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September 2018

Halo 5: Guardians

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


Xbox One Multiplayer Preview - 'Halo 5: Guardians'

by Adam Pavlacka on Sept. 28, 2015 @ 3:00 a.m. PDT

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.

Last week, we took a look at two missions from Halo 5's single-player campaign. For today, we're jumping in to the multiplayer part of the game, which includes both Arena and Warzone modes. Unfortunately, there is no detailed information on Forge yet, as Microsoft and 343 are holding that information close to the vest.

The simplest way to describe the two modes is that Arena is more or less classic Halo multiplayer, while Warzone is the over-the-top, massive battle style of multiplayer. Which you prefer is going to come down to personal play style, but after spending a few hours with both modes, it's safe to say that there is something here for everyone.

Our time in Arena was spent playing Breakout, Capture the Flag and Slayer on a variety of different maps. These game modes have us grouping up with eight players per match (four per team), so it is a smaller and more intimate battle than anything in Warzone. If you played the Halo 5 beta at the beginning of the year, most of what's featured in Arena should be familiar, but there have been a few noticeable updates.

The biggest one is that player movement now feels smoother. It's not necessarily faster, but your ability to maneuver feels much more responsive. This is especially important when battling it out with another player for that final kill of the match. Also noticeable was the reduction in automatic player chatter. The game announcer still calls out power weapon respawns, but the number of comments has been reduced, so you're not overwhelmed with audio clutter.

Verticality is a key feature of multiplayer, with maps offering multiple routes across. There is always a way to go up, down or around, so choke points aren't a given. When and where a battle breaks out is more dependent on how your team plays than a specific map design.

Of the three modes that we played in Arena, Breakout holds the most promise. Designed for eSports play, Breakout pits two teams against each other in a single life elimination match. To win a round, you must either eliminate the other team or get the flag to the enemy base. To win a match, you must win the required number of rounds. Breakout matches are short by design, but they don't lack tension. Sometimes, rushing the center works. Other times, pulling two of your team to the sides to act as spotters offers an advantage. And sometimes, the enemy team gets the drop on you, and it's a matter of 4-v-1, with a solo player attempting a cat-and-mouse game of survival.

It's easy to see experienced teams developing specific "plays" for Breakout matches and calling them depending on what the opposing team decides to do. Even though it may not seem like it at first glance, there is a great deal of strategy that can be applied here.

Capture the Flag and Slayer benefit from the increased movement options in Halo 5 but otherwise play as you would expect. More flexibility in movement does mean a longer time to kill, so extended firefights are more likely to break out. One-shot kills are still possible, though they're not going to happen all of the time.

In contrast to Arena mode, there's Warzone. Compared to Arena, Warzone is large and bombastic; it's also a great deal of fun. Halo "purists" may turn their noses up at Warzone due to the Req system, but if all you want is a massive team-based battle with stuff happening all around you, then Warzone is your jam.

A full Warzone game is played with 24 players (12 per team). Our first match was played on Raid on Apex 7, which is a map based on Silent Cartographer. In the beginning stage of the fight, both teams had to clear out AI mobs to secure their base. Once the base was secured, there were three secondary installations to capture: one in the center of the map and two smaller ones off to either side. Capturing the secondary installations gave the controlling team the ability to use them as spawn points. If your team captured all three of them, the enemy team's main base would lose its shields, and the core would become vulnerable.

This would probably be fun enough, but Warzone takes things a step further. Instead of just fighting the enemy team, AI mobs drop into the map on a periodic basis. Killing AI bosses adds a great deal of points to your team's score, so deciding where to focus your efforts becomes a matter of strategic coordination. If you can capture all of the secondary installations, you can mount a direct assault on the enemy. However, if you take out all of the AI bosses, that may be a faster route to winning.

One extra twist is that killing the AI bosses only awards the kill to the team that makes the kill shot. If your team does most of the work but an enemy sniper makes the final shot, he'll steal your kill and take all of the points. Multiple matches were won during our time in Warzone simply because players were sneaky (or just lucky) when it came to killing the AI bosses.

Warzone also offers plenty of opportunities to play Req cards that you get from packs. Packs can be purchased with points that are earned from playing matches, so it should be a self-sustaining cycle. The more you play, the more Req packs you can open.

Req packs include weapons and vehicles. Some are unlimited use, but most are single use. That means once you use a card to call in an item, it's gone forever. As a result, players are likely to be a little judicious about when they call in the big guns. After all, no one wants to burn a Wraith card, only to have the match end 30 seconds later.

To use a card, you must have the card in inventory and have enough Req points to meet the card's level. These points are earned by playing in the current match. You always start out at level one and then level up during a match. Spent Req points recharge over time. This allows for multiple items to be called up during a single match, but it prevents players from continually spawning power weapons or vehicles on demand.

The second Warzone map we played was Escape from A.R.C. This map felt a bit more spaced out than Raid on Apex 7, but the central building was more accessible — and more exposed. Firefights tended to occur naturally here, especially given the circular nature of the building and the multiple entry points.

Interestingly enough, on both Warzone maps, the Ghost seemed to be the most popular vehicle that was spawned. Players quickly learned how to get the Ghost inside (or on top of) the various buildings to press an attack or help defend against a push. The Ghosts may not have the most powerful weapons, but they more than make up for it in sheer maneuverability.

Our Warzone matches averaged around 25 minutes apiece, so they weren't quick match-ups. Joining a Warzone game means you're committing a half-hour to help your team win. As far as pure fun goes, Warzone is an absolute blast. After spending time with Campaign, Arena and Warzone, it is Warzone that stands out as the mode I personally miss most. It was also the mode that generated the most comments and trash-talking from our group as we played.

Arena may very well end up as the go-to competitive mode for "serious" Halo 5 players, but Warzone is where everyone is going to go to blow off steam. It's mad fun, and I can easily see it being the major draw in Halo 5: Guardians.

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