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Opinion: Design Elements Prevent Halo 5’s Warzone From Rising Above Casual Status

Halo 5: Guardians’ 12 versus 12 multiplayer mode called Warzone is something new for the Halo series. It sort of takes Big Team Battle from past Halo games, and mixes it with base capturing and MOBA elements such as AI controlled allies and enemies. I love Halo, and I love MOBAs, but Warzone has me longing for something else. Thanks to the base capture system and seemingly luck-based AI kills, rarely do matches have the tug-of-war feel of MOBAs. However, I argue that a tweak to the respawn system, among some other design changes, has the potential to minimise these issues.

The primary way of consistently earning points in Warzone is to capture the three bases on the map. Holding more bases than the other team, usually two out of three, will see your points rise much faster than theirs. However, bases are too hard to capture once the other team has control of them. To capture a base, you have to stand in it while NO players from the other team are in the base. If you’ve got a whole team in the base and one enemy walks in, you stop capturing the base and give the other team time to spawn near it and rush in to stop you. Even with the seven second respawn timers, bases take so long to capture that the other team gets a few chances at stopping you, which they normally do because of overwhelming numbers and a respawn distance closer to the base than your team. Battlefield’s capture mechanics work similarly, but if you have a numbers advantage the base will still be captured even if there are enemies in it.

A lower respawn timer is good to get players back in the action, but it means bases don’t change sides as much as I’d like them to. It’s frustrating because it means the first team to take the middle base in a match will usually get out to a massive lead and, due to its position, be able to trap the other team at their base. The only way to counter this is to take the enemy’s base on the other side of the map, but the aforementioned situation still exists unless you’ve got a team which is unaware that their base is being taken.

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I see two solutions to this problem. Either increase the respawn timer for players, perhaps even introducing a fifteen second wave respawn system where players who have died respawn together, but respawns are 15 seconds apart. It would put more emphasis on killing off more of the other team at once, and allow for a true tug-of-war to take place.This system exists in other competitive game types such as capture the flag, where a full team down gives the other team five to ten seconds to gain more map position. The other option would be to change the base capturing system to something like what Battlefield does, where the base first gets neutralised, then captured. It would still take the same amount of time to capture a base, but once the base is neutralised the other team can no longer spawn at that location.

The second concern I have with Warzone is that killing the enemy AI bosses, which offer big points, can come down to luck rather than skill. The first team to 1,000 points wins a Warzone match. Killing the “legendary” bosses which spawn on the map are worth 150 points. These can result in a big swing in the score, allowing a team to catch up or pull further ahead. Legendary bosses appear at an open spot on the map, so that both teams have a chance to kill them. If the game is close enough, a victory can also be obtained by killing the Warden Eternal which spawns in the middle of the map when a team reaches about 850 of 1000 points (provided they aren’t dominating the other team, in which case it won’t spawn). There was one game where I secured my team’s victory by landing a perfectly timed Scorpion tank shot on the Warden Eternal in between the opposing team’s Fuel Rod shots. But that’s just it, a lot of the time luck will determine whichever team lands the last hit on a boss. With the open environment, it’s largely impossible to set up a situation where the enemy team can’t get visual on the boss, unless the whole 12 players communicate perfectly. As a result, countless times it will be a matter of watching the scoreboard to see who gets awarded the takedown. Enemy AI are advertised as a comeback mechanism for losing teams, or for casual players who don’t want to fight other players, but when you dwindle the health down only to miss out by one luckily timed Battle Rifle shot from the other team, it’s frustrating.

The aforementioned 15 second respawn waves could make fights for these bosses more strategic too. As it stands now, players just rush towards the boss when they respawn every seven seconds, but if the respawn waves were introduced it would be strategic for teams to kill off enemy players doing damage to the boss, giving them 15 seconds of free damage and preventing a lucky steal. In games like League of Legends and DOTA 2, steals do happen occasionally, but it usually takes a bigger risk than “I’m going to hide behind this rock in the distance with a line of sight on the boss and take one shot at it” (unless you’re playing as Jinx in League of Legends). It’s not that I don’t want to see awesome boss kill steals, but it feels like they occur too often.

Further, I’d like to see a better comeback mechanic for blow-out games. There are about four legendary bosses that spawn each game, offering a potential 600 points. Yes, it’s a method for a comeback, but if the losing team kills the Warden Eternal and keeps themselves in the game, there are no other legendary bosses that spawn to help close the gap even more. Regardless of the score, once the Warden Eternal is killed, unless the game is exceptionally close and the losing team manages to flip a base, you can see which team is going to win.

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Finally, even against a bad team, it’s almost impossible to score a complete victory by destroying the enemy’s core. If you manage to capture all three bases on the map, the shields protecting the other team’s home base disappear and you are instructed to push for the enemy’s core. This is the other way to win a game of Warzone besides scoring 1000 points. I believe the problem here is, once again, with the respawning system. In MOBAs, as the game goes on, respawn timers get progressively longer to give the other team a better chance at destroying the base. That’s in a game with 5 enemies. Warzone wants you to destroy a core while twelve enemies are on seven second respawn timers. By the time you eliminate players at the front of the base and start to think about pushing in, more have spawned and taken their place. Rather than a tug-of-war, matches at this point often result in a stalemate as one team has no chance of winning, but the other team can’t finish the game off; both teams are just waiting for the score to tick to 1000 points for an unsatisfying victory. I’ve only seen one core destruction in my time with Warzone, and it was when a team used the mechanised robot vehicle called a Mantis to walk into the other team’s base and wreak havoc, but those are extremely rare vehicles to see on the map due to the REC system. Even with a couple of Scorpion tanks and Wraiths, core destruction is very difficult because the enemy team swarms those and destroys them very quickly – the vehicles also can’t get into the room where the core is.

I want Warzone to stick around, it’s a fun gametype in short bursts that I keep going back for a few games in between lengthy Arena sessions. However, recurring concerns keep pushing me away. Taking over captured bases is too difficult even in large numbers, killing the legendary AI bosses often comes down to luck, and it’s nearly impossible to push into a home base to achieve a core destruction victory. I believe small design changes, such as tweaking the respawn system could reduce these issues, with teams being rewarded with more map position for killing the enemy team. But I’m no game designer, perhaps these ideas have already been tried and failed.


Nathan Manning is an Xbox Editor for AnalogAddiction. His opinion comes after seven hours of Warzone play. You can find him on Twitter and AnalogAddiction there as well.

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