Halo 5: Guardians Beta – A Look At What’s To Come

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Developer 343 Industries is coming off, let’s face it, an abysmal launch of Halo: The Master Chief Collection for the Xbox One that still experiences matchmaking issues to date. 343 is aiming to use the Halo 5: Guardians Multiplayer Beta to be just that, a beta in an effort to prepare for retail launch and avoid repeating the mistakes made with Halo: MCC. With plenty of time to go before Halo 5 is released to the masses later this year and consumes the lives of Xbox gamers (no official word on a release date yet, but it will most likely be announced at this year’s E3), the data and player feedback gathered from the beta actually has a chance to be utilized by 343 and make its way into the final product. This is in direct contrast to most other console betas, which serve more of a marketing purpose as a glorified demo than as a way to actually improve the game before launch (anyone still remember Titanfall?).

Also, as a point of note: while the beta runs at 720p and 60 FPS, this has been confirmed by 343 to not be final resolution Halo 5 will run at.

Abilities

The Halo 5: Guardians Multiplayer Beta, only accessible to those who have a copy of the Master Chief Collection, runs from December 29th to January 18th and concentrates exclusively on “arena” style multiplayer matches. For the uninitiated, this translates to two teams of four Spartans battling it out in a variety of small-scale maps that cater to fast-paced combat, which is enhanced by perhaps the biggest change in the series – Spartan abilities. Not to be confused with the controversial loadouts and armor abilities from Halo Reach and Halo 4, all Spartan abilities are innately available to all players to use as they please in order to add an additional strategic dimension to the Halo gunfighting experience. In Halo 5, your Spartan now has the following abilities:

  • Smart Scope – An enhanced aim feature applicable to every gun in the game. For example, Smart Scoping with the Assault Rifle zooms in and two snazzy looking semi-circles pop up on your HUD, whereas doing it with the SMG allows you to aim down the weapon’s sights. Note that doing this will improve the spread of bullets fired from your guns, as tested in the video below. Also, using Smart Scope while in the air will cause your Spartan to hover in place for a short period of time.

  • Sprint – Hitting the sprint button allows your Spartan to run for an unlimited duration, though your shields will not recharge until you stop sprinting.
  • Slide – Crouching while sprinting will send you into a low slide, which I’ve only ever seen one other Spartan do in all of my time playing the beta so far. Maybe players will get more use out of it once we get a shotgun to slide around with?
  • Thruster Pack – A quick press of the Thruster Pack button gives your Spartan a short range dash that can be used going forward, backward, left, right, and even mid-air, but has about a four second delay before it can be used again. Try boosting left or right during one-on-one firefights to throw off your opponent’s aim, or use it to dash to safety without having to sprint so your shields can recharge sooner.
  • Clamber – Pretty simple concept here, but new nonetheless to the Halo series. Pressing the Clamber button allows for your Spartan to climb up ledges that are within reach. Clambering, in conjunction with sprinting and the Thruster Pack, can have you zipping around the map in no time.
  •  Spartan Charge – After sprinting for a short period of time, your target reticle will change from the usual circle in the middle of your screen to two brackets. Once this happens, a press of the melee button causes your Spartan to perform a flying knee into anyone foolish enough to get in the way. One hit on an enemy from behind with a Spartan Charge will result in their immediate death, though a charge from the front or side will only remove your opponent’s shields, assuming they have taken no previous damage.
  • Ground Pound – Seemingly the most gimmicky ability in game, the Ground Pound is actually a pretty useful tactic once you’ve mastered it. A direct hit on an unsuspecting foe will nab you a kill, whereas anything else will only take down their shields and leave you exposed (again, assuming no previous damage taken). Try baiting unsuspecting enemies into your location when you have the high ground, jump up, hold down the Ground Pound button, and teach that other Spartan what it feels like to be a Goomba under the boot of a certain mustachioed Italian plumber.

Also new in Halo 5 is Spartan chatter, in-game dialogue that your Spartan teammates make, which helps to facilitate communication that might not otherwise be present if one your teammates isn’t mic’d up. Hearing warnings of enemy snipers, for example, is a nice touch that definitely saved me in the beta. The possibility of being able to customize voices would be a fun feature in the final game, and was a welcome touch in Halo Reach’s version of Firefight. However, this may just be me being blinded by my desire to have Sergeant Johnson in the game.

Weapons

On the weapons front, the fan favorite Battle Rifle returns, in addition to the other popular Halo mainstays like the DMR, Pistol, and Sniper Rifle. A new gun we got to mess around with in the beta, appropriately called the “Hydra”, is a multi-shot rocket launcher that locks onto enemy Spartans and takes two direct hits to get a kill. Where things to start to get interesting is with the addition of the new “legendary” weapons. On the multiplayer map Truth, affectional dubbed “Midship 2.0” by 343, you’ll find an Energy Sword called the “Prophet’s Bane”. Aside from having a badass name and yellowish hue, the Prophet’s Bane actually increases the movement speed of its Spartan host, allowing the wielder to hunt down enemies with swift precision. My prediction is that these weapons are going to be the next evolution of Halo power-ups like Overshield and Active Camoflage. Personally, one of the most exciting aspect of these legendary weapons for now is speculating what others we’ll have in our arsenal in the final game. I’ve had a couple ideas for guns that could show up in the final game: maybe a shotgun that gives the player an overshield called “The Chief”? Or how about “Wetwork”, an SMG that grants active camouflage? Only time will tell, but for now, post in the comments below or tweet at us @NotOperating with your own legendary weapon ideas!

Game Modes

Slayer, Halo’s equivalent of Team Deathmatch, makes its return in Halo 5, in addition to two brand new modes: Breakout and Strongholds.

Breakout, set in the Speedball-like maps Trench and Crossfire, is a round based game where each player has no shields and no motion tracker. The player also starts with an SMG, pistol, one grenade, and most importantly, one life. The team with the last Spartan standing at the end of the round wins, and the first team to win five rounds wins the match. Having no shields causes you to change strategy from typical Slayer encounters to what oftentimes results in you getting one-shotted by a grenade from across the map or picked off by one of the Battle Rifles up for grabs for each team. However, if you manage to survive the initial ‘nade salvo, or make it to a safe spot before the BRs are up on their perches, Breakout provide some fun, yet stressful gameplay, especially when you are the lone Spartan against a few survivors on the enemy team.

Strongholds, a variant on the Territories mode of yore (similar to Domination in Call of Duty), has Spartans fighting over three control points. Concurrently holding two of these capture sites will allow your team to start racking up points every second. Having only one stronghold means your team won’t be getting any points at all. First team to 100 points wins the game.

As for the new ranking system in these modes, completing ten matches will place you in one of seven tiers, similar to Starcraft II’s ladder system (which isn’t surprising, considering Josh Menke helped design both systems). The tiers, in ascending order, are: Iron, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Onyx, Semi-Pro, and Pro. No need to be disappointed if you feel your placement isn’t representative of your actual skill level. Winning matches after those initial 10 will slowly but surely move you up to the next rank. Conversely, losing will drop your level down. While I can’t complain about being able to brag to my friends that I am a Pro in Strongholds or a Semi-Pro in Slayer, a little more transparency from 343 Industries as to what factors determine the initial ranking would be a welcome addition.

For some, 2014 will live in infamy as the year game developers got away with selling unfinished games. While making it up to early game adopters with special perks like a free Ubisoft game or a remastered ODST is great and all, hopefully in the future we will see finished products released, you know, when they are actually finished. As expected, the beta was not without its share of bugs and matchmaking issues. However, with the Halo 5: Guardians Multiplayer Beta, 343 Industries is taking a step in the right direction. Somehow, despite all of these changes, the game still manages to have that beloved classic Halo feel. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need a weapon.

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