Starting December 29th, fans of the Halo games — well, the ones who bought Halo: The Master Chief Collection — will get a chance to check out the upcoming Halo 5 Guardians (Xbox One) during a multiplayer beta that’s slated to last through January 18th. But this past weekend, they allowed members of the media, myself included, a chance to play the game early during a pre-beta stress test of the servers. And while it only featured one mode (“Team Slayer”), and two maps (“Truth,” a remake of the small, arena-like “Midship” from Halo 2; and a new one called “Empire” that’s a large factory with vertical possibilities), this was more than enough to see that Halo 5 Guardians will be different from previous Halo games in some fundamental ways.
For starters, Halo 5 Guardians finally lets you use iron sights (shown above), something that has been sorely lacking in previous Halo games. But while this is a welcome addition that makes it that much more fun, it unfortunately doesn’t work as well as it does in other games. Mostly because — unlike every other first-person shooter, but just like when you’d look through the sights of a sniper rifle in a previous Halo game — if you’re shot while using it, you automatically stop doing it. Which makes narrative sense, but damn it’s annoying.
Looking down the barrel of your guns in Halo 5 Guardians also doesn’t have the automatic target lock that you get when using iron sights in Call Of Duty or other first-person shooters. Still, just being able to use it at all makes a big difference in how this feels (and not just because it means Halo 5 Guardians doesn’t feel as dated as Halo 4 did).
Halo 5 Guardians is also slightly faster than previous installments. Almost like someone cranked up your power armor to eleven. Though it really is only a slight difference; this isn’t so sped up that you’re like Benny Hill chasing after that old guy.
But then, if you want, you can sprint as long as you like, something you haven’t been able to do in a Halo game for a while. You can even smack the bejeezus out of someone if you’re running full throttle and hit the melee button at just the right time. Just make sure your shields are fully recharged when you start jogging, since your super suit can’t power your augmented legs and the shield generators at the same time.
Halo 5 Guardians also now lets you grab ledges when you jump near them. Where before you had to jump up onto a platform, you’ll now grab the ledge and pull yourself up if you can’t jump high up to get on top right away.
An image from the Empire map.
Of course, with these additions comes a new control scheme to learn. While Halo 5 Guardians has a eight different options — including a Halo 4 one — the default now has you using the left trigger for iron sights, the left bumper to toss a grenade, the right bumper to smack someone upside the head, and “B” to use a quick boost pack that’ll send you forward, backwards, or to the side rather quickly (which was an optional armor ability before but is now standard equipment).
Visually speaking, while Halo 5 Guardians looks better than even the remake of Halo 2 in the Halo: Master Chief Collection, it isn’t as detailed or as Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Forza Horizon 2, or some of the Xbox One’s other good looking games.
There are, however, significant changes made to the sound design. For starters, the music is much improved, as it eschews the silly guitar tones that made previous Halo scores sound like the overly dramatic and craptastic rock-ish music of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Instead, it’s orchestral and choral when you’re in the menus, and moody keyboards when you’re playing, the latter of which are thankfully subtle and thus don’t overwhelm the sound effects.
The sound effects in Halo 5 Guardians have also been changed. The gun sounds, for instance, are more metallic and muscular-sounding, while grenades really pack an impressive aural punch.
As impressed as I may be with the changes they’ve made to Halo 5 Guardians, though, there were a couple issues I hope they’ll correct. For starters, while the weapons sound better, your shield sound more shrill, like an even cheaper clock radio than it did before. I also hope they add volume controls so you can turn the music off, or even down, relative to the sound effects.
An image from the Truth map.
Then there’s the text, which can be difficult to read if you sit at a reasonable distance from your TV. Not only is the font size rather small, but at times it’s dark-ish grey against a blue background, which is tough to read even close up. This is especially problematic in the heat of battle, as the text indicating which weapon is at your feet, waiting for you to pick it up, can be really hard to read during a frantic firefight.
It’s also hard to read the messages that tell me what my teammates have done. But then, I don’t really care, because — in a mode like “Team Slayer,” which is not objective based — it doesn’t matter to me that a teammate killed someone or grabbed the sniper rifle. Which is why these messages not only seem archaic, like some leftover thing from the days when multiplayer was just a PC pursuit, but they can even be kind of distracting if you forget they’re pointless.
Oh, it also seems like the SMG might be a little overpowered. Just a little. And only when one of the other guys had it. When I had it, it was great.
And that, as I said, was just what I gleaned from playing one mode on two maps in the pre-beta. There could be more to say about Halo 5 Guardians when the real beta begins, since the plan is to add two more modes and five more maps over the coming weeks.
Still, while much of what I saw in the Halo 5 Guardians pre-beta represents a significant change for this series — ones that will impact the game’s campaign as well as its multiplayer modes — at its core, this is still very much a Halo game. And not just because they haven’t updated the radar system since the first one. It’s still fast paced, still way more fun than your average multiplayer, and, at its core, still of the forgiving variety; you can take a couple shots before you go down. It’s not like the multiplayer in Battlefield, where you live in a frustrating world of cheap armor and quick deaths.
Ultimately, though, the biggest thing I realized playing the Halo 5 Guardians beta was this: it’s going to be a long year.