So, it’s uh… it’s been a while, eh? After dusting off the canonical cobwebs from our Fodder feature’s hallowed halls, it feels good to settle in for a bit of a “proper” new issue. And the occasion’s a pretty cool one to boot, as today we’re going to crack the lid a bit on what is the first ever campaign DLC for a major Halo game. Plus, we’ll take a fiction-focused preview on some of Serina’s new units that she brings to the table in Halo Wars 2, and catch up on a smattering of other topics. Ahh... it’s nice to be back; shall we begin?
TIP OF THE SPEAR
Alright, so what is Operation: SPEARBREAKER exactly? Spearbreaker is a two-mission campaign addition for Halo Wars 2 that puts you in the boots, err, drop pods of an elite team of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers. You know, the bat-outta-hell crazies who think jumping out of a starship and plopping down right in the middle of an enemy onslaught is a healthy addition to a balanced breakfast.
The missions of Operation: SPEARBREAKER revolve around a new Banished plot in Atriox’s ongoing struggle with Captain Cutter and the UNSC for control of the Ark, and offer fans a couple of pretty rad new chapters to add to their love of the Halo universe. While we don’t want to spoil any main narrative beats, the extended experience is a welcome addition to folks eager to continue the adventures after finishing the main Halo Wars 2 campaign, and puts players straight onto the front lines to fight against some enhanced Banished forces. And who are these minions of Atriox? Well, let’s just say that a certain Lekgolo wasn’t content with just worming his way around Blitz and Skirmish…
Spearbreaker is also unique in that you follow a group of unaugmented – but still highly capable – marines, rather than assuming the “role” of one Spartan or unseen military commander, and provides a much more “boots on the ground” feeling. Ironically, in some small ways it almost feels reminiscent of another more intimate “expanded” Halo experience – one that also happened to center around a rough-and-tumble band of Helljumpers. It’s a pretty obscure title you may not have heard of called Halo 3: ODST (coming soon in Xbox One backwards compatibility by the way!).
GRACE UNDER FIRE
To snag a bit more inside insight, I lured Kevin Grace to my desk to see what sort of secret peekies he might have to share regarding the upcoming content drop.
GRIM: Hey Kevin! I’ve got a couple of Spearbreaker-related questions for some eager eyes and ears if you've got a second to spare. First up, when does the production for something like this really begin, and how might it differ from the production of the mainline campaign?
KEVIN GRACE: Production for Spearbreaker kicked off pretty much as soon as the main game was ready to go and we could get some time from all the same folks who were putting the last bits of polish on the mainline campaign. No rest for the wicked!
GRIM: None indeed... Are there any connections between the story of Operation: SPEARBREAKER and that of Awakening the Nightmare?
KEVIN: The big connection is that the events of Spearbreaker and Nightmare are both parts of the much larger ongoing war for control of the Ark. Captain Cutter did what almost nobody has ever done before when he fought Atriox to a near-standstill, but there are still plenty of Banished and plenty of UNSC vying for control of in many ways the most powerful weapons platform in the galaxy. Atriox still has plenty of fight left in him.
GRIM: Oh, that I don’t doubt in the slightest. Now, these particular DLC missions are a bit different as you are following a specific squad of on-screen protagonists; how does this affect the way you go about telling the story through the RTS gameplay?
KEVIN: The biggest change in storytelling for these missions is that we’re getting to know individual members of a squad rather than having just one voice for each controllable unit on the field. In an RTS like Halo Wars 2 it can get a bit busy on screen sometimes, so we don’t have much of a chance to meet specific soldiers, but in Spearbreaker we can get a taste of ODST squad banter and bonds through seeing this particular squad figure out the new Banished threat they face.
GRIM: Sounds freaking awesome. What were you personally most excited about working on these two new missions, and what do you think might excite Halo fans?
KEVIN: I always enjoy looking at Halo from the perspective of “normal” warriors (“normal” being relative, as we’re talking about troops who think jumping out of a perfectly good spaceship is an average day at work) rather than just through the eyes of our main “hero” characters like the Spartans.
Halo conflicts are often larger than life and they’re a very different challenge to tackle if you don’t happen to have Spartan training or a personal smart AI or your very own army to command. The ODSTs and Marines of all the Halo games we’ve enjoyed don’t get enough credit!
GRIM: I’m sure ol’ Chipps Dubbo would heartily agree. Thanks so much for joining us today Kevin, and can’t wait to play some more Halo Wars 2 co-op with you soon!
So, who is this ODST squad you’ll be playing as in the upcoming RTS DLC? Let’s take a look at the lore behind hot-dropping heroes of Operation: SPEARBREAKER.
ODST COMMAND SQUAD SUNRAY 1-1
1st Squad, 1st Platoon, B Company, 9th Shock Troops Battalion
Major Vaughan’s command squad, callsign Sunray 1-1, is the lead element of Boomerang Company, the UNSC’s most elite force of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (though that’s what they all say).
- Team Leader: Major Vaughan, CO of Boomerang Company
- Technical Liaison: Warrant Officer Quinn
- Medic: Petty Officer Gruss
- Drone Operator: Corporal Turpin
- Designated Marksman: Lance Corporal Sparks
Born to a family of politicians and corporate executives, Vaughan lived a life of privilege and luxury in the most prestigious of Earth’s arcologies. But when a family squabble escalated, a rebellious young Vaughan made the worst and best decision of his life by enlisting in the UNSC Marines. Rammed through boot camp during the height of the insurrection, Vaughan had no time to regret his decision before shipping off to war against terrorists and separatist movements in the Outer Colonies.
His first duty station as a green recruit was the Spirit of Fire, an old ship retasked with transporting UNSC military and police forces to colonies it once established. Few appreciated the irony more than Vaughan, given the role his own family played in exacerbating colonial tensions. Years later he found himself on the Spirit of Fire again, this time as a commissioned ODST officer on a campaign against the alien Covenant that would take him from half-glassed colonies to ancient Forerunner shield worlds, and beyond. It’s been a long road, but Vaughan takes solace in the fact that this is definitely not the course his family had pre-charted for him.
WARRANT OFFICER QUINN
Signals Reconnaissance Specialist
Quinn has been many things in her life, but none have been as meaningful as service in the ranks of the Spirit of Fire’s 9th Shock Troops Battalion. A highly trained signals intelligence analyst and electronic warfare operator, Quinn accompanies ODST pre-assault and deep strike post-assault teams on missions that require the application of technical wizardry in addition to raw firepower.
With Professor Anders’ departure on the Halo ring it has fallen to Quinn and other UNSC personnel who have demonstrated affinity with – and knowledge of – Forerunner systems to be boots-on-the-ground resources for task force commanders. It’s a job she relishes. Quinn and Major Vaughn have a long history of service together on board the Spirit of Fire. Quinn has no particular love for the ship itself – and despises its recycled air and the peculiar pull of the barracks’ artificial gravity – but she cares deeply for the crew and troops aboard it.
UNSC Navy Medic
Petty Officer Gruss is the Navy combat medic assigned to Major Vaughan’s command squad. A woman of (very) few words, the ODSTs make it their mission to interpret “Doc’s” opinion of their shenanigans by analyzing her body language, sighs, rude gestures, and grunts of disapproval. This friendly harassment ends when combat begins, for Doc holds the lives of the troopers in her able hands, wielding biofoam and trauma packs across the squad’s position with incredible skill and delicacy. So perfect is her timing in dealing with injury that it borders on the prescient, and squad members resign themselves to the inevitable if Doc appears near them during battle.
Cursed with always being the right woman at the right place at the right time, Turpin wishes for nothing more than a life of glorious anonymity, rather than a career filled with fateful encounters. Turpin’s recent assignment to the command squad has the rest of Boomerang Company nervous, as her reputation for dragging fellow Marines into perilous adventure is well known among the Spirit of Fire’s crew and troops. As the squad prepares to deploy for a routine recon mission on the Ark’s surface, Turpin crosses her fingers that nothing of interest or importance will transpire, just this once.
LANCE CORPORAL SPARKS
Sparks is the squad sniper, and something of a wildcard even among the Spirit of Fire’s impressively large cast of misfits and rogues. Sparks’ long list of non-judicial punishments and reprimands would have landed him a full-time billet in the ship’s brig were it not for two unique qualities: his unparalleled skill with a SRS-99 anti-materiel rifle, and supernatural ability to acquire the rarest (and tastiest) meal packs on the ship. Luckily, Helljumpers value good chow and a good shot more than adherence to UNSC regulations, which keeps this “Lance Criminal” from behind bars – so far.
Of course, Boomerang Company doesn’t only have to deal with the Banished. Forerunner warding systems and Sentinel drones are on high alert after the last round of war between Atriox and Cutter, and the Ark’s reflexive defense protocols have activated additional tiers of mechanized defenders. Among these are the Controller Sentinels, airborne defenders closely related to the Enforcers encountered on Delta Halo. Whether assembled recently or roused from millennia of storage, these vigilant machines are a new obstacle that the ODSTs must deal with in their mission to counter the Banished threat.
Forerunner system offensive/defensive drones
The Controller Sentinels’ primary function is to guard valuable Forerunner technologies on the Ark. Developed and deployed to counter the escalating threat from the UNSC and the Banished, these flying Sentinels are loosely ‘tethered’ within set radii of important sites and will attack anyone that comes close, or attempts to take control of the sector.
An impenetrable energy shield protects the front of each Controller Sentinel, an improvement on the already powerful shields used by the Enforcer Sentinels whose function was to suppress Flood outbreaks. Underneath it fires a continuous Sentinel Beam to prevent enemies from hiding in its blind spot, but its primary weapon is a devastating supercharged Sentinel Pulse.
ICY DEAD PEOPLE
Of course, Operation: SPEARBREAKER isn’t the only delicious downloadable delight dropping in this month’s salvo of Halo Wars 2 goodness, as we’re also revisiting an old friend in adding our penultimate Season Pass-provided DLC Leader.
That’s right, Serina is back (still dead, tho), and is ready to RTS & Chill. Emphasis on that last part actually, as the late-but-loyal AI is ready to apply some serious freezer burn to Banished forces on the Ark via some awesome new ice-focused armaments that extends the work Professor Anders showcased in the first Halo Wars. After all, what more fitting project to work on while your friends and crewmates are all cozy in cryo?
Let’s take a look at some of the cool new units and tactics Serina’s got in store for would-be UNSC couch commanders.
A mind of ice and fire.
Serina was activated on January 7, 2530, by Daedalia Technology, a Martian firm well-known for the seeding and development of artificial intelligences for military and corporate markets. Serina was their greatest work of that era, an omni-capable second-generation “Smart AI” that displayed both impressive intellectual capacity and remarkable computational efficiency. Her assignment to the UNSC Spirit of Fire was fortuitous, despite a somewhat rocky period of acclimation to the ship’s unorthodox crew.
Under the orders of Captain James Cutter, Serina administered the deployment of forces on Harvest’s surface, and successfully managed later campaigns on both Arcadia and the enigmatic Forerunner facility known as Shield 0459. Unfortunately, the life of a smart AI is limited and their constructed minds cannot be slowed or stopped. While the Spirit of Fire drifted in the void after their victory over the Covenant at Shield 0459, Serina imagined, planned, and built for a future she would never see.
Death on frozen wings.
The ZAV-48 Frostraven is a conjectural design that pairs research work Serina conducted on weaponized vacuum energy cryotech with a modified EV-44 airframe. As Isabel continues to review and integrate the knowledge left behind by Serina it is possible that she will take this design from theory to prototype, but it is not without some irony that Anders has now focused her full attention on unraveling the secrets of the Forerunners rather than continuing this line of research and development.
Heavy-duty cryotech support vehicle.
Bisons are versatile, light armored vehicles that served in most groundside combat elements of the old Colonial Military Authority (CMA) in a number of roles, including armored personnel carrier and recovery vehicle. It remains in service with several UNSC Army units and local militias (such as the Sedran Colonial Guard). The variant designed by Serina uses the proven chassis as a testbed which holds a vacuum energy siphon, scientific instrumentation, and cryotech weaponry in one mobile package.
As there are no Bisons aboard the Spirit of Fire at present, Isabel has looked at improving and repurposing the siphon with her own research data on Forerunner vacuum energy cells, but the delicacy and intricacy of Serina’s manufacturing template complicates this effort.
Nerves of steel and hands of frost.
Hellbringers are qualified to maintain, operate, and deploy a number of specialist weapon systems in the UNSC arsenal. This includes a range of incendiary, thermobaric, energetic, chemical, and biological weapons that most UNSC personnel are not even aware of. Serina reasoned their hazardous material qualifications and daredevil reputation made them well-suited for field testing experimental cryotech weaponry.
Who better to strap on experimental and unstable power cells that tap strange energies than Marines who routinely wear volatile chemical packs into battle? She was probably right if the spirited discussion about her cryotech weapon templates among the Spirit of Fire’s Marines is any indication.
We’ll have more to talk about regarding Serina and her upgraded abilities in our official DLC launch blog once the content hits hard drives in the near future, so stay tuned. Both Serina and Operation: SPEARBREAKER are included with the Halo Wars 2 Season Pass, or available for individual purchase at $5.99 USD each, or together as a $9.99 USD bundle.
Coming along with Operation: SPEARBREAKER are some brand-new additions to the Phoenix Log feature in Halo Wars 2. Here’s a bit of a visual tease…
Speaking of Phoenix Logs, let’s revisit a few favorites from Halo Wars 2’s main campaign…
Val ‘Saham served with a fierce loyalty under shipmaster Let ‘Volir, a loyalty that extended beyond the Great Schism and the fall of the Covenant empire. Juxtaposed with the clandestine machinations of the San’Shyuum, Val saw Atriox as far more than a Jiralhanae rival – he saw refreshing truth and unfettered purpose. For Val, brotherhood had become something far more forged in battle than by bloodline alone.
In the end, he would die fighting against the human Demons on the ancients’ great fortress forge. But donned in a hand-wrought reshaping of a once-disgraced Honor Guard harness, he would die with purpose and valor flowing fiercely through his veins. He would die a joyous death. He would die guarding true honor. These were his final accounts.
From the journal of Orda Val 'Saham, Sangheili Guard March 4, 2559
How my ancestors would envy me. I have walked within the cavernous corridors of one of the fabled cartographers on the Ark, a place long considered only in legends. I still feel strong emotions here, for so much of the history of our race is intrinsically bound up in it. But those emotions are not those of my ancestors. No longer do I feel the religious reverence or feel humbled in the presence of the ancient's structures and monuments. Gone is the comforting certainty of a shared destiny and the peace and connection between brothers that comes with it. Instead, when I close my eyes and breathe in the air around me, I smell only machines. I remember how many hundreds of thousands of our warriors fell—how many were sacrificed for a journey that never existed. I feel anger and a deep sorrow for a race that has lost its way. Even now, long after the Prophets' lies have been revealed, the ripples of that revelation continue. I have become estranged from my family, who even after the truth has come to light, refuse to fully renounce the ancient doctrines I have brought shame upon our name by offering up my blade alongside my brothers...for hire.
Battle and conflict is in our blood, our very way of life, and that is the only truth I can now find. I cannot wait for another holy war, not will I be duped again. With Atriox there are no lies; he speaks like a warrior. He wished to break free from the yoke of the Prophets, so he did. Would that we had joined him earlier. Now he offers us a way to keep our ship and our crew together and I can think of nothing more truthful to fight for right now. The Shipmaster brought us through the war and to this place alive where so many others have perished.
He asked us to follow him once more, and I will.
From the journal of Orda Val 'Saham, Sangheili Guard March 30, 2559
This may be my last entry. The humans reached the Cartographer and by now have no doubt discovered the location of Atriox's reinforcement portals. I admire the humans' courage and skill as warriors; they are just one ship, but fight as fiercely as an entire fleet! If their leader is as shrewd as he has appeared so far, then he will understand the value of the portals and they must be the human's next target. They're likely already striking out to destroy them. I have been ordered to defend the portals and must report to Decimus. This gives me grave concern. When we first arrived at the Cartographer, I was among the Sangheili who were to sweep the area for hostile elements and as such I was privy to Decimus' movements.
He is Atriox's right-hand and pledges loyalty to the Banished, but as I watched him walk among the ancient's halls I recognized the awe and reverence in his eyes that I once saw among my own clan. I saw that fatal longing, that tragic need to be once more struck dumb and blind by the promise of a wondrous destiny. If we are to succeed, Decimus must purge these old conflicts from his thoughts. A warrior's heart must be certain if he is to survive, as doubt is a surer killer than the sharpest blade.
In just over a month, Halo: Warfleet will be lining up do dock with bookshelves across human space. If you like Halo, and or spaceships, you should be pretty damn excited. To help whet your aerospace appetite, I snagged Warfleet’s prime penman, Kenneth Peters, to give a bit of context at the lovely little piece of kit you see here.
Most starships in the Halo Universe start big and work their way up from there to gargantuan. But what about the “little” ships that are less than a kilometer in length and not fitted with the firepower to boil a planet? These auxiliaries are beneath the notice of fleet commanders in our novels and too small to easily represent in Halo: Fleet Battles, but their missions are just as vital as vessels that far outstrip them in tonnage. Halo: Warfleet gave us the opportunity to detail some of these workhorse ships, but after Isaac Hannaford was brought on board the question was then “Which ones get visualized?” We eventually settled on these being in a two-page spread showing an action scene between a human Gladius-class corvette and Covenant light warship (exactly which one was to be determined later). Though small and strategically inconsequential compared to the heavy-hitters of naval armadas, these are still warships measuring hundreds of meters in length and massing tens of thousands of metric tons, so we were anxious that they would retain the impressive features Halo ships are famous for!!
The first pass from Isaac nailed the Covenant and UNSC aesthetic we wanted to show in these ships. The only changes we requested were to ensure that you could more readily see the ships’ surface features for the text callouts. The Covenant ships he created were new, but also clearly of the same design lineage as those that have come before (not surprising, given Isaac’s experience as a Halo visionary). It was also clear after seeing his art which blade of the Covenant this new ship was meant to be: the aptly-named storm cutters (DAS-class). As these ships had little written down in terms of technical details at the time, the Isaac reference renders (such as the one shown here) and notes were used to determine the dimensions—and from that we derived more specific crew, mass, and final armament to update those originally sourced from the Halo Story Bible.
Isaac’s amazing final image in Halo: Warfleet captures a deadly encounter between the Sagan Blue (FS-803) and the twin Kig-Yar-helmed storm cutters Mark of Prophecy and Divine Breath, who were engaged in piracy and smuggling near New Carthage in 2554. In a book chock-full of amazing visuals I think you’ll agree with me that it will become one of your favorite art pieces. And, of course, the technical details and background information is pretty awesome too, if I say so myself!
I believe you just did, (Fleet)Master Kenneth, and I can only agree whole-heartedly. Make sure you preorder your own copy of Halo: Warfleet right here, and be locked and loaded for its fast-approaching September launch!
Before we go, make sure you hit up our last few Halo Community Updates for some recent details on upcoming fiction including Halo: Rise of Atriox, Halo: Retribution, and Halo: Smoke & Shadow.
And that’s all we’ve got for today. Next issue will be a little ways off still, but for good reason – and not just because your humble scribe has a slammed schedule. Next issue is a bit of a Canon Fodder milestone – #100 to be precise. We’re looking to celebrate the occasion in some particularly cool ways, and we certainly hope you’ll join us for it; stay tuned for more info in the future.
Until next time… Live well, play Halo, and keep an open mind.