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1. Grenade Physics

This was the very first thing I noticed about Halo 2's new physics engine, so I'll address it first. When I first tried throwing a grenade, it didn't go near as far as it did in Halo 1 (they could be thrown some 90 to 100 m in H1, while it looks to be about 20 m less than that in H2). This is quite unusual, considering we're dealing with the same grenade thrown by the same individual. Did Master Chief get weaker, or did the grenades get heavier? Since the average soldier can throw a hand grenade some 40 meters, then it's not unreasonable for a Spartan or Elite to be able to throw one 100 meters. Furthermore, frag grenades simply bounce around differently. They're harder to toss into places you want them to go. This has obviously affected grenade use in combat a great deal. Combined with their overall properties as weapons (see "Weapons" below), grenades, rather than being a weapon that required strategic use, are now simply used to spam an area with explosives. Finally, and of somewhat lesser importance, a grenade thrown a split second before death will often not deploy, which combined with the smaller blast radius, makes it hard to use them as a means of posthumous revenge. The physics of grenades is the first of many things that I will suggest should be reverted back to the way it was in Halo 1.

2. Melee Attacks

One of the more drastic changes made to Halo 2's gameplay was giving melee attacks a new lunge ability. The melee lunge has a range of up to about 4 meters, give or take a half-meter, and it covers that span in a split second. This has not only affected gameplay to a significant degree, but it also comes across as very unrealistic, both physically and in appearance (seriously, it looks awful). Not only have melee attacks been given a lunge ability, but they can now also be used in rapid succession. Also, it has the bizarre ability to change a player's trajectory, up to and including reversing it, while in mid-air (see my commentary on the Sword for more). This is just physically impossible, and it simply adds to the ridiculously unrealistic nature of the lunge ability. I know Master Chief is supposed to be fast and strong, but there's no way he can do these things.

Personally, I didn't really begin to notice the melee lunge until after the first auto-update. (At first, I thought it was actually added during the first AU, but it turns out I was wrong and that it was in multiplayer from the beginning. I guess that's because meleeing was much more rare pre-AU.) The first AU gave a boost to the melee attack, and it seems to have encouraged a far, far greater amount of hand-to-hand combat. Beatdown awards are now much more common as a result of this newfound desire to bash your opponents skull in rather than fire your gun during close-range combat. I still remember during my first post-AU game where I was in a close-range gunfight with someone, both of us dual-wielding, when all of a sudden my opponent drops one of his guns and lunges right at me, killing me. You pretty much have to fight in this manner in order to survive close-range combat, as more often than not your opponent won't even bother firing his weapon and will instead try to beat you to death.

I find the melee lunge to be rather awkward to use and that it tends to ruin the experience of close-quarters combat, which usually devolves into a fistfight rather than a gun battle. (Many people don't even bother firing their weapons in close-range combat.) A missed melee can throw you off balance, sling you off ledges, and can leave you wide open to a blindside attack. Furthermore, all of that lunging about makes it easy to lose track of your opponent, regardless of whether or not it was you or your opponent who lunged. It's also hopelessly random and chaotic, being nothing but a bunch of wild flailing about, jamming on the B button in hopes that you can lunge the fastest and get the first hit. It feels almost like a fighting game in this respect, despite the first-person perspective. Another problem is that the melee lunge has the tendency to bounce off of an opponent, especially if you're attempting to assassinate them. There've been many occasions where I've snuck up behind an opponent and lunged at him several times only to have the melees not work, and, in frustration, gave up and started firing my weapon.

Melee combat should be restored to the way it was in Halo 1. You were still able to hit someone within arms reach without having to lunge in a wildly unrealistic and chaotic manner, and it required decent timing instead of simplistic button mashing. Plus it was more of a backup or last resort attack or a means to kill an opponent from behind, not a (the?) primary means of attack at close range. The Halo 1 melee system was more user-friendly, realistic, graceful, and all around better than the maddening and unrealistic thrash-fest that is Halo 2's melee system, and thus it should be used in Halo 3.

3. Fall Damage

Another unwarranted and unnecessary change to Halo 2's gameplay was the elimination of fall damage. It's incredibly aggravating seeing your opponent jump off of a 50 or 100-foot ledge in order to retreat, only to have him incur no damage from the fall -- or not get killed from the fall after being severely damaged -- and get away from the encounter unscathed. Getting rid of fall damage has done nothing but provide a crutch to players who are either inattentive to their surroundings, looking for an cheap shortcut, or seeking an easy way out of an encounter that isn't going their way. In Halo 1, you had to watch your footing. If you screwed up, you could fall, either giving yourself a suicide or giving your enemy a kill, or at the very least damaging yourself to some extent. Same thing if you were looking for a quick escape or a shortcut. Crouching to absorb some of the impact to lessen damage from a fall took precise timing. This was just as much a factor in Campaign as it was in multiplayer. There were several places where if you were not watching what you were doing, you would suffer damage or get killed. Same if you tried to take a shortcut by jumping off a ledge. Furthermore, fall damage also had the effect of momentarily stunning you in addition to inflicting damage (assuming you survived the fall, that is), which added to the consequences incurred from too far a drop. Under normal circumstances, a roughly 20 meter fall was fatal, while anything between that and about 11 meters caused varying amounts of damage depending on height fallen and whether or not the player timed a crouch landing correctly.

In Halo 2, you are not penalized at all for falls resulting from not watching your footing or for missing jumps while in a high place, or for ejecting from/being thrown out of a Banshee at high altitude for that matter. It lessens the amount of skill involved by reducing the number of variables that factor into gameplay, thus lessening the amount of details one must pay close attention to in order to perform well in the game. It also encourages players to take the easy way out of an uncomfortable situation or simply take convenient shortcuts that detract from any intended or incidental challenge. Whatever consequences there are for falling a long distance in Halo 2, if any, are too minor to note. Therefore, I believe that fall damage should be reinstated in Halo 3.

(As a side note, having fall damage in the game would get rid of the problem of superjumping really quick, assuming that glitch somehow makes it into Halo 3. Attempt a superjump, and *splat*, you're dead or severely damaged when you hit the ground.)

4. Shields, Health, and the HUD

Health was another one of the factors that a player had to pay attention to in Halo 1. It gave you a decent idea of how well off you were and whether it would be a good idea to go in guns blazing or back off from a potentially suicidal fight, find some other means of attack, and/or wait for reinforcements. Also, relating to fall damage, it gave you a good idea of how far of a fall you could survive (assuming that the fall wasn't one lethal to everybody, even one overshielded and with full health). The problem with Halo 2 is that your character has health, but there is no health bar. In other words, the variable of health is there, but you have a complete inability to monitor it. There's no telling how well off you are at any given moment, which completely eliminates any strategy involved in picking your encounters or assessing risks. You have no clue as to whether or not the slightest tap could kill you once your shields are down. The fact that a player has a finite amount of health but cannot monitor it renders the entire system unreliable. Player health does regenerate (it can take up to 15 to 20 seconds to do so completely), but I believe this removes a lot of the urgency associated with health that does not restore on its own. It can also be argued that since the player's health regenerates, it encourages him to be less careful, since if they do get wounded, it doesn't matter since their health will restore itself between encounters. However, even if it does regenerate, it still doesn't alleviate the problems associated with not being able to monitor one's health. Furthermore, I'd like to point out that regenerating health is not very realistic, nor is it consistent with the rules established in the first Halo, not to mention the fact that Spartans or Elites have never been described as being able to regenerate wounds.

The lack of a health bar also extends to passengers in a player's vehicle. As with their own health, the player has no way of monitoring how well off the passengers are. The player may be unknowingly stuck with a gunner who could be killed by a single hit. In Halo 1, the ability to keep track of a passenger's health was quite useful, and the player could manage which passenger sat where on basis of their health, and often had the chance to get another ally who is on foot to take the place of a passenger who had less health. (This is all assuming that AI health does not regenerate in Halo 2, which is something I never got around to testing.)

Because of these problems, I believe that Halo 1's health system should be restored. Health should be visible to the player and it should not regenerate on its own, either for the player or for AI characters.

Another problem is the new location and structure of the shield bar. Instead of the larger and more easily readable bar located in the top right-hand corner we had in Halo 1, we have a much shorter and more compact bar located right on top of the motion tracker (a shield bar similar to Halo 1's is also seen in earlier betas of Halo 2; another beta had one located where it is now, but with a longer vertical orientation). A common complaint is that it's often difficult to read it in the middle of combat due to its size. Its size also makes it less accurate and thus less reliable. I understand that its new location was likely chosen to have a place for an ammo bar for duel wielding as well as for reasons of convenience, but size, structure, and location-wise it was better having the longer shield meter from Halo 1. If dual wielding is left intact in Halo 3 (more on this later), it would probably be better to replace the game progress bars in the lower right-hand corner (an unnecessary convenience; hitting the Back button was good enough) with a Halo 1 style shield & health bar, perhaps something like the long vertical shield bar seen in other Halo 2 betas (located roughly where the current one is). Better yet, give the HUD a certain degree of customizability to fit a player's personal preferences. Of course, if dual wielding doesn't make it to the next game, then the old Halo 1 HUD, or at least one nearly identical, should be reinstated.

I've also noticed the motion tracker has a much shorter range now (no more than half of the old range of about 60 meters) and it much more sensitive, and thus it gives you a better idea of how close an opponent is -- you can tell almost exactly how far away they are now -- and how fast they're moving. While this seems nice at first, it turns out that it has given rise to rather cheap and obnoxious tactics such as "crouch walking," which was hardly ever used in Halo 1. Much better to have the original longer range & less sensitive motion tracker of Halo 1, which merely let you know an enemy was nearby and what direction they are in, but not giving you the ability to gauge exact distances, something that was reserved for your own two eyes. Another problem with the motion tracker is that it is no longer visible whenever zoomed in with a scoped weapon like the sniper rifle. I'm not sure why this was done, but it would be nice to have the motion tracker available when zoomed in. Furthermore, I would have liked for the motion tracker to be removed entirely from the screen when turned off like in Halo 1, rather than remaining the constant eyesore/obstruction it is now.

The player should also have a slightly larger field of view. One of the more common complaints about the HUD is that the player has less peripheral vision than in Halo 1 or most other FPS: 70* vs. 90*, according to most sources (for comparison purposes, most humans have a FoV of about 180*). While it is not exactly easy to notice at first for some players, myself included, Halo 2 does feel a bit more cramped at times in its FoV. A little extra peripheral vision could never hurt, and there're a lot of players out there who want such a thing. While it isn't a very big issue for me, there are nonetheless many, many players find that the narrower field of view creates the effect of tunnel vision and that it is very detrimental to gameplay, and they consider it to be one of the biggest problems with Halo 2.

There are also a couple of little details about the sniper rifle's scope, namely night vision and the range indicator. The first was a necessity in dark areas, namely the first half of Truth & Reconciliation. The second was another one of the little details that, while not necessary for functioning gameplay, nonetheless gave the game that much more depth. While there were unfortunately no night missions and very few dark areas in Halo 2 (thus negating the need for night vision), hopefully there will be such missions in Halo 3. As for the range indicator, there really was no reason for it to not be in Halo 2. I really liked the depth and detail in Halo 1, so hopefully this along with many other little details will make it into Halo 3. It would also be neat if the Beam Rifle had a range indicator that had a readout that uses Covenant numerals, and instead of night vision, it could have something like infrared/thermal vision.

Finally, I'd also like to see the return of Halo 1's objectives indicators, which gave not just the general direction of an objective, but also let you know how far away it was.

5. In-game Feedback

There are several minor things about the feedback system in Halo 2 that I think need improvement. First off is the announcer in Multiplayer. While it is nice to be alerted that you have gained or lost the lead, it can get out of hand and quite annoying during close matches. Secondly, there are the little messages letting you know who killed who, what weapon you picked up, etc. This can cause the screen to get somewhat cluttered, especially when the player has to share the screen with another player in Multiplayer matches or co-op play (this has been partially remedied by a past auto-update). Finally, there are the little tutorial messages that pop up in the middle of the screen from time to time. While this is rather uncommon, it can get quite distracting when you're in the middle of combat and the game suddenly decides to give instructions on how to dual-wield weapons, zoom in with a sniper rifle, or any of a number of basic activities that the player should already know how to do.

Like what I proposed for various HUD features, the player should be able to customize what kind of feedback, if any, he/she wishes to receive.

6. Jumping

Another change that has affected gameplay is the increase in the height and distance that the player is able to jump. This mainly affects Multiplayer, and has resulted in many players jumping around like crazy in the middle of combat in order to make themselves a harder target to hit. This was, in my experience (and that of others, from what I've heard), a tactic that was rarely used in Halo 1. While it is relatively easy to compensate one's aiming when facing a constantly jumping enemy, this tactic is just plain annoying and it also gives a more chaotic feel to combat in general. I think it would be better for gameplay if the height and distance the player can jump were reduced somewhat. This would at the very least place more emphasis on practicing one's marksmanship and general weapons skills rather than just trying to create as much confusion as possible.

Furthermore, I'd like to point out that it is quite weird that the Chief can jump higher, but he can't throw grenades as far. As a friend of mine commented, it's as if all of his strength went to his legs. Very odd.

7. Ladders vs. Gravity Lifts

In Halo 2, ladders have been almost entirely replaced with grav-lifts and air vents. Ladders are found only on Waterworks and Headlong in Multiplayer, and on a couple of occasions in Outskirts and Metropolis in Campaign. I'm not sure why this was decided upon (more on this in a bit), but grav-lifts/air vents have some distinct disadvantages as compared to ladders. First off, they rob you of almost all control. Once you jump into one, it will automatically propel you upwards to a predetermined height. You cannot control your rate of ascent and your ability to control where you land is very limited. Some grav-lifts, such as the ones on Foundation, are positioned in such a way that if the player gets to close to the top of it, it can potentially catch him and push him back up, sometimes snagging him against a wall in the process. This can be fatal in a combat situation. Some grav-lifts are also extremely noisy (e.g. those on Colossus and Ascension), thus alerting the enemy to one's position.

Conversely, ladders offered greater versatility and control for the player. You can control how fast and how far up you want to go. If you wanted to hop off the ladder in mid-climb, you could do so at any time. Furthermore, simply touching the bottom of a ladder will not send you up it by itself. Also, you can jump down from the top of a ladder the exact same way you came up without being snatched up and carried back to the top. Finally, going up a ladder causes no more noise than walking.

While I expect grav-lifts to still be a part of Halo 3's gameplay, most notably in Covenant-themed maps, I think it would be better if more emphasis is placed on ladders as a means of going up and down between various levels and platforms. Also, if any Multiplayer maps from Halo 1 that had ladders are brought back for Halo 3, don't replace the ladders with grav-lifts.

Now, as to why ladders were replaced with grav-lifts, I've heard two reasons. First off, I heard on the video on the Map Pack CD that one of the reasons ladders were removed was that there were issues with the climbing animation (which there really wasn't one) looking rather unrealistic. However, not only is this irrelevant to matters of gameplay, one could also say that the fact that you cannot see a player's slung/holstered firearm when he has two is rather unrealistic, as is the fact that you don't see the character actually picking up weapons or ammo when he walks over them. Lack of minor animation subtleties like these is not a huge problem, unrealistic as they may be, and they've never been an issue in any previous high-profile FPSs. It's not a really good reason to alter basic gameplay aspects. Another reason I've heard elsewhere was that ladders turn the player into sniper fodder, or something to that effect. However, one could also say the same thing for grav-lifts, particularly the louder ones that alert the enemy. Like I said, the player has little control over his trajectory when he jumps into a grav-lift, thus rendering him virtually helpless. So, there really aren't any practical reasons to replace ladders with grav-lifts.

8. Auto-Aim & Reticule Magnetism

It seems that the level of auto-aim and reticule magnetism has increased quite a bit in Halo 2. While it was noticeable in Halo 1 as well, it was lesser in degree compared to how it is now. Personally, I think that reticule magnetism shouldn't even be in the game to begin with, and that the level auto-aim should be at the bare minimum required to make the game work. The player should not have the computer compensate for their aiming to any significant degree. It should be up to the player to learn the spread pattern, etc, of their weapons and adjust their aim accordingly (of course, due to the shot spread of many weapons, getting all or almost all of your shots to hit their target can be difficult even for veteran players). Furthermore, reticule magnetism has the annoying tendency to forcibly draw your sights away from the target you're aiming at and towards some other enemy. This is not only frustrating; it can be fatal given the wrong circumstances.

Unless gameplay absolutely cannot function properly without them, I believe that in Halo 3, auto-aim and reticule magnetism should be removed or diminished severely to levels far less than that found in either Halo 1 or 2.

9. Active Camouflage and Overshields

Another noticeable change in Halo 2 has been to the powerups. The active camouflage is far less effective this time around. While someone who is active is not as easy to see, it is still not too difficult to spot the camouflaged individual even from across a large stage. In Campaign, it is not too hard to spot a camouflaged Covenant from distances typical of those found in most encounters (one wonders why they can't spot you just as easy when you're cloaked). In Multiplayer, it's not too difficult to spot and snipe at a cloaked opponent from across the stage even on larger maps like Headlong. The decreased efficacy of the active camouflage in Halo 2 has diminished the challenge of facing camouflaged Covenant in Campaign, and has made it a far less useful powerup in Multiplayer, sometimes making it not even worth picking up. Compare this to Halo 1, where an active opponent was almost completely invisible at longer ranges, and it was exceedingly difficult to spot them even when they were relatively close. This made facing a cloaked enemy more challenging in Campaign, and made it a more efficient powerup in Multiplayer. The effectiveness of the active camo in Halo 3 should be more like it was in Halo 1. If there are balance issues with this, then simply reduce the duration of the active camo (it should still last long enough to be worth picking up, though).

The overshield has also suffered somewhat due a certain change made to it, namely the fact that it now encompasses whoever acquires it with a yellow glow. While the overshield still provides the same protection it did in Halo 1, the yellow glow gives an overshielded player less of an advantage. It plainly marks them as a threat, to either be avoided in one-on-one combat (unless the player has either a plasma pistol or a power weapon to use against the overshielded enemy), or to be ganged up on. The overshield glow should be eliminated in Halo 3. There's really no good reason why the overshield has to alert the other players to the fact that it's in use by someone. The Halo 1 overshield, which gave no clues to its presence when being used by a player, made it a more effective powerup. If there are balance issues with this, then simply reduce how much time it lasts.

Also, I'm curious as to why these powerups were not including in Campaign this time (though an active camo item would be unnecessary while playing as the Arbiter, for obvious reasons). While there were only a handful of them scattered about across the game in Halo 1, they were extremely helpful under many circumstances, and there are some places where you have to decide whether it would be better to grab them right away or wait and backtrack to them for a later section.