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After all sorts of teasing, leaked GIFs and Halo-fest livestreams the much-fretted over Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta began in earnest on the 29th of December for owners of the Master Chief Collection. The beta will run till January 19th, with new content slowly being rolled out and rotated over the course of those three weeks. We’re here now, at the end of week one, so lets talk how we’re feeling about it so far, mkay?
We’ll get this out of the way first: The bloody thing actually works. After all of the fervor over the Master Chief Collection’s many networking issues, bugs and whatnot one could be forgiven for expecting this beta to hit the ground with all grace of a downed helicopter. I’m very pleased to report though that, in my own experience at least, it runs as smoothly as you’d like. No issues whatsoever. I’ve also not heard any grumblings from anyone else, so I think it’s fair to assume it’s been a solid experience for everyone. Bonanza, eh?
Now then, lets talk feel. A lot has changed in Halo 5, but nothing more so than just the basic feel of it. More recent games in this series have tweaked bits and pieces of the core Halo formula here and there to try and keep up with the times, to stay relevant to it’s genre peers. By and large though, these changes have been quite minor and that essential feel (looks good in italics, dunnit?) has always been there and much the same. Halo 5 throws caution to the wind and attempts to update that formula with the mindset that nothing is sacred.
Clearly, the biggest influence resting in the back of 343 Industries’ collective minds are games like Titanfall and the most recent Call of Duty entry, Advanced Warfare. These, and other games, have shown there is a great interest amongst FPS fans in having more options when it comes to the primary player movement. Halo 5 has taken this to heart. Greater flexibility in lateral and vertical movement as well as an overall faster flow of action is the marquee gameplay philosophy here.
Your spartan now has several different abilities to aid in traversal mobility. You have a thruster pack at all times allowing for sharp lateral dashing movements, both on the ground and in the air. While moving forward you have a slide move, an offensive charge move and a mantle for getting over cover. There’s also a ground pound move you can charge up in the air. Not to mention that the sprinting and just basic movement speed is much quicker. All of these attempts to accelerate the pace of the gameplay are of course aided by the upgrade to 60fps, for the first time in the series (Master Chief Collection not withstanding).
The addition of the ‘smart scope’, essentially giving all weapons an aim down sights mode, was a contentious one prior to the release of this beta. Now that we’ve got our hands on it though I think it’s fair to say it’s a smart addition, if you’ll excuse that awful pun. Sure, if you’re not a fan of Call of Duty it may ring alarm bells in your head to see the Halo series heading in that direction. However, I think it fits perfectly with this more agile style of play. My only issue with it is that none of the options the game provides for controller layout have quite clicked me with yet. The default option, as well as the one that emulates Halo 4’s layout are almost there but just fall short. I often get some of the inputs mixed up, crouching when I should be meleeing and other various hilarious but fatal mistakes. I’m willing to give it more time to let them sink in though. This is just a beta of course.
I’m a monumentally big Halo fan, but even I have to acknowledge that if the series wants to stay relevant it has to take a look around at the competition and try out new things accordingly. In my opinion, 343 have done as good a job with this as they possibly could. You still get that familiarly satisfying gun/melee combat that has defined previous iterations, now you’re just getting it with more options and a quicker pace. No longer are you always forced into a situation where you and another player run towards each other, shooting the entire time, only to collide at the end with a simultaneous melee attack that ends up with both of you dead. Now, if you find yourself under fire, you have a whole slew of abilities to help you get out of that jam. And that’s where the satisfaction comes from: being smart enough to utilize those abilities in a way that gives you the upper hand within that normal Halo multiplayer combat scenario.
As I said earlier, the content of the beta is being rotated and at the time of writing we’re currently in ‘Phase Two’ of said rotation. Phase One offered us ‘Empire’, a very industrial map, almost Unreal Tournament-esque in some ways, as well as the covenant-themed map ‘Truth,’ which is heavily based on Halo 2’s popular ‘Midship’ map. There isn’t much to say on the latter. It’s damn near exactly the same as it always was and as a result your mileage will vary. It also hasn’t really been adapted to offer more chances to use your new abilities, so it feels very old-school in that sense (as it would/should). However ‘Empire’ I had a lot of fun with. It’s a fairly small map but offers a good deal of tight verticality, with the sort of symmetrical layout that leads to you running around the outside of it like a race track, taking on enemies as you go in that classic deathmatch style.
Now in Phase Two we have three extra maps to fool around with. ‘Regret’ places you in a nice and sunny mid-sized circular area, with some Covenant structures running along the outside of the map. In many ways it feels like a modern take on ‘Midship,’ even more so than ‘Truth’ does. The layout is much the same just on a larger scale, with some suspended platforms and bridges above the middle of the map, and it leads to many similar combat encounters. Only this time you have more room to test out your new traversal moves. ‘Eden’ is another map in an industrial setting, with lots of moody lighting and lightning strikes, very easy on the eyes this map (as they all are really). In terms of map design it’s easily the most complex we’ve yet seen, with three levels to it and all sorts of corridors and pathways to seek out. It’s not very big but also not too small either and packs a lot of architecture into it’s relatively modest size. Personally it’s been my favorite to play in, offering a nice stream of steady encounters with enemy players as well as enough space to breathe and rest for a second in-between said encounters.
As with the last few Halo games Halo 5 has a ‘blank canvas’ map, a big empty place for you to muck about in the map-making’Forge’ mode and have your creative way with. This game’s equivalent is set within a combat simulation and while Forge mode isn’t in this beta, 343 have provided some of their own homemade variants, presumably made with the same creation tools you’ll have access to in the final game. These two maps, ‘Crossfire’ and ‘Trench’ take advantage of Halo 5’s new multiplayer mode ‘Breakout.’
At the risk of sounding like a way too pumped up PR Guy, let me tell you that Breakout is some pure streamlined multiplayer shit like hot damn. You start out with no shields, equipped with just an SMG, a Magnum and one trusty Frag Grenade after a little uncontrollable pre-match sequence where you and three teammates are launched into the map via mancannon (which is always ridiculous and always hilarious). A team wins a round by finishing off the opposing team, with no respawns and five rounds in total. The first to five rounds wins the match and each round is a maximum of two minutes. This mode moves fast and is ideal fun for anyone who wants a quicker alternative to the standard Team Slayer.
Finally, lets move on to those all important weapons. There are many returning favorites such as the Assault Rifle, Magnum, Battle Rifle, DMR etc. They all feel as tight and refined as they ever have, if not more so with the new pacier gameplay. And for those worried that giving all the classic Halo weaponry a scope would kill hip-firing don’t worry, you’ll still be doing plenty of that trust me. The only new addition to your arsenal shown off thus far in the beta is the ‘Hyrda MLRS,’ a sort of rocket based equivalent to the Covenant plasma launcher, good for just completely confusing everyone in a combat situation by firing off multiple big explosives at once. I like it, is I what I’m saying.
Anyhoo that’s enough impressions for now. As you can probably tell I’m having a lot of fun with it right now. I think this is a big move forward for the franchise (for the multiplayer side of it at least) and I’m very excited to see more of it. I’ll be back with more when the next significant beta update hits.