The Defiant map pack marks a pretty interesting moment in the Halo series. It’s here, with DLC rather than a full game that the torch officially passes from Bungie to 343 Industries. It’s not the first time a Halo game has had DLC made by people outside of Bungie (Certain Affinity, who worked on this map pack alongside 343 Industries also made DLC maps for Halo 2), but it is the first time 343 has worked on game content that is Halo related. And with them stepping in, its very likely that we will not see any further Reach-related content from Bungie themselves, although they are still managing the playlists and tweaks to the multiplayer maps, so this is the first glance we get into the talents of the future developers of Halo.
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The map pack itself contains two multiplayer maps – Highlands and Condemned, and one Firefight map – Unearthed. The idea is that together, all three maps are supposed tell the story of the different stages of Reach’s invasion. Unearthed is set around a mining facility just before the full scale assault begins. Highlands is a Spartan training facility and shows off the invasion when the battle for Reach is at its peak. You can see Covenant cruisers around the map glassing areas nearby and as a background, it’s certainly striking. Condemned, which is set on a space station, takes place after the planet has fallen. The visual motif here is the view outside the space station with half the planet on fire. Again, very striking.
Unearthed is a large map with a design very similar to Beachhead. Built mostly with vehicular carnage in mind, the map has tons of space to run around in a Rocket Hog. Multiple levels, both inside and outside, means its good fun for people on foot as well. Whilst it’s not a remarkable map by any means, there isn’t anything particularly offensive about it either. All in all, it’s a decently designed map, but my gripe is that it doesn’t really do enough to justify its existence, with Beachhead already doing something very similar.
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Highlands, on the other hand, is an absolute joy to play. It’s easily the best big team map of Reach, and probably one of the best of the Halo series itself. It’s superbly designed, with adequate cover to move around, and unlike other BTB (big team battle) Reach maps, it’s hard for one team to dominate with one specific weapon or vehicle. The fact that there is no Wraith or Banshee on the map means spawn camping is pretty much a non-factor. The general design of the map itself makes it very versatile, so anything from CTF to BTB snipers plays out superbly on it. It’s almost the perfect size as well, so there are no dull areas where nothing much is happening.
My only complaint is the abundance of power weapons in the map. At last count, there were two rocket launchers, two snipers, a plasma launcher, a grenade launcher, a Spartan laser, and two shotguns. What’s worse is they all seem to be on a really short respawn timer. However, that shouldn’t be too hard to fix, so I imagine it will be nerfed pretty soon (enjoy it while it lasts). Aside from that, it’s as close to perfect as any Halo map has ever come.
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Condemned is another excellent map and a fantastic addition to the tame library of normal maps Reach shipped with. Think of it as Lockout-meets-Midship with the central room that links all the other rooms being zero gravity. Unlike other zero gravity maps, however, there is no shield to camp around, so anyone you see is fair game. With almost every room in the map being multi-layered, there is always a good flow to the game. Since there is no one singular spot from where you can get an overview of most of the map, it promotes good movement and all in all, it’s a very busy map. Again, perfect for almost any game type you throw at it.
So there you have it; three solid, well made maps. However, all of that comes with a very important caveat. If you have no interest in the co-op side of things and you only play Firefight when you want complete a daily challenge, you can’t help but feel short-changed. You are paying the price for three maps when you will be mostly using just two of them. If that is not an issue for you, then I can quite easily recommend the Defiant map pack.