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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.”

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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.

Halo 5: Guardians, Truth map

Above: Halo 5: Guardians, Truth map

Image Credit: Microsoft

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.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsiA-Epg2I8&w=560&h=315]

“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.

halo 5 guardians multiplayer

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.

Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer Empire map

Above: Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer Empire map

Image Credit: Microsoft

New kinds of maps

When you start a map, an announcer will point out the key locations in a map where weapons or ammo are stored.

We played a map called Truth in Slayer mode. It’s a homage to the classic Halo arena map, Midship, with multiple levels and lots of spots for sniping at enemies who are farther away. In Slayer, the team that racks up 50 kills first wins.

You’ll hear voice chatter, where you’ll hear other players saying things like “enemy in the house,” warning other players of what’s happening. You can also hear announcements such as “ten seconds until sniper,” which means that a new sniper rifle will appear in an appointed spot on the map in ten seconds.

Empire is a map that takes place in a skyscraper in a city under siege during an insurrection battle.

In both maps, I found it challenging to stay alive. I had an easier time playing run-and-gun, shooting from the hip. So I tried to stay in the short corridors instead of running out into the open, where a long-shot player would be able to take me out more easily.

Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer Breakout mode

Above: Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer Breakout mode

Image Credit: Microsoft

New competitive mode

The Breakout mode will be interesting for the e-sports crowd. In this mode, four Spartans vault into an arena with various structures, buildings, and barriers. It’s a computer-simulated world where Spartans can train. No lives are at stake, which heightens the feeling that you’re at a sporting event. You only get one life, and the round is over when one side kills off the other. The first team that wins five rounds will win the whole match.

The mode comes with voice chatter. Some of that is automated, as actors give voice to the battle. But you can also just talk with your friends over a headset, even if you’re dead. Since a dead player can spectate over the shoulder of any surviving player, the dead player can give guidance to the survivors about where the enemies are. Cover is a lot more important in this mode, and you can’t go running around like crazy.

The whole mode is meant to get people talking to each other. So many matches are played in silence. But Holmes said the aim was to get everybody talking about tactics in a game. Teams that communicate can naturally get the upper hand on rivals.

I really enjoyed this mode, as a lot of the matches were cliffhangers. It came down to two Spartans dueling with each other, dodging, shooting, doing special moves, and moving. Everybody shouted when the round was over. And the end screen shows the winning Spartan team swaggering and doing victory moves.

“We’re intentionally going after skill-based combat in the arena mode,” said Longo. “One of the cool things about Halo, though, is the world-class matchmaking. That’s the key. In a demo situation like this, you guys are all playing together with different skill levels, but when the game comes out you’ll be matched with people of similar skill who are learning those abilities at the same time you are. The experts will be matched with people on that same level.”

Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer mode Breakout

Above: Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer mode Breakout

Image Credit: Microsoft

Achievements

The beta has an XP-based progression system. You can unlock cosmetic armor sets, helmets, and visors. You can unlock some by watching the Halo: Nightfall digital video show, and you can also unlock some achievements for Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer by doing things in the Halo: Master Chief Collection.

You competitive skill rating (CSR) will be a meta rating that allows you to compare yourself against other players. As you play more matches, your CSR will go up.

Halo 5 Guardians multiplayer

Above: Halo 5 Guardians multiplayer

Summary

343 Industries has done a good job changing the way you fight in Halo 5: Guardians. The Spartan Abilities put a lot of emphasis on learning what your Spartan can do, which brings a lot of fresh gameplay possibilities without adding a ton of new weapons or other things. Your Spartan has always been a mighty super soldier, and now you can finally make use of those powers in multiplayer combat. I think both the Halo die-hard fans and the e-sports players are going to like it.

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