Today I got on Bungie.net and I noticed something almost surprising...
This is from Halo: Reach's online stats page on bungie.net. As you can see today's population for Reach is just under 500k. I assume most if not all of you do not keep up with this kinda of stuff. I can't blame you, it really isn't that important, I just personally find this kind of stuff interesting.
Anyway, point is the Halo: Reach population has really taken quite a hit. It's slowly been shrinking, but a much faster rate than it ever did for Halo 3. Halo 3's population never wnet below 600k prior to Reach and was regularly above 700k back in 2009.
Now, a few months ago a Bungie employee did clear a few things up on bungie.net about the population counter. Apparently it works differently/more accurately than the population counter for Halo 3 and thats what made up for the discrepency... Back then. But I have difficulty beleiving the this desprency of hundreds of thousands is now fully up to the accuracy to the population counter.
You can attribute the recent population drop to several things. Mortal Kombat and Portal 2 just recently launched, the Gears of War 3 beta just went up and today the newest map pack for Call of Duty: Black Ops was released. But still, Reach has been on a slow but sure decline.
So you can't help but ask why. Did Reach do something wrong or is there something else?
I'd say some of it is on Reach.
I don't want to sound like a whiny fanboy but it sorta seems like the additions made to the Halo gameplay in Reach has served as only a detriment. First, lets start with armor abilities.
The obvious offender of the armor abilities is armor lock. With armor lock players can become invincible for a full five seconds(without the ability to move, of course). This put the action to a dead stop. It kills the pace of combat completely. The moment a player uses armor lock the enemy is at a complete disadvantage.
Let me set the usual scenario for an armor lock encounter for you. Two players are in a heated fire fight and the armor lock equipped player shields are dropped so he goes into armor lock. What should the other player do?
One option is to wait for the armor locker to leave armor lock, but thats five whole seconds of waiting. In that time the armor locked player's team mates could easily just swoop in and kill the other player. Another option is for the other player to retreat, but the armor locked player is free to leave armor lock and attack his foe as soon as he tries to leave or turn his attention else where.
Also, keeping in mind that players can sit in armor lock for a full five seconds before running out of energy, thats only one second less the the amount of time it takes for the player's energy shields to start recharging. If the players waits only one second after losing their shields to go into armor lock then by the time they leave armor lock their shields will already be partially recharged.
Armor lock also generate a short range EMP blast based on how long it's held down. If you're near a player leaving armor lock, chances are your shields will go down and all it will take for that player to finish you off is a single melee, so a player using armor lock at close quarters has a huge advantage. This makes using weapons like the energy sword and showgun more risky than ever. Meleeing a player in armor lock also stuns them, not only that but players in armor lock can freely change their view so once they leave armor lock they can be facing a player tha was originaly directly behind them.
Really, the only time you're not at a huge risk dealing with a player in armor lock is when you're at sniping range in a large open map.
Then we have evade and Sprint. The main issue with these is that players will rush up and double melee. With the amount of shots it takes to drop a player's shields in Reach if a player can just be sure to rush in and get a melee on you before you can shoot down their shields they they pretty much have a garenteed kill. Reach got rid of bleed through damage, meaning all damage done with out power weapons do not damage the player's base health until the shields are knocked out.
So say a player has small sliver of shields left and are meleed, it will only knock out the shields. The player will have to melee again to finish the kill(or you know... shoot). But yes, the reason double meleeing is so effective in Reach is because usually a player can not shoot a sprinting player enough to drop their shields before they get in melee range. if bleed through damage was in Reach then this tactic would not be as effective since the rushing player would likely be killed in the melee clash after having been shot up on the way in for the double melee.
The rest of the armor abilities aren't as offensive. Holograms can be picked out from a normal player since crosshairs don't turn red when over a hologram and holograms flicker. The jetpack isn't bad unless used to reach areas on the map that shouldn't be available to players(thankfully these spots are few and far between). Andthe drop shield isn't featured enough in matchmakign to be bad.
Then theres the bloom and the damage output. First off, alot of people really don't seem to understand how bloom works and what it was intended for and really, Bungie probably should have tried to explain that to the players. Alot of people believe bloom was made to prevent player from "spamming the trigger". This is not the case and I really don't see why shooting your gun as fast as possible has suddenly been considered a bad thing.
No, bloom was made so that the non sniper weapons would not be usable at sniping ranges. As the crosshairs expand on the DMR all thats inside the crosshairs are possibly locations as to where the bullet can land. If most or all of the area in the crosshairs are taken up by your target then the bullet will hit the target. Spam on that trigger unless the target is so far away that they do not take up most of the crosshairs.
The real problem with bloom is that once you start spamming the precise location of where the bullet lands is random after a few shots and in a heated battle you have to choose weather to slow down for the headshot once the enemy's shields are down or to keep spamming. The enemy might not stop spammig and once they get your shields they just might get lucky and get a heatshot despite spamming.
Then the damage output. I was reading through a message board a few months ago and almost to my disbeleif I read that in Halo: CE that three pistol shots could kill a spartan(provided the third shot was a headshot). I went back and tested it out and this was in fact the truth. After years of Halo 3 and my recent time with Reach I had forgotten all about this.
Halo has progressively become slower and slower. The player movement has become slower from game to game and the weapons have become weaker. The primary weapon of Halo CE, the pistol, took three shots to kill, The BR of Halo 2 and 3 took four shots(and I'm not going to get into the whole BR spread in Halo 3 debate), and finally in Reach the DMR takes five shots minimum to kill a player. Add bloom into this and you have the longest kill times and the most effort it's ever taken to get a simple kill.
I know it looks like I'm painting a bad picture here, but don't get me wrong. I love Reach. I think it's a great game. I'm just stating some observations. Hell, I still stand by my review.
I wouldn't say it's entirely on Reach though. To be honest it feels like most of xbox live's population is afraid of learning how to play anything that doesn't have the words Call of Duty in the title. For months now not only has Call of Duty: Black Ops dominated Major Nelson's xbox live charts, but Modern Warfare 2 also occupies the number 2 spot, right above Halo Reach. Not only that but Call of Duty 4 and World at War sit at the number 9 and 10 slots, respectively, beating the likes of much newer games such as Crysis 2, Red Dead Redemption and Homefront. Thats right, four out of the top ten most played games on xbox live are Call of Duty titles.
It seems that an annual release cycle, once percieved by many a game as detrimental to a game franchise actual may just help bring of awareness of a franchise.
So, could Reach or a future Halo turn things around? I believe so, through adressing the gameplay issues I stated. Reduce the amount of shots it takes to kill a player and bring back damage bleed through. Nerf armor lock by perhaps reducing how long players can stay in it, getting rid of the EMP, not allowing them to turn the camera while using it and/or now allowing shields to recharge while in armor lock. That or just get rid of armor abilities or armor lock entirely. increase the player's movement speed.
Maybe my fanboy senses are too sensitive and I'm just over reacting though