I watched 60 minutes of unedited Halo 5 multiplayer gameplay, and this is what I learned.
Written by Daven Mathies.
If you haven’t already watched Ready Up Live’s 60 minutes of un-commentated Halo 5 multiplayer beta gameplay, then you can do so here. Now, if you’re not quite as hardcore about Halo as I am, then it is completely understandable that you likely don’t want to sit through 60 minutes of gameplay footage. That’s why I’ve watched it for you, and have prepared my observations and opinions below.
First, a little bit about me. The reason I own a gaming console at all is because of the original Halo. I was a big fan of Bungie’s games, having been an outspoken proponent of Myth II: Soulblighter as the superior RTS game to StarCraft (and I feel confident that I won’t get flamed for saying this, not because people agree with me, but because nobody even remembers Myth). So when I wasn’t leading virtual armies to victory on the “other b.net,” I was reading every tidbit of news I could find on Bungie. When Halo was showcased publicly for the first time at MacWorld in 1999 (here), 15-year-old me was shocked and awed. This new game became my obsession.
Then came the Microsoft buyout; Halo was to be an Xbox exclusive. The buyout was a scary time for nascent Halo fans, as it brought with it an unsure future for the game. Many of us still believe the Halo we got to play on the Xbox was inferior to what we had expected based on videos and interviews prior to the takeover. Some of my fears regarding the takeover were, however, dissuaded when I attended a Bungie FanFest that piggybacked onto MacWorld 2000. Then-Bungie community manager, Matt Soell, said, “Sometimes the best way to strike at the heart of your enemy is to let it swallow you whole.” That sounded good to be, but I had never owned a gaming console, and my parents were adamantly opposed to having one in the house. So I joined up on the 7th Column, Bungie’s online community at the time, and quickly found other Halo fans in my area.
Although I wouldn’t own my own Xbox or copy of Halo until I went to college, I still found ways to spend my weekends fragging my friends at old-school LAN parties, playing split screen on their consoles. I fell in love with Halo because it was like a sport; it didn’t try to be realistic, it simply tried to be fun. It had its own set of rules, which had a mere basis in realism, but added a layer of open creativity above that. This wasn’t Counter Strike, this wasn’t Medal of Honor. This was Halo, and it felt good. Really good.
Several years and several successful Halo games later, fans had a new reason to be cautious: Bungie regained their independence, but the Halo franchise was handed over to a new studio created within Microsoft to manage the IP: 343 Industries. Luckily, 343’s first stab at creating a game from scratch, Halo 4, turned out to be a genuinely great game, despite some negative opinions I have on aspects of its multiplayer.
The point of all of this is to say that I am about as big a Halo fan as they come. I have invested over a decade of my life into this game, and likewise, I have extremely high expectations for Halo 5: Guardians. So when I had the chance to watch an hour of multiplayer gameplay, I broke out a six-pack of cold ones, set my phone to silent, and firmly planted myself in front of my computer.
While any beta footage should be taken with a grain of a salt, as everything is subject to change before the final release, I think I have seen enough to safely say that Halo 5 will supremely kick ass in all the best ways, at least with regard to multiplayer. I’ve broken my observations into categories below.
Maps. Three maps are shown in the video, and all were small to medium in size. No vehicle maps were shown. “Breakout” was the most interesting map to me because it appears to be reminiscent of Halo: CE’s infamous “Hang ‘Em High.” While it is not a remake, it does look like a spiritual successor, taking zero cues from realistic architecture and instead putting players in an arena designed solely for the purpose of entertaining combat. Lots of catwalks, large pyramid-shaped cover pieces, and small rooms connected by open spaces provide for exciting and often unpredictable engagements. “Truth” looks to be a remake of Halo 2’s “Midship,” taking place inside a Covenant ship. Largely symmetrical, the map places an energy sword in the center atop a bridge, but the most exiting combat happens in the hallways around the perimeter. “Empire” is set in an urban, industrial area. It offers mostly close quarters combat, but has some long sight lines where skilled snipers can be deadly. While there is a primary floor where most of the action occurs, there are also plenty of higher pathways and platforms to control. There was a fair amount of both vertical and horizontal combat going on. This map felt small, but dynamic. Overall, these maps exemplify Halo’s classic focus on “arena combat” and that is very good to see.
Weapons. Firstly, no truly new weapons were showed off in this demo. Additionally, no Covenant weapons save the plasma grenade and energy sword were present. Covenant weapons have never been as popular in multiplayer, with the possible exception of Halo 2 and 3, which allowed dual-wielding a human and Covenant weapon for some pretty devastating effects. Hopefully, we will still have a plethora of weapon choices—human, Covenant, Forerunner, etc.—in the final game. But, the need for good weapon balance is also important, and it’s better to have fewer balanced weapons than a multitude of choices that includes a few outliers that may be under or overpowered. The human weapons shown were the Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR), Battle Rifle, Sniper Rifle, Submachine Gun (SMG), Assault Rifle, Pistol, and Frag grenade. Shots per kill seemed to be on par with previous games for key weapons, with a 4-shot-kill from the Battle Rifle earning a “Perfect” medal. It was difficult to analyze the power of the pistol, but it looks like it’s strength is somewhere between the Halo: CE and Halo 2 versions, although in looks and function it is more like the the former, including a 12-round magazine and a scope (more on this in a second). The SMG seems to be more lethal than before, as well, with a faster rate of fire—although this could just be due to new sound effects. The biggest change with weapons is that every weapon has a “scope” now. Fans will also notice that, aesthetically, you can now “aim down the sights” of any weapon, a departure from the traditional and controversial scoping method used in previous Halo games. Fans should note, though, that functionally this ADS scope is no different from how it worked before; it is just a visual update, and weapon accuracy remains constant whether scoped or not. Don’t worry, Halo is not becoming Call of Duty. (Long-time fans may also remember that, before its release, the original pistol was shown in a couple of videos with aim-down-sight style scope. So technically, this isn’t copying CoD at all. 😉 )
Armor Abilities. Armor abilities have always been somewhat controversial, but it looks like they are here to say. Spartans can now use a “thruster pack” to quickly dodge in any direction, or to cross longer gaps when jumping from one ledge to another. The “clamber” ability allows you to grab onto a ledge and pull yourself up, which is also helpful for long jumps. “Ground pound” brings up a targeting reticule and then slams you down, causing damage in a radius around your point of impact. “Spartan charge” accelerates you quickly forward into a full-body melée charge.
Game types. Only two game types were showed off in this video, the classic “Slayer” and the new “Crossfire”, which is basically a round-based elimination mode similar to what has been in previous Halo games but that never gained much popularity.
Graphics. The beta runs at 720p 60, and I am not sure if this is confirmed for the final game yet or not. If so, I believe this marks the first time that a Halo game runs on the console at 60 frames per second (I could be wrong—but I don’t think Halo 4 ran at 60fps). We can debate endlessly over the benefits of higher resolution versus higher frame rate, but I trust the developers to pick the right combination for the best gameplay experience, so I’m not too worried about this. Even at this early stage, the gameplay in the video runs incredibly smoothly, with no slowdowns. Other than that, it is impossible to judge the graphics of the game based on this video: YouTube’s compression is just too shoddy to get a good read on the graphics. Subjectively, at least with the maps shown, it looks like 343 has taken a conservative approach to how they use creative lighting effects in multiplayer. There is not too much high dynamic range stuff being throne around, and this is a good thing. In campaign, get as creative with the lighting as you like, but in multiplayer, players need to be able to see all areas of the screen at the same time. If your lighting engine pushes things beyond the dynamic range of your television, the engine has to determine which areas it “exposes” for, which it inevitably gets wrong. I personally prefer flatter lighting for multiplayer, so I was glad to see how these maps were lit.
Audio. Again, this is a YouTube video, but the sound effects sound really, really good. There is also a lot more “chatter,” with player characters automatically calling out things like “target spotted [in location],” “thanks for the assist,” “watch your ‘nade spam!” and more. Characters will also call out when they pick up certain weapons. Overall, this was not a distraction in the video, but in a well-organized team with players who actually communicate these things themselves, I could see this being an issue. For the majority of online games, though, most people don’t talk at all and those who do rarely say anything useful, so I think this will be a great feature. A “commander” voice also calls out intel during the match, like when power weapons are about to spawn. This may be to the dismay of hardcore Halo players, but if it means not having to tape a stopwatch to my controller, I’m all for it.
Other. The “killcam” is back. There are new control schemes, and the default one puts the “smart scope” ability on the left trigger, like CoD. Don’t fret, all other control schemes offer the traditional Halo options for scoping, grenades, melée attacks, etc. There are separate bars for shields and health, but both seemed to recharge automatically. I did not notice any health packs, anyway.
Overall impressions. It is, thankfully, much of what I would expect. The gameplay is a little faster, but still undeniably Halo. It honestly looked like a ton of fun, and all the new armor abilities did not seem to change the way the game played. I think 343 has done a commendable job of holding onto the classic Halo essence but making it all feel bright and shiny and new again. The feedback from a beta this early in the game’s development cycle can only help make the the final version even better. But mostly, the entire time I watched this video, I was yearning to grab a controller and play. Despite the fact that Halo is by no means new, just watching this gameplay was still immensely refreshing compared to all of the CoD-style shooters that have dominated the multiplayer landscape over the past several years. Overall, I am incredibly excited to get my hands on the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta when it hits on December 29th. See you there!
Written by Daven Mathies. Daven is a long-time Halo fan and freelance tech writer. You can find him on Xbox Live under his ridiculously-nerdy gamertag, StarborneRanger.