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Halo 5: Guardians

Platform(s): Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: 343 Industries
Release Date: Oct. 27, 2015


Xbox One Preview - 'Halo 5: Guardians'

by Adam Pavlacka on Nov. 11, 2014 @ 12:01 a.m. PST

Halo 5: Guardians is the next installment in the saga of the Master Chief, with more content, and larger in scope than its predecessor, built from the ground up with a brand new and more powerful engine.

With the release of Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Xbox One owners are not only getting access to all four core Halo games, but they're also getting early access to the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta. Running for three weeks, from December 29, 2014, to January 18, 2015, the multiplayer beta is designed to build hype for the Halo brand and provide developer 343 Industries with some early feedback about next year's game.

Unlike many console "betas," which often seem more like demos than actual beta software, the Halo 5 multiplayer beta will actively test elements of the game, according to 343. In addition to the gameplay and network stat tracking that 343 has planned, beta participants will be encouraged to offer constructive feedback. In fact, the playlists chosen for weeks two and three of the beta will be determined, in part, by player requests.

Sitting down with an early version of the Halo 5 multiplayer beta, it was immediately obvious that 343 has been playing around with the Halo formula in an attempt to freshen things up. Most noticeable is the increased mobility.

Spartans in Halo 5 have the ability to hover while jumping, perform a dash in any direction, climb onto raised surfaces, sprint for an unlimited amount of time, and slide. The unlimited sprint is counterbalanced by the fact that your shields don't recharge while you are sprinting.

The armor abilities from Halo 4 are gone, as they had the potential to cause an unbalanced match. Yes, each armor ability had a counter, but if you chose the wrong loadout, you may not have had easy access to the correct counter. In Halo 5, all of the Spartans have the same abilities, which appear to be linked to the increased mobility.

For example, you can do a rushing melee attack by sprinting to full speed and then dash into an opponent to attack. Connect in the front to shatter their shield. Connect in the back for a one-hit kill. Another is the ground pound, which allows you to jump into the air and smash down onto an unsuspecting opponent. It causes a massive amount of damage but is a slow move, so if you get caught by it, you probably had it coming.

Hovering while shooting is now a thing, and it can be useful for getting over cover. With that said, hovering while shooting also makes you a relatively stationary target. Hovering for a half-second while you take someone out is good. Hovering for an extended period of time means you're going to get blasted out of the sky.

Speaking of shooting, every weapon in Halo 5 now has a smart scope or zoom function. Although it looks like the standard Call of Duty "aim down sights" feature at first glance, there is no mobility hit here. While the zoom does make it easier to line up a distant shot, an opponent can de-scope you at any time by simply shooting you. You always have the option of shooting from the hip, in grand Halo tradition. Smart scope is just another choice in your arsenal.

Communication between team members is always a challenge when it comes to pick-up games, as not everyone plays with a mic and headset. Halo 5 tries to address that issue by introducing context-sensitive team chatter. While playing a multiplayer game, each character makes announcements based on where they are and what they are doing in the game. This isn't meant to replace voice chat — a well-coordinated team is still the better option — but if you have randoms who aren't talking, the AI chatter can reveal key information in a timely fashion. One of the 343 representatives told us that in addition to being useful, they also hoped that the AI chatter could help teach new players the importance of team communication.

Another small tweak to the communication is the global weapon drop announcement. Any time a power weapon is due to spawn, the game announces it for all to hear. You'll know exactly when and where, for example, the sniper rifle appears on the battlefield.

During our hands-on time with the multiplayer beta, we got the chance to try three different maps. Our group started out playing team slayer on Truth and followed it up with more slayer on Empire. Truth is a remake of the classic Halo 2 map Midship, though it seems to have increased in size to account for the faster movement options. Empire is set in a futuristic city, and the map makes excellent use of vertical space. Although playing through both was fun, neither felt radically different from traditional Halo. Tweaked, yes. Completely different? Not at all. Then we switched to Breakout.

Breakout is a new mode for the Halo franchise that was inspired by paintball. It features two teams going head-to-head, and each player only has one life. If you die, you go into spectator mode until the round is over. The first team to win five rounds takes the match.

Despite sounding straightforward, Breakout was the star of our time with the beta. Knowing you only have one life forces a slightly different play style, and the tension ratchets up quite a bit. Some rounds were fairly even, with the teams losing players at the same pace. In other rounds, one team would quickly get ahead, but even with a 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 player advantage, a team wasn't guaranteed victory. More than once, we saw a single player persevere to win the round for his team. We could easily see Breakout becoming a staple at eSports events.

It's also worth noting the map used for our Breakout matches, Crossfire. Designed to look like it was being played in a VR training simulation, Crossfire features a lot of angular corners and neon colors. If it weren't for the Spartans on the field, you could easily mistake it as a level from a new T.R.O.N. game. One of the 343 developers pointed out that Crossfire could be edited in Forge, so it is very likely that we'll see plenty of custom maps for Breakout once the final game drops in the latter half of next year.

Lastly, there are the beta customization items. By playing Halo: The Master Chief Collection and watching "Halo: Nightfall," you'll be able to unlock certain customization items in the beta. Use those in the beta, and they will remain unlocked in the retail version of Halo 5. Microsoft did something similar with exclusive beta items in Gears of War 3.

While you probably don't want to drop $60 on Halo: The Master Chief Collection just to try out Halo 5: Guardians, for Halo fans who have already purchased the collection, getting access to the Halo 5 multiplayer beta is a definite bonus.

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