LOS ANGELES — Microsoft spilled more details about the Halo 5: Guardians video game at a press briefing today at the Electronic Entertainment Expo — including four-player co-op.
The new Halo is going to be Microsoft’s biggest game for established fans this year when it debuts on the Xbox One video game console on Oct. 27. For Microsoft, the title is critical as a system seller, as it competes against Sony’s more popular PlayStation 4.
At its press briefing this morning, Microsoft showed off a four-player cooperative mission onstage. The Spartan soldiers (noticeably missing series hero Master Chief) were under attack by aliens as they ran through a crumbling city. They separated into two groups before taking on a strange creature with a huge sword.
Halo 4 garnered $300 million in sales in its first week when it released on Xbox 360 back in 2012. More recently, though, Halo: The Master Chief Collection on Xbox One — a remastered collection of previous titles in the series — has such bad multiplayer problems that it was pretty much unplayable. That forced the cancellation of an official Halo e-sports tournament. Halo fans will hope that Microsoft’s learned a lot from that experience.
Microsoft and its 343 Industries game studio hope that they have turned the multiplayer version of Halo: 5 Guardians into something that e-sports fans are going to like.
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.
In multiplayer, 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.
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.
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.
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.
There’s 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.
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. Teams that communicate can naturally get the upper hand on rivals.
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.
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.