With well over 3 days worth of play time logged, it's safe to say I'm a fan of Halo 5's multiplayer. Before this game came out, it had been a very long time since I fell in love with a multiplayer shooter. Titanfall held my interest for a moment, but I struggled to find one that felt like a new experience. My favorite shooter series of all time, Halo, had even failed in recent years to keep me coming back. The CoD-ification of shooters seemed to have harmed originality for several years, and Halo was definitely one of the series affected. Halo 5 sees the series take back its identity while also introducing a variety of new mechanics, and with those mechanics comes a new approach to Halo level design that emphasizes verticality. In my opinion, Plaza exemplifies strong multiplayer map design that plays to the strengths of Halo 5's gameplay.
Plaza is an medium-sized asymmetrical map designed for Halo's typical 4v4. The ideal game types are either Slayer or Strongholds.
As I dissect each portion of the level, use the above topdown layout as a guide.
The plaza area is one of the best areas of the map, and features some of the most heavy action. The Hydra, a second tier power weapon, is placed here along with an SMG. Teams will often find themselves trying to hold this area due to the enclosed and defensible feel of the area. Firefights in the plaza are constantly brewing around the two choke point entrances that lead outside and to the cafe. If an attacking enemy is able to make it through one of these choke points alive, there are some ways that the level design offers them opportunities to turn the tables on the defenders. Not only do the trees and benches offer cover from grenades and enemy fire, but the foliage surrounding the trees can hide players from opponents wanting to land a headshot. A keen player who has a bead on their target will likely still be able to take out the opposing player, but the foliage can produce enough confusion for a player whose shields are low to gain the upper hand. Defenders of this area have another slight disadvantage in that there is a window above the SMG spawn (known as "Plaza Sneaky") from which attackers can pick them off or drop down on them unexpectedly. An enemy who chooses to do the latter while grabbing the SMG upon hitting the ground can cause serious damage to players in the plaza, especially if they are engaged with enemy players coming from either the two choke points or from the garage.
As for the garage, this provides an area in which players can either retreat from or move to the plaza or outside. An SMG is placed in the tight corridor that leads outside, however it's very easy to run into heavy resistance if the enemy holds the sniper area. If this is this case, players can take advantage of Halo 5's clamber system and jump from the car to a perch that allows them to pick off enemies in the sniper area.
Player can also counter snipe by going through one of the two choke points in the plaza and picking up the Light Rifle. They'll need to be careful though - an explosive barrel lies at the exit of the choke point, and a watchful sniper with good reflexes can detonate it for a quick kill.
The cafe area has three main entrances. The first is the previously mentioned choke point that comes from the plaza. Players will often find themselves exchanging many grenades and gunfire in this area, however a smart player can choose to jump up on the pictured awning and wait for an enemy to come by. On top of the awning, players are not only harder to see, but are also protected from most grenade damage.
The rest of the cafe features tight, close quarters gameplay that serves as a retreating area and a place to pull off a few pot shots. Other than that, it's not really defensible - the claustrophobic spaces are ripe for grenade deaths and it features no notable weapon spawns. Players will usually encounter one another here while trying to get to another portion of the map, however the cafe remains an interesting play space that features a decent vantage point that players can climb to in order to fire on exposed enemies. Perhaps my favorite part of this area is the little hiding hole placed above the corner that leads to the bottom level of outside. Like the awning, this can serve as a nice way to surprise opponents but it can also be used as a way to disorient an enemy who has you locked in their sights. I've been able to outmaneuver many opponents by jumping up to this hole, recovering my shields, and dropping down to reengage.
The main exit from the cafe puts players on the top level of outside and leads to the Overshield bridge.
The top level features what is perhaps the most important part of the map: the sniper nest (or "Cinema"). The sniper rifle spawns in the back corner, however unlike many multiplayer maps in games, there isn't a clear vantage point for players to pick enemies off with it. Most of the map cannot be seen from the sniper spawn, and players who pick it up will have to move around if they wish to find a perch. Instead of finding a spot to camp, the design of this area lends itself best to a strategy in which a team will have 2-3 members guarding the area, with one of them using the sniper rifle to take out oncoming enemies while their teammates defend them from people who get close (especially those coming from the gravity lift directly behind the sniper spawn). The area provides enough cover to be defensible with a few teammates, but there is no chest-high cover available. Players under heavy fire are forced to abandon the spot or die, which allows for the area to change control frequently.
To put the pressure on those in the sniper nest, an attacking team can approach from the ramp and bridge side, or from the gravity lift and bottom level side. Additionally, there is yet another spot that clever players can utilize the climbing mechanics - jumping from the machinery on the bridge to the nearby ledge leads to a small overhang that provides a perfect view of the sniper rifle spawn.
Speaking of the bridge, in the middle of it lies on of the most important item spawns in the level: the Overshield. To reach it, players will need to expose themselves greatly. The delayed activation that 343 gave the Overshield punishes players that rush to the Overshield in the midst of heavy resistance, as players risk dying before the shield kicks in. If a player successfully acquires the Overshield, however, they can immediately rush either of the two main defensible areas - the sniper nest or the plaza - and help their teammates overtake the enemy team. The Overshield spawns only once every two minutes, but if used correctly it can be the difference between winning and losing. The high risk/reward of this item makes it one of my favorite parts of the level.
The bottom area of the map is nothing fancy, and most of it exposes players to some portion of the top level. But it does what it's designed to do in that it allows players under fire to quickly dive down and attempt to escape their attackers. Skilled players can find many ways to out-duck and out-maneuver enemies down here with the variety of cover available. In addition to being a bit exposed, players on the bottom level are at great risk of being severely damaged or killed by an enemy ground pound. Because of this, it's best to use the bottom level as the aforementioned attempt at a second wind, and also as a quick means of travel. From the bottom, there is a pathway to the garage near the plaza, a ramp that'll lead to one side of the sniper nest, two ways of getting up to the cafe, a ledge that allows players to flank the other side of the sniper nest, and a gravity lift that ejects players right on top of the sniper nest. This quick means of travel is what makes this map work so well, allowing players to keep flank their enemies as soon as they get comfortable.
Plaza is a fantastic multiplayer map that was designed with all of Halo 5's strengths in mind. The map features two main defensible locations with good choke points and weapons spawns, but a variety of alternate pathways and nooks and crannies that are accessed by normal means or with the game's clamber mechanics keep defenders guessing. This results in frequent opportunities for teams to overthrow one another and gain the upper hand. Put simply, I've had more amazing comebacks and nail biting moments on this map than I have had on any multiplayer map I've played in recent memory.
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