Yesterday, I spoke with the team at Bungie for a preview of some of the new features for Halo: Reach's multiplayer offering, including Active Roster, Queue-Joining, and the extremely exciting "Arena" system.
Now, I've played a good amount of Halo 3 and Bungie's plans for Reach have me extremely excited. What follows will be pretty in-depth and assume some knowledge of Halo 3's multiplayer, but I'll try to explain things in as much detail as possible.
- Active Roster - This is a throwback to Halo 2. When you boot up Reach, right at the main menu or lobby, you'll see a list of what your Xbox Live friends are doing within Reach. You'll get detailed information about any friends playing Reach including who they are partied with, what game they are in (plus score and remaining time), and more.
Basically, Bungie wants to make it so that you do not have to utilize the Xbox Live Guide to find out what your buddies are doing in Reach.
Queue-Joining - In Halo 3, it was difficult to join friends that were already playing in a match. You had to wait until they were finished. If you started a game while you waited, they would then have to wait for you. Instead of going back and forth, Reach will support queue-joining. Simply put, Reach will automatically join up as soon as your friends are joinable.
Improved Voting System - Halo: Reach will utilize a new voting system, which Bungie described as "Veto 2.0". Each playlist will provide players with four options. The first will be a combination of map and gametype, much like you would see in Halo 3. The other three options will offer players additional choices to vote on. Thankfully, you'll know up front what your four options are so you no longer have to risk voting down a favored map, but unfavored gametype and getting an unfavored combination.
Behind-the-scenes, a lot of work has been done to give more flexibility to the playlist designers. A designer could, for example, ensure that the first choice is always Team Slayer on a set of 3 popular maps, but offer different gametypes in the additional choices.
Arena Playlists - Possibly the largest change coming in Halo: Reach is the Arena. This is a Slayer and Team Slayer set of playlists entirely geared toward the hardcore. If that wasn't enough, players will be rated and placed into skill divisions in month-long seasons.
The rating system is smart enough to realize that kills aren't the only determining factor behind skill. This is especially true for team games where assists play a huge roll. Similarly, players that have a greater kill/death ratio (had more kills than deaths) will rank higher than players that die as much as they kill.
The divisions are Onyx, Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Steel. It is possible to move up or down within a single season. To qualify for ranking, players will have to play a certain number of games a day to gain a "Daily Ranking", which will be an average of a player's best games from the day. To get a divisional ranking and compete in a season, players will need a certain number of Daily Rankings.
Casual gametypes will not appear in Arena playlists. You won't be seeing Rocket Race or Fiesta here.
Even though Arena is geared toward top-level players, it should help less skilled players avoid being matched up against people they have no chance of winning against.
Ranked and Social Combined - Since the hardcore will be in the Arena, Bungie doesn't want to further splinter the community. In Halo 3, Ranked and Social playlists served two different purposes. Ranked games were generally of a higher quality, while social games were more casual.
In Reach, the playlists will be smart enough to put you and your party in the proper match based upon how many players you have. Say you're looking for a game in a four-on-four playlist. If you bring four people, Reach will attempt to match your team against another group of four at a similar skill level. If you go in with more than four, it will properly split your party across the teams and fill in the blanks with additional players.
Streamlined Party-Up - After a Halo 3 match, players were presented with the option to "Party Up" and merge lobbies with all willing players. In Reach, it will be an opt-out system. After a match, players will be kept together and it will automatically roll into looking for the next match. The system is flexible enough to allow Bungie to determine, per playlist, whether to keep a team together and find a new set of opponents or keep an entire game together and move onto the next map.
- Teamwork - Team Player vs. Lone Wolf
- Motivation - Winning vs. Having Fun
- Chattiness - Chatty vs. Quiet
- Tone - Polite vs. Rowdy
- Matchmaking Connection Options - The options for finding games in matchmaking will be more open to the player, if they so choose. If you only ever want to play in games with a good connection, that can be set in the options. If you only ever want to play against players of a similar skill, that can be set. The same goes for finding players that speak to same language.
Social Settings - In addition to these connection options, players can rate themselves along four axes to add another layer of criteria to the matchmaking. These won't trump anything else, but it will help Bungie build better teams. Players will define their playstyle in the following four categories:
This allows Bungie, for example, to try and build a team of chatty, polite, team-playing, winners in serious playlists.
It should also help alleviate the epidemic of smurfing (creating new Xbox Live accounts) to give maxed out players something to do in Halo 3. Instead of starting over, destroying noobs and reclimbing the skill charts, these top-level players will be encouraged to play season-after-season in the Arena and be meaningfully compared to each other. It's a system that has been a long-time-coming to a first-person shooter.
Look for more coverage on Halo: Reach from Shacknews soon and get ready for the beta, which begins on May 3rd. The full game will be released exclusively for the Xbox 360 this fall. See you online!