Did you pick up Halo: The Master Chief Collection? If so, you’re automatically invited to the Halo 5: Guardians Beta, scheduled to kick off just a few days after Christmas. But right now there is a separate beta going on, where the Slayer gametype is played across two maps, giving us a taste of what is to come.
Gameplay feels similar to previous outings, though Spartans have more tools at their disposal. Gone is the selectable perk system from Halo 4, instead giving Spartans a selection of abilities with minor drawbacks. Sprinting is now infinite, meaning your Spartan could run marathons and still be fit to shoot afterwards; but you are unable to recharge your shield while sprinting, as indicated by the time bar above your health. This level of vulnerability puts players in the dilemma of whether to take cover and heal or run away and risk getting killed.
Dashes can be activated to quickly get into cover or avoid sword attacks, though a small cool-down makes timing crucial, while hovering allows you to control your descent while potentially getting the jump on an unsuspecting foe from above. Ground Pounds do result in instant kills, just they require much precision and timing, since they take a long time to charge. Your Spartan can also slide into cover by pressing the crouch whilst sprinting, which not only looks cool but also great for catching your enemy off guard.
Weapons are familiar, though only a small selection are on offer at this time. DMRs, Battle Rifles, and Assault Rifles are great to use; but the SMG feels incredibly powerful, especially when aiming down sights – something all weapons now have. Sniper Rifles and the Prophet’s Bane are Power weapons that spawn in, giving skilled players the advantage if used effectively.
In this early build, which is not the beta expected to go live on the December 29, there are two maps available that are a mix of the old and the new. “Truth” is basically an updated version of Heretic from Halo 3, but it is still a great deathmatch arena full of hiding places. While weapons are found all around the map, you get indications of when certain weapons respawn. In “Truth”, this is the Prophet’s Bane – similar to the Covenant Energy Sword, but with speed enhancements for Spartans wielding it and a better lunge attack. Given that the Covenant Energy Sword was in exactly the same place in “Heretic”, this is a faithful recreation of a classic map. Perhaps the only black mark against it is that there’s nothing to distinguish it from other maps, something the Halo 2: Anniversary maps had in spades.
The other map is “Empire” – a large complex where you need to be looking out for threats from all around you. Here there are lots of high points for Snipers to hide, with the all-powerful Sniper Rifle being the weapon mentioned in the intel. You’re more likely to see some of the various new Spartan abilities, like the Ground Pound and hovering in mid-flight; but given how anyone can get the jump on you if you’re not careful, this is seldom recommended. “Empire” also exploits the new clambering ability, which is used by pressing the jump button if you can see the summit of a platform. Mobility is key here, more so than Halo maps in the past.
This all wouldn’t work well if the matchmaking system didn’t work. Thankfully, matchmaking has been thus far more stable than Halo: The Master Chief Collection has been. Yes, I’ve had to wait a little while, but once games got going there were far fewer players kicked out or idle. However, this is based on the build before December 29’s more expansive and open beta period, which is bound to put tons more strain on Xbox Live. Remember that beta is beta, but with any luck the signs will be encouraging.
Your first few matches won’t reap rewards, but eventually you’ll gain rankings which can decrease based on performance. You’ll unlock new cosmetic changes, such as helmets, armour, and visors; but most notably no perks that change up the gameplay. This is all of course subject to change, but it’s refreshing to see a game where all players are on a level playing field at all times.
Player skill has mostly been a key fundamental value for the Halo franchise. While it is modernising the gameplay to resemble more recent multiplayer shooters, Halo 5: Guardians thus far is showing promising signs. With at least one new gameplay mode and more maps coming shortly after Christmas, I’m certainly excited to see what’s in store when the game launches next year.