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Favoured of the Temple, Fallen From Grace
The Nameless Strikes Out Alone
A Quest for Truth, Mercy, and Regret
Shall Bring Him To Be Reborn

A Fall Into the Depths
Saved By Festering Evil
To Save Us From Our Own Folly

On November 9, 2004, or Master Chiefmas as it was known to some, the much anticipated sequel to the ever so popular video game Halo: Combat Evolved, hit the shelves. Halo 2 is a classic tale of love, betrayal, and revenge. Oh wait, no it's not. It's about a genetically engineered space marine with a power suit of armor who kills a lot of aliens. And of course, saves humanity in the process.

Halo 2 was developed by Bungie Software, a devision of Microsoft Game Studios, and it currently is an XBox exclusive. It has been in development since Halo was released, 3 years earlier. Trust me on this one, you can tell. Visually speaking, this game is slick. It's run by a new graphics engine, specifically designed for the XBox.

In addition, demand for the game was boosted by an intensive advertising campaign, from banner ads on the Internet, to television spots, to trailers in the movie theaters, to ilovebees.com, which wasn't quite advertising for the game per say, but more bungie having some fun. Many stores, anticipating the extremely high demand for this little piece of software, had midnight openings of their stores, so that the hordes of fans clamouring to play ASAP, could be sated. In some cases, the lines to get in stretched around the block. Halo 2 broke records, selling 2.38 million copies on its first day of sales, in the United States and Canada alone. This translates into $125 million USD. That's a whole lotta Halo.

You could get the regular edition in the usual XBox green case, or for a bit more money, you could have bought a limited collector's edition. For that, you got a DVD on the making of the game, and the game manual was written from the perspective of the Covenant, which is the main alien enemy, instead of from the human perspective. And, most importantly, it comes in a funky metal case.


Differences Between Halo I and II

"Halo 2 is a lot like Halo, only it's Halo on fire, going 130 miles per hour through a hospital zone, being chased by helicopters and ninjas, and the ninjas are all on fire, too."
Jason Jones - Head of Bungie Studios

Not all that shockingly, the folks at Bungie have made a bunch of changes to the game. Starting with the main character, Master Chief John 117. Apparently, after having run through 213890 aliens in the previous Halo, his combat suit was not in the best of repair. Fortunately, they had a new model out. A shinier model even. Its shield recharge faster, it can jump higher, and he can survive falls from much much higher than he could before. To the point that none of the places that you would normally be able to jump off from in any of the levels will harm you at all. In addition, there is no health in this game. Once your shields recharge, you are perfectly fine.

Weapons

There are changes to the weapons available as well. The pistol (now called the Magnum), which in Halo was one of the most useful weapons in the game, has lost its scope, and is generally less powerful. While you can still zoom in with it, and with all weapons now, this is only to look, as soon as you fire, it zooms back out. Basically, the Master Chief also has a pair of binoculars.

The assault rifle has been replaced with two different weapons. There is the Battle Rifle, a semi-automatic rifle with a scope, that fires in three round bursts. This weapon is much more accurate than the assault rifle was, and the individual rounds do more damage, but of course you don't pump out nearly as many of them. And then there's the Sub-Machine Gun (SMG), which is automatic, and pumps out a decent amount of ammo. It has more kickback than any other weapon in the game, which causes your aim to creep upwards. It can also be carried in a single hand, which brings me to the next major change. If a weapon is able to be held in one hand, you can have two of them firing at a time. Dual wielding, if done properly, can be quite devastating.

The most notable new Covenant weapon is the Energy Sword. If you have played Halo, you must recall those invisible Covenant elites who had a big glowing sword, that killed you in one hit if you didn't take them out before they could get to you. Remember how frustrating it was when you couldn't pick up that sword after you took them down? Not so much any more. You can execute this lunge attack where you rush forward with it, that's completely devastating. In the campaign, to avoid being overpowered, the sword has a limited number of strikes you can hit before it runs out of power, between 10 and 20 depending on the power of the attack. In the multiplayer, however, it has no such limitation, and players who have the sword can just go tearing through their opposition. Very fun to play with.

There's also the Fuel Rod Gun, which is the big gun that the hunters (The big tank like monsters with the shield) had, while very powerful, has quite limited ammunition. There's the Brute Shot, which is a kind of grenade launcher. It's annoying to use, because the grenades aren't as powerful as regular grenades, and they also don't explode until a bit after they hit a surface, so you have to kind of bounce them off something towards your target, which can be tricky.

The Covenant Carbine is a kind of new rifle, and is for the most part useless, except against the flood. Update: I've been reminded that it's also good against the Brutes. But only if you can pull off head shots. I still dislike the thing. And there is also now a Covenant Beam Rifle, which is their version of the sniper rifle. It's ok, but overheats if you try to fire too quickly. And, finally for the new weapons, is a Brute Plasma Rifle, a red version of the old plasma rifle, which is more powerful than the old one, but heats up faster.

And of course, the old standbys. The Plasma Pistol still charges up nicely, but now that you can have a weapon in the other hand, you can use it to kill off someone's shields, and the other weapon to finish the job. It and an SMG work nicely. The Plasma Rifle is still useful for killing off shields, but not so much at finishing the job. Two of them work ok.

The Needler, which fires purple target tracking shards which explode after a second or two of sticking into a person's flesh, is finally useful. Using only one of them, it was very hard to kill someone. Two of them, however, do the job rather nicely.

The human Sniper Rifle is still deadly in the hands of someone with good aim. The trusty Shotgun is still king of close quarters, with the possible exception of the energy sword.The Rocket Launcher has a new feature where it can lock onto and track vehicles. Against people, used correctly it'll still blow em up good, and hopefully you won't get yourself killed in the process.

Vehicles

First off. All vehicles can be destroyed in Halo 2, in both the multiplayer and in the regular game. In Halo, the Warthog and the tank were indestructible in both, and the Ghost was only destructible in the regular game.

The Ghost, the hovercycle like Covenant vehicle with twin plasma cannons, is of course still in the game. It has, however, changed. First off, if someone's driving a Ghost, or any vehicle for that matter, you can jump on and throw them off of it. Quite amusing. The Ghost is generally slower, but by pulling the left trigger, it goes into speed boost mode, going a lot faster, but less maneuverable. You don't automatically kill someone by running over them, it just damages them according to what speed you're going. Once again, this applies to all vehicles as well. While you are hitting the speed boost, you cannot fire the plasma cannons, however the cannons seem stronger than they were in the original game.

The Warthog (Aka Jeep) is basically the same, except there is also a variety of it with a railgun on top instead of the machine gun. Much slower rate of fire, but much more powerful. The Scorpion, (Aka the Tank) is better. The controls are different, allowing you to better drive in one direction and fire in another direction.

The Banshees, the Covenant's single person fighter, is less useful. It is a lot harder to hover in place than it was before. But, it's also usable in the multiplayer game, which can be fun. However, in the multiplayer, its fuel rod cannon is disabled, so you're left with only the plasma cannons. One of the better uses of the banshee is to use it to fly to places that you wouldn't be able to get to normally, and then snipe from there.

There are also some new Covenant vehicles. The only familiar one is the Wraith, the Covenant tank. Yeah, the one that lobs those blue bombs at you. It's rather slow, and the weapon is hard to aim, but it'll take out pretty much anything when it connects. The Spectre is basically the Covenant's version of the Warthog, with a mounted plasma cannon that needs its own gunner. And the Shadow is a troop transport vehicle, that can carry 8 people, plus the driver and gunner, as well as carrying a Ghost underneath it. I'm pretty sure you can't use these in the multiplayer, but I haven't tried to take one over in the campaign game. Update: Can't drive it in either.


Multiplayer Action: Or, how to get taken back to school

Fun. So Much Fun. Halo 2 allows one to play multiplayer games, against your friends, or against strangers. First thing, the levels. There are 8 all new levels, and two levels that are quite similar to the Blood Gulch and Battle Creek levels from Halo, and apparently there is also a secret level that you can unlock. Overall, the levels seem a lot larger than the levels in the original game.

Halo 2 is compatable with XBox Live. It allows you to play, over a broadband Internet connection, with anyone in the world who also has a Live account. Through bungie.net, they track individual stats, and coordinate clans and the like. I actually don't have an XBox Live account, but I've been told that the system they have set up to match up people with players who are about the same skill level as themselves works rather well. This is done by tracking how well players do during the games, and setting up a ranking system.

One thing I like is the post game report. Instead of just telling the score, it tracks a number of stats, such as who killed who how many times, shots fired, accuracy, average time you stayed alive, and the like. They also have medals you can earn, for heroic feats such as going on a killing spree (5 kills without dying yourself), multiple kills at a time, stealing the flag (If it's a Capture the Flag game), sniping someone, beating someone to death, running someone over, stealing someone's vehicle, and some others. Earning more medals is fun, at the very least because you can brag to your friends.

There are a variety of game types that can be played, from stuff where the goal is to simply kill people, to Capture the Flag, to Assault, which is sort of a reverse CTF where you plant a bomb in someone else's base. King of the Hill remains, where the goal is to remain alive inside the "hill," a glowing boundry that moves from time to time. Oddball returns, where the goal it to carry the Oddball the longest, not being able to use any other weapons while holding it. New game types are Juggernaut, and Territories. I haven't played territories, but the idea seems to be to control multiple king of the hill type boundries, ones that possibly don't move. And Juggernaut is a game where you score by killing the current Juggernaut, and thus becoming the Juggernaut, and by getting kills while the Juggernaut. Most of them are set up so that the Juggernaut has advantages over the other players, so he may be hard to beat. As well, you lose points for killing anyone who isn't the Juggernaut. It's generally an annoying game to play. Most of these games can be played either on teams, or as a free for all, everyone kill everyone. The only ones that need to be team games are the ones that involve taking something to / from a base.

You can also specify what types of weapons and vehicles are available on the level. Two of the most popular options are giving everyone sniper rifles, and giving everyone rocket launchers. I freakin' love rocket games.

Now, you don't need to have XBox Live to play multiplayer. You can use a hub or a router to link up to 16 different XBoxs, with each map capable of hosting up to 16 players. Or, if that's not your style, you can all play on the same TV, with up to 4 people. In addition, you can play the campaign game on cooperative mode, with 2 people.

Speaking of which...


Campaign Game

Spoiler Alert! I will give minor spoilers for Halo 2, and I will discuss the events of the original Halo. If you haven't played these games, and you wish to have this be a surprise, please move on.

The game begins as the Master Chief arrives back on earth. Due to the pounding his suit took during the destruction of Installation 04, he needs a new suit. After those upgrades, he meets with Sergeant Major Johnson, who somehow survived the destruction of Halo, despite the fact that if you completed the game on legendary, it shows a shot of him, fighting with a elite, as the Pillar of Autumn's nuclear reactors go big boom. When asked how, he says it's classified. And by that, we mean that they wanted to keep the cool character, so didn't even bother making up a cheesy plot device. Update: Supposedly he and a few others were rescued off a flying chunk of Halo. It's covered one of the books, and in the regular manual. I, however, still say that's a cop out. Lando was supposed to die.

The game begins as the Elite who commanded the Covenant forces upon Halo faces the judgement of the high council for his failure in allowing the "Demon" to destroy the holy ring. Failure of such a magnitude is deemed to be heresy, and as such, he must be punished. After being tortured and branded in front of a howling mob, he is to be executed. Due to the fact that the charge of heresy was trumped up, and they didn't really want to waste his skills. He is offered the chance to become the Arbiter, a sort of holy crusader, the Vanguard of the Great Journey. To be given tasks that will most likely be suicidal. This is how they will go about executing him.

The Master Chief and Johnson head to a ceremony where they recieve medals for their heroics on Installation 04. In addition, Captain Keyes, the CO of the Pillar of Autumn, is awarded, posthumously. His daughter, Commander Keyes recieves the medal on his behalf. Unfortunately, in the the ceremony is cut short, when the sensors detect an incoming Covenant Fleet. The ships send in boarding craft to try and take over the orbital defense platforms. And you? You need a weapon.


I don't want to spoil too much, but as you may have guessed, the game has parallel plot lines. As the Master Chief, it's you versus the Covenant, in defence of your home world. As the Arbiter, it's a bit more complicated. There are factions within the Covenant, and they center around three groups. The Prophets are the spiritual and governmental leaders of the Covenant. The Elites, whom we are familiar with, are the military leaders of the Covenant. Or, at least they were. Due to the Elites' failure on Halo, it is decided that the task of guarding the Prophets should be given to the third group, the Brutes. The Brutes are nasty individuals, basically a bunch of overgrown gorillas. With nasty tempers. The tensions grow between the Brutes and the Elites. As well, we find out a lot more about the religious significance of the "holy rings," to the Covenant.

There are a lot of people who are upset with the ending of this game. Personally, I liked it. It was a cliffhanger, yes. But, I think it was obvious to everyone that Halo was going to, at the least, be a trilogy. The plotline of Halo 2 sets 'em up, I expect Halo 3 to knock 'em down.

Update: Apparently the ending I, and most people saw, was not the "real" ending. To get that, we would have to beat the game on legendary. I don't think I'm going to be able to do that, for quite some time. Update again: I've now been told that's incorrect. Meh. I don't know. If you yourself have seen the ending for legendary, please tell me if it's different.

MercuryTurrent says re Halo 2: ok, i've done it. nothing special. there's skulls on legendary. after the credits keep watching. there's another fmv (any difficulty)



Sources:
Halo 2, and the Game Manual for Halo 2.
Oh, and this time around, the poem's mine. Which is why it sucks.

An Overview of Each of Halo 2's Multiplayer Maps

Lockout

Lockout can be a bit confusing for new players, but is widely considered to be one of the best maps. Lockout consists of two towers, a central courtyard, and lots of outlying rooms and walkways. Short range weapons rule the roost at Lockout. The first team to secure both the sword and the shotgun will usually win, although some clever use of the battle rifle and sniper rifle can also yield a victory. I suggest Slayer, Team Slayer, Capture the Flag, and King of The Hill for this map.

Ascension

The one and only strategy for this map is sniping. Nothing else has ever yielded a victory for me. Failure to obtain a sniper rifle will result in repeated embarassing spawn deaths....not a fun time. A few weak backup plans are: Get the rocket, then get inside the banshee; get the shotgun and crouchwalk behind a sniper; bend over and kiss your ass goodbye. Slayer and Team Slayer work well here, even if the only objective for each team is to obtain the enemy's sniper rifle.

Midship

Midship is the smallest map in the game. Midship consists of a central room surrounded by ramps and overhangs. Needless to say, walking out into the main room is suicide. Being a Covenant based map the starting weapons are a tad different. Players spawn with a plasma rifle instead of the standard SMG and plasma grenades instead of the usual frags. Again, short range combat is one's best bet here. The shotgun lies in the center of the main room, and the sword spawns about 30 feet directly above it on a floating platform. Slayer and King of The Hill are great here.

Ivory Tower

Ivory Tower is an ingeniously built map. Long range, short range, and medium range combat are all acceptable here, although a mixture of all three will serve you best. In team games people often try to hold the platform where the sniper rifle spawns. This can prove costly as there are 3 entrances to this room, one of which leads from the overshield spawn, one from the sword spawn, and the other from the shotgun spawn, leaving would be raiders very well armed and protected. The rocket launcher becomes a deciding factor here quite often, to such a point even that many people make an agreement not to use it for the sake of fun. All gametypes except CTF work well here.

Burial Mounds

This map can be frustrating for non-snipers. A large, fairly open map, Burial Mounds is a sniper's paradise. Burial Mounds is a ruined wasteland filled with debris. The snipeyness is offset by the two vehicles on the map. The warthog and ghost are each found on this map, as are two turrets, each found inside the same building. The best strategy for this map is to grab a sniper rifle and hide in a dark corner. CTF and Team Slayer work well here.

Colossus

There is one word and one word only to describe Colossus: Big. This map is so big that Major League Gaming rules indicate that starting weapons should be sniper rifles to make up for the insane openness of this indoor map. A few things to remember on this map: Snipers will be noticed, so you should move your sniping position after every few kills. Shotguns are plentiful in this map, so if someone is closing on you, you might wanna back up. The exploding barrels on this map do damage similar to that of rockets, do not underestimate them. Most importantly, remember that the jump pad can be heard from across the entire map, if you're trying to be stealthy, don't use it.

Zanzibar

One must be a diverse player to succeed at Zanzibar. Snipers can reign supreme. Rocketeers can have fun ruining the drivers' time. Vehicles spawn at both ends of the map. There are indoors to hide from snipers and bring shotguns to bear. This is one of the most inventive maps I've ever played and it only has one truely cheap tactic, which can backfire if an assaulter knows what he's doing. I recommend every gametype except 2 flag Capture the Flag.

Coagulation

Coagulation is a sniper's paradise. Filled with cheap spots to camp, and only two sniper rifles, it reminds me vaguely of Ascension in the fact that the team with the rifles will dominate. The one redeeming factor of this map is the massive amount of vehicles that can be operated. At max there can be 8 going at once. A novelty gametype I recommend is all swords, all warthogs. It becomes quite easy to obliterate an entire warthog crew with a sword after a few tries. Standard gametypes I recommend are Capture the Flag and Team Slayer.

Headlong

Headlong is another very diverse map. One can choose to stay indoors and take enemies close range, one can grab one of the two sniper rifles and pick people off from a distance, or one can grab a vehicle and mow people down. This map has one very major drawback. There is an easily accessible ledge on top of one of the buildings that renders a sniper nearly invincible if he can manage to get both rifles up there with him. I recommend turning off Banshees to avoid this problem. Every gametype works well here.

Waterworks

Campy snipey goodness here. Never ever run across an open field after about 30 seconds into a game unless you have a complete deathwish. Four sniper rifles spawn here, two of which are on the main ledge used for sniping. For the uneducated this means that any sniper who chooses to camp the center platform is rewarded with an infinite supply of respawning ammo. Luckily there are 8 vehicles here, including tanks, which can be used to avoid sniper fire. All gametypes work well here.

Foundation

This is a secret map which must be unlocked. It consists of one open room surrounded by a catwalk. Connecting to the catwalk are 4 outlying rooms. All rockets work well here, but I also recommend all versions of slayer and team slayer.

Sources
http://features.teamxbox.com/xbox/945/Halo-2-Multiplayer-Map-Overview/p3/
http://halo.bungie.org
Halo 2
In early May of 2005, the first downloadable content was released for Halo 2 on Xbox Live. This consisted of 3 separate packages that together made some significant changes to the game experience: An update for the game, a free map pack, and a premium map pack.


The Autoupdate

Halo 2 had been out for several months, and had developed some problems. The foremost of these was simple cheating. The most common cheat encountered was what came to be known as standbying. As with most multiplayer games, Halo 2 uses a client-server architecture; one of the players in the game (the one on the fastest connection, ideally) was made the host and tasked with coordinating network traffic between the other players. The game tried to make this as automatic and invisible as it could, but it was still possible to discover who was hosting the game. It then became an unfortunately widespread practice for the host to temporarily disrupt their own network connection, forcing all the other players to stare at Halo 2's own version of the blue screen of death (unlike its namesake, this was a temporary condition) and buying a few seconds of unopposed gameplay. Honorable players tried to fight back by using Live's feedback system, but this quickly became a plague seen in more games than not. (The name "standbying" comes from the button on some cable modems labeled standby, which was pressed to perform the cheat.)

And aside from external factors, there were problems within the game itself. Players quickly discovered that it was possible to grab items through solid walls, if one could get close enough. While not exactly cheating, this disrupted the flow of the carefully balanced maps and many players considered it poor sportsmanship. A bug in the game was discovered that allowed players riding in the Warthog to become invisible and teleport around the map. There were numerous other minor quirks and glitches that were often abused, and again the Xbox Live feedback system didn't seem to have any effect.

The autoupdate, released over Xbox Live and made mandatory for all players, resolved all of these problems. The invisible player bug was fixed. Changes were made to the physics system to prevent grabbing items through walls. Some changes which Bungie was unwilling to discuss in detail were made that made standbying a much less effective cheat- it still happens, since it's impossible for the Xbox to control a person's auxiliary hardware, but it doesn't give the players much of an advantage any more, it just annoys everyone in the game.

An unexpected benefit of the autoupdate was that Bungie took the opportunity to address many of the complaints the veteran Halo community had voiced regarding the sequel. The most common complaint was that the weapons had been nerfed and made less reliable- kills were more a matter of luck and the element of surprise than skill at manipulating the controls, and none of the weapons seemed to do as much damage as before. Some of the low-end weapons were quite weak, which was not true in the original game, which led to newly spawned players being essentially defenseless against players who were lucky enough to grab powerful guns before them. The melee attack was noticeably weaker than in the first game, greatly changing the dynamics of close-quarters combat. Grenades wouldn't fly as far and did too little damage to be effective. The autoupdate made grenades powerful enough to be dangerous again, greatly increased melee damage (to the point where a particular weapon with a giant bayonet-type blade will kill in 1 or 2 hits), and changed several other weapons, resulting in a feel that virtually everyone agrees is much improved over the initial release of the game.


The Bonus Pack

The Bonus pack was free for all Xbox Live subscribers, and consisted of 2 maps named Containment and Warlock. Virtually every map in the original game had been designed around 4v4 team games- players were quick to bemoan the absence of small maps designed for FFA carnage or very large maps designed for the game's maximum of 16 players. The Bonus Pack covered both gaps in the lineup.

Containment

Set in the snowy region of the Quarantine Zone near the Library, Containment is a vast canyon with two massive bases, one at each end. Each base is equipped with a whole fleet of vehicles (a Warthog, a Banshee, and a Scorpion), as well as a gate that can be lowered to allow vehicles to be driven in. There are several paths that can be taken across the level, with varying amounts of cover and accessibility to vehicles. Vehicular combat is made more interesting by the presence of mines- large devices which will erupt in purple explosions when shot or collided with.

Warlock

An updated version of the classic Halo map Wizard, Warlock is set in a crumbling Forerunner temple. Like Wizard, four ramped platforms circle a raised area in the center of the map, and four ledges on the side house bases for CTF or Assault games. Unlike Wizard, each quadrant of the map is clearly unique, with different patterns of broken stone and puddles of water, making it far less confusing to navigate.


The Killtacular Pack

Released as premium content, for US$5.99, the Killtacular pack added another 2 maps, named Sanctuary and Turf.

Sanctuary

This beautiful map takes place in a ruined, rock-strewn area somewhere on Delta Halo. Trees and mountains surround a circular area filled with ragged stone and ancient buildings. In the center is a spiral ramp that gives access to catwalks leading around the edges of the map; at each end is an enclosed area. The map is filled with random chunks of rock, giving protection from snipers and making combat almost a game of cat and mouse. Like Foundation, it's possible to have the Warthog appear on this level, although like the other level it ends up used more for goofing around and causing chaos than as part of a strategy since it's not a good driving environment.

Turf

This map takes place in the Earth city seen early on in the single-player campaign- a landmark from one of the levels can be seen in the far distance. It's a cramped, twisted neighborhood with a destroyed warehouse at one end and a massive crashed alien war machine at the other. The highlight of this level is just how much stuff there is on it- around every corner are crates, boxes, garbage bins, bulletproof shields, and other junk that can be tossed around by explosions (which are, of course, extremely common). This makes the level slightly unpredictable as the movable items get, well, moved, and every time you run down a certain corridor it may look different and require a different path to get through (and different maneuvers and cover when fighting).


The trio of updates improved things a great deal, but more problems are cropping up mere months after its appearance. A new glitch has been discovered called "superbouncing", which lets players get to places they aren't supposed to be able to reach- again, it's not exactly cheating, but it's annoying and should not be in the game. A more serious problem is that of hacked maps. Enterprising players have discovered a method of breaking the signing on the downloaded maps, allowing them to be modified without being detectable by Xbox Live and giving the player advantages. Bungie is expected to issue another update soon (as of this writing) to combat this problem.

Sources:
http://www.bungie.net
http://halo.bungie.org
My own experience with the game.

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