Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Halo 5 Multiplayer: A Taste of Things to Come

I preordered my copy of Halo: The Master Chief Collection for two reasons. First, I love Halo more than any other shooter, and second, I would get a crack at the multiplayer beta. It is this second reason that I put fingers to keys over the holidays, and found myself checking out the world of Halo 5.

The beta suffers from some of the normal issues expected in early release tests, long lobby wait times, occasional server issues, and wary apprehension to new mechanics. When I got in, I was expecting bedlam, visuals not up to scratch, balance issues, and frustration. I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong in my expectations.

The two maps that are available are small arena types in the “Slayer” game mode. “Empire” is a traditional arena map designed to mix long range sniping as well as close quarters battle. “Truth” is almost a reskin and updating of the old Halo 2 map “Midship,” with 3 levels, and lots of cover promoting mobile combat styles and close up fighting rather than sniping. They are both really fun maps, well designed to keep players moving and fighting rather than find a bolt hole to camp in. Like in previous Halo multiplayer maps, guns are scattered throughout the map for players to pick up. A change comes in the form of power weapons, specific to each map. In “Empire”, sniper rifles will spawn, with the in game announcer letting players know in timed increments when they will appear. The power weapon for “Truth” is the covenant energy sword. The power weapons are there to help a team dominate their opponents, but are not overpowered in any way so there is no unfair advantage. (Clearly, you've never seen me with an energy sword. - Ed)

This beta also introduces a new mechanic to the game called “smart-link”. In previous Halo games, players could not look down the sights with specific weapons like the assault rifle, SMG, the Magnum, and the Covenant plasma pistol/rifle/needler. With the current UNSC weapons unveiled in the beta, it appears all weapons have some kind of sight system via “smart link”. This function is causes a new target reticle or scope image to appear in the heads up display. Upon being shot, a player is knocked out of this view (traditional to halo). However this “flinch” mechanic is supposedly being removed. I find that I like the new application of smart-linking weapons. It allows greater accuracy and control with automatic weapons as well as semi-auto weapons. It also brings Halo into line with other fps titles that allow players to aim down the sights with any weapon.

Players will be pleasantly surprised to find that there are few balance issues when it comes to available weapons. With the smart-link system, accuracy is generally improved across the board, though will deteriorate as range changes. I have noticed that the magnum pistol in this game is still quite powerful, and quite capable at killing from a distance with only smart-linked “iron sights." There is a new weapon introduced in the beta called the MLRS. It is a six round rotary grenade launcher that fires homing rockets at targets. Two targeted rockets can generally kill a given Spartan with full shields. This is an equivalent to the Covenant Plasma Launcher.

A new mode had been introduced to Halo, called Breakout. Breakout is played on an Spartan training facility in space, on a map reminiscent of the Halo 3 map called “The Pit”. This arena changes digitally from game to game, providing different sight line and cover points. Available weapons are highly limited on this map, with only one extra gun per side available for pick up, usually a battle rifle or assault rifle. Players start with the submachine gun, pistol, and a single grenade. Each player has one life, and once eliminated is out for the duration of the round. Teams are made of four players, similar to that of slayer. You have to win the best of seven rounds, but if no clear victor is decided after seven, then an elimination round is played.

343 industries have also changed how players are tracked throughout their online experience. Before, like other games, players were tracked by level with badge displays according to UNSC military ranks. Now players are ranked via the skill they portray in playlists as they play online. This new ranking system takes the data generated in matches (k/d ratio, accuracy, melee kills, medals earned) and then generates points to be added. Ranks are not calculated until a player plays 10 matches in a given playlist, and all previous data is then applied to the rank after 10 matches. In my case, I jumped right up to the silver rank lvl 1, though I have no quantifiable idea what this means. Players also gain experience for each match they play, which goes towards increasing their Spartan rank. As one increases their Spartan Rank, new cosmetic gear is unlocked to be worn in matches. This consists of visors, armor, and helmets.

If this Beta is an indication of what is to come, I am quite excited for the next full iteration of Halo. My hope is that 343 Industries will take the time required to release this game with few bugs (unlike the bug ridden multiplayer portions of Halo: The Master Chief Collection). Going forward, I hope that 343 will release at least one more map and some of the Covenant weapons to play with and get a feel for. If that happens, I will gladly post an update to keep you guys up to date!

David Losey is an actor, writer and stagehand living and working in the Bay Area.

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