The second of three initial DLC map packs for Halo 4 has arrived, and Fireteam Majestic is the namesake this time. The emphasis of these maps is without a doubt on tight-quarters and fast-paced action. With what certainly must be the lowest average square-footage of any three maps in Halo 4, any 4v4 match feels like a target-rich (and boltshot happy) environment, and respawn time is typically your only respite. Here are the developer commentaries on the maps, but let’s get into details.
Landfall is the largest of the three, and with its asymmetric mix of outdoor sniper alleys and indoor structures, it feels like it has a little something for everybody. However, the first thing you’re likely to notice is that HUD navigation marker pointing you straight toward rockets. Those rockets are in an open outdoor area vulnerable to snipers or focused rifle fire, but if you can grab them, you should be able to dominate the indoor structures. Despite being tight quarters, there are only a few boxes and other objects for cover inside, the space instead being dominated by ramps, hallways, and second-story balconies and walkways.
Monolith hearkens back to classic, square, arena-style maps of yesteryear. Blue base on one side, red base on the other, two-story pyramid with an open top platform in the middle. Each flanking side has a simple two-story structure with a man cannon that launches you over the center pyramid to the other flanking side. There’s little cover aside from those structures, so you’re constantly finding targets, but are also a target yourself. Snipers and riflers can take advantage of elevated platforms on the man cannon structures, and a great way to get your ass kicked is to never figure out that the other team has been peppering you from those platforms the whole game. The developer video claimed Skyline was the fastest-playing map, but I disagree. Skyline is tight, but has few mid-range sight-lines Monolith’s central pyramid and the side platforms offer enfilade (especially in team games) on the rest of the map outside the structures, and it really seemed to me like I was never not in a firefight.
Skyline is easily the tiniest map in the game right now, another symmetric arena in which ramps dominate the perimeter and platforms dominate the center. Here’s a sense of how small it is: you know how when there are enemies in your base during CTF games, you get spawned somewhere closer to the middle of the map? In those cases, I found it was about a 7- to 10-second run to get into their base and make a play for their flag. Most of the map is a two-story series of balconies and platforms that allow you to whip fire down on enemies’ heads, but beware: out of all the maps, this one makes it easiest to get from the first to the second level quickly – so quickly that the jetpack seems pretty redundant. Passages are pretty short with lots of turns and doorways, making this one of the few cases where I found myself preferring the AR and Storm Rifle to a mid-range rifle.
While the maps all feel fresh, the most palpable change for me was a focus on classic Halo resource management (read: jumping on weapon spawns and leveraging tactical strong points). Of all the Halo 4 maps, these three are the most dominated by the weapon spawns, which, unlike most of the others, respawn in the same place at set intervals after being acquired (or being used up, I’m not sure which) by the players. Remember how big a deal it was to stay on top of the rockets in Ivory Tower back in Halo 2 and Reach? Small map rockets are back in Landfall and Monolith, and you can’t let the other team monopolize them. The tastiest noobsauce will give you indigestion if you let them sit on the ol’ Rocks. Both slayer and objective maps instantly attained a more classic Halo feel, which was all to the good for my tastes, but I have no doubt will come under criticism from others. In Reach, my team learned to watch the game clock and anticipate respawning of power weapons, especially rockets. A similar wary eye will benefit you in Landfall and Monolith (no rockets in Skyline), although the HUD navigation markers at least alert you as to when it’s reappeared.
The last update of note is a new game type, although it was only available on Landfall and will likely only appear on medium to large 4v4 maps. Extraction plays a bit like a two-hill KotH, except the idea is to “activate” a node and then guard it for 45 seconds. Succeed, and you get a point, triggering a new node to appear elsewhere on the map. If the other team stops your countdown, it resets back to 45 seconds for them. The game is strategically simple, and a little communication goes a long way. Just telling teammates which node to try for can make all the difference, or letting them know that since there are three enemies after you at node A, node B is obviously free for the taking – unless the enemy is smart enough to only leave a node vulnerable when there’s not enough time to stop the countdown.