Outside of a few spinoffs (Halo Wars, Halo: Spartan Assault), the Halo franchise has remained mostly the same in the gameplay department. While each of the four main entries, as well as spinoff Halo Reach, introduced new wrinkles to the formula, things have never drastically changed.
Halo 5: Guardians, developer 343 Industries’ second crack at the franchise, once again retains the same basic formula as previous entries, but brings about more changes than ever before. With the franchise losing popularity thanks to numerous competitors, 343 and Microsoft realized that something must be done in order to help the series return to its high point.
Of course, by changing the formula up so much, 343 had to remove several noticeable features. Right off the bat, players will notice that Ordinance drops, loadouts and armor abilities have been eliminated. With much of the excess of Halo 4 trimmed, what has resulted, at least in the brief taste that we got with the beta, is a multiplayer experience that is leaner, refreshing and quite frankly, a lot better.
The early access beta for Halo 5: Guardians gave us two different levels and a handful of weapons. The full beta, which will run from 12/29-01/18, will most include a lot more of the title. The two included levels here were Truth, which was actually a reworked version of Halo 2’s Midship, and Empire, a new map. Both were fun for what they were, but I’m interested to see if the full beta will include more than just 4v4 maps.
While some gamers may not be thrilled that player-specific Spartans have been done away with (at least in the beta), this means that everyone will have access to the same skills. The biggest new feature that players will need to master will be the use of the thruster pack. With the click of a button, Spartans can now dash through the air or to the side.
Learning how to evade through the use of thrusting was an important skill I had to master, as expertly dodging grenades and enemy fire, and then striking back was a real thrill and significantly helped me on the battlefield. Players can also use the thruster pack in order to smash enemies either from a distance or from above. While this skill can help turn the tide of battle, thanks to the fact it can kill someone in one shot, it also leaves you open for damage if you miss.
Sprinting will also make a return, but this time, it doesn’t have to be equipped via a specific loadout. Similar to how it was in Halo 4, sprinting is handled with the click of a button. While the additional burst of speed is a major benefit, the downside is that shields won’t recharge while sprinting. Players can also clamber up certain locations while sprinting towards them, which is the most mobile a Spartan has ever been.
For the first time in franchise history, Halo 5: Guardians is bringing us aim-down sight (ADS). Already a controversial update, ADS is a feature that is prevalent in several other big-name shooters, including Call of Duty. It doesn’t necessarily feel the same way as it does in that franchise, however, as players will be kicked out of aiming if they are hit. I know some people are upset that it’s being included, but I don’t really mind ADS. It’s nowhere near as prevalent as it is in Activision’s mega-franchise, and it works well in the bigger combat picture.
As the first current-gen release in the franchise, Halo 5: Guardians already looks stunning, especially considering the fact that it is still in beta. Each level pops with lightning effects, and the character models, as bland as their design is, look great. Outside of a few technical issues, which I was expecting, I was also impressed with how well everything ran. Of course, The Master Chief Collection ran fine prior to release as well, and we all know how that turned out.
Besides the improved visuals, the thing that impressed me most about Halo 5 so far is how each weapon feels. Longtime fans of the series will be familiar with the suite of weapons included in the beta, as it features the battle rifle, sniper rifle and sword, among others. What’s most noticeable here, however, is that, whether it’s due to the improved sound effects or the feedback from each weapon, things just feel more potent. Each blast feels as damaging as it should. I’ll never expect realism out of my space marine shooter, but these improvements are a major benefit to the franchise.
After a handful of hours spent with the beta, I walked away from Halo 5: Guardians quite impressed with what I had experienced. Fans of the series will be familiar with the core gameplay, and thanks to several new features that build upon the already successful formula, the game feels a lot more refreshing than previous entries in the series. There’s still a few quirks that need to be balanced and worked out, but overall, I’m definitely optimistic for Master Chief’s future.