I like to consider myself a seasoned veteran of first-person shooters. I’ve been playing them pretty consistently since Goldeneye 64 took over my life at the height of the N64’s popularity. That said, I’m still pretty much a fresh fish when it comes to the ocean that is Halo multiplayer. In fact, other than my official introduction to the Halo series via Halo: The Master Chief Collection, I only have a few online matches from Halo 2 under my belt. Despite my lack of experience with the franchise’s version of competitive multiplayer — my primary interest in Halo 5: Guardians is its single-player campaign — I decided to try my hand at the next Halo’s Multiplayer Beta currently underway on the Xbox One.
Having recently played a few matches of Halo 2 multiplayer, thanks to the aforementioned collection that is finally running up to snuff, I’m pretty familiar with the general control scheme of Halo games. That doesn’t mean I’m ready for the big-time yet, because I’m still getting my ass handed to me regularly when I do venture online. It’s pretty obvious that there is a steep learning curve when it comes to mastering Halo’s gameplay mechanics, because I’ve encountered more than my fair share of players with impressive skill sets. The plus side to dying so much, however, is you learn different moves and methods via the kill cam to help make yourself a better player.
Upon firing up the Halo 5 Beta, I encountered some matchmaking issues early, often finding myself stuck in a matchmaking lobby without the ability to back out and try again. Because this is a beta, I won’t be focusing on any networking issues at this time as the game is still a year out; I trust 343 Industries have learned from the MCC fiasco and Halo 5 will have a much smoother launch. Despite the network problems early on, once I was able to join a match I didn’t encounter any more issues after that.
The Beta consists of one game mode, called Slayer, which has two teams of 4 players battling it out in a form of Team Deathmatch (the first team with 50 kills wins). What makes Slayer unique is the added bonus of “power weapons,” such as a sniper rifle or a sword, which will appear throughout the match and do serious damage. There are currently 2 maps featured in the Beta, and both are small-to-medium sized arena style maps that feature multiple level tiers and vantage points. The first and most aesthetically appealing map is called Empire. Set atop an industrial style skyscraper, Empire features multiple windows over-looking a series of long corridors that attach each of the map’s smaller rooms. While most of the battles take place indoors in small hallways, there are some outside sections that open up for long range sniping. Overall, the flow and design of the map kept things frantic at all times, and never once was I more than a few steps away from the action upon spawning.
The other map, named Truth, takes place aboard an alien ship and is a reimagining of sorts of one of Halo 2’s more popular maps, Midship. Like Empire, there are multiple tiers, in addition to a middle-floating platform that is a point of interest if you want to control the battlefield. These maps may not be huge, but with only 8 players battling it out, they seem bigger than what they really are. I’m curious to see what some of the larger Halo 5 maps will look like, especially if they will include vehicular warfare.
On the sound and graphics front, the Beta is sort of a mixed bag. The sound is actually very good. Weapons sound powerful, and directional sounds, such as grenades bouncing off walls and enemies running around above you, do a great job of putting you in the thick of the action. Graphically, however, there is something to be desired, but seeing as this game is still a year away, I fully expect the final version to look much better. That’s not saying it looks terrible now, but compared to other games that have come out on these new consoles, the visuals here don’t compare. While the graphics overall may not be up to snuff in their current form, weapon details and the excellent animations still manage to standout. . I’m not too concerned about the game’s presentation at this point. Halo 4 looked great on the Xbox 360, and unless we don’t start to see any major visual improvements throughout the year as we get closer to launch, I’d imagine Halo 5 will look great in its completed form as well.
In terms of gameplay, Halo 5 runs very well. Not once did I encounter any sort of framerate issues or lag during my short play period. That’s always a good sign early in development. My biggest weakness when playing Halo: Combat Evolved in the Master Chief Collection was getting used to the archaic controls. I know that this is kind of a touchy subject with Halo fanatics— and I completely sympathize with them—however, I felt like the controls in the Beta were much more accessible than the ones in the Master Chief Collection. Clicking down on the left stick allows you to sprint, while pressing B allows you to boost, if only for a split second. It doesn’t feel nearly as exaggerated as it does in Advanced Warfare, and I’m fine with that; I’d rather Halo be its own game rather than copy and paste someone else’s control scheme. Another change I noticed from the Master Chief Collection is if you hold down LT (“Smart Scope”), you won’t exactly aim down the sites while using the Auto Rifle, but you’ll zoom in a little more. This feature varies depending on the weapon, though. If I were to use a sniper rifle, battlerifle, or any other weapon that has a scope, then yes, I would enter scope mode. I understand how this change may upset Halo vets that don’t want to see Halo change for the sake of accessibility, but at the same time, seeing as I’m one of those people who they’re making the game accessible for, I’m appreciative of it.
I’ve only played a handful of matches so far, and I’m looking forward to playing the Beta a few more times before it ends January 18th, as they will be adding new content every week including new maps, weapons, and modes. Whether or not Halo 5: Guardians will be the first version of Halo multiplayer that I sink a bunch of time into remains to be seen. The gameplay feels silky smooth at 60fps, and the idea of working as a team to hold down power points on the map is rather appealing. I’m mostly interested in Halo 5: Guardians for its campaign, but I came away from the Beta feeling more at home with its control scheme when compared to the one found in the Master Chief Collection. I’m sure Halo enthusiasts will voice their opposition to these changes, but I expect them to adjust to the minor tweaks and continue to dominate the field. At least us noobs will have a fighting chance now.