'So, would you call this a Tiger Woods Golf killer?'
While walking a group full of writers through their upcoming downloadable content at their new satellite studio in Kirkland, Washington, Bungie's Lars Bakken and Dan Miller assured us that the Mythic Map Pack has more to offer than just the addition of a golf club, tin cup and golf ball to the Forge's tool kit. In fact, the studio's latest trio of maps delivers die-hard Halo fans a great spread of arenas from which the potential for unique variants are sure to come. The team is staying with the theme of offering Human, Forerunner and Covenant map types in the pack with Orbital, Sandbox and Assembly (respectively)—and after a couple of hours of play and trash-talking, along with a short break for Red Bulls and sandwiches, we can assure you that you'll definitely be getting your money's worth no matter how you go about acquiring the maps.
First up in our play session was Assembly, Miller's first outing creating a multiplayer arena and without inspiration, it's a map that's perfect for smaller groups of Slayer or Team Slayer game types. Dubbed so for its setting in a Covenant Scarab manufacturing plant, Assembly is a map where the area outside of the boundaries leaves no room for player error while avoiding rockets or rifle fire, as you're confronted by 360-degrees of pitfall dangers—yet, the scenery above the arena caters to the map's name with the large walking personnel carriers being processed far overhead. Built with symmetry in-mind, teams (or individuals) spawn on either side of each other in two-level bases. Each base allows for opponents to enter either by large grav-lifts or ramps, but it's likely players will want to leave the comfort of these areas as they sprint around walkways concentrically placed around a two-level centerpiece, complete with a tubular shield on the top half that opens up to a Grav-Hammer on the bottom level.
Across several games of Slayer and Team Slayer, we had the opportunity to get the feel for both large and small party sizes. In Assembly, it's clear to see why smaller parties makes for enjoyable gameplay, yet there's just something about a gluttony of people staving off death for a paltry thirty seconds and being totally satisfied by taking another person out with them. While deathmatches may be optimal for the map, objective play, with rockets, hammers or swords could certainly make for high-intensity games in such small quarters.
After shaking off the rust and going frag-for-frag with a GameSpot opponent and other writers and creative minds, we next tackled the pack's Human offering—Orbital. As the game's first space-based map, taking place on a USNC space elevator, it's easy to see the blend of pedestrian and militaristic-influences from set-pieces and scenery. Though we learned the idea behind the map's construction, during our exploration of the map, the focus was more on figuring out how to get around. Describable only as a two level, asymmetrical arena, teams spawn side-by-side in partitioned hangars where they can see one another; however, it will take maneuvering between their respective long corridors to meet up with each other at both high and low level choke points where clashes for the sole rocket launcher will undoubtedly ensue.
Recommended for mid-to-large sized parties, we found Orbital to set up scenarios of carnage, followed by bouts of respawning and a rush to get back into the fray. This is a map where teamwork is essential should objective game types find their way into Matchmaking. With the inclusions of long corridors meeting in the middle of a U-shaped construction, we had to be mindful of skilled snipers delivering headshots as we poked our heads above the shooters' horizon—camping eagle-eyes should be weary however, as there really isn't any safe vantage point with enemies able to converge from ramps on either side. Small vehicles like the Mongoose and Ghost find their way into hangar bases, but large boxes in both hallways make quick getaways nearly impossible in games of capture-the-flag.
Though we were lost for most the time in our initial playthroughs, after a few educational matches we found it a bit easier to strategize with our teammates to secure flags and tally frags—we want to add a warning while playing here however: Make sure you watch out for the pit separating the high route from the low route in the middle; it may seem like a good idea to jump from upstairs to downstairs if you want to catch an enemy by surprise, but make sure you know how to traverse the deathtrap before you blindly make a go for it!
A quick snack and decompression later, and we were back at each other on the final map accompanying the Mythic pack. Sandbox is the fusion of several ideas and a result of trawling public forums, which ultimately boil down to one thing: giving players the tools and opportunity to make even more unique creations than previously available in Foundry. Using an environment similar to Sandtrap, it would be easy to complain that the play field is more restrictive than its pseudo-namesake, using four large, Sauron-like towers that instantly kill you with a single laser burst should you wander beyond the boundary too long. However, the main area of play still allows large parties with vehicles (Warthogs and Brute Chopper are default), and caters to both deathmatch and objective game types equally well.
But the main draw of Sandbox won't be its default, two base setup; no, it's from the Forge where the map will create its biggest following. With Sandbox, you're able to create three levels of play by using teleporters and removing a block in the middle of the main level. Up in the “sky box,” forgers will find a blank, mid-air template where they can build what ever they want, provided they first create the ground on which Spartans can battle or drive on; without a solid surface floating in the sky above the main field, players instantly die just as if they fell off of any void in any other map. However, the invisible division of life and death doesn't stop rockets or gunfire from raining down on targets below. Call it a fish-in-the-barrel situation, but the setup has plenty of potential for some quirky custom games, as is evident from what we saw—and created.
If delivering punishment from the heavens isn't enough however, and you're looking for the Grifball arena, Sandbox delivers. Those unfamiliar with Grifball, need only to take a look at the Halopedia for the general rules of play. Basically, Grifball is like the Mutant Football League set in the Halo universe—mutilation in the name of scoring points. Underneath Sandbox lies 'The Crypt,' a large arena that is derived specifically with the fan-made sport in mind, but it also creates yet another level of play that you can transport to and from. Nothing more than a large, open, square arena, the area below the main level of Sandbox is a clean state that invites creative minds to construct whatever they can, within their allowance.
Though the entire package may not be the Tiger Woods killer inquired about during the walkthrough, Bungie's Mythic Map Pack is sure to bring new levels of multiplayer action to the game's followers—literally. While we had fun just playing through custom games, the true experiences won't be had until the community at large gets their hands on the latest group of maps and Forge items. Golf equipment may be included, but new level objects and the over-powered Gauss Warthog comprise a short list of new items that round out inclusions to the new map pack.
Those looking to get their hands on the pack first will have to opt for the Limited Collectors Edition of Halo Wars, come March 3; but the maps will also be available once Halo: ODST, as well as over the Xbox Live Marketplace sometime this Spring at a yet-to-be-announced sum of Microsoft Points.
After our few hours playing around with the Mythic maps, we definitely can't wait to see what's to come from fans hungry to create original map variants, or fragfests over everyday Matchmaking games.