If there's one thing this week has proved, it's that everything changes. Fable is now a ludicrously cuddly four-player co-op adventure for Xbox Live Arcade. Forza Horizon appears to be a pitch to the festival crowd, rather than automobile anoraks. Peter Molyneux has announced his departure from Lionhead and Microsoft. And Halo 4? For all its Spartan armour, Warthogs and Battle Rifles, 343's long-unseen project isn't the same 30 seconds of fun. Combat is "faster, visceral and more intense", there's a brand new enemy on the way, and the HUD has been upgraded to provide a constant flow of match data.
Controversially, the studio has added "gameplay-changing choices" to multiplayer in a move many (including OXM's Jonty) liken to a Call of Duty style "perks" system. We share fan hesitation over the idea, but we're confident the Halo veterans at 343 will turn out something marvellous, providing they bear the following in mind.
1. They have to be active abilities
Victory in Halo has always come about through the choices you make in-game, rather than the choices you make beforehand. Halo: Reach's Armour Abilities put a bit more weight on preparation, true, but choosing between a jetpack and a stealth cloak isn't the same as choosing between a perk that arbitrarily doubles your reload speed and a perk that arbitrarily doubles your health. More opportunity to customise load-outs and - dare we say - classes in Halo sounds wonderful, providing it remains possible to overpower a killer preset combo through sheer verve.
2. They have to evolve from the single player
Mood is king in Halo. Sure, multiplayer maps are cheerily unrealistic killing fields littered with man-cannons and grav-lifts. Sure, the customary way to express respect for a fallen foe is to dunk your groin in his rapidly-expiring face. But all the key props - weapons, vehicles, enemies and so forth - are things you've learned to use/fight in the campaign, and that's a crucial imaginative anchor. The last thing anybody wants is to finish the single player and find themselves drowning in bolt-on doodads. Keep it logical. Keep it consistent.
3. Keep them optional
Contrary to popular belief, you can, in fact, have your cake and eat it. Simply offer two mode suites, one dedicated to having cake, another to eating cake. A "classic" or "core" mode for Halo 4 would enable the best of both worlds, serving as a no-frills fortress for Spartan purists.
4. Avoid the grind
There's talk of a new progression system in Halo 4, though 343 has yet to share specifics. Sounds great... but it's not like we need additional reasons to keep plunging our forks into Halo's delicious multiplayer pasta, and we'd hate to see the joy of Spartan-on-Spartan combat subordinated to mindless levelling. Whatever it turns out to be, we want a decent, workable selection of abilities available from the off.
5. We need real innovations too
Learning from your competitors' successes is fine - as 343's own Frank O'Connor once put it, "there are plenty of things Call of Duty does beautifully that we should do better". But if you'll excuse us one more confectionary metaphor (it's late, and we're hungry), the borrowing needs to be the icing on a cake composed of perfectly-cooked originality. Thankfully, there appears to be much to look forward to. "What we showed [at the Microsoft Spring Showcase] is in some ways really traditional," O'Connor told Eurogamer last week. "Some of the more revolutionary stuff that we're going to be doing is going to create more fuss, and I think it's going to be mostly positive fuss, as it's all been carefully thought out and considered."
Let us know your thoughts. What are your hopes for Halo 4 in general?