The lights are on
I’m a big fan of cooperative gaming, and have loved Halo since its first installment. In other words, I’m the target demographic for 343 Industries' new cooperative Spartan Ops game mode.
The new episodic structure started off strongly with a cool first episode, but the two subsequent weeks have left some players complaining. We know that Spartan Ops is an ongoing component of the Halo 4 experience, and hope that future episodes continue to improve.
In the meantime, though, here are five things that could make Spartan Ops more fun.
The first three episodes of Spartan Ops have given us 15 new missions to try, but nowhere near that much variety in the missions. Most objectives involve entering an area, killing all the enemies present, and then waiting for a Pelican to pick your team up.
Halo’s single-player campaign and multiplayer have all sorts of interesting components, and there’s no reason why some of those ideas can’t transfer over into a new cooperative experience. A dedicated Broadsword vehicle level could send players into outer space. A base defense could borrow ideas from the excellent Dominion multiplayer mode, with the Spartans desperately holding off an enemy attack while building defense emplacements. Or ask one player to hold a heavy artifact while other players protect and escort him, like a game of Oddball.
For that matter, if you’re looking for variety, integrate a variation on the fun Firefight mode into a chapter every week or so. Players are complaining about its absence, so give them what they want by creating missions that echo that experience.
Stop Repeating Content
343 Industries originally spoke about Spartan Ops utilizing locations that were separate from the main game. That seemed to be the case with the first five missions that came out on week one, but weeks two and three have been dominated by stages and locations culled from multiplayer maps (like Ragnarok), campaign locations, and even maps from earlier Spartan Ops missions.
While these locations often include variations from how we’ve seen them before, it’s disappointing to not see Spartan Ops missions striking off in new directions. To keep players excited, we'd love to see 343 Industries invest in dedicated new locations for every mission.
Better Connected Story
I’ve loved the short CG episodes that precede each week’s content, setting up a cool story about the UNSC Infinity, its new Captain Lasky, and even recently bringing Spartan creator Catherine Halsey into the plotline.
Unfortunately, up until now, those CG stories have felt largely disconnected from the missions you play. While many of the voiceover characters cross over, I’m often left feeling disconnected from the heart of the storytelling because my character has no direction connection to what’s going on.
In many instances, major events from the CG episodes are mentioned only in passing during the missions. Deepen the connection between the CG series and the missions, and I’ll be more eager each week to hop in and see what happens next.
Improved Cooperative Options
It’s great that I can hop in each week and play new cooperative content with my friends, but a couple of nagging frustrations bring me down.
First, why can’t I watch the CG episodes of the story while I’m in a party? It would be cool to get to watch these episodes while commentating with my friends, commiserating about cool events as they occur. Instead, here’s how things go: I log in, join a party with my friends to decide what we’re going to play that night. Once we decide to do Spartan Ops, everybody exits the party, watches the new episode, and then rejoins the party. It’s a strange inconvenience to have to deal with.
While we’re on the topic, why can’t I play Spartan Ops locally with all my friends sitting next to me on the couch, without all of us having an Xbox Live account or signing in as a guest? Hop into Spartan Ops, and you have to leave your friends behind or have them sign in under a guest account. Ideally, Spartan Ops should be easily playable by up to four players in one room, just like competitive War Games.
More Options To Tweak Experience
Halo has always given players lots of ways to make the experience their own, but Spartan Ops strips many of those options away.
It’s awesome that I can play through Spartan Ops missions on any of the four main difficulty settings, but I’d love more tools. Why can’t I set the use of Skulls during Spartan Ops? I’d also love to tweak how respawns work – the missions would feel more challenging if players didn’t auto respawn no matter the status of other players.
I’d also love to see increased optional content in the missions themselves, giving players new things to shoot for a subsequent playthroughs. Whether unique pick-ups or optional objectives that could feed into challenge completions, Spartan Ops would be cooler if there were additional goals.
Halo 4 is a big and ambitious game, and we know that all of the above features would involve increased time and money from 343 Industries. However, as it is, Spartan Ops feels like it is not quite living up to the potential offered by the idea of cooperative episodic gaming experiences, and we'd love to see the mode improve in the coming weeks and months.
How would you improve Spartan Ops? Let us know in the comments below.
Email the author Matt Miller, or follow on Game Informer.