At long last, the Halo 2
Multiplayer Map Pack
is nearly upon us! Over the past few weeks we've taken a closer look at three of the upcoming maps –
. This week, we set sail for the islands with a preview of Relic, a new asymmetrical tropical battleground known for intense skirmishes and heated matches of CTF.
Welcome to Relic!
Amidst the blue waters of Delta Halo lies a remote island characterized by an enormous Forerunner structure and the scars of past battles. Perhaps at one point this tropical destination served as a place of rest and relaxation but today the heat of battle eclipses that of the sun. What mysteries lie within the rocks and sand of Relic? Exactly how did this island paradise come into existence?
Bungie Designer Rob Stokes provides this insight into the original ideas and inspirations for this latest Halo 2 map:
The initial idea for Relic was to create an asymmetric map that would be good for 1-flag CTF, like Zanzibar. The design team (Barrett, Justin, Vic, Eamon, Luis, Shiek, Jay, C Paul, and myself) considered a bunch of different ideas for layouts, but we kept coming back to the desire to create something that played differently than other maps. We discussed some very unusual layouts/progressions, such as ascending through a tower. And in the end, Chris Barrett pulled an idea from the ether (also known as his ass) that was the foundation for the final map.
The idea was to construct a map that forced the attackers to traverse the whole length of the map and double-back to reach the flag. The hope was that this would allow for combat to occur down the length of the entire map. We were also intrigued by the idea of a shift in power, where the defenders initially have a huge advantage, but once the attackers touch the flag, it’s knocked down to the ground, where it’s now much easier to return."
Play a game of single-flag CTF and you'll quickly see this power shift in action. As you can see from the shot to the right, the flag itself is a mere stones throw away from the scoring location. When you spawn on offense, it's almost as if you can reach out and grab the flag. It's just right there, begging to be taken. In order to actually grab it though, you'll have to fight further into the map and then backtrack into the base (though it is possible to jump into the base from a few of the rocks midway through). However, once you have the flag, all it takes is a quick toss over the edge and you're home free.
. Unless the defenders use the teleporter… but more on that in a minute.
The overhead map below gives a better understanding of the overall layout and flow of Relic. The offensive team starts on the beach, near a downed Albatross transport while the defending team has a gigantic base to call home. There are multiple paths to victory and a variety of weapons and vehicles to use strategically to your advantage.
The actual origins of Relic go back much farther than you might think. While this map ultimately took shape in the weeks and months following the release of Halo 2, it started from a concept created long, long ago. "
Visually, the artist, Chris Barrett, went back to the very first multiplayer map ever made for Halo. This was a test map made in the days before Bungie was bought by Microsoft, when Halo was a PC project,"
explains Stokes. So in essence, this map is quite literally a
from the ancient days of Halo.
Despite having ancient roots to draw upon and a fairly clear idea of the gameplay goals, Relic was not without its challenges when it came to design. Whether it's balancing vehicles against foot soldiers or the delicate balance of offense vs. defense, the team had quite a few puzzles to solve. Designer Rob Stokes elaborates on some of the major design hurdles the team had to consider:
"We had a few goals that fought against each other. For instance, we wanted the map to be fun for the vehicles, like Blood Gulch. But we also wanted to create the feeling of storming the beach at Normandy. Unfortunately, these two ideas beg for different things. The vehicles need open lanes and spaces to tool around, while infantry combat requires lots of cover. We did our best to accommodate both, but it’s not perfect. For instance, the openness means that a competent sniper can really shut down the other side. So we tried to tip this in favor of the attackers by making their sniper rifle more accessible from the start."
"Another problem was that it was too easy to defend the flag at first. Initially, there was a destructible gate preventing warthog rushes, and there was a lot of cover for defenders to hide behind near the flag. We tried to address these issues by removing the gate (allowing for the quick hog rush), by removing some cover, and by placing grenade spawns along the route to the flag (so attackers can toss them into the nooks ahead and soften up defenders)."
One cool but subtle aspect of Relic are the context sensitive ramps that appear on the base for certain gametypes. In games of CTF, the goal was to force players to traverse the length of the map before making the gauntlet run back for a score. While this works great for some gametypes, it's not so great for others. In order to better facilitate Slayer and other variants, ramps appear at the front of the base, making the base much more accessible and the map itself feel a bit smaller. This is the exact same type of feature that is used on Colossus with the central bridge that appears for some variants and not others. It's a subtle switch but it makes a surprisingly large impact to gameplay.
Another really cool aspect of Relic is the teleporter that links the starting beach to the back of the base. What really makes this particular teleporter interesting is the way in which it can drastically alter the game for both offense and defense. In the beginning, the offense team can make their way inside the back of the base and activate the teleporter (pictured at right), which then allows respawning teammates to quickly get inside the base to keep the pressure on. This makes the teleporter activation switch a likely target for early assaults and is something the defending team should take into consideration.
The same teleporter can also have a huge benefit to the defensive team once the flag has been taken. Respawning defenders can use the teleporter to instantly travel to the beach and intercept the flag before it's able to be scored. Some of my most memorable moments on Relic are teleporting into the beach and stopping the offensive team inches from the score point. In order to let all players on the map know when the teleporter has been activated, a series of blue lights will illuminate the skyscraper portion of the base (shown below).
Since the teleporters play such a pivotal role in the gameplay on Relic, I wanted to find out a little more about the initial idea behind them. Here's what Rob had to say:
"I love the teleporters! They have this great quality of not being black or white, such as opening the gate on Zanzibar. Initially, the attackers want to open it, since it allows them to short-circuit the map when they respawn. But later, when the flag is off the stand, the defenders want the teleporter open, so they can use it to make a last-ditch effort to stop the flag return at the beach. So it has advantages and disadvantages to both sides, depending on the circumstances."
"The teleporters were also included to help maximize the amount of gameplay there is on the map. Or rather, we wanted to minimize the amount of time where a player has nothing to do. So the hope was that the layout would provide interesting encounters down the length of the map, as the attackers get to the flag. And the teleporters would provide that last great battle as the flag is being returned. Too many times we had suffered on a map, knowing the flag was being returned, but having no chance of reaching it in time. The teleporters give the defenders that chance."
As with any map, the weapons of Relic will have a huge impact on the outcome of a game. Each weapon is intentionally placed to offer balance between offense and defense while providing a variety of strategic options.
There are two sniper rifles available on Relic – a Human Sniper spawns right near the wreckage by the offense starting point and a Beam Rifle spawns at the base of the Covenant watchtower. The offensive team has the advantage of starting much closer to their rifle and it is imperative that someone grab it immediately. The defenders have more ground to cover but the Ghost can be used to get there quickly. The wide open nature of Relic makes it a snipers paradise and neither team is going to secure a victory without controlling one of these rifles. Personally I've found the rocks near the offensive beach to be a great place to sneak around the snipe from. Getting into the watchtower provides a nice view but you're also a sitting duck so use caution.
Aside from the sniper rifles, the other weapon that has the biggest impact on the outcome of a game is the Rocket Launcher. The Rocket Launcher is located on the western beach, between two pieces of scrap metal. Most of the time a game will start with a race to the Rockets since it's the most effective anti-vehicle option for either team. The offensive team can load into their Warthog and head straight for it while the defenders can use the Ghost to zip over there first. It usually ends up being a very close race as both sides arrive at nearly the same time. The rockets are definitely more important to the defensive team as it's really the only sure way to stop them from charging through the base with their Warthog. The defenders should also jump down underneath the base and grab the Energy Sword. Having someone hiding near the flag with the sword is generally a nice fail safe plan (though watch out for those pesky snipers).
As we've mentioned already, Relic really excels as a single-flag CTF map (or single bomb Assault). It just plain works. From my experience, a medium sized game seems to be ideal but we've had plenty of matches with a full 8v8. Like Zanzibar, a game of CTF with equally matched opponents often turns into an awesome battle with early-game decisions affecting the outcome of the entire match.
Designer Rob Stokes reflects back on his fondest Relic moment, which occurred during a game of CTF:
During our most recent Pentathlon, Graham and I made an awesome flag capture by rushing with the warthog and jumping up on the base from the rocks near the flag end. They’re hard jumps to make, but we both did it on the first try. The other team was still running around collecting weapons as we rushed the flag. I served as a human shield as Graham jumped off with the flag, and our team was able to score."
Of course Relic can support any of the Halo 2 gametypes and as we've noted above, the map will change slightly to allow for better play in non-CTF games. King of the Hill, Territories and Sniper variants are some of my personal favorites on Relic.
Tips & Tactics
Use the information in this preview to get a leg up on the competition. While they're standing still dumbstruck in awe of the towering Forerunner structure you'll already have the sniper rifle in your hands lining up for the kill. Aside from the tips listed above regarding various weapons, Rob passes along this advice:
For the attackers, it’s crucial to have a good sniper, to counter a defending sniper. And if you lose your sniper rifle, there’s a good chance that you’ll be shut down for that round. So don’t be sloppy with it.
In addition, the Warthog is a great tool, if you don’t get it blown up. Taking the natural route along the beach can put you in position to capture the rocket launcher. But if the defenders use their Ghost to get there first, you may end up a smoking crater. So another option is to take the Warthog along the other side of the island, past the watchtower. It requires more driving skill, but you’re less likely to take a rocket to the grill.
As for the defenders, most of their toys are away from the base, requiring some gambles to arm themselves. The Ghost can be used to get to either the rocket launcher or beam rifle fast, but watch out for the Warthog or attacking sniper, respectively.
It’s also important for the defenders to send at least one person up onto the base from the start, to deal with hog rushes or sneaky rock jumps. There are plasma grenades in a couple places on the base, which are a good second choice for dealing with the hog, if the rocket launcher is unavailable.
As Rob points out, you'll want to be careful of the rock jumps. There are a few spots where it's possible to enter the base without having to traverse the entire length of the map. Luckily these spots are in the open and an attacker is usually vulnerable while setting up the jump. As a fail safe, always have someone right near the flag itself (preferably with a good close range weapon like the sword).
Most of the CTF games I've played have initially revolved around a full rush of the entire team towards the flag. If you can get everyone in, there's usually a good chance that someone will be able to throw the flag over the edge. Of course, as a defender, it's your job to keep them from ever entering the base in the first place. Oh, and have I mentioned the sniper rifle yet? : )
Relic is but one of the new multiplayer maps included in the Halo 2
Multiplayer Map Pack
. Xbox Live members will be able to purchase all five new maps as a premium download starting on July 5 th. Alternatively, the Map Pack will be available in retail stores featuring nine total maps (five "new" ones plus the four already released on Live) in addition to Halo 2 gameplay updates, a special documentary and a bonus cinematic.
If you've missed the early map previews on Bungie.net, use the links below to check them out now! You will also find additional screenshots for all of the new maps in the Halo 2
Bungie.net Map Pack Previews:
For even more Relic lovin, head over to fansite
and grab the official flythrough video. Bungie Studios and Film Oasis combined forces to produce these promotional videos for Xbox.com and our friends at HBO are making them available in their pure form for Halo fans everywhere. Go to the HBO
Maptacular Video Page
to see Relic and the rest of the new maps in action!
Check back next week for closer look at the fifth and final map – Gemini.
In the meantime, study up and start practicing. And if you never downloaded Turf or Sanctuary via Xbox Live, now is the time as both maps are available for FREE.