The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the Halo 5: Guardians Multiplayer Beta

The Halo 5: Guardians Beta has left me completely at a loss. The latest creation from 343 Industries is frenetic, fast, and fun; it’s modern and innovative, yet it still pays homage to the legendary roots of the vaunted Halo franchise. Those who still have their Kinect attached will find themselves constantly shouting, “Xbox, record that,” as there’s no shortage of epic moments to be had in every 4 vs. 4 arena battle. Still, with all of the good that Halo 5: Guardians has going for it, there’s one glaring issue consistently slapping me in the face during every match:

Halo 5: Guardians doesn’t really feel like Halo anymore.

Now, I could go ahead and explain this bold claim right away, but where’s the fun in that? Halo 5: Guardians is one of 2015’s biggest releases, so there’s only one solution at play here: a full “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” preview with the explanation to the controversial statement above surrounded by complaints and praise. After all, this is a video game article; things can never be that simple.

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 The Good:

The new mechanics are wonderfully balanced:

Yes, you can aim down sights in the new Halo (I refuse to call this Smart Link due to outright stubbornness). Yes, you can sprint endlessly, too. These aren’t terrible issues that will break the universe and send asteroids crashing into every landmass on every planet imaginable. Because of the brilliant balancing work 343 Industries put into Halo 5: Guardians, these two mechanics are some of the early multiplayer action’s greatest strength. While playing through Halo: The Master Chief Collection, it always felt a bit weird that Master Chief couldn’t sprint until the fourth game. We’re used to running at full speed in nearly every game we play; this is the Internet Age – we want everything right now. The same line of thinking applies to aiming down sights, a staple of just about every major first-person shooter in the industry. “I see that guy way over there, I want to kill him right now. Oh, I can’t pick him off unless I get closer? Weird.”

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Halo game without well-thought out design work, so each of these new mechanics comes with a caveat. Your shield doesn’t recharge while you’re sprinting, and your ability to aim down sights disappears the second you get shot. You can get to where you’re going at warp speed, but you’re going to pay the price if you don’t think about what you’re doing. Escaping a firefight requires a full commitment, as players who turn back around without regenerating their shields are asking for a swift death. Aiming down the sights makes long-range battling a dream, but the split-second de-scoping animation could mean the difference between life and death. Smart players will find themselves engaging with the scope from long distance before going in for the kill using traditional hipfire mechanics.

In short, there’s non-Haloish stuff in Halo 5: Guardians, and it absolutely works.

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Holy crap, Halo feels like a modern shooter:

I’ll get to why the increased pace of Halo 5: Guardians is partially bad news in a little while, but it’s something that should be praised as well. Halo 5: Guardians definitely feels like a 2015 game, as it’s gorgeous, quick, and runs like a dream. Seeing gorgeous 1080p visuals running at 60 frames-per-second is always exciting, and the two new maps are consistent treats to the eyes. “Truth,” a revamped version of the classic “Midship” map from Halo 2 feels like the futuristic covenant palace gamers have always wanted to murder each other in. “Empire” shows off the power of current-generation lighting technology, with sections of bright light, shadowy darkness, and everything in between. Add Halo 5: Guardians‘ visual flair to its advanced maneuverability methods, which include 360-degree boost-dashing and an incredible-looking ledge-climbing animation, and you have the makings of a clear evolutionary step for the Halo franchise.

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The Bad:

I guess everyone knows I have a Sniper Rifle now:

One of the coolest parts of past Halo games was securing a power weapon and waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Nobody knew that you were a sniper until, well, you sniped somebody. Secret shotgun attacks had the potential to turn the tides of an entire match if the opposing team failed to communicate properly. Oh, and let’s not get started on the power of whipping out an Energy Sword at the last possible moment.

Halo 5: Guardians, for whatever reason, places an emphasis on letting every player know when power weapons are about to spawn. Prominent white and green icons appear over their locations, and the ever-present announcer lets every player know the exact time until Truth’s Prophet’s Bane sword or Empire’s two Sniper Rifles appear. The result is the complete elimination of the element of surprise when it comes to power weapons. Perhaps 343 was aiming to create epic hot-spots around these power weapons before they spawn, but this is Halo. There are hot-spots everywhere, always. Eliminating a major strategy in favor of congesting certain areas of the map at certain times seems shortsighted, so let’s hope this isn’t an aspect present in every game mode.

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Killzone: Shadow Fall called, it wants its feel back:

Halo 5: Guardians doesn’t feel like a true Halo game for one simple reason: you die way too fast. If this was an early glimpse into the arena multiplayer mode of an entirely new IP, then the damage-until-death measure wouldn’t matter at all. Unfortunately, this is a Halo game, and with that comes certain expectations. Arguably the single most entertaining aspect of a classic Halo firefight is the ability to compose a strategy on the fly. Spartans have always been tanks that take massive amounts of damage before ultimately keeling over, which allows players with slower reaction times to use their minds to beat their opponents. This moment-to-moment strategy is still somewhat present in Halo 5: Guardians, but it’s been lessened to the point where it feels like some bizarre combination of Halo and Call of Duty (hence the Killzone: Shadow Fall comparison).

The solution here is simple: either reduce the damage of every weapon except for the Sniper Rifle, the Prophet’s Bane, and the well-balanced Magnum by roughly 50%, or raise every player’s health by a significant margin. Halo has never been a twitch shooter, yet indications are that Halo 5: Guardians is moving the franchise in that directs.Messing with one of the staples of the Halo franchise this much just feels wrong. This is the sixth multiplayer entry in the franchise, there’s no need to fix something that isn’t broken.

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The Ugly:

It’s 2014, of course there are weird matchmaking issues:

While Halo 5: Guardians doesn’t seem to suffer from any connection issues during matches, getting into a game proves to be a challenge on its own. Granted, this is a Beta, so some hiccups are to be expected, but some strange matchmaking design choices stand out as particularly unacceptable. Games don’t seem to begin unless both teams have all four slots filled, meaning that starting a match 4 v. 3 before picking up a player isn’t currently an option. More egregiously, if a lobby features a team of four and a team of two, the game won’t start as a simple 3 v. 3 match. These two common situations, plus the fact that at least player seems to be disappear from a lobby after each game, make for a noticeably long wait between matches.

Having a sixty second intermission between matches seems like an odd choice as well, considering this is an arena shooter. If there are no loadouts to customize or killstreaks to equip, what exactly do we need all that time for? All of these factors make it incredibly easy to put down the controller; after all, gamers want to play video games, not wait for them. These problems are all very fixable, so here’s to hoping that Halo 5: Guardians is a decidedly more smooth experience when it launches for real.

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Did an octopus design the Ground Pound controls?

Initiating the new Ground Pound ability requires quite possibly the least intuitive control input I’ve ever seen in a video game. It’s a shame that one of Halo 5: Guardians‘ coolest new mechanics is hidden behind a downright awkward aiming system. In order to slam down from the heavens, players have to jump off of a high ledge, click down and hold the right stick, and then aim a reticle on the ground while maintaining said hold. Go ahead, pick up your controller and try to aim quickly while holding down the right stick. Pretty weird, right? Sure, you can switch up your control scheme in order to have a more suitable set-up, but is Ground Pounding really that important?

Here’s the easy solution: change the control input so that initiating a Ground Pound requires a click-in, click-out system as opposed to a hold system. Players would be able to maintain the same button prompts while eliminating this hideous “Press RS and aim at the same time” ridiculousness.

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So there you have it, one man’s incredibly lukewarm opinion on Halo 5: Guardians. There’s nothing inherently broken here, but a series of odd design choices keep the latest Halo title from being as exciting as it could be. Combining the Halo 5: Guardians Beta with Halo 4‘s disappointing multiplayer experience, it’s worth asking whether or not 343 Industries is taking Halo‘s iconic player vs. player segment in the right direction. It’s fairly simple to understand what Halo 5: Guardians‘ multiplayer mode would look like in a perfect world: Halo 2‘s multiplayer with new weapons, new maps, and a bit more speed. One thing is for certain: the Halo 5: Guardians Beta is most certainly not the game described in the previous sentence, for better and for worse.