Last week on a windy Tuesday afternoon I got the chance to spend two hours with the Halo 5: Guardians Multiplayer Beta at the Xbox One Loft in New York City, which will be available to the public (Halo: MCC owners guaranteed access) on December 29, 2014. A few 343 developers were on hand to walk us through all of the changes coming to the Halo multiplayer universe in Halo 5: Guardians (which there are many of) and quite frankly the changes are fantastic, if not an indication of 343’s plans for Halo 5’s e-sports potential.
Before getting hands-on time with Halo 5’s multiplayer component, 343 broke down all of the gameplay changes and how they’re all balanced to avoid players taking advantage of them and ruining the traditional Halo multiplayer experience. To long time Halo multiplayer fans the changes may appear to be drastic, almost sacrilegious, and based on the reactions to the leaks on Monday, a few loyalists are already up in arms and ready to boycott Halo 5: Guardians altogether.
After spending nearly an hour and a half playing Halo 5 multiplayer matches, I can assure you that the new additions to the gameplay formula don’t ruin the experience whatsoever. Thanks to the care 343 took in balancing the new maneuvers, long time fans will probably have the same reaction and actually appreciate the changes once they get to experience them first hand. The changes do in fact stem from 343’s e-sports mindset for the game, and some of the new abilities have been in other competitive multiplayer games for years now, but in my opinion they do change Halo’s multiplayer formula in a good way and make it a bit more modern and adaptable for the burgeoning e-eports movement.
New Spartan Abilities
As previously mentioned 343 has completely reinvented what a Spartan can do in Halo 5: Guardians. The core mechanics remain in place, but there are eight new abilities that will completely reinvent how players compete against one another in a Halo 5 multiplayer match. Although each ability is balanced out by others, so none of these new maneuvers can ultimately be abused and spammed for easy kills and victories.
One of the biggest, and possibly most controversial changes in the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer formula is the Smart Scope, or ADR mode that most FPS gamers affectionately call this type of ability. Up until now only a few weapons in the Halo-verse have had scopes, but starting in Halo 5 all weapons will now have a scope mode. You aim with the left trigger like in other popular FPS title, which pulls up a scope that the 343 team described as being linked to your Spartan’s helmet. While the scope is up you can still run and move freely, just like if you were hip firing, but now your field of view is limited thanks to the scope in your face. If you get shot while having the scope pulled up you will instantly be de-scoped, which is a balancing tactic 343 wanted to have in the game. This doesn’t mean hip firing the (Halo franchise’s multiplayer bread and butter aiming technique) is obsolete and penalized now, it just means that players who prefer to aim with sights will now be able to do so. If you’re a seasoned Halo multiplayer vet you’ll still resort to hip firing like I found myself doing, but it’s nice to have the ability to use a scope for more precise shots if you choose to use it. Those players that solely rely on it will have to deal with de-scoping and the lack of vision, so there is a checks and balance system to take into consideration.
The other massive shift in the Halo 5 multiplayer gameplay formula is the implementation of permanent running. Just like Call of Duty and almost every other FPS game on the planet, you can now sprint at all times if you choose to. You don’t have to unlock an ability to run, nor do you have to use specific loadouts. All Spartans can run like Forrest Gump and do so until the cows come home, but like the other changes, the perm-running is balanced to avoid fundamental shifts in Halo multiplayer gameplay. For example, let’s say you take a beating and lose your shields and need to escape your attacker. You can run away, giving you a faster means of egress, but while running your shields don’t charge, so you must run strategically or not at all to survive. If you constantly scurry across the map you must do so at full health, or you’ll never stand a chance. I really appreciated the balancing that 343 put into this new ability, and think that the whole shield recharge mechanic will greatly influence just how much Halo 5 players run during a given match. It was refreshing to be able to run from point A to point B to get back into the action after a death rather than slogging along at a Spartan’s typical run pace, which at times feels snail-like compared to other FPS games.
The Spartan Charge is directly tied to the new perm-running ability. When you build up a full head of steam you can now power ram your shoulder into an enemy player, which if successful, will instantly drop their shields. When used in the new Breakout (more on this below) match type it will insta-kill them. In my experience with the beta this was the most used new mechanic outside of running, and it proved to be deadly on most occasions. It’s great for tight skirmishes and hunting down your prey thanks to how fast it can wipe out shields. You are a bit vulnerable if you miss a charge because you don’t recover right away, so again there is balance to ensure matches don’t devolve into nothing but shoulder rams as if Marvel’s Juggernaut character were dictating how people play.
Like the Spartan Charge, the new slide ability is also tied to the perm-run feature. Once a Spartan reaches maximum velocity they can slide to a stop like in Call of Duty and other FPS games. While sliding your reticle morphs ever so slightly to give you a tighter method of shooting while sliding, but I didn’t find any glaring advantages in this ability whatsoever. It’s great to get out of the way quickly, or to dodge fire from across the map, but like the other abilities it won’t turn any single player into a god amongst men on the battlefield.
The clamber ability allows Spartans to mantle up to higher ground without the need of a ladder. For example, on the new Empire map, many cargo crates are littered throughout the map that can be clambered up to reach new heights that other Spartans wouldn’t have been able to reach in the other Halo games. If you see a ledge and want to try to scale it all you have to do is jump and hit the jump button again to latch on to the edge and pull yourself up. This ability opens up all sorts of new map designs and allows players to find new sniper perches, get the high ground advantage, or escape from a pursuer to try and flip the tables on them. Overall it makes map traversal more fluid and frenetic without the need for ladders or glitches to reach higher platforms.
New Mjolnir GEN2 system software now allows Spartans to stabilize their fire while in mid-air. By pressing the LT button while in the air your Spartan will hover while he/she aims down the weapon’s sites. This allows you to have much more control over your weapon while in the air, but at the same time it leaves you vulnerable to attacks from the ground. The stabilizers aren’t really jet packs, so you’re not free to hover around like the jet packs used in recent Halo games. While they can give you a temporary advantage in mid-air, they must be used wisely or you’ll be shot down like a duck flying over the Duck Commander office in Louisiana.
The ground pound is one of the more devastating new skills that the Spartans now have in Halo 5. If you can successfully land one, you insta-kill the unlucky recipient in glorious fashion, but if you miss you’re left exposed for a brief second, which opens you up for attack. To pull off a ground pound you must be jumping off of a surface, and not just jumping straight up. Once you’re in the air you must hold down on the right thumbstick, which in turn creates a targeting reticle on the ground that you can use to line up your victim. While doing so your Spartan is essentially floating in the air and vulnerable to pop shots, so you can’t just take your time while looking for targets on the ground. Again, with all of these new abilities 343 has baked in balance, so none of them can be abused for cheap kills and easy wins.
The Spartan’s new thruster pack allows them to quickly dodge in all directions with a small recharge time required after doing so. If you need to quickly get out of the way you can hit the B button and a direction on the left thumbstick to propel you in said direction. You can dodge to the left, right, front, and back, as well as while you’re jumping. Jump thrusting definitely allows you to reach perilous sections of the map that usually have a power weapon for you to pick-up, so the thrusts not only change your defensive capabilities during a firefight, but they can also help you reach areas of the map more efficiently. The small recharge timer ensures that the thrusts can’t be spammed, so they must be used wisely during heated exchanges of bullet ridden mayhem.
The Halo 5: Guardians Multiplayer Beta will come with three new maps to play, and one of them is a nod to the Halo 2 classic Midship maps, while the other two are completely new. They all look fantastic in 60fps, and each one has a layout that offers strategic locations for picking off enemy players, as well as skirmish points for more personal battles.
Truth is an homage to the Midship map from Halo 2, and it’s easily my favorite so far. The layout is almost unchanged from Midship with a bit more detail and a few clamber points setting it apart. The center has the new Prophet’s Bane energy sword, which when used gives a speed buff to the player and always becomes a hot area on the map to contest. This map is great for more personal in-your-face battles just like its predecessor.
Empire is a complete new map for the Halo franchise and features outdoor locations and indoor locations to get your murder on. The map is suited for snipers, so it makes perfect sense that the sniper rifle is the available power weapon on this map. It also has many different nooks and crannies to clamber up to, and quick escape routes thanks to the blocky architecture that can help you hide from enemies taking pot shots at you from across the map. Like Truth, it’s still small enough to have very personal encounters so it suits all styles of play.
Crossfire is another new map, and one that is reserved for Halo 5’s new Breakout multiplayer match type. It resembles the Grid from Tron, and features a very small map with a few structures littered around it for teams to plan their attacks. It feels like a training simulator for Spartans to work on teamwork, which is key for the new multiplayer mode. The map itself really isn’t beautiful to look at, but thanks to the mode that gets played on it, Crossfire became a personal favorite of mine by the time my hands-on session ended.
New Game Type
The Halo 5: Guardians Multiplayer Beta will feature a new game type for the Halo franchise. Breakout is essentially Gears of War’s Warzone on much smaller maps with limited time and resources. You set out in teams of four and each player only has one life each round, so if you die early on you will have to watch your team play to see if they can pull of a lopsided victory. Shields are much weaker in this mode, which encourages strategic play and precise shots, as well as quick matches thanks to the many deaths weaker shields lead to. The timer also ensures that Breakout matches don’t draw on for hours. For the most part single rounds take anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes, while an entire match takes about ten minutes to play.
This mode is built for players that thrive on teams, and it offers many thrills and chills thanks to the stress it can levy on you if you’re on a shorthanded team, or the last surviving member of your reckless crew. While playing this mode it’s not uncommon to hear the cries of your competitors when you masterfully snuff them out, as well as the joys of a player that just took on four enemies by themselves and won. This new mode is without a doubt a great addition to the Halo multiplayer formula, and one I’d like to see remain as the series moves forward.
Additional gameplay videos from Empire and Truth:
343 has done some amazing things with the Halo 5: Guardians’ multiplayer formula, and considering that the beta is taking place so early on in the game’s development, the level of quality is impressive and worth your time if you can get into the beta this December. The various gameplay changes introduced may sound jarring at first, especially to seasoned Halo multiplayer fans, but the balancing of each move helps to ensure that they can’t be taken exploited for unfair advantages. I personally like the ability to always run, and don’t see how it can ruin Halo multiplayer, especially when you consider that your shields don’t charge while sprinting. I also appreciated the new thrusts, as they greatly enhance your ability to take on foes in close quarter situations. I also haven’t mentioned that the AI will now talk to you and provide strategic information for when you’re playing on a silent team, which is also a nice bit of polish added to the multiplayer component.
The new maps all look fantastic and offer great ways to experience them, but the new Breakout mode is the true star of this beta and hopefully in the final build. Playing this match type is exhilarating, and it naturally lends itself to working as a team, which usually results in bonding with other players, a staple in Halo multiplayer since 2001. There’s nothing more thrilling than being a hero in this match type, especially if you can pull off a win against the entire enemy team by yourself.
The Halo 5: Guardians Multiplayer Beta opens on December 29, 2014 and will remain open until January 18, 2015. All gamers who buy Halo: The Master Chief Collection will be guaranteed access, so considering how much I loved that title, you should definitely plan on picking it up to at least get into this revolutionary beta for the Halo franchise and its storied multiplayer tradition. The 343 team definitely has Halo 5: Guardians poised to become a player in the e-sports arena with many of the new changes, and if you give them a try I think, like me, you’ll begin to appreciate 343’s vision.
You can enter to win a free copy of Halo: The Master Chief Collection via this giveaway.
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