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Bungie kicked off Season 3 of Team Arena this month with a new “pro” game type. The standard arsenal consists of DMR/Magnum and two frags. The motion sensor is gone and the loadout options have been reduced to three: sprint, armor lock and hologram. The idea was to create an MLG-appropriate option, a balanced playing field testing player skills, asymmetrical maps notwithstanding.
A couple prefatory remarks, I am not an MLG player. I like to consider myself a casual hard core player – I play a lot and winning is fun, but much like the way I golf, I will never be as good as I want to be. In reality, my k/D ratio hovers around 1.00 and I am much more likely to have a -8 spread than +8. Secondly, I applaud Bungie for its efforts to tweak the game itself as close as it is to Reach’s release. I know that no change will make everyone happy, but they certainly appear willing to look at comments and data to see how people play their game and provide something suitable as a competitive game type.
Arena is the newest incarnation of rank superiority that was once used as a calling card for how awesome you are. In theory, though I have never seen them in the wild, one could reach Level 50 in Halo 2 and General, Grade 4 from Halo 3 (using a combined EXP and Skill grade). Halo: Reach assigns rank based on cR earned throughout all game types, from multiplayer to campaign to firefight. Arena, through some Bungie formula of giving value for kills and assists minus deaths, gives players a rating for each game, usually between 1000 and 2000. Much like chess and the Elo rating system, similarly skilled players can be matched to provide a more competitive and even game. Divisions are assigned based on player ability.
The issue is whether armor lock skews the balance of gameplay? I know people have their preferences, mine sprint, to the point of allegiance. Anyone using something different is often prime target for hate speech or at least under the breath grumbling on Live. So what about armor lock – the bailout, the turtle. Getting shot? Stuck? Crouch and cower until you’re saved by someone with more skill.
To be fair, when I decided to abandon the jetpack, luckily before Season 3, I toyed with armor lock and did not miraculously become a +15 player. In fact, it felt too defensive. At least in my hands, armor lock only prolonged the inevitable. I was too slow deploying it, used it to too often to have it when I needed it. In the hands of an experienced player, however, it appears to provide a shield recharge or temporary invulnerability coming out of its release.* It can catch an opponent in reload or buy time for teammate support. In short, it feels as cheap as someone spamming E. Honda’s 1000 Hand Slap.
The thing is – there are counters for E. Honda. Armor lock, however, provides the player with additional hits with no real sacrifice. Sprint, for example, costs additional time for weapon readiness. Jetpack, while elusive from a verticality perspective, moves relatively slow and leaves a player prone to accurate targeting. To the extent that anyone can choose armor lock, I suppose it is fair. That said, I still think it’s weak.