Armor Equipment

Halo: Combat Evolved was a revolution in console FPS design. Bungie forever changed the shooter landscape with the inclusion of recharging shields, the two-weapon limit, and the golden tripod of weapons/grenades/melee. Each subsequent game has not only expanded the weapon and vehicle sandbox, but has also introduced a fundamental new gameplay mechanic. Not just a new feature, such as matchmaking parties and tools like Forge or Theater, but a core element added to the in-game action which is often triggered by a direct input on the controller. Halo 2 brought new gameplay mechanics to the franchise in the form of dual-wielding and vehicle-boarding. Halo 3 added Equipment and removable turrets to the mix. With Halo: Reach, Bungie added two new elements: Assassinations and Armor Abilities.

Assassinations are a neat addition that is mostly harmless in terms of how it affects gameplay. Holding down the melee button while behind an opponent triggers a context-driven animation that concludes with the enemy’s death. The end result is the same as if you had just tapped the button and delivered an insta-kill melee to the back, only now you have a sort of built-in teabagging animation your opponent is forced to watch. The tradeoff is that while the animation is carried out the attacker is motionless and vulnerable to assault by the victim’s teammates. If the attacker is killed in time the victim may be saved.

I'm okay with this, really.

This article is not focused on Assassinations, as they are not a hotly debated subject within the community and I personally don’t have a problem with them. The only frustration comes from when I intend to tap the melee button but accidently trigger the long animation. My only wish would be for a way to cancel the Assassination and have it downgraded to a normal melee to the back. Another option would be to include a toggle in the Controls menu that disables Assassinations entirely, something I think the more competitive MLG types would enjoy.

Armor Abilities (AAs) are another matter entirely. In the pre-release videos for Reach, the reasoning behind the addition of AAs was clearly explained: The designers felt that Halo 3’s Equipment was fun, but players would often hesitate to waste their one-time use item in a less than ideal situation. Armor Abilities seemed to be the logical step: a piece of Equipment that you could use repeatedly. This would allow them to be employed in many more scenarios and would spice up combat in ways that Equipment never could.
I completely agree with this concept. Reach needed something new to keep Halo “fresh” and I think the inclusion of Armor Abilities was a reasonable solution.

Click to enlarge this completely objective and scientific figure.

My issue is with the execution of the concept, particularly in two aspects that I will refer to as Spawn Loadouts and Unlimited Energy. I think these problems pushed Armor Abilities a little too far along the line away from Halo’s “classic” gameplay.


24 thoughts on “Armor Equipment

  1. I think you have some smart suggestions. I’d like to a play a game of Halo with this equipment style, just to see how it would work. Still, it sounds awesome.

  2. 343 Studios…


    I loved everything you had to say, and if this were patched into Reach tomorrow I would PLAY THIS IMMEDIATELY. You’re right on target with everything, especially the nerfs/changes to Armor Lock. And I agree. NO BLOOM IN HALO 4 (Unless it’s an option).

    Brilliant, sir.

    • I appreciate the kind words! Just to clarify, the bloom comment at the end wasn’t serious, I was just trying to be funny. My actual feelings on bloom are surprisingly neutral – I’m not a big fan but I don’t exactly hate it with a passion. I understand why it’s in the game and I think pacing shots is a neat mechanic, I just dislike random headshots that reward spammers.

      Eventually I’m going to write another article on bloom and precision weapons in Halo – from the CE pistol to the DMR. I’d love to get your feedback on that when I post it!

  3. Very good writeup! I enjoy reading insightful things such as this, especially when it calls out the obvious. Don’t get me wrong, I love the armor abilities. Every game feels new and fresh. If I’m in the mood for sprinting, I can sprint. If I’m trying to protect the flag out in the open, I can get armor lock. But, I think we should be allowed a cool down timer to change our ‘kit’ on the fly. Maybe after 30 seconds in game we can open up the menu and change the jetpack to sprint on the fly. Or maybe a station/s around the map that allows us to change up without having to die. If these wouldn’t work, a simple way of hitting the back button, changing our armor ability for our next life would suffice. Let’s see these changes in Halo 4!!!

    • I think being able to change your AA wherever you want could actually make things worse – someone could jetpack up to an unreachable sniper ledge and then switch to active camo. I do like the idea of an AA Changing Station, place them at the bases like the Weapon Lockers in Firefight. A solution for Reach would be to allow Loadouts at spawn but also place one of each available AA at the base for pickup.
      Thanks for the comment!

  4. While I think there are some strong points here that I partly agree with, there are some aspects I feel you overlooked.

    Currently AAs are used as a base trait. It seems your intent here is to turn them into something similar to a Power Weapon. Something players would strive to attain to change the course of the game. I think that the abilities provided by AAs aren’t significant enough for them to be considered similar to Power Weapons, in regards to their “game-changing” ability. i.e. Would you rather get the Rockets, or Armour Lock. Sniper Vs. Invisibility. Jetpack vs. Shotgun. I think most people would consider a Power Weapon more useful than an Armour Ability during gameplay. I can’t imagine players making a rush for the Jetpack at the start of the match when it doesn’t yield the same advantage as a Power Weapon.

    To counteract this, I propose some small adjustments to your Pickup Slayer gametype. If a player picks up the Jetpack, they secure Jetpack for themselves or their Team for a selected amount of time. For example if I rush the Jetpack at the start of a match, I would gain the Jetpack ability for 2 minutes regardless of any deaths that may happen to me. I would have the option to select Jetpack for 2 minutes at the Load-out screen. If I didn’t pick it, it would be availible to other members of my team for the amount of time. Maybe use a time limit, maybe limit it to how many uses you get from it. The point is that when I pick up Jetpack, it’s mine for 2 minutes. The other team can’t instantly kill me and then gain ability of the Jetpack after my death.

    I have some other points to make here but my laptop battery is just about to die! D:

    Great article btw!

    • You’re right that no one would reasonably choose Armor Lock over a Rocket Launcher, AAs are certainly not as valuable as the actual Power Weapons. That said, I still think they’re too valuable to be handed out at spawn.

      At the start of games on Hemorrhage, I never rush for the Plasma Pistol, because everyone wants the Sniper Rifle. I often don’t even bother picking it up normally. But when an enemy vehicle is near that I want to take out, I know exactly where to go to pick up the Plasma Pistol. It’s a tool that becomes very useful for certain situations, but letting everyone spawn with a Plama Pistol would completely ruin vehicle use on that map.

      Your idea for sharing AAs with your team is interesting, but I think it would feel out of place in Halo. It would be very frustrating to kill someone using the sole Armor Lock ability on the level, only for him to respawn with it because his 2 minutes isn’t up. I don’t think we need to make AAs useful enough for people to rush for them – I think they’re already valuable enough that once the inital struggle over power weapons is over, a secondary struggle for the AA pickups would start.

      Thanks for commenting, I look forward to seeing what else you have to say (after you get your laptop charged!) :P

      • I agree that a concept of team-sharing AAs would be a very alien concept to a game such as Halo, but it is interesting none the less to consider. I’m not so sure about what I said about a 2 minute time limit on the AAs, I think a per use system like you suggested would be the most appropriate.

        My major gripe with the whole AA pickup system is this. The value of an AA is too much to be handed out at spawn (as you said), yet I think for it is too little for it to be continuously picked up by players throughout the game, and then lost upon death. I believe a system of pickup, then guaranteed use for a specific amount of uses regardless of death would be an interesting concept to consider. AAs would respawn regardless of who currently has a usable AA.

        This would in fact be giving AAs a set amount of “Ammo”, yet guaranteeing their use beyond death. At the end of a Team Slayer game for example, ALL players could in fact have an AA available to them.

        Personally I agree with the poster below in that when you choose your AA, you take on certain traits and you should adapt your playing style to those traits. If the environment around you changes, you need to think outside of the box with your traits and find a way to adapt to the different environment.

        As regards my other points, I’ve completely forgotten them lol.

  5. The core flaw of your artilce is that you assume Armour Abilities to be something external to the player which augments them, rather than something which is a part of them.

    This is not the way Reach was designed and this is reflected in the implementation.

    On page 4 you made the comment that unlimited use armour abilites are “analogous to placing a Rocket Launcher with unlimited ammo on a map.” You would be wrong.

    In fact, they’re analogous to giving the player infinitely recharging shields!

    Before Halo, many games didn’t have recharging health of any kind, a player would only get weaker and weaker until they died. Perhaps being able to buff themselves with the occasional armour piece or health pack around the map.

    Instead, Halo has a player coming back to the same shield status after a few seconds out of combat so each battle can begin again anew.

    This is the same as with the armour abilites.

    What this is designed to do is to encourage faster conclusive fights, rather than to slowly pick away at each other from the other sides of the map, safe in the knowledge that (unless you take health damage like in CE or Reach) that you can do it all over again. Its to encourage taking risks and to not being too worried about gimping yourself for the rest of your life. If you’ve just taking off the shields of another player, you know you’ve got a few seconds before they’re back up to full strength, so to speak, so you want to get in there and finish them off.

    Do you see where this sounds similar to what the Bungie guy was saying about equipment from Halo 3? Its to encourage players to use it as an integral part of the game (the stool of halo as opposed to the tripod) rather than one off little boosts.

    Now, you may not agree with that paradigm at all, thats fine, but that is the paradigm which Bungie chose.

    You’ll notice that, aside from the EMP in Armour Lock (which is a balancing thing to keep players from pummelling freshly un-locked players) the armour abilites themselves do no damage to other players. They can absorb, they can deflect, they can get you the hell out of the way. They form a standard piece of your approach to combat as much as jumping or crouching does.

    This is not to say the implementation is perfect, of course. I personally feel that Armour Lock could do with lasting just a shade less time that it currently does and I do agree with the notion that perhaps it would be good to have an area on the map where you could change your Armour Ability mid-life. This would allow some interesting custom games in the last, along with the option for an equiped AA to drop upon death; the lack of which dampens my enthusiasm for any on-map style of AA dispensing.

    Now, like Cody Miller I really want to have a go at this statement: “…I’ve never felt like [games with unequal starts] could achieve the same style and level of competitive, balanced play that Halo has.”

    Do I really need to point out Counter Strike to you? Generally considered to be THE competitive FPS game for the last 12 years. In it, each player has to buy their equipment at the start, and players can choose very different loadouts if they wish.

    They all start with the same choices, and those choices dictate how the game evolves, what strategies they can or should employ, where they should try to draw combat to.

    Different but equal is interesting.

    I vehemently oppose your notion that the armour abilites are “like playing a broken game of rock-paper-scissors…” (page 2). Armour abilites, at the least, require the addition of an appropriate weapon or place on the map to become truely powerful; in a close quarters area, evade with a sword or shotgun does become very powerful. But you have already lost the fight over that weapon or allowed yourself to be drawn into that part of the map to give them that advantage.

    Its far more complex than simple counters and smart play or teamwork can often overcome those disadvantages in their position or weapons: I remember just yesterday effectively using evade and my spawning assault rifle to covercome an assailant equiped with sprint and a sword, getting out of the way in quick bursts just as he was drawing in close.

    Its about specialisation rather than it is about becoming more powerful through acquiring stuff around the map; if you are still ‘stuck’ with an armour ability you didn’t intend, then you simply need to play smarter to try to gain the maximum advantage out of what you have rather thinking that you need to change to some other ‘optimal’ strategy.

    In a way, this choice of armour ability does restrict your possibility space compared to the total possibility space in the game. However, making armour abilites pick-ups would do little to solve that; on page two you have a picture with the caption “Should have picked Armor Lock.” Whether this choice came before their spawn or during their life in a battle to acquire the available armour abilites and this player ultimately went to acquire the hologram rather than the armour lock, the player still got themselves into the situation as shown in the screenshot. At the moment of the screenshot, armour lock would be better as they might be able to lock in time to save themselves, nevertheless you must necessarily ask the question: how did they get themselves into that situation in the first place?

    Why is that player travelling (quite literally) in the middle of the map with an armour ability that affords no movement advantage and no protection advtange? It is an AA that is built for distraction and confusion, typically (in my experience) around corners and pillars, where both the holo and the player aren’t entirely visible for the duration of the effect. There is insufficient cover to confuse the Ghost and equally insufficient nearby obstacles to get safe from the ghost even in the event they do survive a first splatter-pass.

    In short: they’re doing it wrong.

    On HBO you made a post ( with the comment: “I just prefer sports where both teams have the same initial conditions and the match is determined by what each team decides to do with that setup.” Can you name one of these sports?

    I think you’ll find that the biggest variation is in the abilites and properties of the players themselves, whereas in Halo the abilites and properties of the players can be more tightly controlled. I.e. in football for example, not all of the players are going to be the same height, or be able to run as fast, or dripple as well, or shoot as accurately. Whereas in Halo they are all the same height and size and, unless you pick a particular armour ability, they all move the same as well. When you do bring in AAs, they become specialised; better at one thing but not as good as another with a different AA.

    This is similar to how players on a football team are: they are specialised in ways which complement their innate abilites. The number of ‘pieces’ you get are the same, but what mix you choose is up to you. Unlike in the real world where you can’t change how tall you are or how fast you run, in video games you can. Well, depedant upon the whim of the programmers and designers. You can pick the Sprint AA and suddenly you run faster, or camo and suddenly you are harder to see at the press of a button.

    Does that make sense?

    One last point: I’d be careful about suggesting putting more and more stuff on the map. It’s more things for a player to learn about in each map and pushes the required skillset a bit more in the direction of map knowledge rather than raw combat skill. Like in Halo 3 (to an extent), you end up spending a significant amount of play time just ‘powering yourself up’ before getting into the actual combat. And unless you have a very complex system of rolling spawns, it’s inevitable that some armour abilites and weapons will be acquired uncontested before any real combat actually begins.


    • I totally agree with this post, espescially the part about everyone being equal in the first place due to having the same choices of AAs and that you should remain with your own AA you chose as the issue is not getting a new AA, but making the best of your current AA.
      With that said, I still agree with the main article thata “Pickup Playlist” should be added. It’s definitely an interesting addition, and will be for those people that want AAs to be pickups. But it definitely shouldn’t be the norm over the normal options.
      Adding the option in custom games to make AAs pickups dropped upon death is also a good move.

  6. This is possibly the best solution to the Armor Ability problem. Great thinking, and I hope something like this is implemented in Halo 4

  7. I really liked this article and agree with everything you had to say. However, the one Armor Equipment I would love to see would be the Jackal Shield, but it would work differently than the others. Instead of preventing you from Sprinting, it takes up your secondary weapon slot. When you pick up the shield, you also pick up a paired one-handed weapon (be it a plasma pistol, plasma rifle or SMG). The shield would remain off until you activate it with a pull of your left tigger, while the shield/weapon combo is in your hands, at which point your Spartan would crouch behind the shield and only be able to move and turn slowly. I would give the shield a lifespan of about ten seconds, with two full charges before it is depleted and discarded. Incoming fire would also hasten the shield’s collapse.

    However, unless 343 is planning on placing SPARTAN-III’s in Halo 4, it would go against some of the auxillary materials (namely, the books, where it is explained that SPARTAN-II’s are too large to effectively take cover behind the shield). But I think this could be a worthwhile replacement of the increasingly frustrating Armor Lock. Grenades and incoming fire are only blocked from one direction, and well placed grenades could still do massive damage if they land behind the shield holder. Quick-witted enemies could also flank to great effect. Besides, a lot of Halo players have been waiting 10 long years to get their hands on those discs of hard light.

    • Actually, I think that the Jackal shields would work very well for Spartan IIs, given the mechanics of multiplayer. A Jackal shield would protect all but a Spartan’s legs when held right.

      Effectively, it makes you immune to head and body shots until the shield has been taken out, but only from the front.
      This would make flanking and CQB more important. It would also let you counter long range weapons when you’re legging it with a one-handed weapon. On the other hand, it also makes you a lot more visible to those snipers in maps with wide open spaces, and maybe interferes with your vision.

  8. Got directed this’a’way for your analysis of the Vidoc and figured I’d give the rest of your posts a read. Gotta say, I’m imprssed. You hit the nail on the head with a lot of issues present with the current system. I don’t remember the last time I played Reach (at least 3 months ago, at any rate), and a big part of that is the imbalances present in the armor ability system (that and the Assault Rifle, but that’s probably less a design issue and more a personal taste one).

    And the best part? Regardless of whether anyone related to the Halo franchise sees this, I can virtually guarantee that someone with aspirations in videogame design [i]will[/i] see this, and will take something away from it. Maybe in a few years we’ll see your ideas implemented in a totally non-Halo setting.

  9. This is an extremely thoughtful and interesting article, and a refreshing break from the legions of belligerent and immature posts on the forums about issues with reach.

    I agree completely with the limited use idea, but having AAs spawn on the map worries me, and this is coming from someone who uses sprint 95% of the time. I agree with your reasoning about who tactical choices should be made during the gameplay and not post mortem but my first reaction is to think that people just won’t use armor abilities.

    I know it seems silly, as the laws of supply and demand would lead to reason that the less attractive an AA is due to the higher cost of fighting for it, the less players will be willing to take the risk of competing for it, making the cost lower, thus making more players want it and so on and so forth until an equilibrium is reached.

    I guess my concern is that the equilibrium of how many AAs are on the map and how much players want them will end up being low enough that the overall gameplay will be affected negatively. I use almost exclusively sprint but i do enjoy fighting enemies that are varied and use their armor abilities liberally. i am worried that this paradigm would lead to dramatically less usage of jetpack, active camo, especially hologram (because in games with skilled players, hologram only tends to work when the enemy is not aware that he or she should double check his or her targets. in my experience, it is usually only effective the first time it is used) and even armor lock, although i will admit that armor lock is probably the most prone to abuse

    But i digress. It is impossible to know a priori exactly what the effects would be, so testing would need to be run to find out how this would effect the frequency of AA usage. But still, all kinds of questions come to my mind. How many AAs on a map like hemorrhage? and which ones? does it depend on how many players are in the game? is their placement tailored to their specific use? or opposed to it for balance?

    I suppose a pickup only playlist couldn’t hurt, but my instincts tell me that perhaps a better solution would be to spawn with AAs and have them on the map.

    At any rate, your writing on this issue shows you are highly intelligent and have knack for thinking about these kinds of problems. It’s much easier for me to poke holes in your proposed system than I’m sure it was for you to construct it. Kudos.

    • Thanks! I’m glad you liked the article.

      Of course this idea would lead to less AA use overall (except for Sprint) but I think keeping the reusable nature for some of them would lead to more use than the equipment in Halo 3. At that point it just comes down to finding the right balance – how much fuel do you give the jetpack?

      “How many AAs on a map like hemorrhage? and which ones? does it depend on how many players are in the game? is their placement tailored to their specific use? or opposed to it for balance?”

      This is where I think AA pickups shines over the spawn loadouts in Reach – you can tailor which ones are available and their placement according to the map being played (instead of just being tied to the gametype). I’d place them in locations that are good to use the AA at, but aren’t necessarily the best place to use that AA.

      At this point I don’t think a pickup playlist would be the best idea (outside of MLG that is), I just want to see Halo 4 return to more “classic” Halo gameplay with a more versatile and adjustable implementation of equipment/abilities.

  10. I think Jet Pack and Hologram are just fine the way they are. 343i has listened to you, and others like you. Unfortunately, the title update also has bloom. :(

  11. I am an armour lock user and I do like some of your current ideas for the change of armour lock, yes i think it would be better implemented (on small maps) as a find and equip AE but, on a large map, the team that hates the AL user would (if placed on the map) drive straight to the middle (or wherever it is placed) of the map and pick it up and get back in a vehicle and continue to spawn kill the other team, AL is a counter measure for vehicle (excuse my language) whores, yes limited use would be good, mulitple placements on either side of the map would be better.

    Also, a 1 second use? or up to 3 seconds? As it is, it is VERY hard to time when you should AL, on a no ping game you can AL immediately and survive, but on a bad host you sometimes need to AL up to 3 seconds before the vehicle/rocket hits you for it to work, so the fact that you are draining the AL use in such a drastic amount cancels out any tactics that could be employed against a vehicle especially when implemented as an AE.

  12. Ok you don’t have to pick an armor ability to level the playing field in Reach just because some 12 year old thinks its amusing to be a noob and use that tactic you have the option of using that armor ability or you can use your own ability to take them out using your skills so if some one chose invisibility and another chose jet pack well jet pack can see farther an camp higher to kill the guy with invisibility but only before he uses it the guy with invisibility could just as easily kill or be killed as the guy which the jet pack my point is maybe the idea wasn’t to center the players strategy on per say choosing the armor ability but on how they use it because it could easily be used to nullify another ability or be nullified itself on how you use it in your situation

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