If you’re reading this article, then you likely don’t need to be reminded about the importance of the Halo franchise to modern video gaming. From being the defining game experience on the original Xbox, to cementing its immortality all across the lifespan of the Xbox 360, to its guns-blazing arrival on Xbox One (that wasn’t without its own problems), Halo is, for many, the definitive first-person shooter experience. While the first fully new-gen game of the series, Halo 5: Guardians, isn’t due out until late next year, Microsoft and developer 343 Industries has adopted to give purchasers of Halo: The Master Chief Collection an early look at the new generation of Halo.
While the full public beta test of the new game doesn’t officially begin until December 29th, a select group of journalists and Xbox Live Preview Program members have been able to play the Halo 5: Guardians beta build today, and have been encouraged to share our thoughts about it with you.
In short, this looks like both a substantive and transformative step forward in the Halo franchise, while also being extraordinarily fun in the process.
The Changes: Faster and More Intense
The simplest, most concise way to describe the fundamental experience of playing Halo 5 is to call it exactly what it is: “fast Halo.” The overall pace of the games has been quickened by some of the new abilities that you have from the outset, specifically with the “dash” or “boost” that you can use to quickly propel yourself in any horizontal direction. In this vein, the dash ability feels very much like the dash you can use in your exoskeleton in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, although you can’t apply it to your jump. Since the jumping in Halo is already pretty substantive, it doesn’t feel like you’re really missing anything by not being able to apply it to your jump, so it may actually be closer to the dashes that pilots use while in their Titans during games of Titanfall.
While 2012’s Halo 4 introduced a few modern FPS conventions to the Halo series — most notably sprinting without the need for a power-up — Halo 5 takes that a step further by adding an aiming-down-the-sights mechanic, or “ADS.” Unlike other FPS mainstays like in most Call of Duty entries, the ADS in Halo 5 is not something that can be held down indefinitely. If you get hit while aiming down, then you can pop out of ADS, and some guns don’t seem to fully support firing with ADS being active. Either way, though, the limitations don’t feel like they’re drawing you back: it feels like it has a tactical purpose while also contributing to the game’s overall balance.
The other significant difference lies in weight. Where other Halo games saw these quick and very fluid movements from Master Chief, Noble 6, and the SPARTAN-IVs, playing as a SPARTAN in Halo 5 feels like it’s a far more substantial experience. Those familiar with Halo mythology know that the MJOLNIR power armor worn by SPARTANs adds a significant amount of mass to the human body. Without his armor, the Master Chief weighs about 290 pounds, while with his armor on he weighs just under half-a-ton.
Of course, since the armor helps augment and enhance a SPARTAN’s immense physical ability, they can still move quickly and forcefully, and Halo 5 is poised to be the first game in the series that makes you feel like your melee attack has the force of 1000 pounds behind it. Sprinting brings a “clunking” sound effect under your feet, and it becomes very clear that something — or someone — that can move that much weight that fast is extremely dangerous, and it helps add to the “realism” of the experience.
The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same
That’s not to say that this beta is entirely without familiar Halo elements, though. While most will likely label the familiar elements as being transferred over from Halo 4, veteran Halo players may also see some of the DNA of the Halo 2 experience integrated into the overall feeling of this game’s mechanics. In the same way that Halo 2 was a very substantive upgrade over the core experience found in Halo: Combat Evolved, this build of Halo 5‘s multiplayer feels like it’s aiming for amping up the competitive nature of the game with its increased pace being balanced by some of the most familiar elements to the Halo experience: the weapons.
Seemingly in a callback to the devastating power of the original Halo game’s magnum pistol, the equivalent weapon in Halo 5 seems to have a similar — though not equal — place in the arsenal of the overall game. The trusty assault rifle, given a rather substantial makeover for Halo 4, seems to be harking back to its status in the first three games by losing an element of the accuracy that 343 had given it in the series’ last game. This assault rifle seems closer to the version found in Bungie’s Halo games, acting as far more of a blunt instrument on the battlefield instead of a scalpel. Also returning in this build of the game are the battle rifle and the DMR, both very solid alternatives to the assault rifle if accuracy is one of your more primary concerns. The beam sword also returns here, and adds to your speed while wielding it, while also bringing back the charge-and-slash dynamic that first arrived in Halo 2.
Also returning, of course, is your shield and its recharge ability when not taking damage. In this game there are actually two bars on your HUD that represent your health, with one being your shield and one, apparently, being your life. Both are rechargeable after taking fire, but it will not actively begin recharging until you stop sprinting. This just further adds to the balance of a game if you’re in an intense firefight, and will keep you and your direct foe from just sprinting away from each other all the time. The grenade mechanics also largely make a return in familiar form from previous Halo games, with the UNSC-created frag grenades and the Covenant-created plasma/sticky grenades being available for this beta. Grenades largely bounce the way you expect them to with the plasma being lighter and more accurate than the frag, but they seem to detonate just slightly faster.
The familiar elements combined with the new additions largely make for a surprisingly unique experience in the scheme of the series that feels both like a helpful catch-up with other FPS franchises, as well as the natural evolution of the series going forward.
Halo 5: Guardians was always going to be one of the biggest game releases of 2015, but with even greater pressure on 343 Industries to deliver since it will be the first game released exclusively on new hardware. As a beta experience, this one is surprisingly complete and tight, with reactive controls, a breakneck pace, surprisingly minimal bugs, and a shockingly stable online lobby system. It was actually far easier to find a game in this beta test than its been to find a game in The Master Chief Collection, which seems to indicate that Microsoft and 343 definitely want to make a solid impression and positive buzz surrounding the forthcoming addition to the Halo franchise.
They’ve succeeded. Every single person I spoke with in this game said that while Halo 5 was always on their radar for next year, it just shot very close to the top, if not right at it, on their list of most anticipated 2015 video games. We’ll just have to see if they can build on the material here and give it an appropriate amount of polish. This is a beta test after all — but its damn sure the most complete and well-playing beta that a lot of people have ever played.
I think we’ll be ready to jump into battle with the Master Chief again. The Halo 5 beta opens up to all Master Chief Collection buyers on December 29th, and will run through January 18th.
Special thanks to Corey Dempsey and Reid Surrett of Geeks + Gamers for their assistance with this inside look at the Halo 5 beta.
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