Microsoft and its 343 Industries game studio have turned the multiplayer version of Halo: 5 Guardians into something that e-sports fans are going to like. The companies have revealed details of the multiplayer beta, which will be unlocked on Dec. 29 for people who purchase the $60 Halo: Master Chief Collection which goes on sale tomorrow.
The Halo series has sold more than 60 million units since 2001 and generated more than $3 billion in sales at retail for Microsoft. It has also sold countless Xbox game consoles as the flagship game series that sets Microsoft’s game machines apart from its competitors. The multiplayer mode in these games keeps players engaged year round, and it is critical for the hardcore gamers and e-sports fans who view sci-fi combat arenas as yet another chance to show off their skills.
I attended a preview event for the multiplayer beta for the Xbox One version of Halo 5: Guardians. I also interviewed Josh Holmes, executive producer on Halo 5 Guardians at 343 Industries, and Tim Longo, creative director of Halo 5 Guardians at 343. I played the Spartan vs Spartan multiplayer beta with them and talked to them about it afterward. The revelations so far focus on Arena mode, where you concentrate on head-to-head sports-like competition in landscapes that seemed like sci-fi versions of gladiator arenas from Roman times.
“We’ve been very focused on the core gameplay as a team,” said Holmes. “We have focused on it for a couple of years, and we want to get it right.”
The beta runs at 60 frames per second on the Xbox One, and the details and nuances in the graphics, like sunshine or shadows, really stand out now.
Players will now have the same set of abilities and weapons when they step on the battlefield, so that it is level playing field. You can sprint for an unlimited time. These abilities all go to strengthen the fantasy of what it means to be a Spartan — a super soldier on the sci-fi battlefield. The beta will last until Jan. 18, and new maps will be released over time. Fans will be able to go online and see previews of what’s to come. The players can vote for what they want released.
Hot new moves
The Spartan Abilities replace the Armor Abilities, as you’ll have a standard thruster attached to your armor now. With something dubbed “Stabilizers,” you can jump into the air and then thrust in any direction (after pressing left trigger) to extend your jump distances or stay in the air longer. You can hang in the air for a couple of seconds. It makes you an obvious target on the battlefield, but you can use it to avoid grenades or explosions. If you’re in the air and press “B,” then you can thrust in any direction using the left stick.
The new Spartan Abilities include “Spartan Charge,” which you can initiate why running at full speed. If you press the melee button (right stick click), you’ll use your thrusters to move at a high speed in a certain direction, ramming any enemies in your way. It’s simple to learn, and it will severely wound or kill any enemy in your way. But if you mistime it, you’ll make yourself vulnerable to fire and counter maneuvers. If you hit a Spartan from the back, you’ll kill the Spartan with one blow. If you hit from the front or side, you’ll take down the Spartan’s shields.
Another cool but difficult move is the “Ground Pound.” From an elevated position, you jump into the air and then click the “crouch” control, or click the left analog stick. A reticle forms around an enemy, and then you bring your Spartan down on the victim’s head. Now it makes a lot more sense to seek out the high ground in a level. This move requires a lot more skill, as you have to do a lot of things in a sequence, fast. The expert players will master this move quickly, no doubt. Over time, though, most players will be able to pick up these skills.
“In combat, it’s a lot more difficult to pull off. It’s a high risk, high reward move,” Holmes said. “It brings a lot of verticality to the gameplay.”
Another ability is “Clamber.” If you jump toward a higher level and press the “A” button, you’ll pull yourself up to the next level.
“This gives Spartans the ability to move fluidly throughout the environment,” Holmes said. “We’ve built all of the maps of Halo 5: Guardians with his move in mind.”
You can also do a “Slide.” You can sprint and then press “crouch.” As you do, you’ll slide across the floor, helping you slide into cover and escape gunfire.
Your shields will recharge if you are standing still or running at normal speed. If you sprint after getting hit, your shields won’t recharge. So it’s now a tactical decision to either stay still and recharge shields or move in a sprint to escape or go on the offensive. Your character is so badass that it’s about time that the Spartan’s own body has become a good weapon.
Shooting is different
When you fire your weapon from the hip, you can spray your enemy quickly. But if you take more time and pull the left trigger, you can aim better. You go into “smart scope mode,” which links the Spartan’s visor data with the weapon. You can zoom in on an enemy. You can move around and thrust without losing the smart scope. But if an enemy shoots you, then you are “descoped.” That means you lose your bead and pull out of smart scope mode if you are hit by an enemy. This helps balance the ranged combat, distracting snipers from their prey.
Shooting is smooth. If you fire from the hip, you can more easily follow an enemy, I found. That means you can get a couple of more hits in before the enemy escapes. I found that allows you to easily rack up more kills. I asked Longo about this, and he said the game has the same amount of “aim assist” as usual.