At today's X10 event, Bungie community manager Brian Jarrard and creative director Marcus Lehto took some time to give a little more information on the company's next entry into the popular Halo series--Halo: Reach. This prequel takes place on a planet called Reach, which not only happens to be humanity's last line of defense between Earth and invading Covenant forces, but is also home to the Spartan program--the same program that produced Master Chief. But since we know what eventually happens to Reach (explored in the Halo novel, The Fall of Reach), Bungie wants to give everything a generally darker and grittier tone while executing a story that revolves around honor and sacrifice.
You play as a member of Noble Six, a squad of Spartans battling Covenant forces on Reach. Lehto points out that the Spartans in this squad are actually different from Master Chief in that he's a Spartan 2 model whereas Noble Six are Spartan 3 models. As such, they're less advanced technologically than Master Chief, but what they lack in his abilities they make up for with teamwork and an ability to adapt to situations and modify themselves (as shown by Cat's robotic arm) to survive. We then got a brief introduction to the members of Nobel Six, many of whom we've already met, but there was one new detail: Jorge, the tank of the group who carries all of the heavy firepower, is the only Spartan in the group who has Spartan 2 credentials.
Bungie is definitely using Reach to explore some of the unknown background of the Spartans, but it's also using the game as an opportunity to reintroduce the Covenant, starting with the Elites. Bungie wants to make them feel as though they truly are formidable opponents seemingly to the extent that you would feel some kind of dread whenever they appear onscreen. Other enemy types are being upgraded, but there will also be a group of enemies that didn't appear in other Halo games because they were made extinct through the battles on Reach.
Lehto then went into greater detail about things the team is doing on a technical level to achieve the epic scale that it's aiming for, and it sounds like the team has done quite a bit. Just about every facet of the Halo engine has been torn down and rebuilt to accommodate everything from more detail in the character models and environments to better animation and sound. In terms of character model improvements, we actually got to see a visual representation of the progression with an image that showed a version of a marine from the original Halo through Halo: Reach, and the level of added detail in the Reach version of the marine is pretty astounding. Another impressive aspect of Halo: Reach--at least on a visual level--is just how massive the environments are. We got a brief glimpse of a few of them (and a closer look at a multiplayer map), and the view distance is pretty astounding.
Of course, part of the reason these environments are so much larger is that Bungie is aiming for an epic scale for the battles. At one point in the video documentary we were shown (which will be released on Xbox Live tomorrow), one of the members of Bungie said that with the new engine, a battle can theoretically accommodate four Spartans, eight marines, and 30 Covenant enemies. At the same time, Bungie wants to reinforce that these battles and indeed the entire game are designed to be a sandbox, meaning that there won't be a whole lot of scripted events. The development team wants you to feel like you can approach a situation in any number of different ways and experience the results based on the approach that you take.
When the video documentary ended, we jumped into a real-time demonstration of a multiplayer map called Power House, which will be a part of the Halo: Reach beta when it launches on May 3 (and it will be available to those who own Halo 3: ODST). Lehto explained that all of the multiplayer maps are taken directly from the single-player campaign, but in the case of Power House, the multiplayer version takes place during the daytime whereas the single-player incarnation is a nighttime affair. The first thing that comes to mind when viewing this map is just how massive this desert canyon-like setting is, but there also appear to be plenty of close-quarter areas within the power plant area of the map.
We then moved to a super-close-up of a single Spartan standing in the environment, and we mean super-close-up--we could even see the fine lettering on the stock of the Spartan's rifle. It's here that we also got a demonstration of how the sound has been overhauled. The Spartan squeezed off a few rounds from the new rifle (explained as a revision of the typical Halo battle rifle that has medium to long range), and immediately we heard thunderous gunfire followed by booming explosions of grenades. All of these adjustments in sound are meant to make the weapons in Halo: Reach have more impact and feel much more powerful than they did before. We then got a quick glimpse of the needle rifle, which looks like a much more beefed-up version of the standard needler. We learned a few other details during this audio demonstration, including that health packs will be back and used as incentive to get people exploring more of the environment.
But the biggest detail about multiplayer is that in Halo: Reach you can hold onto equipment that you find and use it repeatedly, whereas in Halo 3 you could use it only once and were done with it. This was demonstrated to us with the sprint upgrade, which allows you to run for a finite amount of time. If you exhaust the meter shown at the bottom left of the screen, you need to wait for it to recharge before you can start sprinting again. There will be a cross-section of upgrades available when the beta goes live so people will be able to try them out and give their feedback to Bungie. The Reach beta will also include a few different maps as well as a few different match types, but Bungie wouldn't go into specifics about what will be there. But the team does view the beta as an opportunity for Halo's biggest fans to jump in and essentially tear it apart to find things that they like or don't like about what Bungie is doing.
Overall, the amount of work Bungie is putting into Reach seems to fall in line with what it calls "the definitive Halo game." While the impressive changes to the visuals and sound are already immediately apparent, we're interested to see how they have trickled down to other aspects of the game, like the AI. We'll be sure to have much more coverage of Halo: Reach as the beta approaches and before the game's release later this year.