It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? A little more than two months ago, we saw the season finale of Spartan Ops Season 1. We haven’t posted much on the site since then. We’ve been busy, you see. Everyone is always busy when they’re not doing something, aren’t they? I have been keeping busy with things related to World of Warcraft, but I haven’t finished any of them. Soon, though.
Last time we talked about SpOps, I was just finishing the awful After Show. Let’s go a little further back to Episode 5. I talked about how Jul ‘Mdama is a cunning villain. He started as a Very Evil villain who was bad because Palmer said so. In the three not-so-short episodes that we saw him, we learned that he’s playing a long game.
Let’s watch the Episode 6 cinematic after the cut before we continue.
I’m glad to know that Spartan Thorne has been found. How did Roland find him? He has no helmet; therefore, he has no transponder signal to lock onto. Also, why was he walking around Infinity in Episode 5 in full combat gear without a helmet or a weapon? He shouldn’t have been unarmed when he came out of the portal.
It’s nice to know Roland has his priorities straight. There’s an entire fireteam missing, but instead he’s just going to focus on the one idiot. Of course he will, because he’s part of Majestic. Honestly, with the amount of attention they get, you’d think Palmer and Lasky are Majestic’s parents.
If you’ll recall in the Episode 5 Recap—which you should because I already referenced it—Jul ‘Mdama was playing a long game. Spartan Thorne’s teleportation was an accident, but Jul capitalized on it. He captured Thorne and used the UNSC’s axiom of never leaving a man behind against them. He did this to lure Fireteam Crimson—the heavy hitters of this story—into a trap. Clever bastard.
But here in Episode 6, we learn that the opposite is true. Jul had no clue that Thorne ever came through the artifact’s portal. He couldn’t have used Thorne to lure Crimson out into the open. Crimson hunting after Thorne’s IFF tag was an accident. That also means that there was no trap, and that the Covenant were just overreacting to Crimson’s presence at the end of Episode 5.
This really sucks because it takes Fireteam Crimson—us, the players—down a peg. That unintentional moment of badass was taken from us. We’re not so impressive that Jul would want to capture us. We’re simply overwhelmed and captured. Instead of being a trophy capture, we become just prisoners of war.
It means that we aren’t the big damn heroes of this story. We’re no longer exceptional.
It also means that Jul ‘Mdama isn’t as interesting of a villain as I originally made him out to be. That’s really a shame because his introduction is blander than plain yogurt. We know he’s bad because he’s the Didact’s Hand! The Didact was bad, so Jul is bad by association. In the short time we got to know him, Jul became a villain in his own right. He had plans, and when something new happened, he adapted quickly and made the most out of it. Every setback and loss was a calculated risk by Jul. One hundred dead Covenant here or there would advance his scheme and allow him to exact vengeance a thousand fold later.
Instead, Jul is just very fixated on opening up the Librarian. We just blundered into everything that happened. How exciting.
Anyway, so now that Crimson is locked up, let’s talk about their Escape Plan. Coincidentally, that’s the name of the first chapter.
The chapter makes a good first impression. We can see nothing but black, and we can hear the eerie ambience of hollow metal pings. As our vision slowly returns, Roland pipes up about how he found us. Evidently, UNSC tracking devices only work when the user is conscious, and it doesn’t matter if they have a helmet or an IFF tag. Roland reported finding Spartan Thorne and then it cut to him regaining consciousness, after all. At least 343i is being consistent.
From there it’s back to formula: kill all the Covenant, wait for more Covenant to arrive, and then press a button. Repeat until the mission is over. You were off to a good start, 343i, but you had to ruin it.
Having Crimson chained up in an unfamiliar location was really cool. However, having the UNSC catch on to Crimson’s location immediately was not. Dalton has bombs on the way within ten seconds of Crimson waking up! There are better ways to have the power fluctuate than a distraction. For instance, we could be instructed to press some buttons to break free manually. After all, how often does the Covenant get a chance to capture a Spartan? They don’t know what kind of energy shackles will hold us. An interactive vignette would allow us to show them that we’re stronger than they think.
What happens after the power fluctuates and the shackles fail is interesting. The party leader will rush toward one of the two Elites standing guard, climb onto its back, and shove a knife into its neck. Where this fails is that it’s a totally scripted event and devoid of input. (Let’s ignore the part where the Covenant didn’t strip Crimson of their combat knives.) You can set your controller down and watch as this very cool thing happens for you. You don’t gain control of your character until a Carbine is put into your hands. It is rather cool that we don’t get to choose our starting equipment, though. We only have access to what is immediately on hand, and that’s the way it should be.
Giving the player the freedom to break their own shackles would be welcome in many regards. If you’re on an easier difficulty then you can break your shackles early. Who cares if the Elites are looking at you! Then you move your character forward—like moving the Master Chief up the elevator shaft on the Forward Unto Dawn—and receive a prompt to melee the Elite. If they’re looking at you, you need to fight it for a bit. If they turned away, you get the free kill that the script would have normally delivered. Then you pick up your Carbine and can continue forward; if the Elites saw you break loose, then the rest of the complex is alerted; if not, then you get a few seconds to sneak around and take up defensive positions.
The next failing is how the UNSC is in constant communication with Crimson for this escape. We hear how they have no data on the facility, other than that it is behind enemy lines. We receive orders to clear the area—Spartan Miller will even mark targets for you!—and find a way for you to escape. Spartan Miller directs us to a control panel to lower the area’s shielding so we can proceed forward, because the UNSC has no data on this location.
This mission would be so much better if Crimson were cut off from the UNSC at the start. Have us break out on our own. Find a comms tower and reconnect to the Infinity; we’ll see Switchback using Morse code to signal for a rescue in Episode 8, so it would be nice to have the chance to do that ourselves. Anyway, we should have to do all of this on our own, without waypoints or objectives. While the Infinity figures out how to get us out of there, they notice that Icebreaker squad is being held nearby. Have Covenant reinforcements—when they send reinforcements—emerge from the many hidden doors instead of dropping them off from drop pods. Have Lieutenant Murphy suggest stealing a Phantom. Make it seem like we’re figuring all this out without the Infinity’s trademark handholding.
By the way, Icebreaker squad is being held in a brig locked behind a shield, and that brig is locked behind another door. There is more security surrounding these five marines than the flimsy shackles restraining goddamn Spartans!
Not having loadouts available in Chapter 1 was a bold move. It forces players to use weapons and armor abilities they might not have otherwise used. It pushes us outside of our comfort zone. However, this is dulled by the fact that there are Ghosts everywhere, meaning that we can just sit in one of those and ruin the Covenant’s day with impunity. I would have liked to see our lack of selection be carried throughout the episode. After all, we board a Phantom at the end of the Chapter, and those aren’t typically known for having UNSC ordinance on board. We do see UNSC supply crates in Chapter 2, but it doesn’t make sense to have loadouts available at the start. Instead, we should have loadouts available starting with Chapter 3, with the implication being we looted the stolen supply crates.
Chapter 3 would have been a great place to reintroduce loadouts for another reason: there are sleeping Grunts everywhere at the start. Giving the player a chance to grab their active camo armor ability would let them sneak around the outpost and kill everything quickly and quietly. There could even have been an achievement added with the Season 1.5 update to codify this as something you can do. However, if loadouts were withheld from the player until Episode 7, then players could be given active camo as part of their mission-dictated loadout. Let us figure out what to do with it on our own.
What I don’t like about Need to Know (Chapter 3) is that there is a large open area outside with a door. We’ll call this the “front door.” Spartan Miller leads us to a back door, which is a cave opening. This entrance leads us up and around the side to the large cavern that the front door would have brought us to. However, we have to jump down to get inside. Now, there are Banshees in the large cavern. If you don’t take the Banshees when you first come in, you’ll be able to take them at the end. Ostensibly, when it’s time for Crimson to leave, we should be able to take the Banshee and fly it to the opening that we dropped in from—and we can! We can even follow this back door out to where we came in, which is where we’re supposed to be going. We’ll even find a Phantom and a few grunts waiting for us.
Here’s the nasty thing about this: SpOps mandates that you kill everything. After activating whichever console, Spartan Miller tells us we can leave through the front door. Predictably, there are Prometheans and Covenant in the way to slow you down. If you leave through the back door, you can’t go in through the front door to get to the enemies you shouldn’t have to kill; you have to go back through the back door and out through the front door to get to where you already were. It’s stupid. There should be an alternate win state where you can skip going out the front. 343i could push everything to the outside if they’re so adamant on making us kill every last hostile. Offer us the illusion of choice and break the goddamn mold that SpOps has become notorious for!
Chapter 4, Search and Destroy, opens with the Phantom carrying Crimson and the Pelican carrying Fireteam Switchback—they were assigned to this mission during Need to Know—being side-by-side. Switchback is actually going to a Covenant digsite nearby while Crimson disrupts a Covenant supply depot. When Switchback has some problems, Palmer tells us, “Crimson, you’re closest. Go assist Switchback.” Really, Palmer? The Fireteam behind enemy lines is closest to the only other Fireteam behind enemy lines? That is quite a surprise! I would have thought backup from Earth would have been closer.
Oh, and Crimson also finds UNSC nukes. They’ve been stripped of their warheads, so they pose no danger to us. The missing warheads are an odd note to end the chapter on, as I would have liked to see a mystery unfold here. How did Jul get these nukes, and what is he planning on doing with them? Come on, 343i, show us that he’s scheming! Or, y’know, show us what happens with them next week. That works too, I guess.
The last chapter takes us to the Harvester, where Switchback was. They’re missing. The only good thing about doing the After Show was being able to predict what happens in the future. I predicted in the After Show that Prometheans teleported in, nabbed Switchback, and teleported back out. In the Episode 8 cinematic, we see them do that same thing, and then Crimson finds Switchback in that episode. It’s a bit of a mystery what happened to them, but there’s no follow up to the intrigue.
Palmer: “Hey, what happened to Switchback?
Miller: “I don’t know. It’s spooky, isn’t it?”
Palmer: “Yeah. Let’s ignore it for two weeks.”
The first five episodes of the season revolved around Infinity establishing a presence on Requiem and then maintaining that presence. It was boring. Episode 6 puts us back on the offensive. It starts with us being outside of our element, but the bulk of the episode is us going into secure Covenant facilities and then either disrupting operations or stealing information. The problem is that it doesn’t play out like subterfuge. When we’re tasked with breaking into the Covenant networks, we aren’t being sneaky about it. Instead, what we’re doing is slaughtering everything that moves and tapping away at an exposed console when no one is left to see us. It’s an extension of the kill-everything-then-press-the-button mentality that plagues SpOps. When 343i had a chance to do something new, they returned to boring, familiar territory.
Next week I will be looking at Episode 7, Invasion. It’s going to be more of the same, but it’ll be confined to a single location.