Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
With the high expectation of fans, 343 Industries has a tough task with Halo 4. They have to take the house Bungie built and add a new, more impressive wing to the Halo house and fill it with treasures that still fits stylistically with the existing manse. And from the E3 preview on offer, divided between a live demo of the single player and hands-on multiplayer, they look like they're architecturally sound. Lead Designer Scott Warren led the demo while Lead Level Designer Ray Almaden manned the controls for a sequence that sets the stage for both the single-player campaign and two multiplayer modes.
Below is the 60-second live-action "Commissioning" trailer for Halo 4, as seen during the Microsoft E3 Press Conference.
Set five years after Halo 3, the section that they showed had Master Chief shadowing a downed starship, the UNSC Infinity, and encountering both the Covenant and new enemies, the Promethians. Cortana quickly informs Master Chief that they appear to be advanced defense A.I.s divided between bug-type Crawlers and humanoid Knights. Warren noted the new Forerunner weapon types, the Forefunner Light Rifle and Forerunner Scatter Shot, a shotgun-like weapon that banks off surfaces. They also showed off Promethian Vision, an armor feature that allows Chief to see enemies through cover and replaces Sprint in the multiplayer Armor abilities since sprint is now a regular feature for all armor types.
The new Infinity Multiplayer is built around the first-person story and the UNSC Infinity, where a new batch of Spartans are being trained (perhaps after the events of the game). Looks like the guys at Rooster Teeth called this with Red vs. Blue years ago; competitive multiplayer is now called Wargames and is framed as virtual reality training. Multiplayer is similar to Reach's, with a few new maps (on day 3 of E3, they introduced the snow level called Longbow), new variations on Slayer, and a King of the Hill mode named Regicide with higher point values for killing the king.
The most fascinating part of Infinity Multiplayer was the announcement of cooperative missions, or Spartan Ops. A player's Spartan, leveled up and customized through Wargames, can be deployed in the Spartan Ops cooperative campaign, a weekly series of five missions that are accompanied by a new animated movie each week that will be free for Xbox Gold subscribers. For this reason, competitive multiplayer scores contribute not just to the team score, but also to the individual scores to aid in customization.
Halo fans shouldn't worry. 343 Industries has made sure that multiplayer is very familiar, and the campaign has magnificent production values that Warren said were the result of the game's new engine. Halo has always had its competitive multiplayer to fall back on, but with Spartan Ops, it looks like they plan to extend narratively structured play long after the the completion of the campaign, an ambitious goal that is sure to delight fans of the series.