Halo fans have a very discerning view of what the shooter’s multiplayer should be like. Halo 4 perhaps varied the formula too much, so 343 Industries is attempting to win back players by running an extended Halo 5 Guardians beta a full one year before the game’s official release. The multiplayer beta has been running since the end of last year on Xbox Live for all owners of The Master Chief collection to play. As a member of the astute Halo multiplayer crowd, I was initially cautious of this latest iteration of Halo‘s online mode, with 343 parading a number of big modifications to the classic multiplayer gameplay. The changes took me some getting used to, but I’ve sunk enough time into beta to believe the multiplayer may just live up to Halo fans’ expectations.
The first week of match-making was somewhat spotty, often taking quite some time to find and group with enough players in a lobby. The match-making process has gotten much quicker and smoother over the course of the beta however, so you can now find games very quickly. Matching with players of the same skill level is still somewhat question, as I’ve had games where I’ve done terribly and then played really well. The multiplayer beta is focusing on Halo‘s traditional team-based Slayer mode, with four players on each team fighting in smaller-style maps. Map design has so far proved excellent, with numerous paths and tight-knit areas for both close-quarter and ranged combat. Importantly, the maps feel very much like what you would expect in a Halo game.
The biggest, and most contentious feature of the multiplayer beta – and the entirety of Halo 5‘s multiplayer mode – are the new Spartan abilities. These ‘abilities’ are essentially a raft of new gameplay manoeuvres that allow your character to execute powerful moves on the battlefield. The abilities include a thruster pack, which allows you to quickly dash in any direction, a melee charge, clambering up walls, sliding into a crouch, a ground pound and infinite sprint. Becoming familiar with the new moves takes some time, and even after playing the beta for a week, myself and most other players are seldom using any of the new abilities other than sprint and thrust. The thrust and sprint abilities fell like a much-needed modernisation for the Halo multiplayer, and do not detract from the core shooter experience. However, I foresee only pro players making extensive use of the other ability options.
The final ability, and perhaps the most feared by core fans, is the ‘smart scope’, which is Halo‘s version of aiming-down sights. Whereas previous Halo titles only allowed you to ADS with some weapons, Halo 5 allows players to zoom in with all weapons using the left trigger. Even though I’ve spent an infinite number of hours playing Call of Duty and Battlefield with ADS, it took over a week for it to feel natural in Halo, given I’m so used to clicking the thumbstick. Boiled down, aiming down sights – like the other Spartan abilities – is again another exercise of modernising Halo, but the developers have been careful not to impact the basic gameplay. Zooming in does not give you any accuracy or damage benefits, and taking damage automatically de-zooms the player view. Hence, I’ve personally found aiming down signs useless in close-quarter combat, instead sticking with the traditional aiming from the hip and only zooming in for ranged gameplay. Halo 5 can now claim to have all the latest FPS features such as ADS, but 343 have balanced it impeccably.
My first week playing the Halo 5 beta was very much trial and error, and I found myself getting beaten to a pulp. However, once I became used to the new Spartan abilities, I started having fun and playing akin to my earlier Halo multiplayer experiences. Halo 5 is very much a modernisation of the game, but it fuses these new features perfectly with the classic Halo multiplayer experience. Staples of Halo multiplayer gameplay, such as aiming for the head and working with your team to beat the enemy, are still vital to doing well in Halo 5. The highly competitive aspect of the game also remains true – if you want to do well, it still requires skill, practice and teamwork. The Guardian‘s beta has also removed loadouts – so that everyone starts with the same weapons – and the pesky RPG-like perks that everyone dreaded.
I would encourage all Halo fans to try the Guardians multiplayer Beta. Some of the new Spartan abilities may be difficult to master or entirely useless altogether. Nevertheless, features such as the thrust and infinite sprint modernise the game without moving away form the classic Halo multiplayer experience. 343 Industries have perfectly balanced these changes to the Halo multiplayer, and gameplay still feels very much like the earlier and celebrated Halo games. Halo 5 Guardians shall not be released until the end of 2015, but judging by the multiplayer beta, fans should be excited for what lies ahead.