Late last week, rumors began swirling around the Internet about the next map pack for Halo: Reach, started by a French fan site dedicated to the series. Interestingly enough, the leak was almost exactly spot on. As predicted, the new DLC will be called the 'Defiant Map Pack' and feature three maps: Condemned, Highlands, and Unearthed.
The launch trailer below showcases all three maps in action, but there are a number of things worth noting here. Only one map, 'Condemned' is developed for the traditional strength of the franchise (smaller team matches, up to 12 players total). 'Highlands' is yet another larger map in a game that really doesn't need one. The netcode for Halo: Reach is significantly more stable than Halo 3 but I remain unconvinced that the game is terribly well suited for large-scale battles unlike excellent FPS titles such as Battlefield: Bad Company 2, which thrive in large gametypes. 'Unearthed' is a rarity: a paid DLC map dedicated to the Firefight gametype, suggesting that the fanbase is taking to this game mode in larger numbers than might be indicated.
All three maps - particularly 'Condemned' - feature absolutely gorgeous skyboxes. The space battle outside of the space station is the first overtly dynamic skybox I can recall in a Halo game. The previous 'Noble Map Pack' did feature interesting skyboxes in the 'Anchor 9' map and 'Tempest', but if what is shown in the trailer is representative of the final map for 'Condemned' its art blows those maps away. This is particularly noteworthy at approximately the 0:45 mark in the trailer.
Also worth noting is that the franchise transition is apparently well under way. While it is clear that Bungie is still heavily involved in tweaking parameters of the game's multiplayer suite, Microsoft's internal 343 Studios stamp is heavily placed on the marketing. For the first time I can recall, the trailer features a narrative voice over at the beginning. More importantly, Bungie's logo is notably absent from the end credits, which is notably different from the flavor of the Noble Map pack trailer (watch it here for comparison). Ultimately, of course, it comes down to how the maps play but it's clear Halo is heading in a new direction even before the next title in the franchise.
The maps themselves were apparently co-developed with Certain Affinity, who previously assisted Bungie with map design for Halo 2. Judging by the level of detail at work in the art assets, the 'Defiant Map Pack' has probably been in the works for quite some time
The official press release, concerning more details about the maps, can be read here. As with previous Halo map packs, it will sell for 800 Microsoft points ($10) and is expected sometime in March 2011. This makes March a very busy month for games, with releases ranging from Dragon Age 2 to Homefront, among many others.