For me, multiplayer games are simply a collection of mechanics. I look at things like player movement, bullet dynamics, and level design, and what drives me is understanding how they work and then mastering them. Few games grab me enough to warrant devotion. Halo is the one that grabbed me the hardest.
The second map I played, called Empire, is larger than Truth, and features two Sniper Rifles located on opposite sides of the map. The majority of the encounters felt close and intimate thanks to the many rooms and platforms surrounding the more open central area. I found myself moving from area to area around the edges of the map dispatching enemies as I went, with really intense fights happening where the Sniper Rifles spawned. There are many paths to take, and getting from one side of the map to the other is a quick journey once you understand the layout. It wasn’t as fast paced as Truth, but I was never without an enemy for long in a 4v4 match.
Crossfire, the third and final map, has been designed for a brand new gametype called Breakout. Breakout is a round-based team game, with each team member getting a single life per round, and the first team to kill the other wins the round. Win five rounds and you win the match. At the beginning of each round, players are vaulted into a very paintball-esque arena, and each side has one Battle Rifle at their disposal. The games I played were extremely fast and exciting. Teamwork was essential and movement needed to be very calculated. Going rogue felt dangerous, because being outnumbered in a gunfight almost guaranteed death. It was fun, but I can see a good team of four making it very frustrating for players who prefer to run solo.
Halo 5 also includes an unexpectedly awesome addition: in-game audio cues for enemy locations and weapon spawns. It’s subtle and not immediately noticeable, but it’s a brilliant mechanic that I didn’t even know I wanted. If your teammate gets sniped, in-game audio from his Spartan will announce where the bullet came from using classic callouts like "Red Street" and "Mid." It will take time to learn these cues, but I think they’ll make playing solo a much more enjoyable experience. It reminds me of audio I’d hear watching a Major League Gaming match, which makes sense considering 343 recently hired a few very accomplished Halo professionals to work on Halo 5.
The beta also introduces a slew of new mechanics that felt strange, but also familiar. Gone are the loadouts introduced in Halo 4 and the collection of Armor Abilities from Halo Reach. Instead, each player starts with the same loadout with an overall focus on mobility.
Sprinting is on by default and you can now do it infinitely. Your shields will no longer recharge while sprinting, which makes great escapes that much more difficult. Sprinting in Halo will always feel weird to me, but having recently played the older games, I think I can finally say I’m glad it’s in there. Reaching full speed while sprinting and pressing crouch also enables the new slide mechanic, which should make shotgun-wielding foes even more annoying.
You can use that same Thruster Pack to activate the Stabilizer ability while airborne. Pressing the L trigger in midair will allow you to float down with increased accuracy. It helps when trying to avoid that grenade that’s just been dropped at your feet or if you need to finish someone off who’s below you, but I didn’t use it much in my playtime.
All of these mobility abilities make Halo feel faster than ever, but when you’re not using them, everything feels slow and kind of clunky. You still can’t jump very high and your default speed feels unbearably slow. I long for the days of the floaty Halo 2 physics. Halowas always much slower than most modern FPS games, which I liked, but adding this mobility makes me think they can increase the base movement speed and jump height to better match the fast paced environment they’ve created.
With all of these changes it’s clear that 343 is trying to recapture the e-sports audience. And because of this, the Halo 5: Guardians beta actually feels like a step backwards. But that step is bringing the series back to what made Halo great. By simplifying the gameplay and fine-tuning a few key mechanics 343 has made what feels like an extremely polished experience. The beta feels like a great combination of what past Halogames did right, and I can’t wait to jump back in.