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Final Thoughts on the Halo: Reach Beta

The Halo: Reach Beta has finally ended its near two-week stint on Thursday, which is a day after Bungie originally planned. The beta introduced a slew of new mechanics to make it feel fresh and exciting, but fortunately it retained everything that made Halo what it is known for today. Having said that, there are still issues I have with the game that go far beyond the glitches and minor issues one would expect to come with a beta.

For the record, I’m a very avid Halo player. I’ve been playing since the first Halo, and I became a “General” in Halo 3 a little over a year ago. I also enjoy playing some of the non-serious games created in Forge such as Jenga, Duck Hunt, and Sumo Wrestling. I’m saying this in hope that my credentials may align with some of people who didn’t get the chance to play the Beta. Keep in mind I am giving my opinion on everything. (If you need a basic summary of most of the goods in the Beta, click here

Let me start off by saying I enjoyed my time with the beta. The new gametypes are fun, enough changes were implemented to make the game feel fresh, and, most importantly, the game still feels like Halo. One of my favorite changes is what Bungie decided to do with the Elites. Rather than making them the exact same as Spartans (leading to awkward hitboxes among other issues), Elites are now very different than their human counterpart. It makes gametypes like Invasion and Generator Defense feel more fun because you have to think differently depending on what side you’re on. Elites have much more mobility and can close in on Spartans very easily. In addition, with the Elites’ faster charging shields, they are able to move in and out of combat with relative ease.

So then where does that leave the Spartans? Unfortunately, Spartans are outclassed by the Elites. Spartans have trouble maneuvering in and out of combat, it’s far more difficult to avoid grenades (more on those later), and the slower shields can make the difference in an encounter. Therefore, I always tried to keep my distance from Elites and avoiding chasing them if I only got a few shots on one. Chasing Elites can lead to them gaining the upper hand with their faster shield regeneration, and keeping your distance discourages an Elite rush. Sure, it makes playing as a Spartan (when battling Elites) more difficult, but it’s a welcome change because it adds more depth to the game.

Armor Abilities are the biggest addition to Reach. At first, I despised them because they felt kind of cheap and tacked on. As I played the beta more and more I came to love them. Rolling as an Elite or Sprinting as a Spartan works easily, Jetpacks are great for maneuvering around maps (namely Swordbase), and Armor Lock is one of the most useful abilities in the game because you can use it to instantly drain the shields of someone who rushes with a melee attack without any damage to yourself. Follow that up with a melee or a shot or your own, and you have one dead enemy. As useful as becoming invisible may sound, Active Camo isn’t strong enough to warrant its use. The radar makes it easy to know where the Camo user is coming from, and spotting them is much easier than it was in Halo 3. Perhaps if it were more difficult to see the Camo user, then it would be viable. However, in its current state it’s borderline useless.

The new weapons are great, but I still wish I had the trusty Battle Rifle as opposed to the DMR or the Needle Rifle. It’s not that I dislike the new weapons, but I’ve become so used to the Battle Rifle over the years, so its removal just feels wrong. Some would argue that Halo became too focused around picking up a BR and using that for a majority of your kills. I won’t argue that statement’s validity, but what’s wrong with nerfing the BR and including it in the game? Even though I miss the BR, the DMR/Needle Rifle fills the slot well enough, and the pistol is useful in its own situations.

My only issue with these new weapons is the new reticule bloom. I never really liked it, but now I’m at least a little more neutral towards it.  It certainly doesn’t break the game, but it is the one thing that takes away from the beta’s Halo feel. Sure, an invisible reticule bloom has been in previous games on the automatic weapons (Halo 3’s Assault Rifle), but it just feels awkward on the mid- to long-range weapons. Fortunately, each of the blooms feels natural and doesn’t hinder the use of said weapon too much… with one exception. The Sniper Rifle has a ridiculous bloom that renders it almost useless if you miss a shot and your opponent has the right weapon to counter it. The only upside to the new sniper is that no-scoping is even easier than it was in Halo 3. Sure, it balances out the weapon, but compared to others it just feels more handicapped.

The Grenade Launcher, Plasma Launcher, and Focus Rifle each bring something new to the table. The Grenade Launcher is a bit difficult to use properly (and I never used the trigger-hold trick), but if you can manage to get a direct hit, it’s an instant kill. The Focus Rifle is a nice addition, although it’s a little difficult to fight against if you’re shot first and you’re caught in the open. That leaves us with the Plasma Launcher. It’s a lot of fun to use because of its simplicity combined with its power. The only problem is that it’s a little too simple and a little too powerful. Locking on takes a quick hold, the grenades fly fast, and the grenades are extremely accurate. One of those three things needs to change in order to balance it out a little more, because as of now, the Plasma Launcher is overpowered.

Speaking of overpowered, grenades have received a big buff, and in the Beta, they mirror grenades from Halo 1 more than Halo 3. Now, if they are placed right, can kill a Spartan without any other additional damage. Throw in a Spartan’s poor maneuverability, and killing Spartans is incredibly easy. Fortunately, I can end my rant right there because Bungie has already mentioned that they plan on tweaking grenades for the final release.

Only 4 maps were shown off in the beta, and none of them particularly stood out to me because none of them did anything memorable. Powerhouse is bland. I honestly can’t think of anything to say other than that. It’s not necessarily bad, but there’s just nothing to say about it other than it’s basic description. Swordbase revolves around the Jetpack, and when you don’t have the Jetpack, it becomes a battle to see who can control the top of the map. Once map control is established, it’s very hard to break without the Jetpack. Overlook, which was exclusive to Generator Defense, only used about half of the map, and, like Powerhouse, it just feels bland aside from the weapon drops, although that’s probably more of a gametype feature than a map feature. Boneyard was exclusive to Invasion, but it wasn’t Boneyard that was interesting to me. Instead, I wanted to play on Boneyard because I like the idea of Invasion.

Invasion is one of the four new gametypes in the game. Invasion is a fun game because it’s like Bungie is trying to simulate a full-scale battle of Spartans vs. Elites using the multiplayer. I just hope that when the full release comes out, more players are thrown in to make the battle feel even more epic. Generator Defense is somewhat similar to Invasion, but on a much smaller scale. It’s fun, don’t get me wrong, but it’s incredibly easy for the Spartans. Locking down generators takes a quick button press and there’s very little time in between the time after a generator comes out of lock down and when you can initiate the lockdown again. On top of that, after playing Invasion, Generator Defense feels like it’s lacking something. Aside from the scale of the battle, I’m not quite sure what it is, but GD isn’t nearly as entertaining.

Stockpile is a new take on capture the flag. It was somewhat enjoyable, but I would much rather play a game of 2-flag than Stockpile. On top of that, Stockpile showed up way too often in the Grab Bag playlist. Last of the four gametypes is Headhunter. I enjoyed playing Headhunter, although picking up skulls is a tad difficult because you have to be right on top of them to pick them up. I only played Headhunter once, however, so keep that in mind.

As I said before, I had a great deal of fun with the beta. Most of the new stuff gels well with the Halo formula and it retains everything that has made Halo great in the past. Hopefully in the full version the maps will have more diversity and creativity, and the reticule bloom on the sniper will be reduced. Regardless of what changes are made between the Beta and the full release, I know I'll be purchasing the game this Fall. 


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