Every couple of years, a game comes along that blows everyone away and has every other game chasing its tail. It’s been seen before with Grand Theft Auto spawning countless open world games, and Naughty Dog’s Uncharted for action games. In 2008, Epic Games put out Gears of War 2, which featured a brand new mode called Horde. Five players would go up against wave after wave of the Locust Horde with increasing difficulty, and it made for one of the best parts of an already amazing game. Plenty of others have tried to follow in its footsteps– Saints Row: The Third, Transformers: War for Cybertron– but only Call of Duty’s Zombie mode and Halo’s Firefight have really stuck around.
Firefight was (supposedly) something Bungie had planned for Halo 3’s release in 2007, but had to scrap until 2009’s Halo 3: ODST side story. It’d be an understatement to say that Firefight was the highlight of that game, with Halo’s skull modifiers and a shared lives system making for genuine tension in each round as four players went up against the Covenant. Halo Reach went even grander with this concept, adding in different variants, such as a Versus mode and one where players could only use rocket launchers. Sadly, it was absent from Halo 4 and replaced with the episodic Spartan Ops adventures. But now it’s back for Halo 5.
While the actual Firefight mode won’t make its full debut until the summer as a Warzone variant, 343’s allowing people to sample it with a beta this weekend. There’s thankfully no restrictions or hoops you have to jump through to get it, you just go to the Warzone option in the main menu and it’ll be the first option highlighted. Like Reach, there’s thankfully matchmaking, so you aren’t spending half your day asking friends if they’ll have plans after work and you can jump right into the action. You can also join mid game, and save for two brief screen freezing moments, I didn’t encounter any bugs or glitches while playing with friends.
Halo 5 increases the Spartan count to eight, starting each Firefight mission off with the Spartans flying in on Pelicans. True to Warzone fashion, you kick things off by killing low level enemies, like Grunts for the Covenant or Crawlers for Prometheans. You spend two rounds fighting one faction of aliens, then three rounds fighting the other. As the rounds progress, there’s more enemies you go up against, including special bosses, and then multiple bosses for the final round. That’s it.
To make the eventual onslaught of enemies easier to go through, the REQ system from Warzone classic is included. It’s definitely helpful when the shit hits the fan and bigger and badder enemies come out, such as Promethean Knights or Hunters. Sure enough, Firefight Warzone maintains the need for cooperation that the last two iterations did so well, and it’s a blast to take out aliens with your friends. Unfortunately, those moments of fun only truly come in the later rounds, which is part of the problem.
The original Firefight mixed things up by adding in the Skulls; one round, enemies could be throwing grenades like it was going out of style, and the next they would have extra health. It made things unpredictable and chaotic, but also a ton of fun. Halo 5’s Firefight lacks the Skulls (at least, in the beta) and as such, falls into a formula. Within two or three games, I more or less knew how things were going to progress in each round. For some people, it’ll be so routine that they could play and win with their eyes closed. Perhaps more problematic, it’s just the typical enemies on both sides that get to shine here. You’d think that eight players would mean an appearance of the Covenant Scarab or Kraken, but neither are anywhere to be found. Neither, for that matter, is anything that could make the final round or two more tense, such as reintroducing the shared lives system or forcing the Spartans to hold their own at a specific point for evacuation.
Halo 5’s campaign had moments where players would see the Covenant and Prometheans fighting each other, and it’s a shame that this Firefight doesn’t take advantage of that easy setup. The split between the two factions following the events of Halo 4 make it more than logical for them to do war, even if the setup for the multiplayer in this game is that it’s all a simulation. Prometheans don’t announce their presence the way the Covenant do; they just warp in at the worst moments. It would’ve been great and a lot of fun if either faction could swoop in and show up to make things more complicated for the Spartans and the other team. Here’s hoping that there’s more they’re holding off from the beta or that you can make your own version in custom games.
More maps are going to be included in Firefight Warzone when it launches in the summer, but the only one available for the weekend beta is Escape from ARC. It’s more of a Warzone map than it is a Firefight map; it’s too big for eight players, and I spent a lot of my time schlepping it from one enemy drop point to another like I was trying to catch a bus. The REQ system means that you only get vehicles once you’ve unlocked them, and there are no other ones available on the map, so hope you like getting your cardio in! With any luck, the other maps (343 hasn’t given out a particular number) will be smaller and not so spread out in enemy placement.
Make no mistake, Halo 5’s decision to bring back Firefight is a smart one. It’s a blast when things get rolling and your back’s against the wall with your fellow Spartans; that I can’t argue. But it doesn’t feel like Firefight Warzone so much as it is Warzone with a Firefight-ish skin layered on top. While I had fun and loved killing bad guys with my friends, it doesn’t take full advantage of the possibilities it has with the Skulls and two factions at war. It’s fun and will hold your attention, but it doesn’t demand to be a nightly thing like vanilla Warzone or Grifball does.
How have you been enjoying Firefight Warzone? Let us know in the comments below.