Microsoft Studios

New levels, more vehicles to play with, and an explosive storyline - Spartan Ops is exciting again

New levels, more vehicles to play with, and an explosive storyline - Spartan Ops is exciting again

You’ll notice the new maps of Spartan Ops, Episode 6 first. New maps, new maps, thank the Reclaimer, new maps. Previous Spartan Ops episodes re-used small, segmented versions of campaign levels or multiplayer maps to tell their stories, but these new Spartan Ops environments are all new.

The levels are much larger than previous Spartan Ops missions, and feel more segmented. You could run around the entire Valhalla map in Episode 4, regardless of your progress through the mission. Now it feels like you’re making your way through a bite-sized campaign mission, with impressive architecture, as well as visual and game play-related treats. In the third mission, “Need to Know,” the map is so large you can hijack a Banshee.

The story is more tightly-woven into your missions, too. You’ll be more invested in those beautiful CG moments that lead into each set of missons. You’re still Fireteam Crimson and the CG episodes still focus on Fireteam Majestic, but now there is more comm chatter, clearer goals, and an all-around feeling that you’re not just being randomly plopped into a map to kill enemies which drop in ad nauseam.

My favorite moment of the new Spartan Ops comes at the very beginning of episode 6, on the mission “Escape Plan.” Fireteam Crimson were caught between a rock and a Covenant place, and we didn’t know what happened to them. Escape Plan starts in the helmet view of your Spartan-IV, chained up to a wall and held prisoner by Elites. Your head turns, and a power failure allows one of your fellow Spartans to escape. He or she stealthily creeps up behind one of the Elites holding you prisoner, and assassinates it.

I’m not sure if it’s random chance as to who gets to be the Spartan that sets the rest of the team free, but I want to keep re-playing that mission to find out. It’s a very cool moment, and even cooler to think, ‘That’s another person doing that! That’s my teammate!’ The feeling of player involvement in the story is reminiscent of the story-driven group dungeons of Star Wars: The Old Republic, and it’s fantastic.

Since you’ve been captured, you also don’t have access to your favorite loadout or armor abilities. It’s a neat twist, and forces you into the traditional sandbox strategy of the Halo 4 campaign, where you’re searching for the best weapon and exploring the map. I was surprised that 343 would take away one of their biggest additions to Halo 4 – even briefly – but it pays off.

Larger, multi-tiered levels mean more opportunities to fight back and gain a foothold before you’re overrun when you spawn, and levels with a clearer emphasis on sandbox-style game play means less concerns about weapon drops. The story continues to evolve with some intriguing twists and turns; once again, Dr. Halsey is being questioned for her seeming cooperation with Covenant forces - or could this interrogation be the same we saw at the beginning of Halo 4? - and the leader of the Covenant on Requiem, Jul ‘Mdama, is determined to contact the Forerunner known as the Librarian. There seems to be only one barrier left in his way, and if you know anything about the Librarian, her knowledge and capabilities, you know that’s bad news. Events are coming to a head.

“The UNSC acts like children at play in a sandbox,” Halsey warns the crew of the Infinity. If Spartan Ops is telling us that playtime is over, that’s a good thing.