Part 11: Formations
So by now you've seen the list of formations and what they look like, and you've seen a few of them in use. Here's a detailed rundown of what the various formations are & what they are good for.
Bungie says: Units in this formation will line up four abreast.
Bungie says: Units in this formation will line up eight abreast.
Melee units will most often be in Short Line or Long Line, since those formations have close spacing. They also are an easy way to get your units into two or more ranks, to make your melee line less likely to break -- breaks can lead to bad 2-on-1 fights and/or enemies sneaking through to attack your squishier units.
Like many formation decisions, the choice between Short and Long Line is often influenced by the available "elbow room", i.e. geography and how your groups need to maneuver around each other. Short Line is obviously more compact. And when your units are on the march, Short Line may give you fewer worries about stragglers getting hung up on obstacles outside the immediate line of travel.
As you get more units in the formation, Long Line becomes better in most fights because it gives you fewer units cooling their heels in the far back ranks. Long Line is of course also better than Short Line for blocking the path of enemy units.
Long Line can be useful for ranged units if you want to get more than 4 units all in the same rank and/or there's not room for a looser formation.
Bungie says: Units in this formation will line up four abreast, but spaced widely.
Bungie says: Units in this formation assume a staggered line.
Loose Line fills in 4 units per rank, like Short Line but with more space between units; Staggered Line has the same unit spacing as Loose Line but its rank limit alternates between 4 and 5. (So until you get to 9 units these formations are identical.)
Staggered Line is most often used for ranged units. It helps reduce friendly fire, and the loose spacing means that they are less likely to take damage from enemy ranged fire, especially if you "dance" them back and forth a bit between shots.
Melee units can use Loose/Staggered Line when being fired on by ranged-unit enemies. When those enemy units deal heavy and/or area-effect damage, or if you are taking fire for a long time, a looser formation noticeably helps.
There are some situations where it is a good tradeoff to have friendly groups move through each other rather than around each other. In this case, one group should stand in a Loose Line (not Staggered) while the other passes through.
Finally, Loose/Staggered Line can be used as a position-and-forget (Guard stance) defensive formation in competitive multiplayer for a large melee group around an objective, if your attention has to be elsewhere. The wide spacing of Loose/Staggered Line makes your units less effective at responding to melee attacks, but they won't be that effective anyway when in Guard. The benefit of the loose spacing means that they may keep the enemy out of range of tagging the objective, and that it takes longer for the enemy to blow up all your defenders.
Bungie says: Units in this formation move in a perfect square.
One of the less useful formations. Since it's the most compact, you may find a use for it when shepherding or stashing a large group; for example I've used Box when trying to hide a thrall mob in a modest-sized patch of deep water. In combat or objective-defense situations, you'll only use Box if/when the terrain and your number of units absolutely forces you to do so; one of the Line formations or even perhaps Circle will be a better choice 99% of the time.
Bungie says: Units in this formation are in a random pattern.
I was actually surprised to see this one when running through the formations recording them for the tutorial video; I had forgotten it was in the list because I never used it. However, it's probably not as useless as I thought.
The shape of this formation doesn't give you anything, so its important characteristic is the spacing between units, which on average is a little more than Loose/Staggered Line. This means that as a formation for absorbing heavy/area ranged attacks it's a little better. And for a Guard-stance defensive formation it's a little worse at keeping enemy taggers from contesting an objective... but your units will still be close enough by to prevent an outright capture.
Rabble is quite similar to the result of the scatter command, but it tends to have more uniform spacing, as scatter will push your units away from their center.
Bungie says: Units in this formation are in a wide, shallow arc.
Bungie says: A tighter, smaller arc.
Obviously they're curvy, but their most functional difference from the Line formations is that they have no maximum length (that I've run into). Or to put it another way, they have a single long rank. If you want to guard/block a wide area these might be helpful. They do leave you vulnerable to getting your line broken, but if you're just trying to block enemy scouts that's not a worry. Not commonly used formations, but I do remember liking them in some rare situations.
Bungie says: A wedge formation.
At first glance this is just a pointy and straight-edged version of the Encirclements, but your units are facing in the opposite direction, concave rather than convex. So if you face the enemy with this formation you are exposing your point man to getting tag-teamed, and things will go downhill from there. If you face away from the enemy, they may get a free shot before your units turn around.
Conceivably this formation could be used for guarding a competitive multiplayer objective if you have some terrain to block the open end of the wedge. It does seem to beg to be used as a "flying wedge" to help get a mobile objective or some fragile unit from point A to point B, but IMO that's a disaster waiting to happen.
Bungie says: Duh.....
A purely defensive formation, sometimes useful in competitive multiplayer for guarding objectives. Since you don't "waste" any units in the interior of the formation, it covers a good area to help deny weak probes from tagging the objective. But if any one of your units is killed then the enemy can easily get in and tag.