, every game mode in Halo 4 is either telling a story or trying to remain consistent with the other Halo stories being told. 343 is also taking efforts to incorporate the various Halo novels into the game, so Halo fanatics will be right at home.
Halo 4 has a release date of November 6th of this year. The game will be released exclusively for the Microsoft’s Xbox 360 when it launches.
Well, that’s a whole lot of info to swallow, but it’s my job to pick apart the good and the bad. For the most part, Halo 4 sounds mostly good. The game will feature the incredible Halo multiplayer gameplay we’ve come to know and love, and it is also taking risks in the form of the new Spartan Ops co-op mode, and by changing up the formula. Some of these changes to the established formula has me a little worried, though.
For one, interactive set-pieces don’t sound like a good idea in a campaign mode that focuses on co-op play. Unless they strip the co-op mode of these moments, I don’t see how it could work without bogging down the gameplay. And if they are able to strip these moments from the game for co-op, yet still tell the storyline, then that begs the question: why are they included to begin with? It will be interesting to see how 343 incorporates these elements into their campaign, and if they can do it successfully.
Another issue I have is with the multiplayer. Halo 4 is trying hard to be like Call of Duty when it comes to the progression system and customizable loadouts. I’m not saying being like one of the strongest multiplayer games in existence is a bad thing, but does Halo need to do this? I don’t see much wrong with the established Halo multiplayer formula. Hell, I’d argue that it’s head and shoulders above the Call of Duty multiplayer. Taking the good ideas from the competition is always smart, but will it leave a bad taste in the mouths of the diehard Halo fans?
And finally, the third problem I have lies in the fact that there’s no dedicated Firefight mode. I can’t fathom why this mode wouldn’t be included. Firefight was one of the most popular gameplay features since it was introduced in ODST. People love it. It’s a freaking blast. Why take it away for Halo 4? I hate when series seem to be taking a step back instead of a step forward, and the removal of Firefight in Halo 4 is a prime example of taking a step backward. A video game sequel should retain everything that made the previous games so popular, and BUILD on that in order to be the best sequel possible. Depriving Halo 4 of Firefight is going to hurt it in the long-run, in the eyes of the gaming press and of the gaming public.
But like I said, besides these three main complaints, Halo 4 looks like it will be a good game. I really like the idea of Spartan Ops, and the new suit design for the Halo 4 multiplayer is refreshing. All the new features like new maps, new weapons, and more will hopefully spice things up, and I can’t wait to see what 343 does in terms of the storyline.
+A ton of new features
+Fresh perspective on the Halo franchise
-Call of Duty: Halo
Time to switch gears, but only kind of. You see, the Borderlands games are games that combine the popular elements of first-person shooters with the popular elements of RPGs. The first Borderlands proved to be an incredibly smart venture by Gearbox, and elements of the game became extremely popular with gamers. Borderlands 2 hopes to build on the success of the original by providing a sequel that goes all out to deliver the absolute best Borderlands experience possible.
Borderlands 2 once again takes place on Pandora, with plenty of Claptraps to laugh at and bandits to kill. Much loot will be collected and plenty of guns will be bought, sold, found, given away, etc. Borderlands 2 is very much a sequel to Borderlands, retaining all of these elements as well as the focus on co-op play, hilarious dialogue, and interesting cel-shaded visuals.
Borderlands 2 introduces four new main characters to the Borderlands universe, replacing the four that dominated the previous game. The first of these is Salvador, a Gunzerker class that is similar to the Berserker class from the first game, but with quite a few improvements. The Gunzerker class retains many of the abilities of the Berserker class, but has the ability to dual-wield ANY combination of weapons in the game. The amount of epic that will provide cannot be understated.
Another new character is Maya, the Siren for this game. She has a lot in common with the Siren from the first Borderlands, but she also has new abilities of her own. She has a skill called Phaselock, which suspends enemies in mid-air, frozen, leaving them completely vulnerable to attacks from everyone else.
Another new character is the mysterious Zer0. Zero is a cyborg/ninja hybrid ala Metal Gear Solid and is a unique addition to the Borderlands formula for a number of reasons. For one, he has a more stealth-oriented approach to combat, whereas virtually every other Borderlands character are violent action-oriented characters. Zer0 also has a melee weapon, which is unprecedented in Borderlands. Zer0 can use his sword in conjunction with his stealth attacks for maximum damage, but he is also able to wield guns and the like.
And the final character is Axton. Axton is a new Commando class and shares a lot in common with Roland from the first game. However, there will be key differences between Axton and Roland, though they have yet to be revealed. Axton and Roland also share in common their special ability, which involves launching a turret. Granted, Axton’s turret is more durable than Roland’s, as you are able to attach it to walls and ceilings and more as you continue to upgrade Axton throughout the game.
These four new characters will be joined by plenty of returning characters from the first Borderlands and its DLC. While not much word has been given on all the returning characters from the first game, it has been confirmed that Mad Moxxi will play a prominent role in the storyline. In addition, the four main characters from the first Borderlands will appear as NPCs in the game.
Borderlands 2 looks to improve upon the formula the original set in a number of ways. For one, the split-screen co-op can be taken online now, which was a feature I desperately wanted to be implemented after playing the first game. Another thing is that the four characters have 30% more skills to upgrade when compared to the characters from the first game. Borderlands 2 will also feature a new truck vehicle that includes a turret, a driver’s seat, and a truck bed that will allow the other two players to fend off any enemies.
Among these additions is a new focus on the story in the game, though most of the story will be told through character dialogue and set-pieces, in the vein of Half-Life. Gearbox has also revamped the PvP system. In the first game, duels between player characters were pretty pointless, but in Borderlands 2, these duels can yield rewards as players can wager loot they’ve earned in the battles.
As I said in the previous paragraph, there is a larger focus on the story in this game. Set five years after the events of the original, Borderlands 2 follows this new cast of characters as they are instructed by the mysterious Guardian woman in the first game to kill a man named Handsome Jack. Handsome Jack’s evil plan is not entirely known, except he wants to resurrect an ancient Pandora evil named The Warrior. This new quest will serve as the driving force of the story in Borderlands 2, but there will also be plenty of side-quests to explore as well.
Borderlands 2 launches later this year on September 18th for multiple platforms including the PC, Xbox 360, and the PlayStation 3.
Borderlands 2 looks awesome. They are fixing my main complaint from the first game (no split-screen/online simultaneous co-op) and adding a ton of features to get excited about. All the main characters sound like a lot of fun to play as, plus there will be a lot of returning characters from the first game that gave it an incredible charm. I can’t wait to hear the new quips Claptrap has prepared, and to find out more about the mysterious Guardian that also led the heroes of the first game.
I really can’t think of a bad thing to say about Borderlands 2. I guess my main gripe is that the game takes place on Pandora again, and I was hoping that the setting would be radically changed between the two games. Perhaps when the inevitable Borderlands 3 releases, hopefully next-gen, we will see a refreshing setting for the series.
+Just about everything
-Setting is the same as the first game
Microsoft has pushed its Kinect system pretty hard, putting it into its major franchises such as Halo and now Fable. Fable: The Journey is the next chapter in the Fable franchise, though the series has seen better days. Whereas the first two games were critically praised across the board, Fable III, while still well-received, failed to reach the heights of its predecessors. The ill-fated Fable Heroes for Xbox Live Arcade has flopped as well. Will Fable: The Journey be the game that brings the Fable franchise back to the limelight?
Fable: The Journey is not your typical Kinect game as it doesn’t take place entirely on-rails. It is promised that players will be able to dismount the horse that is shown in many of the trailers and videos of the game and explore freely around the world. How this will work has yet to be determined, but I can imagine it will involve players literally walking, in the vein of Haunt for XBLA.
Fable: The Journey will use the Kinect for all of its input. The 360 controller will have no role to play in this game. The main attack methods will involve magic use, with two magic types shown off for the game so far. These magic attacks include a fireball and tentacles that the player can use to knock enemies down. What’s impressive about Fable: The Journey’s motion controls is that the force of the attacks really depend on how hard or fast or slow you use your hands to cast the spells.
The motion controls will be used in nearly every other aspect of the game as well. One feature of the game that has received a lot of attention is the relationship between the main character and the horse. The horse will serve as your companion in the game, and motion controls are used to travel on it. Players will have to take care of the horse as well, though. For example, if the horse gets injured by an enemy’s arrow, the player will have to use precise motion controls to remove the arrow and then clean and fix the wound.
Mass Effect 3 proved that voice commands with the Kinect can lead to an optimal gaming experience. Fable: The Journey will also use voice commands on the Kinect. Depending on the tone of a player’s voice or certain phrases that are said, different actions will occur on the screen. If you sound angry and then cast your fireball magic, the fireball may be more ferocious than before, for example.
Fable: The Journey will release sometime later this year, and along with Halo 4, is another Xbox 360 exclusive.
Motion controls can be fantastic tools when used correctly. When used incorrectly, they can drag down a game experience. Fable: The Journey is the last game developed by Peter Molyneux for Lionhead Studios, and he has proven in the past that he can turn out good games. Peter has supported the Kinect since it was revealed a few years back, and with Fable: The Journey being his first game to use the Kinect, it will be interesting to see if Molyneux can bring out some of the Fable magic with Microsoft’s new peripheral.
That being said, the ideas Fable: The Journey is implementing sound cool. Using magic with the Kinect looks to be fun, and I like how they have incorporated voice command controls in the game as well. Also, I didn’t touch on all of the Kinect features of Fable: The Journey since this editorial has been a bit long-winded, but I can tell you that Fable: The Journey will incorporate mini-games that will also take advantage of the motion controls. And if it’s one thing we know, motion controls + mini-games are a match made in Heaven.
Fable: The Journey is also intriguing because it hopes to be more than just a linear motion control experience. Like I said, the game will have exploration, it will have mini-games, and it will even have an RPG leveling system, and much more. Molyneux and Lionhead are really going all out for this. But that being said, motion controls still are spotty and not always reliable, unless they are done exactly right.
+Uses Kinect in interesting ways
-Motion controls may not work as advertised
There you have it. Two Microsoft exclusives, Halo 4 and Fable: The Journey, plus an epic sequel in the form of Borderlands 2 graced this edition of Looking Forward. What about these games has you excited? Sound off in the comments section below!
And next month on Looking Forward, tune in for a massive preview of recently revealed The Elder Scrolls: Online!