After the underwhelming release of 343 Industries Halo 4, the next numbered entry in the franchise, Halo 5: Guardians is set for release sometime this year. For those of you who own the Halo: Master Chief Collection on Xbox One, the beta is running from December 29, 2014 through January 18, 2015. As is usual, the beta is focused exclusively on the arena portion of the online multiplayer aspect of Halo 5: Guardians.
After downloading 10GB worth of Halo 5 goodness, it’d be a lie to say my personal hopes for the beta were high. Halo 4 felt like an alternate-world Halo game, and the Master Chief Collection simply didn’t work. Rejoice friends, for the beta is pretty damn enjoyable. According to 343 Industries, the beta is completely hosted on dedicated servers at 60fps. It certainly, shows. Matches were found quickly, and played often. Do keep in mind that this is a beta so lag and some disconnect issues are abound. but overall everything is far more stable than the Master Chief Collection.
The first thing I noticed about the “arena” portion of Halo 5 multiplayer, was the commitment to supplementing the story of Guardians. Before you even download the beta, you’re greeted with a cinematic of a group of Spartan IVs standing behind the Arbiter and the Halo:Nightfall TV series lead, Agent Locke. The two discuss Master Chief, and reveal he’s being hunted for going AWOL. It’s Locke’s duty to hunt down the Master Chief, and from the looks of it, the Arbiter is keen on helping, though he states that Master Chief must have his reasons. Whether or not these cinematics play throughout an arena season has yet to be revealed, though like the Spartan Ops from Halo 4, this seems likely.
But enough of the story crap, let’s get down to why you’re here – gameplay. Remember, these impressions are based on the first week of the beta, which includes one gametype: team slayer (team deathmatch) and two maps: Empire and Truth. As the beta progresses, 343 Industries promises to release new maps and gametypes with the next batch of content dropping on January, 2 2015.
First and foremost, Halo 5 is fast. Out of all the entries in the franchise, this one is all about traversal. The agile Spartan IV soldiers are nimble and squishy. They hit fast, but go down quick. As for traversal, players now have more options to them in combat helping them get into and out of firefights. Like Advanced Warfare these spartans have the ability to do a burst strafe using the thrusters on the back. This short burst allows them to slide around corners and get into cover, or traverse a gap their jump cant quite reach. This burst does come with a short cooldown limiting the ability to spam the maneuver.
The next addition to the game, and certainly my favorite, is the hover. When your character is aerial, aims down the sights of your weapon (which looks badass as hell) and you will hover in place for a few seconds. This move allows a tactical view of the area ahead, and helps give you the jump on unsuspecting enemies. Careful though, a space-age soldier hovering in the air just screams “shoot me.”
Another aerial maneuver is the ground pound. While in the air, clicking on both analog sticks and holding them breaks you out of the first-person perspective and give you a view of your character and the area below and allows you to control your landing reticule. After a few seconds, your thrusts build enough thrust to send you to the floor, plummeting like a comet and delivering a deadly pound to an unsuspecting foe. Hard to pull of, but cool nonetheless.
The final addition to the Halo 5 players arsenal is the sprint and shoulder charge. If you’ve played any shooter, you know that clicking on the left analog stick allows your character to sprint for a short duration of time. In Halo 5 that sprint is indefinite. Hitting melee during a sprint will initiate a shoulder charge that helps to clear a short distance and damages any enemy in your path. This move is excellent for clearing space in a short-to-mid-range firefight, but as you might’ve expected, leaves you vulnerable should you miss.
As for the maps themselves, Truth, the Halo 2 Midship remake, stands out on it’s own as a gem. Although, the color palette of red and blue enemies left me squinting at times throughout the purple map. Empire on the other hand is a beautiful asymmetrical map with interesting spaces surrounding the power weapons. On Empire, the power weapons are the ol’ sniper rifle. One side of the map houses the sniper inside some tight quarters making for some tense hand-to-hand combat. The opposite side of the map places the sniper in an open area, encouraging teamwork to secure the item, and rewarding the winner with an open alley to snipe from.
A major gripe with the beta so far is the kill-cam. Kill-cams have a history they punish players who managed to find nice hiding spots. Additionally, the kill-cam as it stands simply doesn’t work. Most of time, the only thing that shows is the time after you’re killed, rekindling the rage you felt when you first died. Followed by the familiar “beep, beep, BEEEEEP” of the respawn timer that takes you to a black screen before throwing you back into the action. But surely that is more of a server issue.
As for the most impressive aspect of the Halo 5 beta so far, the trophy has to go to the design aesthetics. The user interface is sleek, and positively Halo in vibe and sound. Even the Announcment of the respawn of the power weapons is a wonderful addition from Halo 4 that encourages teams to fight for their weapons.