What a nice early Christmas present it was, when I was one of the lucky few who was so kindly invited to take part in the early access to the Halo 5: Guardians online Beta.
I’m a big Halo guy, so was thrilled to have an early chance to jump into the latest addition of the franchise.
The Halo 5 Beta takes place across two maps: Truth and Empire.
To be honest, neither of these are anything you haven’t seen before. Truth is roughly an exact, perhaps slightly clunkier, recreation of Midship from Halo 2 – a giant circle set inside a Covenant spaceship.
Empire is like any of the series industrial maps – a factory of some kind, with computers, grey concrete tones, and is functionally fine. Like most Halo maps, these work well, are symmetrical and pretty easy to wrap your head around.
4v4 Team Slayer is the only game type available in this Beta, and the weapons seem to be limited to a small collection of human rifles (Battle, Assault, DMR, SMG and Sniper) as well as the addition of the energy sword on Truth (now with the new name ‘Prophet’s Bane’ and a rather ugly redesign).
As for gameplay, I have to say that my time with Halo 5 has left me a little bit concerned.
Halo has always kind of had it’s own distinct feel to me – there’s such a huge difference playing as a Spartan to almost anything else – and I’ve always harbored a secret fear that Halo’s longevity as a franchise would lead to the thing I dread most in modern gaming: homogenization.
And sadly, picking up Halo 5, I think that’s where we’re at. If you squinted whilst playing Halo 5, you’d be forgiven for mistaking this for Call of Duty. There’s nothing wrong with CoD, don’t get me wrong, but Halo not standing out is a very sad thing indeed.
So what makes me worried? Well, firstly, I was initially completely thrown by the control scheme. After years of avoiding an emphasis on aiming down sights, like literally almost every other FPS, Halo 5 has decided to finally join the rest, subbing out the Right Trigger for aiming, rather than grenades.
This was a weird one to try and get used to, and in the end, I changed the control set up back to the ‘Halo 4’ option.
Easy fix there. Less easy was the fact that, much like in CoD games, the Spartans now feel like they’re made of paper.
A few good shots will bring you down, which is very frustrating indeed. I play Halo to feel like Master Chief, not Corporal Soap – I want to be able to deal out my fair share of damage before getting put down.
I’m not saying that this new gameplay style is bad, but it doesn’t feel like Halo to me – everything from the clambering animations to the very bro-ey post-game win animations from your team feels so Call of Duty that it’s upsetting.
What was less easy was adjusting to the two new features each Spartan is now equipped with – thrusters, and ground and pound.
The thrusters are self explanatory enough – hitting LB (or whatever button you’ve got mapped to it) sends your Spartan a short burst in one direction, more for dodging purposes. You may remember this feature from the latest Call of Duty game.
The ground pound is the other new combat feature, where in midair you can hover, charge up and pound down at the ground.
Which also seems pretty similar to the special moves in Destiny. Furthermore, as cool as this looks and feels, it’s incredibly hard to use. Not once in my time with this game did I see anyone successfully manage to score a kill with this. Seems a bit gimmicky, to me.
I’m not going to touch on graphics or anything here, as it’s really not fair to pull that out in a Beta. And don’t let what I’ve said put you off – there’s nothing at all bad about this Beta, if it’s an indication of what Halo 5 is actually going to be.
It’s just a collection of many, many small changes that when accumulated, have changed the overall feel of the game. Best to judge for yourself whether you think it’s for better or worse.
The Halo 5 Beta hits players everywhere on the 29th of December 2014, and I definitely recommend trying it for yourself.