Over the past couple of weeks, players who bought Halo: The Master Chief Collection have been able to try out some of the multiplayer offerings from the upcoming Halo 5: Guardians. The game will be the second Halo sequel developed by 343 Studios following the split of Bungie from Microsoft. They were last responsible for Halo 4, a game that divided fans somewhat for the dramatic departure from some of the traditional gameplay mechanics of the series. That didn’t stop it from receiving a strong positive reception and break sales records for the franchise though.
Now that 343 Studios have had plenty of time to map out what they want the series to evolve into and enough experience in working on Halo games, Halo 5 should be a significant improvement on their last effort. Especially when you consider that they have far more powerful hardware available to utilize in the form of the Xbox One. While details on Halo 5: Guardians (we still don’t particularly like the subtitle) have been somewhat sparse since it was first announced, Microsoft have released some information. What is known is that the game will take a unique approach to storytelling this time around, focusing not just on the exploits of Master Chief but also on Spartan Locke who is looking for missing hero (as teased in Halo 2: Anniversary). This points to a change in the way the campaign will be handled, but does the recent beta also suggest a more revolutionary change in gameplay or more of an evolution of the ideas from previous instalments.
The involvement of the professional competitive players is evident from the get go. While Halo titles have always emphasised the importance of effective teamwork over individual skill, the beta suggests that the latest entry will but more focus on it than ever before though. Playing with a team and communicating properly make winning all that much easier. 343 Industries though have also made it almost as fun and rewarding to play by yourself though thanks to the addition of voice commands given automatically by other players. These alert you to all sorts of things, from what weapons the enemies have to where they are on the map, so that you always feel part of a team and are not left out of the loop.
Other modifications and additions though are far more noticeable. These include a new climbing mechanic that allows players to reach platforms they can’t simply jump onto. This allows obstacles to be overcome in a quicker fashion and gives a more dynamic feel to how you can get about. The other changes are also focused on movement, with thrusters also added. These do exactly what you would probably guess, providing a momentary boost into any direction. They aren’t overly powerful, so don’t break anything in terms of gameplay, but do allow for a nice way to quickly evade enemy fire or surprise an enemy.
The most contentious addition is undoubtedly the sprint feature that first appeared in Halo 4. It was the first signal to fans that 343 Industries were looking to update how Halo games played and it still feels just as out of place in Halo 5: Guardians. The main gripe is that it seems to have been added just to artificially speeds up gameplay and it can frustrate immensely when an opponent can make a sprint escape with little penalty. Overall though these gameplay mechanics are all useful and, more importantly, fun to use. Unlike in previous Halo titles, movement in the beta felt much more fluid and natural, something that is definitely welcome.
The other big inclusion is the fact that every weapon now has the option of aiming down the sight. This is something brand new to the series but it isn’t as big of a change as many fans initially feared it might be. It does instantly remind you of modern FPS but in Halo 5: Guardians it really doesn’t have that much of an effect on the way the game is played. Firing from the hips is just as effective as it has always been for weapons such as the SMG and Assault Rifle, while the fact that you can aim down the sight is a nice preference for those who like to play that way.
Many feared that these various changes would take away what fundamentally makes a Halo game. But despite all of the new additions significantly altering gameplay, everything seems to work in such a way that it builds on what worked in previous games rather than throwing anything essential away. What is most important though is that it still feels very much like a Halo game rather than just another generic shooter. It’s also brought the franchise closer to the modern behemoths of online gaming like Call of Duty, making it a more attractive game to fans of those types of titles, while retaining its unique identity.
What will please many Halo fans however is the fact that many of the customizable loadout options seem to have been removed. Games start with every single player having the same weapons, this balances the game superbly and means players will now have to rely more often on skill. Armor abilities also look to have been assigned to the trash, with players now just able to carry out some select moves in matches like the rest of those involved. One complaint seems to be the lack of diverse weapon choices in matches, leaving players with almost a complete reliance on the Battle Rifle. Speaking of which, the Battle Rifle works great. It is balanced and can handle itself in most situations and takes quite a bit of talent and practice to fully master.
The beta obviously didn’t include every map or mode that will come with the final game. It did include some standard fare for Halo in the form of Team Slayer, which looks set to be the go-to game mode for most players as usual, but also some new game types. One was a game called Stronghold, which operates like Domination in Call of Duty, teams shave to control two out of three points to be able to score. The other is a stripped down back-to-basics game mode called Breakout. Here players only have one life per round and much eliminate the other team on a small narrow map without relying on radar, meaning that is looks set to be the ultimate test of skill for players. In terms of maps, there was nothing spectacular but all of the choices were solid and offered plenty of tactical options for teams.
It’s important to remember that there is still a very long time until Halo 5: Guardians will hit store shelves. That gives 343 Industries a lot of time to make changes to the game, refine the gameplay and address issues brought up by players. So some of the gripes brought up here might be eliminated for the final game. Early impressions though are very good and from the looks of it, the next Halo game will definitely be worth playing.