Even before 343 Industries actually had a chance to show off Halo 5: Guardians‘ multiplayer, fans were already outraged. That’s because a small snippet of footage leaked ahead of Halo 5‘s planned reveal event, and it featured some pretty significant changes to the franchise’s classic formula.
Then the actual reveal event came, and 343 Industries was able to explain why they introduced the changes they did and to further detail how the multiplayer would work. The multiplayer footage still looked markedly different from any Halo that we had seen before, but there was some promising bits too, enough that gamers were more eager than ever to get their hands on the game.
Luckily, 343 Industries had already planned a Halo 5 multiplayer beta for December 2014, where anyone who purchased Halo: The Master Chief Collection could go hands-on with a significant portion of the multiplayer in a closed beta test. It was the opportunity 343 needed to see how fans responded to the game, and also a chance for gamers to see how Halo 5 actually played.
And while that multiplayer beta doesn’t go live for another week, we were able to go hands-on with an early access preview of the beta that included just a small snippet of the small snippet. There were two maps and one mode (Team Slayer) available for the 4v4 experience, and although the preview only lasted a weekend it was enough to leave us wanting more.
Although multiplayer footage might suggest that Halo 5 has abandoned the franchise’s identity, this beta proves otherwise. This is still an inherently Halo experience, from the way players use grenades and melee to nip at opponents’ shields to the design of the levels and characters. To put it another way, Halo 5 does not feel like a Call of Duty or Battlefield experience masquerading as Halo, rather this is Halo borrowing from a few of its contemporaries.
The biggest change that players will notice right off the bat is the 60 fps frame rate. Since Halo proper has never run so crisp and clean, the frame rate is a jolt to the system at first. After four mainline titles and two spinoffs, fans have come to expect a certain visual presentation, but Halo 5 helps establish that this is a legitimate next-gen game. The graphics are stellar but still very “Halo” and that frame rate makes every action smoother.
Even the weapons have their trademark look and feel, be it the Battle Rifle, the SMG, or the DMR. Again, the frame rate gives skirmishes a quicker pace, but players should find their rhythm after a few matches. This is a game with no equal, and therefore it takes time to adjust to this style of play, but it won’t take long before things start to feel familiar.
That being said, there are new bells and whistles in the Halo 5 stable that are sure to add further wrinkles to players’ tried and true strategies. Having a consistent sprint button makes getting from place to place faster, but it doesn’t alter moment-to-moment conflicts that much. Spartans are still not quick enough and their shields aren’t strong enough that a player could simply sprint away from a direct firefight, oftentimes holding your ground is the best course of action. Past Halo games have emphasized skill when it comes to these encounters and that is still true for Halo 5.
There are changes though that will surely rub some players the wrong way. Aiming in the air now triggers a hover ability for players to target enemies from above. It’s a neat trick that adds a new dynamic to the jump-happy multiplayer, but it is a bit jarring at first. Thankfully, 343 has balanced the ability enough that hovering also has its risks, chief among them that the player becomes almost like a sitting (or in this case hovering) duck. And the game also adds an option to turn the hover into a toggle, meaning players will only activate it when they want
There’s also a form of jet boost for quick dashes in any cardinal direction. Players can jump high (and camber) to ledges or simply try to strafe from incoming fire. This is one of the changes that is likely to mix up combat, but not outright change it. Now that players can skirt around in the air or reach higher ground quickly, it forces you to be a lot more cautious. It also means that firefights aren’t as straightforward, with players dashing into and out of cover or trying to enter a major conflict from new angles.
Dashing also factors into two of the game’s offensive additions: the shoulder charge and the ground pound. Now instead of a straight melee, players also have the option of smashing down on opponents from above or hitting them with immense force while sprinting. Shoulder charge still requires precision and is easy to dash away from, but the ground pound has proven a little too effective so far. Again, there’s aiming involved in both moves, but they feel the least like extensions of Halo and more like features from completely different games. At the same time though, they do give players more tools to work with. Oftentimes in Halo, if the opponent has the drop on you there isn’t much you can do, but these dash-based features give players a fighting chance.
We would say that the dashing is the biggest change for Halo 5: Guardians if it weren’t for the game’s new Smart Link system. Smart Link has been detailed before, and is essentially an ADS (aim-down sights) option for players who want it. It works exactly as players would expect, by pulling the left trigger, and zooms in a little closer on opponents. For weapons that already have a standard zoom this is nothing new, but for the Battle Rifle or the SMG it actually draws the picture in closer. 343 promises that the zoom is only visual and players are still just as accurate from the hip, but once the ADS option is presented it’s hard not to use it. It works and it’s helpful, but it’s also not something Halo has ever done before. No question, this is going to be a contentious feature among the Halo fanbase, and even though it doesn’t actually change gameplay some will certainly say the option ruins it.
Coming out of the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta preview it seemed pretty clear that this is 343’s modernization of the beloved sci-fi franchise. They’ve left many core elements the same, but introduced new wrinkles that better suit the multiplayer landscape of today. Visually the game is next-gen Halo through and through, and although the 60 fps takes a few minutes to adjust to it’s a nice and welcome change. Even the gameplay tweaks and new features don’t feel like alienations of the core concept of Halo. If nothing else, the preview left us wanting more and thankfully we won’t have to wait long to get it.
The Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta runs from December 29, 2014 to January 18, 2015.
Follow Anthony on Twitter @ANTaormina