Warzone is so special that 343 has split up the eternal Halo duet of Campaign and Multiplayer just to fit it in. Its an initially bewildering evolution of the old Big Team Battles, taking in elements of the Battlefield series, collectible card games and, most of all, MOBAs - a race to 1,000 points over 15 minutes, earned in all manner of violent ways.
Having played a couple of rounds at this point, Im starting to get a handle on how a regular match will (or perhaps should) play out. Heres a timeline for a full match taking place on the brilliant, enormous new Raid on Apex 7 map.
0 minutes - Preparation
Purposefully and wonderfully evoking memories of the legendary Silent Cartographer, Warzone starts with you and your team being Pelican-ed over and dropped off onto a pristine beach, then having you fight off a group of Covenant occupying your Core base headquarters.
Once thats over and done with, find a REQ station and see if you can update your base Assault Rifle-Magnum loadout. If youve got a rare REQ card for your basic weapons, getting that on hand earlys going to help a great deal in the opening stages.
1 minute - Armory Takeover
The maps a string of bases - a Core per team, two Armories (populated by Covenant forces when you first find them, and team-aligned AI marines thereafter) and the Spire (which well get to later). The Armory closest to your Core is most likely to be your next destination. Not only does it pump out points as long as you're holding it, but it becomes a mobile spawn point, much like Battlefields Conquest mode.
Itll be a fairly simple fight to take over, but Raid on Apex 7 is designed to put you in harms way as soon as youre out of the core - any sniper or BR user will likely be able to start taking potshots at you while youre on the Armory roof. That cuts both ways, though...
2 minutes - Small Objective
As you progress, youll start seeing (and, if youre playing with chat, hearing screams) about other targets on the map. This is where Warzones MOBA structure kicks in - its generally going to require a few teammates to take down the mini-bosses these objectives centre around, but that leaves fewer people protecting the main bases.
The points reward is worth it, though - completing an objective, like taking down an overpowered Promethean Knight and his retinue, gives you a spike in points, and should help you acquire some more powerful REQs, too. Speaking of which...
4 minutes - Power Weapon REQ
The REQ boosters you earn as you play all of the games multiplayer modes will contain one-off Power Weapon cards - lasting a single life (or as long as you have ammo for them), theyre best saved for when you know youve got a job to do, because the game wont let you simply spam one out with every life.
As with any Halo weapon, they have their uses. Got a sniper wreaking havoc around your Armory? Return the favour. Storming someone elses base? Bring a heavy machine gun. Banshee? The rocket launchers got its Halo 2 lock-on groove back. Tool up for the occasion.
5 minutes - Take the Spire
The Spires the most hotly-contested area of the map. Protected initially by two Covenant Hunters, its a bastard to take in the first place, and becomes a target of everyones fire once you do. As the central base in the string of five, its a must-have spawn point, and a measure of which way the victory-current is flowing.
Its also a really interesting space to fight over. A set of twisting ramps up to a central platform, pierced by the titular spire, its full of cover against other enemies on the Spire, but totally exposed to anyone looking on from outside, making it a perilous place to stand for too long.
8 minutes - Legendary Boss
The thing is, while you might win the proper way (i.e. battering the enemy all the way back into their base, and battering them out of that too), you probably want a backup plan. Legendary Bosses are your ticket to stalemate victory, huge evildoers that can appear on foot, in tanks or aircraft, and are worth 150 points to the team that offs them.
The thing is, itll take a large portion of your team, armed to the teeth with Power REQs, to simply take them down and - given their value, the other team will most likely strike out for them too, making it a vicious three-way battle. Its an interesting quandary, and leads to some of the most exciting encounters Warzone offers.
10 minutes - Second Armory
If youre really sneaky, you could wait for the bulk of the enemy force to head out to claim a Legendary Boss head, and then just storm their undefended bases. Capturing both Armories and the Spire deactivates the defenses around the enemy Core, making this an incredibly powerful play if you pull it off.
Dont underestimate the AI marines, though. Theyre weaker and (mostly) stupider than their human commanders, but run into an Armory full of them on your own and theyll likely take you down through sheer numbers.
11 minutes - Core Attack
Once you have the chance to take down a Core, grab it, because all sorts of alerts will be telling the opposing team to take back what youve just stolen. Thing is, Cores are really far away, and better guarded than anything else. Most likely, your first attack will end in failure.
Take my experience - I waddled over there, took some damage from a passing Promethean squad, entered through the main door, got pelted with bullets by AI and humans alike - then saw the Core defenses reactivate behind me, stopping any of my even slower teammates from entering, or offering suppressing fire. Dead.
13 minutes - Vehicle Deployment
The endgame of most Warzone matches comes when people can afford to start pumping out high-end vehicles. Coming via their own one-use REQ cards, they can only be spawned at your own Core (although that pains eased somewhat by the brilliant way you rise up out of the floor, already seated in them).
Not only do Wraiths and Scorpions make for a perfect crowd-clearing tactic, and good backup against a Legendary Boss, but smaller, nippier rides are the best way of getting several of you to an enemy Core swiftly and basically intact.
15 minutes - Core Kill
You could time out, or win through simply racking up points against Creeps, but a Core Kill is the most decisive way to say Im better than you to 12 strangers across the globe. If you manage to unlock the doors and get inside, the Core lays vulnerable to you - at which point you smash it right open with as much ordinance as youve got available. Blow it open and you score 1,000 points on the spot. Game over.