Far area defence
- The basic idea
- Using a normal set-up
- Using a horde set-up
- Fast decision making
- Pistol work
- Other weapons
- Chain-gun support
- Assorted remarks
- Extra Marines
The basic idea
The far area is the big open saucer-like plain in which dropships 1 and 3 deposit their troops. The plan is basically to take up a position somewhere in that area well back from the rockslide, and try to survive as the enemy closes in across the plain. I usually defend from right up near the cliff wall so I've got more time to bring down enemies with a pistol and needler. But with no cover or fallback position, things can be seriously scary when you've got multiple Elites bounding your way! It's a battle for which you really need to grit your teeth.
At its most intense you'll be desperately fending off numerous enemies as they close in on you from multiple angles. It's a truly remarkable scenario which in my books gives easily the best medium to long range pistol fun in the entire game. You'll be turning this way and that, having to rapidly weigh up which threat to deal with next and handle it fast. Get it wrong and you could be toast. Even Grunts can be dangerous here, closing in viciously when your shield is bleeping. I'm not sure there's any other scenario that has made me sweat so much. Seriously, this is pistol heaven and you can have great fun with a needler too. Don't miss it!
When you get into trouble and your shield is bleeping, the enemy tends to become extra vicious, with Grunts and Jackals advancing more boldly and raising their rate of fire. They've flipped into overdrive and it can be quite murderous, but don't give up! I've squeaked out of many a near-hopeless situation by sticking at it and trying to keep a cool head, prioritizing my targets and dodging fire as best as possible. Overdrive can sometimes be triggered if you're briefly dashing forward to grab a dropped weapon; so watch out!
The battle intensity can vary quite a bit depending on the pattern of enemy arrival. With some set-ups I've created, things have been uncomfortably tough and multiple Elites attack in unison, many of them red. My shield is bleeping in no time and it's a struggle to regain control; and if I do regain control I'll probably be down to a single health bar with blood pounding in my ears. Not good! Other times the Elites arrive more gradually. I've got longer to work on them before they get close, and things are just right. So what I want to say is this. If you create a save and find things too tough to survive without chain-gun support (or a sniper rifle), try another set-up and things may turn out just right, i.e. providing a tough challenge but with a good chance of survival if you perform well. It'll be worth persevering to get such an ideal set-up, because the combat experience is just amazing. Hopefully you'll find out what I mean!
Using a normal set-up
When using just a normal rockslide megabattle set-up, it's best to be re-entering the area from the right entrance (the valley entrance rather than the waterfall entrance) within a few seconds of getting the final dropship checkpoint, more or less as dropship 3 is departing.
Drive to the far area, but preferably taking a detour through the central part of the rockslide in order to release the lifeboat group and hopefully suck everyone into the battle (see Sucking in the enemy for more explanation). The fighting will be much more intense that way, giving you the full experience. The commotion you stir up during your detour also seems to make the final dropship land immediately rather than hovering lazily for a while, and this too should add to the intensity.
When you reach the far area you'll hopefully find it empty of enemies, with the troops from dropship 3 having headed off for the lifeboat. At any rate, you want the area to be pretty empty, so you'll have time to prepare before you start coming under heavy fire. Park up and get ready for the onslaught!
If you don't draw everyone into the battle as mentioned, you'll only get a comparatively mild version of the battle and will be left with plenty of stragglers to go and find after the main enemy attack. But that can be fun too. Aside from the lifeboat group, you may sometimes find a group in the rockslide, under the Marine plateau. They'll be standing around in a close-knit group having a quiet natter, discussing the price of needlers or whatever, and then along you come, raining your entire stock of grenades down on them, closely followed by explosive streams of pink needles. Oh how we laughed. Or maybe you'll enjoy luring them back to the far area to finish off, perhaps giving your Marines another crack at the enemy. Compared to the usual intense version of the battle in which everyone comes to the party though, the mild version is like a relaxing stroll in the park. Not the real deal, but it could be a way of easing yourself into the full horror.
If you're finding that there's a group of covies in the far area on your arrival, you could try adjusting your drive-in route by first going close enough that they see you. With any luck that will shift them and you'll find the far area relatively clear after completing your usual detour to suck all enemies into the battle. Alternatively - and certainly better in the long run - use another set-up entirely, in which the far area is already clear (or clearing) as you enter the battlefield. In my elaboration of setting up a rockslide megabattle I gave a tip about making sure that's the case; see the clause about including a brief return.
Using a horde set-up
Much later on I found a new way of setting things up, giving a very intense and fast-starting battle. I'm namely talking of the modified far area horde set-up, which is good for some other battle plans too. As you enter from the left you've got stacks of enemies not far off, but the relative emptiness of the far area gives you chance to get into position without being immediately overwhelmed. Ideal! Some of the horde to the right will head directly your way, while others are likely to split off into the rockslide and end up coming at you from other directions. This set-up method has given me a lot of great action, so is highly recommended if you're really into your far area battling.
In the saves I've had for this, the lone dropship 4 Elite has been just ahead as I enter. He tends to be standing around, intermittently running back and forth. When I want to tackle things solo, typically I leave the Warthog at the entrance and run in, taking him down at distance with a pistol or needler, or if he's looking away from me, tagging him with a plasma grenade or sneaking up to whack him on the back of the head. The stealthy approach is usually pretty easy as he's not terribly alert! But there's also the option of driving in and squashing him of course, though you'll want to be quick about it so you can then get ready for the imminent attack. Drive to one side to make him dive, then swerve to intercept. SPLAT!
Distant chain-gun support
One other thing you can do is leave the hog near the entrance, sufficiently advanced that a chain-gunner is able to provide a bit of crossfiring support from your flank. Should be a nasty shock for some of the marauding covies!
For a standard defence, be well back along the cliff wall. The enemy will have to cross a large area of ground to get up close, giving you longer to gun them down with a pistol or pile needles into them, or whatever your pleasure is. You'll also have the best chance of keeping any buddies alive. Near the left entrance you've got high ground in the vicinity of a massive rock, then it sinks down into a dip where the grass becomes yellowed. The further along towards the dip you are, the more easy it'll be for the enemy to launch quick attacks from your left, but on the other hand they won't get such good benefit from the tree cover to the right. Try different locations along the cliff to vary your battles.
Parking and preparing
When bringing in Marines, I typically drive right up to the cliff wall, park with a swerve and make them get out, then move the hog well out of the way - usually by quickly driving it a short way down the hill, though it's also possible to let it slide down after a few whacks if the ground is steep enough. The main reason I don't want the hog nearby is that I might accidentally end up boarding it in the heat of battle, when merely intending to reload. But also, Marines might end up hidden behind it after rolling around. In some set-ups there may not be enough time to move the hog though; Elites are too close already. In that case I'll swing the hog around so the Marines at least start off unblocked by it.
If I've left some spare weapons somewhere, I'll usually park near them. As I circle the hog to get the Marines dismounted, I can do weapon swapping on the way as I head around the front, leaving me ready for action as soon as I've shifted the hog. You'll need to have left the spares in a good position for this though, to make it easy. I'd suggest leaving them about one and a half hog lengths away from the cliff. That's a nice sort of distance to have them in the battle too; they'll be just in front of you, easy to see and pick up when you want to.
With the hog left out in the open as suggested, Elites will tend to gravitate towards it for cover, giving you a fine target for a grenade. Sneaky! Even better, sometimes a grenade sets off a big chain reaction that sends the hog spinning through the air, which is good fun. I'm pretty sure I saw that thing do a quadruple somersault once. I hope the UNSC isn't going to ask me for the bill.
If you've got enough time you could move the hog further, using it to block the main entrance to the small semicircle of rocks that the Elites like to use for cover. Heh heh - that'll give 'em something to think about!
If you want to shake things up, try defending from further away from the cliff wall than normal. The further away you get, the harder it's likely to be to survive - and to keep your buddies alive if they're out there with you! Enemies will be coming at you from a wider range of angles and you won't have so long to work on them. They'll also get much closer. Up at the cliff wall they tend to be a bit standoffish, but if you're out in the open they'll be only too happy to get up close and personal.
Another idea is to defend from on top of the massive rock by the entrance. Its geometry varies but sometimes it's very easy to clamber up, with good cover on top. The down side is that your view of approaching enemies will be partly obscured by a few trees. Still, it's worth a go!
Talking of those trees, how about trying to defend from that area? You can easily use them to selectively shield yourself from enemies on one side or another. A suitably positioned hog could give you additional cover.
Fast decision making
In this battle the sort of thing you can be up against looks like this. Two Elites are closing across the plain towards you, a few lurk further back, and yet more are starting to arrive on the scene. A swarm of Jackals is approaching from the right, whilst another two are sending in shots from the left. And those pesky Grunts are everywhere. On Heroic (without the aid of a chain-gunner or sniper rifle) you'll be doing pretty well to survive at all, let alone keep your fragile buddies alive. Your survival chances will partly rest on your ability to quickly weigh up and prioritize the threats, and decide how to deal with them.
This decision making is a major aspect of the battle and really adds to the mental pressure. I really can't think of any other combat situation where I've felt this element so strongly. Not surprising really, as there are relatively few situations where you've got enemies closing in from multiple angles - and certainly not in such numbers as here! There's also an accompanying feel of multi-tasking in which you're juggling multiple targets, considering more distant threats, weighing up whether it's time to reload or switch weapons, and so on. Sometimes you might be dodging incoming plasma balls and needles just by sound, while busy dealing with some other threat. An added factor is if you're making a definite effort to keep Marine buddies alive (indeed, you can make that the main challenge if you like). In that case you'll have to consider the threats to them as well. All in all, it's a really great situation for raising your game and your all-round awareness.
Judging good grenade targets is another aspect of the decision making. The situation provides superb intensive practice for grenading, and hopefully things will become quite instinctive, with grenades flying to good spots almost automatically. Especially watch for enemy concentrations, to try and get maximum benefit. You can cause some great chain reactions too, in view of all the grenades that tend to litter the ground after you've killed a lot of Elites and Grunt. Covies often take cover behind the small semicircle of rocks, but you can lob a grenade in, to either catch them in the blast or force them out where you can continue working on them.
Frags are especially good for getting rid of shielded Jackals fast, which can be quite an urgent matter if they've gone into aggravating rapid-fire mode. Moreover, you can often take out a couple of Jackals at once as they tend to stick together.
The pistol is a great choice for fighting this battle, partly due to its long range which gives you a chance of keeping enemies back, most importantly the Elites of course! Even if you've only got time to pepper them a little, that often causes them to pause and hold back or perhaps divert their course to seek cover in the small semicircle of rocks, all of which gives you more time to finish them off. The perfect defence would be when you manage to keep everyone back, though that's unlikely to happen if you're playing at a sufficiently challenging difficulty level.
The most important thing is to get to work on covies early while they're still far off, especially the Elites. Don't start off in a laid-back manner, lulled into a false sense of security just because there aren't many enemies around to begin with. They're likely to be flooding in pretty soon and things are going to get much hotter! If you've taken out a good few Elites from the strongest part that attack, that can make all the difference to your survival chances. So get that pistol running hot as soon as you can, with decisive long-range shooting!
In view of the enemy numbers, there's a definite possibility of running out of pistol ammo before you've polished everyone off, especially if you're not making much use of a backup weapon or grenades. With this in mind you may need to be fairly disciplined about your shooting, to minimize wastage. For example try to headshoot a Grunt rather than sending in a wild volley of shots. Of course, a rapid headshot is the ideal tactic against a minor enemy anyway if you can pull it off, as it minimizes the amount of time you spend on the target.
If you want to dabble with self-imposed grief, it can make an interesting challenge to survive without using a second weapon at all (and maybe also without using grenades, if you can bear to forego that pleasure). You'll really have to watch your ammo and work efficiently!
My favourite accompaniment to a pistol is a needler. It's great for taking out Elites with a bang, and can even be used as your primary means of defence against them if you're skilled enough with it. As with grenade throwing, if you're under heavy pressure you generally shouldn't stand around watching for your action to take effect. Once you send out a stream of needles and you reckon its going to do good, get busy with the next target! You can listen out for the bang and death cry (if looking elsewhere), as confirmation that you got your kill.
You don't have to wait until an Elite is getting close. The needler has quite long range - perhaps further than you realized - so exploit it if you can. Try to get Elites when they're still hanging back, unsure about advancing. In this case I tend to fire quite long streams - sometimes a whole clip. Ok that's going to take me through my ammo fast, but I don't want any messing around with a job only partially done. I want that bang and I want it fast so I can concentrate on the next target.
Needles can also be devastating against closing Elites of course, and on a good day you can kill one after another with gloriously satisfying bangs. When you're trying to get a closing Elite though, a lot depends on his run angle and how clever he is about dodging (reds are cleverer than blues). If he dodges, you can end up facing a healthy eight-footer at dangerously close quarters. Not a good prospect if it's a red with a plasma rifle! If you start to see that your needles are missing, you'd better switch tactics fast. Typically it'll be safest to back off and resume pistol work, but you could also consider throwing grenades to interrupt his movement. Another plan is to close the gap and maybe change the angle to have a fresh attempt at driving needles into him. Or lure him into taking a swing at you, then tag or needle him as you backstep or dodge. But such an advance can be risky. Supporting enemies tend to pounce when they see you coming forward, and they can up their fire quite rapidly.
I don't want to make needler use sound too risky against closing Elites though. You may feel a bit vulnerable at first, but your effectiveness and confidence should grow as you become used to their approach behaviours and get the feel of how best to position and move yourself. When I first got into far area battling, I think I was mostly focused on pistol work, tending to reserve my needler for Elites I spotted hanging back, not moving about too much. Nowadays however, I take great pleasure in aggressive close-range needling. If you want a more visceral experience than long-range pistol play, that's certainly the way to go.
With so many Elites coming at you, it's worth remembering that you can potentially take down a pair together, with a single clip fired non-stop. As long as they're in almost the same direction, just flick your aim midway through the clip. If all goes well you'll get two nice bangs out of it. I often use this technique, usually with an aggressive thrust-firing manner. You can see that technique in action in BCM2 at around 00:41. Sometimes I add a grenade for good measure if it looks like one fellow might not quite get finished off.
Another good use for the needler is to fire a short stream at a retreating Grunt or Jackal. You know they're going to go bang, and you can switch to the next target right away. Fire and forget.
Sometimes an Elite may be focused on your Marines. That's an excellent time to pile in a stream of needles; he's unlikely to dodge when distracted like that.
I've already mentioned my liking for the needler as a companion to the pistol, but what about the other weapons? Here are my thoughts.
When Elites start getting close to you, a plasma rifle makes an excellent friend. Not as delightfully explosive as a needler of course, but probably more effective and certainly more predictable. Better for melee work too. The plasma also has a bit of a stun effect which you can exploit. While your quarry is briefly rooted to the spot wondering what day of the week it is, it's relatively easy to tag him with a plasma grenade - or possibly let a frag grenade finish him off. Not only does this save plasma and forestall an overheat, it also lets you move on to the next target as quickly as possible.
Another option for finishing an Elite off is to deliver a firm whack to his ugly great head. Quite often I'll be charging at my target anyway, drilling the plasma into him with maximum aggression, so a finishing whack comes very naturally. As with tagging, it saves you a bit of plasma and gives your weapon a chance to do a bit of cooling.
It's usually pretty easy to pick up plasma rifles from Elites that get close to you. If I haven't already left one on the ground as a handy spare, that's often what I'll do if I'm starting to run low on needles or if I just want a change.
For me the slow shot speed of a plasma pistol makes it less favourable than a plasma rifle against close Elites. It's relatively hard to hit an Elite moving across your field of view, and that makes it a bit risky to rely on. If you've got an Elite coming more or less straight at you however, or if he's stationary (possibly focused on a Marine) or you read his dodging moves well, rapidly pulsed fire can be devastating and you've also got the chance of getting him with a plasma ball.
When a mid-distance Elite has stopped running, he tends to do a sort of ducking sidestep move as he faces you. When you see him making that move, that's a good time to pile in a stream of plasma or fire off a plasma ball, aiming for the position he's about to end up at. You know he's going to be there for a few moments. Your volley should be enough to get him nicely stunned. You could possibly add a grenade to finish him off, leaving you free to get busy with other targets right away.
For a long time I mostly only picked up a plasma pistol after all the Elites were dead. It then provided good sport in removing Jackal shields, ready to drill the beaky freaks full of needles. When I came to revise this article however, I did some more intense play with it and found it quite an enjoyable challenge - so I think I'll be trying to make more use of it in future. And it is my favourite weapon to melee with, so that's another positive.
The scatter-firing assault rifle makes it a relatively poor weapon choice on Heroic. You'd need to be drilling an Elite almost point-blank to have any rapid effect, but that would generally require rushing up to them, which takes you closer to other enemies who may then increase their aggression. So unless I'm trying to make things extra tough just for the challenge, I wouldn't normally be using it unless desperate or up against a blue with no other threats nearby (or if I've got plenty of extra Marines in support - it can be a lot of fun in that case). On Normal or Easy though, I imagine it could be a decent choice.
I rarely use a sniper rifle here because it would make things too easy, but there's obviously some great shooting to be had with it if you want. Heck, you can have a field-day picking off one enemy after another! See here for advice on getting a sniper rifle topped up for the battle. If you want to keep things challenging you could limit yourself to a certain number of rounds. Even half a dozen would be very valuable, allowing you to drop most of the Elites or at least bring them close to death's door, ready to be polished off with pistol fire. Especially those nasty reds!
I don't normally play this battle with chain-gun support but I have to admit that it can be a lot of fun to have a Marine rattling away, preferably Stacker or Johnson as they have the best vocals. It's a welcome luxury after a punishing session of hard fighting. It's also good fun to track the gunner's targets with a sniper rifle, to enjoy watching the havoc he wreaks. The way enemies recoil on taking bullets is a real testament to the craft in this game. And look at all that earth flying up as the bullets thud into the ground! Great stuff.
Crossfire and other ideas
Chain-gun support needn't mean making things too easy though. With the right arrangement it can be used to give you help without completely dominating. One way of doing this is to set up a crossfire. In particular you could place the chain-gunner near the left entrance, then take up a position further along towards the rockslide. When covies go for you, your gunner will be able to rake fire across the battlefield to help you out, and to give you more of a chance against those devilish Elites. This could be a nice way of making things more manageable if you're having trouble coping.
Another arrangement is to place the chain-gun back against the cliff somewhere, then take up a more advanced position some way down the hill. The more advanced you are, the tougher it'll be for you. The beauty of this is that if things get too hot you can back off for a while, obliging covies to have to get nearer that deadly chain-gun.
One other idea is simply to allow yourself support to begin with, then get the gunner dismounted when you think you can tackle the rest of the covie horde without his help.
Getting a fresh covie weapon
If you're getting desperate for a fresh covie weapon and you don't want to risk a quick dash 'n grab for fear of stirring up the enemy, you could try putting a blue Elite into rage mode so he'll bring his weapon to you. That's nice of him eh? Personal delivery service! I wouldn't be so keen to try it with a red though; he'd probably be through my shield before reaching me. If you do try a dash 'n grab, the best time for it is right after you've killed an Elite and got the nearest Grunts and Jackals running away in panic.
Using enemies as shields
When you've got an enemy close, especially an Elite, he can act as a shield between yourself and other attackers if you move around appropriately. He may even end up taking a bit of friendly fire! I use this valuable tactic quite a bit, mostly during the hectic phase of the battle when Elites are attacking close up; and especially if I'm trying to take on two Elites fairly close together. See Enemies as shields in my combat tips section, for a little more chat on the general technique.
On Heroic, pick any two weapons from among the assault rifle and plasma weapons, and I'd say you've got a pretty tough survival challenge on your hands. I had to work hard to achieve my first victory with plasma pistol and AR. Much harder than if I'd had a pistol and needler. Good fun though, and I plan to explore the use of such combos further, to see if I can up my game. Give it a go! Obviously the most powerful duo here would be the two plasma weapons, so you might like to start with that.
Sheltering in the dip
When you're defending from back near the cliff with the hog moved clear as I suggest, you're completely exposed and this can make things pretty scary and desperate when multiple Elites are bounding your way. That's part of the fun and challenge of course! However, there's one place you can sometimes get a little shelter. Along the cliff the ground forms a shallow dip where the ground is yellowish. If you crouch at the back of that dip, you can just about be out of the line of fire of covies in the low ground. In an emergency this can give you enough time to recharge your shield if you're lucky.
It's saved my skin a few times, but bear in mind that while you're cowering in the dip your Marines will probably be getting massacred, and you still have to worry about possible fire from the left, often from Jackals near the tree. A lot depends on how aggressive the covies are feeling, and on whether your Marines are still alive, distracting the covies. So all in all, it's very much a last resort.
With so much open space, you can have great fun going on a cyborg rampage against Grunts and Jackals once the worst of the enemy attack is over. Careful you don't underestimate the dangers though. Once you're in among them, they can get pretty aggressive!
Marines vs Grunts
Marines are terribly weak of course, and like nothing better than getting hit by slow-moving green plasma balls from distant Jackals. "Ow! I'm hit!" they'll say. "You're allowed to dodge, fool!" I reply, but do they ever listen? Hell no. So one thing you might try is to kill off all the Elites and Jackals, then see if your Marines can at least handle the remaining Grunts. This also gives you a good opportunity for watching Marines though a sniper scope, for a close-up of the excellent animation. If you like a good bit of watch mode, you may even like to set this up on Easy so your guys really have a chance.
Long-range enemy fire
When the final dropship lands, its cargo includes a bunch of Jackals (five on Heroic). These guys sometimes engage in some impressively long-range fire as they trudge across the plain towards you, sending out rapid pulses of green plasma which look almost like tracer rounds. Quite a sight, if you're not too busy to admire the show. It's no great danger to you of course, but it may get your Marines off to an unhealthy start. I've also seen Elites do a bit of long-range fire with plasma rifles. One guy was a good twenty metres into the rockslide yet still able to pulse some plasma our way (we were well back, up at the cliffside), which was quite surprising.
The far area is a great place to arrange lots of extra Marines for support. With a large squad the battle will have quite a different feel and I highly recommend it. Expect a whole lot of hollering and mayhem, with Grunts running around in a semi-permanent state of panic. On Heroic you can have a squad of up to 11 Marines ferried in from outside; see BCM52 and BCM53 for example battles with two different Marine layouts. I find this enough to be able to survive the battle against stiff opposition using just a feeble AR (plus grenades of course). That makes for an excellent challenge, something you can see in BCM53.
When you've got a large squad it's pretty easy to take a breather when you need to. Just get behind the squad or move off to the side and you'll generally find that the covies will focus on the Marines. If you want, you can even just enjoy watching for a while. Let those roughnecks earn their pay! On Heroic a large squad can even put up a decent fight against a couple of Elites.
Once the fighting starts, your squad tends to get spread out pretty quickly due to all the rolling around they like to do. So if you tried to have them in a nice concentrated formation to begin with, I'm afraid it probably isn't going to last long. One other point on squad formation. When I arrange a squad I usually have the Marines well back, close to the cliff wall. If you want to move them further away from the wall when you drive into battle (just to make things different, and probably a bit tougher), that's possible. Just drive slowly along the wall (angled against it and making contact seems easiest), and hopefully they'll all dive clear.