Developer 343 Industries handed out Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta early access codes to press and Xbox One preview program members last weekend. I was one of the lucky ones to receive a code and managed to squeeze in some playtime despite travelling. With the beta launching Monday for all Halo: The Master Chief Collection owners, consider this an impression-slash-preview article on whether the new movement, smart scope mechanics, and other changes are an improvement or detriment to the classic Halo formula.
The Halo 5 multiplayer beta preview featured two maps – “Truth” (a remake of “Midship”) and Empire – with four versus four team slayer as the only mode available. This was a true arena setup with everyone starting with an assault rifle and pistol, while the battle rifle, DMR, SMG, and other weapons available around the map for pickup. Additionally, “Truth” featured a special energy sword called “Prophet’s Revenge” on a raised platform in the middle while “Empire” spawns sniper rifles on either side of the map at timed intervals.
More maps, modes, and weapons will be coming as the beta progresses. Developer 343 Industries even is offering the chance to vote for either the rocket launcher or Hydra, as revealed in a recent video update. Until then, here are my impressions of what’s in place so far.
THINGS TO LIKE
The Halo 5 beta ran solidly. This may change as more people get online and really stress the servers, but it was a real breath of fresh air after the problems with The Master Chief Collection. The only time I had a matchmaking issue was after a match ended and trying to find a new set of games.
The graphics are impressive even at 720p. “Truth” in particular is a fantastic map to look at. I’m more of an art style guy over a pixel counter, so the curves and purple hues of the Covenant spaceships look gorgeous. The only thing I found disconcerting was the way the blue team could blend into some areas of the “Truth” map, making them harder to spot at times.
The new Spartan animations are also smooth with some of the movements like clamber and thrust looking pretty slick.
Gunplay is vastly improved over Halo 4. I’ve been playing an unhealthy amount of Destiny lately. For all of its problems, the gunplay in Bungie’s shooter is as solid and pleasing as they become. The gunplay of Halo 5 feels superior so far.
The assault rifle and SMG are finally viable weapons to use in a match so that players don’t have to scramble to find a battle rifle or other weapon to be competitive. The sniper rifle can still dominate a map in the right hands, while the energy sword is still as cool to use as it is deadly. The sword does fill the screen, however.
The movement changes feel like a natural evolution of the Halo franchise versus the tacked on, “me too” nature of the Spartan abilities in Halo 4. Sprinting in Halo will always be a hotly discussed topic among the franchise faithful, but I can also understand whey 343 Industries felt the need to speed the gameplay up as I explain below. That said, the combination of the thrust pack and clamber just feel right to me and help with movement around the map without going overboard to the level of Titanfall or Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. I didn’t get much use out of the ground pound move, however, so we’ll have to wait and see on that one.
THINGS NOT TO LIKE
Medals and Announcer
The medals and announcer need to be toned down. This appears to be one area where 343 Industries appears to be following the crowd of other shooters by rewarding players with a badge/medal for every kill, assist, and almost any other action.
For example, I was being shot at by an enemy player who was then killed by a teammate. I received a “Distraction” medal because of this. I felt like I was being rewarded for doing nothing. Developer 343 Industries should look back at Halo 3 as a model to follow because the over-the-top announcer voice and medals are distracting.
The developer completely changed the pitch of the shield regeneration sound. I’m oddly okay with sprint, but am enough of a purist to not like the change to this higher pitch sound.
JURY STILL OUT
My son’s 13 to 15-year-old friends were over recently and fired up Halo 4 since it supported 4-player split-screen on the Xbox 360. One of them remarked how it was weird that there is no sprint in Halo. When he was told there was sprint in Halo 4, he still didn’t feel like it was fast enough.
Ultimately the use of sprint comes down to map design to support the faster movement. “Truth” and “Empire” do support the updated movement well, but we’ll have to see how the rest of the maps perform.
Is it aim down the sights, or just a variation on the animation from previous Halo games? This is another hotly discussed topic since it is definitely new on weapons like the assault rifle. Aiming does provide a bonus though by reducing the spread, something new to the assault rifle and SMG. This was confirmed in a recent Eurogamer interview.
Spartan Voices and Announcer
The addition of Spartan voice during gameplay is a mixed bag. I like that you hear a callout that someone picked up a battle rifle or other weapon. I can’t say that I’m keen on another voice (Spartan or announcer) calling out when the power weapons will spawn. That feels a little too much like hand-holding after so many games where that was not called out.
We’ll have to wait and see how the new competitive rank system turns out. So far, it appears to be on the right track. Halo 5 grades the first 10 games you play in and continues to move you up or down based on your individual performance and win/loss record. The last part may be a bit grating because there’s no guarantee that you will be on a good team capable of winning even if you perform spectacularly. This will have to be monitored over the long-haul to see how it affects ranking.
[Images via Halo Waypoint]