Last week, in the early back-blast of the Beta's launch, Brian noticed that some players were struggling to come to grips with some of the changes brought to bare by our brand new multiplayer mechanics. Though we'd covered the new stuff with great vigor and unbridled enthusiasm, Brian wanted to go the extra mile. And so, to get some tips and tricks, he dove deep into the bowels of the community in search of a seasoned Halo veteran. Since tricks were the order of the day, he ultimately extracted the one, the only, the ever verbose Shake Appeal to do this dirty deed on his behalf.
If you've found that you weren't quite ready to get your boots in the mud, read on, gentle traveler, and follow in Shake's dainty and delicate footsteps. If you have reading spectacles, now's the time to don those bad boys.
by Shake "Two Boxes" Appeal
When you first fire up the Halo: Reach Beta, you’ll soon realize that plenty has changed since Halo 3. Some of these changes will be immediately understood and welcomed, while others may take some getting used to. Bungie have made significant alterations to some of the core concepts you may have taken for granted, such as how melee combat works, how you should best aim your weapon, or even something as simple as how high you can jump. Troublesome, I know. But then remember when you had to lay your beloved pistol to rest with the arrival of Halo 2, and cope with learning some ungodly new instrument called the Battle...Rifle? Remember how you later learned to love it? Well, ‘four-shot’ isn’t in your vocabulary anymore, as the Halo sandbox has seen its most radical overhaul yet. The comforting news for Halo veterans is that skill, situational awareness, and honest teamwork are privileged more than ever in Reach. Put simply: good players go in, good players win out. Provided, that is, they’re willing to adapt. If you’re open to learning a few new tricks, and unlearning a few stale habits, then this guide will help you through the foreign terrain of the beta. If not, at least you’ll have something to read between ragequits.
Coming from Halo 3, you may find yourself having to wrestle with the new controls in Reach at first. I know it’s irksome, but these changes have been necessitated by the removal of dual wielding and the introduction of Armor Abilities. It’s important to feel attuned to the controller in your hands, and that’s why Bungie have provided a range of controller options for your comfort and pleasure.
Bring these up via the Start Menu and flick through the button layouts until you find one that strikes your fancy. Bear in mind the Default scheme is a little different this time, placing your Melee Attack on the right bumper and new-fangled Armor Abilities on the left. Don’t worry, though, this puts you in pole position for sprinting and punching. For those of you who made the switch to Bumper Jumper in Halo 3, that layout returns here, with Armor Abilities replacing outmoded Equipment on the X button. You may find this hampers your ability to both steer and shoot while swooping about with your Jetpack, but flying is for the birds, right? None of your other Armor Abilities should suffer, and you’ll be able to bunny hop with the best of them. In addition to the returning control schemes, Reach also introduces the Recon layout, which pops Action/Reload onto the right bumper. Consider giving this a whirl if nothing else quite feels comfortable.
One more tip regarding the controls: Reach features a wider field of vision (FOV) than the previous Halo games, and it may be worth kicking your usual look sensitivity up one notch to compensate. It’s a minor adjustment, sure, but every little thing helps when easing in that first time.
There are plenty of other options in the beta, but you should definitely tinker with your social settings at least once (you’ll find these in the matchmaking options, just above ‘Start Matchmaking’). Find it hard to capture flags with jerks shrieking in your ear? Set your motivation to ‘Good Time’ and your tone to ‘Polite’. From then on, the beta will do its best to track down those few gentlemen and ladies who share your utopian vision. You can also ask matchmaking to prioritize by connection quality, language, skill ... or all three, if you’re fussy. Fair warning: these may increase the time it takes for you to land a game.
The first thing you’ll probably notice when setting foot on the surface of Reach is that you’re a little more sluggish than you used to be, and your jump is a little less, well, floaty
. Whether you put this down to game balancing or the planet’s gravitational pull is up to you; either way, you’re going to have to adapt. The fact of the matter is you have more options to get where you want to go than ever before in a Halo game, and a Spartan making use of Sprint or Jetpack in Reach is faster than their counterparts in the earlier games. If you want to feel the wind in your hair, you’re going to want to plump for the relevant Loadouts. Otherwise, prepare to find yourself a little more grounded in this game, though no less powerful for that.
The exception is when you step into the hooves of an Elite, which you’ll do in the Covy Slayer variant, as well as half the time in the Invasion and Network Test 1 (“Generator Defense”) playlists. Elites are bigger, quicker, and more graceful than the puny humans, and they also have the monopoly on the Evade Armor Ability, which allows them to glide in and out of trouble like murderous gazelles. If you find yourself feeling nostalgic for the bounding moon jumps and faster running of Halo 3, cast your vote for Covy Slayer when it’s available in the Grab Bag playlist.
thing that will strike you in Reach is the increased difficulty of landing shots with many of the weapons. There are two reasons for this, the first of which is the decreased autoaim when compared to Halo 3. Put simply, Reach is doing less to help you hit the target, meaning you’re going to have to pick up the slack. The upside, however, is that many of Reach’s weapons are ‘hitscan’, which means the game calculates whether or not you landed your shot solely on the basis of where your reticle was when you pulled the trigger. Forget the simulated ballistics and flaky ‘spread’ of Halo 3’s Battle Rifle, and stop leading your targets; all you have to do in Reach is aim and fire. Simple, right? As things stand, it’s harder to shoot accurately in this game than it was in Halo 3, but when you miss it’s more likely to have been your fault. I don’t say these things to hurt you; once you understand that a bullet’s travel time is often infinite in Reach (and that, in fact, the bullet doesn’t really exist
), things are going to get easier. One disadvantage of the new system is that the ‘bullet trail’ you see when firing a hitscan weapon can be deceptive, and the issue is compounded by latency. So trust in your reticle, not in the trail. Your reticle knows what’s up.
Which brings me to my next point. One of the major differences in Reach is the introduction of a dynamic reticle (not ‘reticule’, you should note, which is a kind of woman’s purse), which ‘blooms’ to simulate the increasing inaccuracy of rapidly-fired shots. This is in addition to the physical recoil the guns experience when you shoot them. Whenever you fire, your shot will always land somewhere
within the reticle, which makes managing the changing size of the reticle almost as important as lining it up with a target. There’s little point having a perfect headshot readied if your reticle has ballooned to be larger than the opponent’s head – and the only way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to pace your shots. You might also want to try crouching for particularly crucial shots at range, as it provides a small boost to accuracy.
To put it more simply, Bungie are now allowing you to fire your gun faster than is optimal, at the cost of precision; if you want to remain accurate, you will have to fire your gun slower
. A smart player makes use of the reticle’s size relative to the size of the target (i.e. the range the target is appearing at), however, and I will cover this later when talking about the most flexible weapon for killing opponents in Reach: the mighty M6G pistol. But for the time being, let’s take a look at what’s keeping you alive.
Halo: Reach sees the reintroduction of non-regenerating health, a mechanic that was originally in Halo: Combat Evolved, and more recently revived in Halo: ODST. Beneath your shield bar are seventeen segments representing your life and vitality, and as you sustain damage these are chipped away until death becomes imminent. Between encounters, you will notice your depleted health actually regenerates up to a point, but to maintain full effectiveness you’re going to need to track down and make use of the health packs dotted around the maps (they’re on the walls, killer, marked with a helpful red ‘H’). If you’re an Elite, your health will recharge fully all by itself, presumably on account of your astounding alien physiology. Either way, ensure you are healthy before charging into the next battle, as low health makes you easier meat for grenades (and just about everything else). Also returning from Combat Evolved is fall damage, though the effect is minor from most heights unless you were already hurt, and you can mitigate the impact by crouching as you land.
Of course, you still have a regenerating shield that protects you from more immediate threats, and crucially from those dreaded shots to the head. This shield is better than ever, in fact, as most weapons can no longer pierce through it to cause damage to your health, or at least not immediately. Make no mistake, the weapons that were one-shot kills before – the rockets, for example – remain so, but just about everything else (with the notable exception of a sniper round to the head) has to pop your shield before it can start actually hurting you. This is most apparent when it comes to close combat.
A single melee hit still takes down a player’s shield, but that is all
it will do, regardless of whether the shield was full or significantly weakened. Read that last sentence over before proceeding. Got it? Okay. In Halo 3, you could charge an opponent with your Assault Rifle (AR) and deliver a closing melee that punched through their remaining shield with enough force left over to kill. In Halo: Reach, even the tiniest sliver of shield will absorb that first blow. Think of it this way: if your opponent has any shield at all, it will always take two melee hits to beat them down. If this guide was a textbook and I was your teacher, I’d be asking you to underline this whole paragraph.
To recap: in each individual encounter, you’re going to have to make certain your opponent’s shield has dropped entirely before you deliver a knockout punch. This renders some old approaches, such as the AR charge mentioned above, less effective. It renders others, such as a quick Sprint followed by a rapid ‘double melee’, much more
effective. Vitally, you now have to break most encounters in two: deal with the shield, then work the body. When you start thinking in this fashion, you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of beatdowns less often.
And, of course, the methods of taking down a shield are myriad. There are the brand new approaches: the EMP blast that accompanies a grenade launcher detonation, for instance, or the ‘hedgehog prickles’ of Armor Lock. And there are the old standbys: a sniper round to the body, an overcharged plasma pistol burst (which now chips away a fraction of the enemy’s health to boot), or the traditional hail of bullets. Let’s discuss that last item, shall we?
Chances are when you spawn in Halo: Reach you are going to be packing at least one, and likely two, of the following three weapons: the Assault Rifle, the pistol, and the Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR). These are the cornerstones of the Spartan armament in multiplayer, and the guns you are most frequently going to have shot at you at most levels of play. So how do you shoot them better?
The Assault Rifle behaves much as it did in Halo 3, though its effectiveness at medium range appears to have improved. As ever, it’s best to fire in short, controlled bursts to maintain accuracy. You’re also going to want to make sure the enemy’s shield is down before you slam into them for the kill, as detailed above. Counterintuitive as it may seem, it’s sometimes best to keep a little distance ahead of instinctively rushing in for the beatdown.
The pistol and the DMR are identical in one respect: they both fire the same round and so deal the same damage. Both weapons require four on-target shots to remove an intact shield, and then a fifth headshot to kill – or a few more shots to the body, provided an enemy has full health. You’ll notice that’s one more shot than Halo 3’s revered Battle Rifle, and you’re probably quivering with rage at the thought. Stop that. This new pistol can, after all, fire faster than the Battle Rifle – more than fast enough to compensate for its inferior damage-dealing.
The accompanying problem is that the pistol suffers heavily from the recoil and reticle bloom mentioned above. This means that while unloading it into someone’s face at point-blank range will
net a kill faster than the Battle Rifle ever did, your shots are going to be wild and wide at distances greater than that. But don’t fret: it’s still very possible to grab kills even at extreme range, as long as you keep your rate of fire slow and steady. It has a scope, don’t forget, and its first shot is always fiercely accurate. Early on, it may help to observe the motion of the reticle to get the rhythm down. Later, when you get better at it, you’ll know just by the feel
At close range, meanwhile, the reticle bloom is not so severe that you still can’t cover the body of an onrushing enemy with it, and you should use this to your advantage and unload the magazine as fast as you can in these situations, happy in the knowledge that every shot will land (provided your reticle doesn’t extend beyond the target you are aiming at). When an opponent charges you, aim for the chest and spam the trigger. The recoil will tug your aim upward with each shot, until the fifth or so lands right between their unshielded eyes. Feels good, doesn’t it? Apply liberally to enemies barrelling toward you with the Assault Rifle or Plasma Repeater. You can even take down opponents wielding a shotgun, Energy Sword or Gravity Hammer with this approach, provided you have the space to work in before they get too close.
The DMR doesn’t suffer nearly as much from recoil or reticle bloom (just try firing both at a wall, for comparison), which makes it more consistent than the pistol at medium or longer range. It also has a deeper clip (stocking 12 rounds to the pistol’s 8). In a non-pressure situation, try firing the first four shots at the opponent’s body, which presents a bigger target and so is less likely to escape your aim as a result of reticle bloom. Then, when you see the shield pop, take a breath before shooting at the head. Remember that both the DMR and the pistol are single-shot, hitscan weapons; unlike the inconsistent Battle Rifle, when you see an enemy’s shield light up you have definitely hit them with the full force of that round. And while their shield is still up, damage is identical all over the body, so it doesn’t matter a jot whether you ping them in the head or the pinkie toe.
The DMR’s downfall is its slower speed: you simply can’t pull its trigger as fast as you can the pistol’s, and this will prove the death of you in many situations. While there is a certain degree of overlap, and the DMR is always the more reliable, you should switch to the pistol at close range to avail of its faster firing rate. Just remember, it takes five shots from either (or both!) to kill a fully-shielded opponent, provided the fifth shot is to the head. Of crucial importance is accounting not only for your reticle’s position, but for its size relative to your target. Understand these things and you’re on your way to adeptly handling most regular encounters. And when you start landing clutch five-shots at both close and long range with the pistol, it’ll finally be time to grant the Battle Rifle its well-earned rest.
The Needle Rifle (or Nerfle) is the Covenant’s answer to the DMR. Although not quite as powerful (or as precise, as it appears the rounds have a certain degree of travel time, which also makes them more susceptible to latency), it can seemingly sustain a better rate of fire at range, and carries 16 needles in a clip to boot. As an additional bonus, three needles to an unshielded body will ‘supercombine’ for an immediate kill (a single shot to the head also does the trick). This means that it’s quicker at dealing with exposed opponents if you can’t find the head, especially if fired in consort with another friendly Nerfle – further evidence of Bungie’s emphasis on teamwork this time out.
Also, while we’re talking about single-shot weapons, you should bear in mind that success with the sniper rifle is also going to demand you accustom yourself both to reticle bloom and the diminished influence of autoaim. Rapid-firing madly at any range past point-blank is going to result in a lot of missed shots, and no one but your enemies wants that. It’s still viciously effective without a scope at short distances, though, provided you can keep your nerve. But then that’s what unites all of the single-shot weapons in Reach: the player who fires accurately and calmly will excel with them. Everyone else will be respawning.
I should warn you, you’re likely going to find yourself blown to smithereens with astonishing regularity in the beta, because grenades, especially frag grenades, are more powerful than they were in Halo 3. Or they seem
more powerful at least, as their core damage remains all but unchanged. Perhaps their increased size, their new ‘warning’ trail, and all the screen-shake and temporary deafening that accompany their detonation serve to make them seem even more destructive than they are. However, the radius in which damage is dealt by grenades does
seem to have been boosted significantly, and you’ll soon discover they are lethal in confined spaces, especially given you are slower than you used to be, and can’t jump as majestically to safety. Often it will be better to let a weakened enemy flee rather than chasing them into a corner, as they will probably then toss you a parting gift that results in traded deaths – like some sort of martyr
Reminder: there are health packs on the walls, and you likely won’t survive an explosion without having visited one. Escaping from a volley of grenades can be exceptionally difficult, and often you will have to rely on Armor Lock, Evade, or even a desperate burst of Sprint to save you. When you’re the one lobbing the pineapples, bear in mind that the throwing arc is subtly different than Halo 3’s. You’ll get it, though.
While I’m on the subject of violent, fiery death, the rocket launcher in Reach shouldn’t require much introduction or explanation, though both its speed and the radius of its blast seem to have been improved since Halo 3, making it particularly terrifying to glimpse in the hands of the guy flying overhead with a jetpack. Endeavour to be that guy. You’ll find what you need in the Spillway beside the Powerhouse.
Of even greater concern is the all-new Plasma Launcher, which fires up to four homing plasma grenades at a time. Yes, you read that correctly. There are a few warning signs before annihilation, though. Look for someone wielding a glowing blue light, not unlike the red light on a charging Spartan Laser. Listen for the distinctive chug and whine. And move – quickly. The lock-on effect is relatively useless at close range, or against an aware target with the right Armor Abilities, but plasma grenades stuck wildly to the floors, walls, and ceiling will still kill.
When it’s in your hands, charge it with the right trigger, and then release when you’ve got a lock (or are comfortable with where you’re about to rain death), but be aware that you can ‘steer’ the shot to an extent by planning it in out in advance and keeping sight of your target. For efficiency’s sake, try to charge one grenade at a time, or you risk blowing the whole load prematurely. When not bringing oblivion to the masses, the Plasma Launcher enjoys an innocent berth on the Middle Bridge of Sword Base, and also spawns in place of the rocket launcher during Covy Slayer games on Powerhouse.
I’ve saved the best of the explosive death-dealers for last. The M319 Individual Grenade Launcher, or the ‘pro-pipe’ to you and me, is the pick of the bunch, being both the most challenging and most satisfying to use. It doesn’t carry many canisters and you’ll need to reload after firing each, but a direct hit from any of them is a kill. The propulsion and timing take a while to get the hang of, but your best bet is to fire it ‘manually’ by holding down the right trigger as you fire and then releasing when you want the round to explode. Gauge it right, and you’ll be blowing airborne scrubs clean out of the sky. You can even lay traps with a cooked canister (on the receiving end, watch for a blinking red light), and the blast has an EMP effect that strips shields and drops invading Banshees. Look for the grenade launcher near the Lockers at the bottom of Powerhouse’s Office. Not many people do.
Returning from Halo 3 are both the Energy Sword and the Gravity Hammer. You know the drill: get up close and pull the trigger to harm. The Sword can now be countered with a well-timed melee, but the Hammer remains a grave threat, and its lunge is considerable. Combine either weapon with the Sprint or Active Camo Armor Abilities to maximize potential carnage.
New to the Covenant arsenal is the Plasma Repeater, a beefier, two-handed version of the Plasma Rifle from Halo 3, which serves as a credible alternative to the Assault Rifle. Sustained bursts will overheat it, slowing the rate of fire, though you can vent the weapon to solve this just as you would reload any other. The Covenant’s chosen sidearm is the more familiar Plasma Pistol, which behaves just as you’d expect, albeit more efficiently than you remember. When overcharged, it also serves handily as a makeshift shotgun during games of Covy Slayer, or as the classic gambit in the widely-celebrated ‘noob combo.’ Watch for the ghostly additional reticle that gives an indication of where you should be aiming.
Don’t sleep on the Focus Rifle, either, which is to be found below the Ridge leading to the Powerhouse, or in place of Sword Base’s sniper rifle during games of Covy Slayer. A hybrid of the Beam Rifle and the Sentinel Beam, use it like you would a Ghostbuster’s proton pack, maintaining a steady stream of fire on an enemy to down them. This particular technology tends to overheat very quickly, though, so sometimes a couple of calm and careful bursts will get the job done best. And although it has two levels of zoom and is ostensibly for sniping, the Focus Rifle also shines at medium and close ranges if you’ve got a steady hand. When it’s being used against you, try to get to cover immediately; if you’re zooming about in a jetpack when the beam hits, you’re probably as good as dead. In general, try and flank someone in possession of this puppy, as a head-on charge can leave you cooked like so much bacon. Sustained fire at range from the single-shot guns will also help, as many players can’t put the Focus Rifle to work without the aid of its scope. You’ll soon learn to avoid those who can.
Possibly the single most significant change to the basic gameplay of Halo: Reach is the addition of Loadouts – which allow you to change your ‘class’ and armament between spawns – and undoubtedly a key component in each of those Loadouts is the Armor Ability they grant you. There are five in the beta, although only four of these are available to Spartans, and some may not feature at all in certain gametypes. All of the Abilities have a limited amount of charge, but you’ll find they refill quite quickly, so don’t bother being frugal with their use. It’s best to think of them as Equipment you don’t have to save for a perfect moment that never comes.
Sprint is perhaps the most flexible, and the most immediately familiar to players of other games. Use it to get in and out of trouble at speed, and don’t forget that jumping while sprinting confers a considerable boost, which can help you shave precious seconds off your travel time. Try sprint-jumping from the Attic on Sword Base to the middle of Low Bridge, for instance. Even better is the combination of Sprint and close-range attacks with weapons like the shotgun, or even a quick double melee delivered to an opponent who wasn’t expecting you to charge around the corner. Just make sure you’ve got enough shield to reach them, or you’ll likely lose the contest. Above all else, remember that when you’re packing Sprint, you can always make a quick exit from whatever situation you may find yourself in. Live to fight another day.
To that end, Armor Lock can make you completely impervious to harm for a few precious seconds. It’s just as good as it sounds – so good, in fact, that you won’t be permitted this Armor Ability in games of King of the Hill. While locked in place, you’ll shrug off absolutely anything another player can throw at you, up to and including the likes of sticky grenades and rockets. As a bonus, anyone who’s foolish enough to get too close is going to be hit with an EMP blast that instantly drops their shield. Fox, meet hedgehog. You can take advantage of most players’ predisposition to go for a quick melee by engaging Armor Lock just before they make contact, and then quickly coming out of it to beat them down in turn. This also works a treat against those lunging at you with the Sword or Hammer: absorb their attack, and then counter with a lunge of your own by spinning the third-person camera around to their position and meleeing straight out of the Lock. Once you start thinking creatively, you’ll be surprised at how useful this particular Armor Ability can be. Find yourself with two enemy players hot on your heels? Drop one of your own grenades on the floor, and then Armor Lock to shield yourself from their blast; your pursuers won’t enjoy the same luxury. Just try to avoid Armor Locking when you’re already at a disadvantage in a one-one-one encounter with no backup in sight.
Chances are your opponent will simply wait you out. But then no one lives forever.
The fastest route to your destination in Reach will often be an aerial one, and this is where the Jetpack excels. It’s slow to start (try it from a running jump), it’s noisy, and it doesn’t last forever, but few could deny the appeal of drifting on the winds. Just be conscious that you are making yourself a prime target for fire from the ground, and there’s little you can do while flying to counter a blast from the Focus Rifle, to say nothing of well-placed shots from any of the single-shot weapons. Unless, that is, you’re equipped for an old-fashioned bombing run: your earthbound foes have fewer places to run or hide when the rockets and grenades are sailing down from above
. Best of all, a Jetpack can get you to places usually inaccessible. Next time the opposing team holes up in Sword Base’s Break Room, try getting behind them by launching yourself into High Vent.
The fourth Armor Ability you’ll be putting to use in the beta (ignoring the Elite-only Evade) is Active Camouflage. Although you’ll be familiar with the concept from earlier Halo games, the implementation is a little different here. First of all, the Camo becomes more obvious the faster you move, or whenever you start shooting; if you want to stay close to invisible, you’re going to have to stay still
. Second, engaging Camo scrambles the radar of everyone around you – your enemies’, your friends’, and your own. Depending on the context, this can be useful (if your team is storming the Powerhouse, for example) or a downright nuisance. Bear in mind that even a jammed radar will still give away your vertical position (red blips with a shadow indicate enemies above you; faded red blips indicate enemies below), and also that the scrambling effect forms a rough circle, the center of which intelligent players will quickly locate, and then grenade. All of this means that Camo is best used in carefully planned bursts when it’s not being used merely as a distraction. If you’ve got an Energy Sword, Gravity Hammer, or shotgun handy, however, it may be worth lurking in the shadows a little while longer. And there is no better way to stage an assassination.
So there you have it – a breakneck tour of the Halo: Reach sandbox as it stands today. While I haven’t gone into detail about the new maps or gametypes you’ll encounter in the beta, and while Arena and Invasion may turn some conventional Halo wisdom on its head, there’s enough here to prep you for easy insertion into just about any context. If I had to boil all of the above down to three toughened nuggets of advice, it’d be these: familiarize yourself with the new shield system; fire the single-shots in a calm and controlled fashion, relative to the range; and remember that no one weapon, Armor Ability, or tactic will serve for every situation. Adaptability is the key attribute when first learning the nuances of any new game, and that holds especially true here. Much of what you internalized about Halo 3 is obsolete in Reach, but if you’re willing to explode some assumptions, and to shed your dependence on muscle memory and bad habits, you’ll soon be five-shotting with the best of them. Good luck.
Editor's Note: Our sandbox guru, Josh Hamrick, wanted us to note that the Needle Rifle is actually a fully automatic weapon, should you decide to hold the trigger, though he states that it's best fired in three round bursts when used in that fashion. He also notes that Armor Lock only EMPs when you exit out after holding it for a significant duration or if someone melees you, that Active Camo does not jam friendly radar, only your own, and that crouch walking increases the effectiveness and duration of Active Camo's cloak. "Slow and steady wins the race." - Urk