It’s been over a month since Microsoft introduced Xbox One players to Halo with the Master Chief Collection, but now things have started to get real with our first hands-on experienced with the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer BETA. In the past few weeks we’ve gotten our fair share of footage of this BETA, but this weekend was our first chance to experience this content for ourselves, and see what 343’s next iteration in the franchise will bring us when it comes to multiplayer. NOTE: This preview gave players the ability to play slayer on two maps. The full Beta will give players multiple modes to test out and 7 maps. Due to the lack of these extra features, we can only comment on the modes and maps that were available this weekend.
From the first moment on it’s clear that Halo 5 covers both familiar and uncharted territories, and the core design of its gameplay reflects on this. Introduces as a return to form to Halo’s earlier arena-based multiplayer experiences, 343 gives us a product that will speak to pre and post-Halo 4 players alike. We were given the opportunity to test out the game’s Slayer mode, which consists of the simple objective to become the first team to reach 50 kills in a round. In these 4v4 matches, we were dropped into two compact maps, each of which is designed in such a way that the action always comes full circle, which effectively eliminates most long-term camping, and keeps the match interesting for its duration. The maps available were Truth; a remake of the classic map Midship and Empire; a map set in the midst of a skyscraper in the middle of a city.
We’ll start off by discussing the weapons, which have seem some significant changes and additions, which affect the gameplay in a significant way. Starting out; loadouts are completely gone. Each player starts off with an assault rifle, a pistol and 2 grenades, with the other weapons in the game being stashed around the maps as pickups. Each map also has a signature weapon, which is spawned on the field every time the timer ends. This way each player starts out as an equal to one and other, and you’ll have to find your weapon of choice on the field, should you not favour the assault rifle as your primary weapon. Weaponry has been rebalanced, and some weapon may feel a bit different from their earlier counterparts, and its subjective wether you as a player will find these tweaks positive or negative.
The biggest change to gunplay, and without a doubt the most controversial is the addition of ADS (for players not familiar with the term, it stands for Aim Down the Scope.) Prior to experiencing this mechanic first hand, I was skeptical about its introduction to the Halo franchise, but after the first few rounds it really felt like an evolution of the Halo franchise, rather than a Call of Duty-inspired creative decision. It feels natural, and it doesn’t really interfere with Halo’s classic formula. Accuracy for hip fire isn’t compromised, and for players who prefer it aiming down the sights might actually suit their playing style better due to its visual nature.
In order to properly elaborate on Halo’s new speed of gameplay I’ll have to introduce you to some of Halo 5’s new mechanics concerning traversal. The gameplay is a true evolution of Halo 2’s arena-based multiplayer, but it also introduces a new dimension of speed, which will make you use every move that the game presents you with. First off; sprinting is no longer an option. In Halo 4 sprinting often seemed like a move of choice, but in this form you’ll need it to escape hectic situations, which often occur due to the map design and the general pace of the game. It’s not as twitchy as Call of Duty for example, but it adds a new dimension to the franchise that it hasn’t really seen in its previous iterations. The nature of the mechanic has changed however, and sprinting temporarily disables armour recharging and the reloading of your weapon, which makes you vulnerable whilst sprinting.
Second off the list is the new boost ability, which allows players to give them a boost in a specific direction using the boosters on the back of the Spartan armour. During general traversal this ability seems handy for crossing certain gaps and increasing your pace, but if used correctly it might save your life during combat as well. During sessions I’d constantly try to dodge enemy melee by boosting in an opposing direction. This wasn’t always succesful, but if you use it correctly it may save your life more than once.
The third is without a doubt the hardest mechanic to master; the ground stomp. In mid-air players will have the ability to boost themselves towards the ground and create a damaging impact, which in effect decimates any enemies situated in the direct vicinity. It can be an incredible effective move, but it’s incredibly tricky to perform, let alone master. These features together create a completely new and dynamic pacing to the classic Halo formula, and actually evens out the odds for new and old players as the game takes a little while to get used to for either party.
When it comes to Halo 5’s ranking system, its pretty much identical to Halo 4’s progress system. Players simply earn XP based on their performance and/or winnings, and unlock items for their Spartan. Due to the lack of loadouts and such, this is limited to armour pieces. Wether the full game will actually have more unlockables is unclear, but for the time being we’ll have to do with armour customisation.
I had many doubts about the additions and changes to Halo 5’s multiplayer, but this small taste of what’s to come showed me that 343 is headed in the right direction. Without a doubt it will take quite a few more hours of gameplay to figure out wether Halo 5 is truly the evolution of the franchise, but I’ve experienced a quick glance at the future, and what I experienced was incredibly promising.