Hillside battles

Posted July 13th 2006

The basic idea

In the hillside survivor area of level 2 where a few survivors hide at the top of a hill, it's possible to set up a large squad of Marines in various locations, though you may need to kill a few enemies to do so in peace. For example you can have a squad near the lifeboat, up the left side of the hill, along the top, or even on the large central structure. When all is ready, you can trigger the remaining enemies into an attack, augmented by dropship reinforcements at some point, and enjoy defending with your squad. It provides some good novel battling, and there's plenty of creative potential in squad arrangement.

Creating a base save

To begin with, here's how to create a good 'base save', in which you've already assembled a squad of Marines just outside the hillside area. You'll be able to use this save as a starting point for quickly setting up battles in different locations.

Do a spot of killing

First drive to the high right entrance armed with a sniper rifle. If you're using Normal or Easy, snipe the distant sniper quick to stop him killing enemies (there's no sniper on Heroic or Legendary). Also kill any Elites based on the large structure, as they're a threat to the survivors. There are two of these Elites on Legendary, else only one.

Assemble Marines and weapons

Drive around to the left entrance and head through the tunnel. Drop your passengers off just before the exit, safely out of sight. If you're going to want a large squad, also assemble Marines from other survivor areas (see Hillside reinforcements for advice on extracting rockslide survivors). But I suggest you omit having the sniper from the rockslide area as he'd be a bit lethal in battle; and in certain locations he could inconveniently kill distant enemies before the battle kicks off.

If you've got the patience, preferably also assemble a weapons stash, for maximum flexibility. With each battle you set up, you'll be able to pick the starting combo you fancy; and you could even move the whole stash to the battle location.

Drive up to the survivors on the hilltop and ferry two back to the tunnel, leaving one behind. With the two you ferry, briefly take them as far as the tunnel's first bend where you get a checkpoint. By doing that, you actually cause the game to stop considering them as hillside survivors; and because of that, they won't run off back to the hilltop when you drop them off. Save, to complete your base save.

Battling to music

Incidentally, if you fancy battling to music, you'll need to have dealt with the other two survivor areas beforehand. In that case, rousing climactic music will start up after the enemy dropship arrives in the hillside area later. Me, I can do without that. Gunfire and Covenant screaming is all the music I need. Ah, bliss!

Setting up a battle from your base save

Here's how to set up a battle starting with your base save (or starting with a copy of it, so you can feel free to save the battle).

Make the battle location safe

Depending on your chosen battle location, kill any enemies whose territories would allow them to be a danger while assembling the squad there. Except, don't reduce the enemy below seven, else everyone will come chasing before you're ready. Because of this limitation, not all areas are viable.

Bring in your squad and maybe some weapons

Once it's safe, ferry the assembled Marines (or as many of them as you want) to the battle location. Each time you come back for more Marines, it can be worth getting a checkpoint in the tunnel before leaving, so you can revert if you accidentally squash anyone at the battle location.

If you find that chain-gunners are doing too much damage to the enemy as you ferry them in, you can minimize it by only taking seated passengers, as much as possible. This is easily done. Each time Marines clamber aboard, nip out and get the gunner to dismount, then drive off with just your seated passenger.

If your base save included a weapons stash, you can have the option of moving weapons to the battle location too, if you've got the patience. It can be worth doing if you plan to save your battle for long-term replaying. You'll be able to vary your starting combo, and also switch weapons in battle.

Get a battle start checkpoint

At this point I suggest you get a checkpoint in the tunnel, and save it if you're using a copy of your base save. This way, you can potentially either (a) return to this point if you fail to get a convenient battle start checkpoint shortly, or (b) treat it as a battle start checkpoint (though that's not ideal).

Trigger the enemy attack: Enemy count method

There are two methods of triggering the enemy attack, freeing enemies to come after you. I'd normally want to use this first one. Reduce the enemy count to six, perhaps whittling out some of the weaker enemies to maximize the battle challenge. But do it well away from the tunnel entrance (be further away than the lifeboat), else the remaining enemies may vanish, courtesy of a rare Bungie glitch!

As well as freeing enemies to come after you, an enemy dropship is triggered. The dropship checkpoint may or may not be delayed (the game delays checkpoints while it considers you under threat), but you'd like it sometime before the battle kicks off, so it forms a convenient battle start checkpoint. If the enemy isn't too close to you or the squad (a sniper rifle or pistol is good for keeping your distance when reducing the count to six), you'll probably get it right away. However, you don't necessarily want that. Read on.

If you simply rejoin your squad after triggering the dropship, the battle will tend to be a two-stage affair in which the original enemies attack and then the reinforcements attack, having taken a while to land and reach you. It's usually possible to arrange a combined attack though, giving a more intense battle. Delay the original enemies by driving around in a Warthog, keeping their attention away from the squad. When you think the time is right, head back to the squad. It can be useful if the dropship checkpoint has been delayed too (which was easy to arrange, by keeping within enemy firing range). The idea there is that when you pull away from the enemy and rejoin your squad, you finally get the delayed checkpoint, being briefly free from threat (assuming the squad isn't near the dropship's landing zone). This way, each time you revert, you'll only have a few seconds to wait before the fighting begins. Nice!

Incidentally, there were originally 13 enemies here on Legendary or Heroic, 14 on Normal or Easy. If you know how many are dead so far, you'll know how many more need killing to reduce the count to six.

Trigger the enemy attack: Survivor count method

This alternative method of triggering the enemy attack involves reducing the survivor count to zero.

Reduce to zero the number of Marines the game still considers as hillside survivors. There's currently only one left, and you can do it by (a) killing him, or (b) dropping him off near the start of the tunnel to let him get killed as he runs back to the hilltop and blunders into the enemy (which is quite amusing to see or hear), or (c) briefly driving him to the first bend in the tunnel like you did with the others. With that last option, you get a new checkpoint and you can add your passenger to the squad shortly.

With this method you end up battling a few more enemies as you didn't have to whittle them down to six, but there's a drawback in regard to checkpoints. When the dropship gets triggered later, you're due a checkpoint; but obviously you don't want one part way through the battle, as it would prevent you being able to revert to the start. You'd want it to be delayed. For that to happen, you'd need to ensure that you and your Marines remain under sufficient threat; which may or may not be awkward, depending on the battle dynamic. Also, once all enemies are killed, you'll need to revert immediately else you'll finally get the checkpoint.

Battle locations

Here are a few battle locations to try. Explore for others; you might be surprised at what you can arrange. You can also play about with squad arrangements in a given area; see Squad arranging for tips.

Near the lifeboat

As a first location, I suggest you place a squad near the lifeboat. It won't take long to ferry Marines in from the tunnel, and you'll only need to kill a few nearby Jackals beforehand. Before you trigger the attack, briefly attract enemies from the far side of the structure, else they might never get drawn into the battle.

I find that if you trigger the attack by reducing the enemy count to six, you tend not to get the dropship checkpoint immediately, even if you've driven up the hill to get well away from the enemy. Maybe it's because of the squad's location. Try if you like; maybe you'll get lucky. Regardless of how you trigger the attack though, remember to be well away from the tunnel when the dropship is triggered, else ground enemies vanish!

Things get pretty interesting when the dropship comes in. Marines will be firing on the reinforcements before they've even hit the ground, sometimes killing Grunts in mid-air. Actually, they'll give the dropship itself a good peppering, apparently shooting at the enemies before the doors have even opened. They also tend to lob an avalanche of grenades before the enemies are down on the ground, which can be pretty funny. It often has disastrous consequences, as grenades bounce off and head back to the squad! The Grunts are somewhat grenade-happy too, and you'll often see them whip out grenades before they're down. All in all, you'd best stand well back!

One enjoyable tactic to use when the dropship is coming in is to get well away so that when the reinforcements land and start engaging the Marines, you can pile in streams of needles (or whatever) from their flank or rear. Maybe take a chain-gunner with you too, for added devastation. On the other hand, if you stick with the Marines there's some excellent rocky cover in the corner.

Left hilltop

Another nice location is the top left of the hill (as you look at it). You won't need to kill any enemies beforehand. There's a large rock you can stand on in the actual battle, giving you a nice commanding view. Actually it's also possible to drop Marines off on the rock.

As with most locations, you can also choose to move away from your squad, in order to sneakily attack the enemy from their flank or rear when they're focused on the Marines. I had good fun with this, hiding back on the large structure then sending streams of needles into the backs of enemies attacking the squad. One place you might consider standing is in a handy recess near where the structure's plasma emission comes out. You'll know what I mean when you find it.

Right hilltop

Another location worth mentioning is where the hillside survivors were found. In essence, you'll be using your base save as an alternative route to setting up the sort of battle I originally described in Hillside reinforcements, in which the original survivors are massively reinforced and you have a big old ding-dong of a battle.

On the large structure

I've also had fun with a squad on the large central structure, though it can be a bit fiddly assembling your troops there. An interesting feature here is that you can use a Warthog as a partial or total blockade against an enemy advance down one side. However, they're smart enough to come around the other side to get at you, so beware. With a second hog you could block off both approaches of course. You could have got an extra hog from another survivor area; an evac Pelican brings in a new hog if you don't already have one there.