DJ Arruda ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
The botched launch of The Master Chief Collection is still fresh in gamers’ minds, and one of the reasons for that purchase was the beta for Halo 5: Guardians, which ran from December 29th to January 18th. Amidst broken matchmaking and achievements not unlocking, along with other bugs and issues, the beta, surprisingly, was a glimmer of hope for 343 Industries. Sad as it is to say that the matchmaking for the beta almost worked better than The Master Chief Collection at launch, and even now, given the benefit of the doubt for being a beta, the few weeks of gameplay offered an early and exciting look at where the next entry in the series is heading. Some things worked, and other things didn’t, and hopefully 343 will properly test this game before its expected launch this fall.
The most immediately apparent aspect of the beta was how smooth and fast the gameplay was. Giving players the same starting weapons, more akin to earlier Halos than games like Call of Duty, the emphasis of the game was put on map control and obtaining power weapons, which felt fresh and exciting in a way other FPS’ have not been. The new addition of seven Spartan Abilities for all players also changes things up, whether it is Clambering up a just missed ledge, Charging into a low health enemy Spartan, Ground Pounding from above, or Thrusting out of the way of a sniper’s bullet, among others. These new abilities are the successor to the armor abilities introduced in Halo: Reach and seen in Halo 4, and with being available to all players all the time look to add more strategy and flair to the shooter. The 60 fps graphics were incredibly smooth and made the game feel alive, with 343 offering 6 maps by the end of the beta, each unique and gorgeous in its own right. It seems that 343 has kept some of the improvements made to the series’ gameplay over the years, with built-in sprint a welcome keeper, while also acknowledging the need to make Guardians stand out from the crowd. All the more pressure given how badly The Master Chief Collection fell short in its multiplayer.
Many of the issues with the beta can simply be attributed to the fact that it was a beta. Long matchmaking times, though not as long as with the base game and surprisingly fast at times, and discrepancy in player skill and ranking were also apparent, but these early calibrations should surely help the studio going forward. In addition, the way in which ranking is tied to whether your team wins or loses and not the performance of the individual can be frustrating, especially with an uneven team matchup or having a teammate be absent or disconnected. Spartan Ranks proceed linearly and unlock armor, but the skill ranking should follow a similar vein. Some people prefer to play it alone, and hopefully there will be opportunities for that in the final iteration of the game, given the limited maps and game modes in the beta. The weapons themselves also need some balancing, as to be expected, as the enemy team can run away with the lead thanks to the power weapons, and sometimes fire fights with the same weapons inexplicably go one player’s way over another. Grenades are also quite strong, stronger even than in previous games, and though a unique part of the series’ multiplayer, there can still be work done.
Overall, the beta was a good introduction to the changes that 343 is integrating into the series, while also allowing them to make some amends for the botched launch of The Master Chief Collection. This multiplayer feels distinctly like Halo, and different from other FPS juggernauts like CoD and Battlefield. The new Spartan Abilities both keep the fun of the old armor abilities and make them available for all, and starting with the same weapons provides an equal opportunity and a combat based on skill and not just loadout. Though there needs to be some obvious tweaks to balance, both weapons-wise and in matchmaking, the issues were kept to what one would expect with a beta, and indeed overall the beta performed surpassing expectation. 343 has the rest of the year to implement feedback, and will hopefully offer other opportunities for players to test the game, lest they fail a second launch. But for now, things look hopeful and bright for the next entry in the Reclaimer saga.