Halo is in a tough spot right now. Its most recent game Halo 5: Guardians has taken a lot of heat over the past three years for everything from its misleading advertising and subsequently disappointing story to its lack of split-screen and multiplayer changes. If 343 Industries (aka 343i) and Microsoft want Halo to remain a marquee brand, they’re going to have to inject some of that classic Halo magic into the upcoming Halo 6. 343i seems to have recognized this, as they’ve already promised that split-screen multiplayer will be making its return in the next Halo game. It’s a good start, but they’re going to need to address Halo 5: Guardians’ multiplayer issues if they want Halo 6 to bring back the fans lost by its predecessor. There are plenty of things that could be done to accomplish this and chief among them is increasing the variety of unique multiplayer modes available to players. One game mode that would thrill both long-time Halo fans and new players would be a full and proper “Invasion” mode.
“Invasion” was introduced in Halo: Reach, the third Halo game made for the Xbox 360 and the final Halo game produced by series creator Bungie. To say it was introduced in Halo: Reach is a bit of a misnomer though, as Halo: Reach is the only game in the series to feature it. It’s a shame, because while “Invasion” has to be the standout mode of that game, it still had plenty of untapped potential. While not fundamentally different from the standard Halo multiplayer modes, “Invasion” differentiated itself in a number of ways. For starters, it’s the definitive “Spartans vs. Elites” multiplayer mode.
“Invasion” matches pit teams of defenders against teams of invaders. Each side has different starting weapons, different abilities and even differing health stats. Invaders must storm set positions on the map and try their best to overwhelm the defenders. Basically, “Invasion” gives its players the chance to pit Halo’s two most iconic units against each other and see how they compare when one side isn’t the Master Chief or some other plot armor-wearing protagonist. Each side’s strengths and weaknesses are put on full display and it is left up to the players to figure out how to deal with both. Elites are fast and powerful, but their weaponry is generally weaker than that of the Spartans. Spartans have better weapons overall, but that advantage can definitely be dulled by a well-coordinated team of Elites. Spartans need to be accurate with their shots and do their best to set up team-shot encounters while Elites needed to use their abilities in concert in order to systematically dismantle Spartan efforts. It’s largely thanks to this dynamic that “Invasion” exists as something different from the typical Halo match. The differences between Spartans and Elites simply don’t allow players to employ the same tactics that they would in any other objective-based mode. It’s only by taking their sides abilities into account that they can hope to advance the game to the next stage (or indeed prevent that from happening).
On To the Next Phase…Or Not
“Invasion” matches are fairly unique in that their length and complexity can vary wildly depending on the skill of the players involved. If the Elite team is successful in its efforts to push the Spartans back, then their invasion will play out in three phases. The starting phase starts the Elites on a small foothold concentrated on one side of the map and places the Spartans on the opposite end in elevated positions. Spartans have ranged weapons and can sprint; Elites have mid-to-short range weapons and can dodge-roll. If the Elites capture either of the two points, the Spartans retreat and both side gain access to vehicles, better weapons and abilities. If the Elites are able to capture a point in this second phase, then the game moves onto the third and final phase in which both teams gain heavy vehicles and power weapons. If the invading Elites manage to capture the final objective and escape with it, they win. The opposite is true if the Spartans can hold their defense until time runs out. Now, if the defenders can hold off the invaders during the first round, then none of this happens and the match (or round) ends right then and there. Of course the same holds true whenever the Spartans are on the offense and the Elites find themselves defending. Other Halo game-types are more or less set in the amount of time they take, but with “Invasion” players get the rare chance to radically influence how a match plays out. It’s a game mode that gives its players an incentive beyond simply winning or losing.
As mentioned before, “Invasion” can only be played in Halo: Reach at the moment. The mode was not carried forward in any way, shape or form in Halo 4. Halo 5: Guardians attempted to craft a spiritual successor to it in the form of the “Warzone Assault” game mode, but it ultimately didn’t work. “Warzone Assault” borrows the ideas of capturing points to gain ground and the escalation of arms and armor, but its implementation of them is held back by a couple of problems. The first issue is Halo 5’s REQ system. Since players can choose their own weapons once their unlocked, it often simply leads to borderline chaos instead of a smoothly escalating conflict. The existence of tiers within weapon/vehicle types only makes this worse. At best, both teams will be outfitted with an abundance of overpowered equipment. At worst, one team will be put into a position to steamroll the other thanks to having access to much better gear. The other problem is that it just pits Spartans vs Spartans. Instead of teams having to play differently in order to compensate for their factions inherent strengths and weaknesses, they’re free to play out the match as if it were any other objective game type. It might be a decent mode in and of itself, but “Warzone Assault” is no substitute for “Invasion.”
A true return of the “Invasion” game-type would be a selling point for Halo 6. For new players it would be something new to try. For Halo veterans it would be the return of an excellent game mode that did its best to offer players something deeper while still staying true to what makes Halo Halo. The mode isn’t without its flaws and a new iteration could benefit from some tuning, but that’s exactly what would make its return so exciting. It would be a chance for Halo: Reach fans to play a version of their beloved “Invasion” with a fresh coat of paint and hopefully most of its imperfections ironed out. It would be chance to hopefully see its full potential realized. If Halo 6 were to have something like that on offer it would go a long way towards reviving the excitement that used to surround the Halo series.