EW recently had the chance to check out an early version of the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta, shooting fellow journalists for a few hours of frantic eight-player mayhem. The beta will run for three weeks, starting December 29, and is accessible to everyone who purchases Halo: The Master Chief Collection, which is out today. It’s quite an early look at the Xbox One’s next Halo game, which has an unspecified 2015 release date (though based on the franchise’s history, it will likely launch sometime in early November).
We got to test out three maps: Truth, which is yet another remake of Halo 2’s popular Midship, and two brand new maps. Empire is a larger, labyrinthine map with lots of nooks and crannies, and Crossfire is a small symmetrical map designed for the game’s new mode, Breakout (more on that later). The beta will feature seven maps total and three game modes, with new content added each week based partly on community voting. While the core feeling of the classic FPS remains largely the same, here are five things we learned—and some of the big differences we noticed—that will change the way you play Halo.
1. Halo is finally getting iron sights
Nearly every other shooter on the market has you hold the left trigger to aim your weapon. But Halo has always resisted this control scheme, instead having players push the right stick to zoom only certain weapons. That changes with the Spartans’ new “Smart Scope” feature, which is a fancy way of saying you now hold the left trigger to aim down your iron sights. All weapons have it—even the sword, where aiming will give you a greater lunge distance. Getting shot will knock you out of your zoomed-in sights, but this being Halo, shooting from the hip is still as effective as always.
2. Say goodbye to custom loadouts and hello to these new standard abilities
(At least in the beta; it’s unclear at press time whether loadouts will return in the final version.)
Unlimited Sprint: Sprinting was introduced as an Armor Ability in 2010’s Halo: Reach and standardized in Halo 4 for short, limited bursts of speed. But Halo 5 features unlimited sprinting by holding in the left stick, and it increases the manic pace of encounters considerably. To balance this, developer 343 Industries has made it so that your shields won’t recharge while you are sprinting, meaning you’ll have to slow down eventually.
Slide: Once you reach top sprinting speed, you can click in the right stick to slide stylishly into cover like an ’80s action movie star.
Charge: The other option once you reach top sprint is offensive, as you can hit the melee button to deliver a devastating shoulder charge that can instantly kill opponents.
Ground pound: Looks like Master Chief learned something from Mario’s butt stomp! If you’re on a ledge above someone, you can jump and hold the crouch button to launch yourself down at the enemy with a satisfying smack.
Clamber: If you’re jumping to a ledge and don’t quite have enough height to make it, you can now press A to climb atop it.
Thruster pack: Another former Armor Ability, you can press B plus the left stick to quickly dash in any direction, even while airborne. It’s a great way to fake out enemies or make a quick retreat. There’s a cool-down gauge before you can use it again, though it seems to recharge fairly quickly.
Stabilizer: This is an entirely new ability. Hold the left trigger in the air to deploy your stabilizer, letting you slowly descend while you shoot. This has big strategic implications, as you won’t necessarily hit the ground when enemies expect—which could help you avoid grenades, for example.
3. The Competitive Skill Rating system returns
First introduced as an update in Halo 4, the CSR is an XP-based progression system designed to match players with similar skills in multiplayer. Although not much was revealed, 343 mentioned that there will be unlockables tied to Master Chief Collection and Halo: Nightfall (the live-action series that launches today). But best of all, unlocks and progress earned will carry over from the beta to the full game, so your three weeks of playing won’t be lost.
4. Spartan teammates will tell you what’s going on while you play
I remember playing Halo 2 multiplayer capture the flag with my friend Reuben online while a 12-year-old screamed at us to “DRIVE THROUGH THE RIBS!” Terrified, I quickly muted everyone but my friends and never looked back—living a much happier, healthier existence. Because teamwork is so important to effective multiplayer—and perhaps because of how awful online chat with strangers can be—343 has added in AI chatter. So Spartans will call out enemy attacks (“Grenade incoming!”) and even compliment you (“Great headshot!”). Thanks, robot friend! So long as they don’t yell at you when you mess up…
5. Breakout mode is going to be a breakout hit
Breakout is a new four vs. four mode where you only get one life per round; whichever team survives gets a point. The first team to win five rounds wins the game. It’s simple, fast and tense—like a Halo concentrate—and it’s an absolute blast to play. Breakout had the room of journalists erupting in cheers of victory and agonized cries of defeat. 343 says the mode was inspired by paintball and was originally planned for Halo 4, but they couldn’t get it together in time. It seems like it will be worth the wait.