“This is the way Halo is meant to be played.”
Normal is usually just fine for me, thank you. It’s not often I’m compelled to play through a game a second time on a harder difficulty, a notion I’m acuately aware exists because I’m privileged to always have access to new games. In the case of Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST and Bungie’s farewell to the series, Halo: Reach, I’ve always turned the challenge up to “Heroic” for a very simple reason: peer pressure.
Across all three games—I’m not sure if the language existed prior to Halo 3, but the third game was the first time I’d noticed it—Bungie has dared players to embark on the single-player campaign with a few more bullets flying their way. Without declaring that “Heroic” is “the way Halo is meant to be played,” I would have never considered upping the ante. I’ve never felt deceived by the dare, either; contrary to so many other games in the genre, Halo is not a shooting gallery exclusively focused on head shots.
The Halo series has always been more puzzle than shooter, at least on the single-player side. There’s a distinct rock-paper-scissors elegancy to the design of weapon, enemy and environment. More often than not, the solution to an encounter is implementing a paired weapon strategy specific to the enemies in that particular encounter. It’s why Halo games become somewhat of a chore near the end; you’ve learned how to take out each group efficiently. Eventually, the only challenge comes from enhanced enemies, surprise plasma grenades and overwhelming numbers. The puzzle box was already solved.
“Heroic” makes recognizing the puzzle elements all the more necessary. Brute forcing through an encounter the hundredth time, hoping the persistently random elements will work out in your favor, quickly creates frustration. “Heroic” does introduce “fuck you” moments to the design, encounters with choke points unfairly stacked against players. In, at least, I had an opportunity to run away from them.
It feels like Bungie designs Halo games with “Heroic” as the baseline for experienced players. “Hard” is “Normal.” Though Bungie’s language is tinged with sarcasm, I cannot understate its importance in my own decision making process. Without the dare, I wouldn’t have booted up any Halo game at “Heroic.” After three games at “Heroic,” though, I have to agree: it really is the way it’s meant to be played.