The start of a new year brings the start of a new month, which means yet another Halo: Reach multiplayer matchmaking playlist update. 343 Industries is continuing to gradually change the multiplayer landscape, and hasn't made any radical changes this time. I've had a bit of time to fool around in the revamped playlists, and these are my thoughts.
The biggest change this time around is the introduction of a new playlist, Squad DLC. It is a 6v6 slayer playlist that requires the installation of all Halo: Reach DLC. I don't understand why this wasn't introduced immediately after Premium Battle was removed. People like having a way to immediately try out the maps they have spent their hard earned Microsoft points on. I'm sure many people received points cards over the holiday break and used them to buy the map packs. These maps are playable in most of the playlists, but only if every player in the lobby has the DLC installed. Changes were introduced to the matchmaking algorithm in December to try to match DLC players more often, but the effect of these changes was not very noticeable. The Halo: Reach player base in each playlist is small enough that it would add a considerable amount of time to matchmaking search if this behavior was very strict.
BS Angel (community manager at 343 Industries) clarified that Squad DLC is a playlist on probationary status, and will only survive if the population playing it is large enough. This angers me a little. I really like playing objective games on some of the new maps, and these are not an option in the slayer only Squad DLC playlist. The fact that a single DLC playlist might not even survive is frustrating. If there can only be one DLC required zone, I would prefer that it offered both slayer and objective gametypes, akin to Squad Battle from Halo 3.
The games I played in Squad battle performed as advertised. I was treated to 6v6 slayer, including Team Snipers and Slayer Pro, on a variety of maps from the Noble, Defiant and Anniversary map packs. It is worth noting that the skill level of this playlist seems to be slightly higher than most others. It is a more hardcore group of players that has purchased all the DLC, so don't be surprised if you have a bit of tougher time than in Team Slayer.
My favorite change for this update has to be that the early win behavior for Grifball has been fixed. Grifball has always been a best of 5 rounds game, but Halo: Reach allowed the game to end once a single team reached 3 points. This eliminated a lot of useless rounds of play, that usually were devoted to K/D whoring and spawn killing. It made losing a less frustrating process, and didn't take any of the joy away from winning. For some unexplainable reason, this behavior was removed in the December update, and the game once again forced players to take part in all five rounds. I don't know why it took 343 Industries this long to switch back the setting, but I'm grateful that it plays how it should once again.
The Abridged map, a community Forge World creation that often appears in the Big Team Battle hopper, has undergone some significant changes. The flag spawns have been moved, teleporters have been added to make traversal better, and it is now possible to fly under the massive bridge without triggering a kill zone. My favorite change is that the gravity lifts in each of the bases have been moved inside, which means that it is not possible to get floating vehicles permanently stuck in them. It was really annoying to have your Mongoose trapped 20 feet in the air when you're trying to drive a flag back to your base. However, I will miss noobs jumping into the lift, only to get instantly splattered by a hovering Warthog.
January also brings the slow spread of Title Update settings to more playlists. Team Arena, Big Team Battle and Double Team join in on the TU party, along with Team Objective, Squad Slayer and Multi Team, which were changed over in December. The changes include 85% Bloom, Armor Lock alterations, the removal of sword block, damage bleed through on partial shields and Active Camo modifications. I don't have a big opinion on full bloom vs. 85%. I still have fun playing the game on either setting, so I don't care too much about these changes. What I don't like is that the playlists are so fragmented, so I guess it's a good thing that the changes will eventually be on every playlist. It's confusing to keep track of what settings apply to each game. I'd rather have all of Reach be a consistent experience, leaving us only to worry about the gametypes and maps.
The rest of the changes in the update were just rolling out maps to playlists that previously didn't have them. Zealot, Countdown and Penance are now available in Team Snipers. I have no idea why these maps weren't in there before. I know that they're small, but that doesn't make them any less fun for sniping. Expect a lot of awesome no-scoping to be going on when playing these maps. Double Team has been blessed with the addition of two Anniversary maps - Solitary and Battle Canyon. Again, why weren't these added in last month's update? All of matchmaking was supposed to have a bigger emphasis on DLC, so why weren't these maps even available?
Living Dead also received a ton of new map variants for Infection gameplay. I'm not a big fan of the playlist, so I confess that I haven't given it a try this month. I don't understand why it is consistenly one of the most played gametypes in Halo: Reach. I prefer playing Infection with people I know in custom games, so it will be nice to have the new clever and spooky map names to use, I suppose.
In case you missed it, you can read about last month's matchmaking alterations here. Also, BS Angel has the full details of the January update over on the Halo Waypoint site for those who are curious. I want to thank 343 for remaining dedicated to improving Halo: Reach. Although their focus is on Halo 4, I'm glad that they're taking time to try to meet the needs of the current Halo player base, even if the changes they're making aren't exactly what I'd want. Anyways, I'm sure I'll be back in a month to discuss the February update; right now I have some Squad DLC I've got to play!
(Title Image by xRyderx Rgnt444)