Halo 5: Guardians launches Tuesday with the promise of being the first Halo title created from the ground up for the Xbox One. There is common concern with the game due to the dismally broken launch of The Master Chief Collection last year. After spending three days with the multiplayer in early access, those concerns should be focused on the most ambitious feature of Halo 5, Warzone.
As a refresher, things appeared to be going swimmingly for Halo: The Master Chief Collection up to the point it actually released and 343 Industries spent its time celebrating the launch of the game. Reviewers who had their hands on the game early experienced none of the matchmaking and connection issues that revealed themselves in the minutes and hours following multiplayer going live and lingers to this day.
The positive spin is The Master Chief Collection attempted to shoehorn in four different games built on two different online platforms into a third online platform. That won’t be the case with Halo 5: Guardians since it was built solely for the Xbox One and the latest iteration of Xbox Live. Still, 343 Industries is attempting multiple new things, specifically with the new Warzone mode, that is worth keeping an eye on.
For starters, Warzone features a gametype that is 12 versus 12 with additional AI combatants. There’s also the new REQ system, which allows players to acquire weapons, vehicles, armor, and boosts in the mode based on their personal collection of REQ cards. This all runs on dedicated servers with the AI combatants also operating on those servers.
The past few days playing Halo 5 Warzone in pre-release has been a mix of amazing gameplay and incredibly frustrating stretches of time. The early access to multiplayer is limited to members of the gaming press, content creators on YouTube, and Twitch streamers. Understandably, 343 Industries and Microsoft set specific times for these individuals to try either Arena or Warzone. While Arena has largely been flawless, the matchmaking and network of Warzone has been worrisome.
Wait times of six to 20 minutes for Warzone matchmaking to actually form a game is not uncommon. The 20-minute waits occur after multiple timeouts. Other pre-release players reported the same in conversations with them when matches did happen.
Halo 5 fans should cross their fingers and hope these long matchmaking times are due to the low player population for early access to the game’s multiplayer. Matchmaking for the eight-player Arena modes didn’t take nearly as long, so that supposition holds for now, though somewhat tentatively.
The greater concern turns out to be with the network performance during gameplay. Multiple Warzone matches played over the last couple of days resulted in laggy play and “rubber-banding” around the map. The grenade throw button would be pushed and the character’s arm would go through the motion of throwing. A couple of seconds later, a grenade would then take off like a shot minus the arm mechanic to back it up. Other times, the character would just warp around the screen. A personal favorite was seeing the character launched off a man cannon then warped back to standing just in front of the man cannon.
Multiple disconnects were the worst part of the experience, however. The lag and warping around the screen is merely a precursor to a potential disconnect. This is particularly disconcerting because a well-played Warzone match can last 20 to 30 minutes and result in thousands of earned REQ Points. Losing the time invested in a match combined with the potential REQ Points is the definition of frustrating.
The connection issues experienced in Halo 5 Warzone are vexing because of the aforementioned dedicated servers. The game was played on an internet connection that’s never given issues with Destiny, Call of Duty, and other titles. Additionally, the lagging, warping, and disconnects were not experienced in the Halo 5 Arena modes, suggesting the potential networking problems are specific to the larger Warzone mode with its 24 players and multiple AI combatants.
It’s clear why 343 Industries elected to hold off with additional game modes at the launch of Halo 5, such as Big Team Battle. The amount of focus on the Xbox One exclusive’s multiplayer after the dismal launch of The Master Chief Collection makes it understandable that the 343 would limit the different modes at launch to manage stability.
Warzone in Halo 5 sets a new standard in multiplayer fun when it works. The ability to call in an ever escalating arraignment of weapons and vehicles combine with the lock solid gameplay possibly surpasses other holiday competitors like Star Wars: Battlefront. However, it will be wise to wait until after the game’s launch at midnight to grade the multiplayer.
[Images via Halo Waypoint]