Reaching for the Implausible

Last Monday night, having just got home from the first of four movies in the local Bill Murray Bonanza (Ghostbusters!), I decided to have a bit of a spring-clean of my Mac. Unsurprisingly, the desire to organise things nice’n’neat soon passed, leaving a half-arsed confusion in its wake, but one thing I did accomplish was the thinning down of open browser tabs… from fifty(!) to a far more manageable twenty.

One of those browser tabs was my Bungie.net Halo: Reach profile page, which I always left open so I could easily check the latest Challenges… just in case I wanted to chase some easy cRedits. Just before the browser tab disappeared, however, I snuck a glimpse at the latest Weekly Challenge – 10,000 cR for an incredibly easy task. “No problems,” I thought, and fired up Reach for the first time in months.

It's-a me... petee-moo.
Hello, I’m petee moobaa… I’ll be your target this evening.

Several hours later I forced myself to go to bed, several Daily Challenges conquered alongside significant progress on the Weekly. But I’d been bitten again; my wandering attention had been grabbed by Reach. And that’s a bit of a problem, because – in terms of List-worthiness – I don’t really know how much Reach will actually placate my OCD niggles. All the Achievements have already been acquired, and there’s three clear indicators of complete-ness: Campaign progress (I’ve still got a co-op run to do on Legendary), Commendations (awarded for accruing in-game events), and Rank.

For those (ha! like anyone reads this) who haven’t encountered Reach, I’ll elaborate a little. Commendations are split into three equally-sized categories, and are typically based around kills – Covenant kills in the Campaign and Firefight categories, your online foe in Multiplayer. There’s Commendations for sprees, using certain weapons, destroying vehicles… that sort of thing. Commendations each have five levels before you max them out – Iron, Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Onyx – and attaining each of these five levels adds a point to your Commendation rating – there’s a maximum of 225 Commendation points, upon which your Commendation percentage is based.

The problem is that the requirements for some of these Commendations are… ummmmm… insane.

Now, don’t get me wrong – most of the Campaign and Firefight Commendations are relatively easy to snaffle. Manipulate the game into giving you a useful Checkpoint, get your kills, restart from Checkpoint… rinse and repeat. Boring, but doable. But when it comes to (say) the Firefight “Grounded” Commendation – “Destroy an enemy-occupied vehicle in Firefight matchmaking” – well, I’ve seen maybe a total of fifty vehicles in all the Firefight I’ve played (and I’ve played a lot – I’ve got a handful of Commendations at Onyx already).

Let me repeat: I’ve seen fifty.

To get an Onyx Grounded Commendation, you need to destroy six thousand.

So that’s, like, pretty daunting.

And to a cack-handed player like myself, inexperienced in the ways of online FPSs, the multiplayer Commendations seem equally as remote.

But let’s also mention Rank: Rank is based solely on the accumulation of cRedits. You glean cRedits for just about every violent act in Reach, with little bonuses being awarded for completing Challenges (tasks assigned by Bungie that range from the simple – “kill 100 enemies in any game mode in Reach” – to the insane – “complete <level>, Legendary, All Skulls On”). There’s a cap on the number of cRedits you can earn each day – currently, that’s 120,000. And the topmost Rank is Inheritor – which requires an accumulation of twenty million cRedits.

Do the math – that requires hitting the cRedit cap every day for 167 days.

To put that into perspective, I got a lot of my early Firefight Commendations playing Gruntpocalypse (on Corvette, natch), which netted me about one thousand cRedits every fifteen minutes or so (including setup time). I’ve never come close to the cRedit cap.

So there’s my dilemma; my OCD says “you really won’t be happy unless you’ve got 100% Commendations and an Inheritor Rank”, but the pragmatist in me knows that my OCD has no firm grasp on the time required to achieve those goals.

So, then – baby steps. It’s nearly been a year since Reach was released, so why don’t I set some sort of reasonable target for the anniversary?

I decided that I’d aim for 50% Commendations, and up to the Rank of Colonel Grade 3. That left me with about 300,000 cR and about a dozen Commendations to acquire in about six weeks; 50,000 cR a week seemed doable.

I started poking around the hive-mind, looking what The Kids were doing for easy cRedits these days; “Firefight Doubles,” asserted one youngster. Off to Firefight Doubles I went for a look.

And, bugger me, it was insanely good fun – twenty minutes of rushing forward, guns blazing, before being mercilessly slain and starting again, the only penalty being precious seconds (of the maximum allowed twenty minutes) wasted. There was no need for communication between my partner and I; occasionally we’d cover each other, but most of the time it was just plasma-coloured mayhem.

And then, during the end-game, the reward – over 3,200 cR.

Holy shit, I thought. Three thousand for twenty minutes of fun. Now we’re talking.

So I started hammering Firefight Doubles; if there was a lull, a moment where a match wasn’t immediately available, I’d leap into the Rumble Pit, a generic Multiplayer playlist. Now, I’m amazingly shit at multiplayer – my kill/death ratio was sitting down around 0.7 – but I figured that any kill would add to the overall tally. Based on previous performance, I expected that I’d manage two-to-three kills a game.

And I pretty much managed to keep that average up.

Saturday morning, though, I noticed a message pop up as I fired up Reach – big cRedit jackpots in Team SWAT! Now, I’d never played Team SWAT (team-based, no shields, rifles & pistols), but I was willing to give it a bash if there was a potential for a “big jackpot”.

I was slaughtered, a true impediment to my team. Two kills per game, if I was lucky.

But after the third game… boomshanka. Twelve thousand cRedits.

Easy! :)

So – I’ve been playing a shitload of Reach, hopping between Firefight and Team SWAT. And bugger me if I haven’t noticed a tangible increase in my skills – most SWAT games I’m now garnering six or seven kills, and my team appears to be winning more often than not. And the feeling that these old eyes, these old hands, are steadily improving is absolutely joyful; maybe not quite as joyful as breaking through that 50% Commendation barrier, or knowing that I’m already within striking distance of Colonel Grade 3, but… hey, this stuff is fun.

But it’s a bloody long road. And I’m not sure I can reasonably manage it. I suspect that, as with most games lately, boredom will set in and I’ll eventually get distracted, leaving Reach behind… only to return with a vengeance for another hit of the cRedit pipe later.

And all week, Suda 51’s latest game, Shadows of the Damned, lay unopened on the couch armrest, begging to be played.

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