Preview: Halo 5: Guardians Multiplayer Early Access

This past weekend, I was reminded how grew to love Halo’s multiplayer. A strange realization, considering I tend to avoid online competitive play. Halo’s brand of hectic, sci-fi action is great fun and benefits from a great selection of colorful weaponry. My online tenure began rather late in the franchise’s history, a year or two after the launch of Halo 3, and the hooks dug themselves deep quickly. Jumping into the early preview of Halo 5: Guardian’s multiplayer, I was pleasantly surprised that outside of a few changes, I quickly felt right at home.

To be honest, Halo 4 is a blur. It’s been too long since I played 343’s entry into the franchise after taking the reigns from Bungie, so I can only recall bits and pieces of its multiplayer. I mention this so that I hope you’ll forgive me if any of my Halo 5 observations are carryovers from the previous game. Halo 5’s multiplayer beta officially begins on December 29th (happy birthday to me!) but 343 extended a limited early access invites to a small sample of players. The full beta will release seven maps, three game modes, and new weapons throughout the three week trial period. Early access, on the other hand, is limited to Slayer mode on two maps, Truth and Empire. I didn’t mind the light content as it was just enough to get reacquainted with Halo’s brand of action and acclimated to its new gameplay tweaks.

The Spartans have earned some new upgrades since their last trip out. The abilities popularized in Halo: Reach may be gone, however the Spartans have learned how to sprint without them. Given the above average size of both maps, moving around at a faster clip feels like a necessary addition, especially when spawning Power Weapons are involved. As the round progresses, you’ll hear portions of a countdown to when the special weapons will drop. When they do, the action turns into a tense race for a sniper rifle or energy sword - though most of the time people tend to camp at the spawn points and duke it out until the weapon drops. For an additional, if limited, burst of speed, each Spartan has been outfitted with a rocket pack that functions a lot like the robot suits in Advanced Warfare. Some may balk at its inclusion, yet it saved my life more times than I can count so I can’t complain.

I can’t also complain too much about the ballyhooed aim down sights mechanic. While I didn’t see a problem with this, a lot of people were irate when a leaked video featured the mechanic. ADS is noticeable when non-scoped weapons, like the Pistol or Assault Rifle, are in play and doesn’t compare to what the Battle Rifle and DMR provides. ADS doesn’t slow player movement but it can be canceled when shot. The only situation where ADS affects movement is when it is used during a jump. The Spartan’s rocket pack lets you hover in the air for a short time (or until shot) which is useful for delivering death from above, though it makes you a pretty attractive target for snipers.

The multiplayer experience of Halo is far more spirited than any other I’ve dabbled in. Bungie’s Destiny didn’t draw me in because it lacked the personality I came to expect from the studio. I missed the lively, bombastic narrator of Halo 3, ODST, and Reach and, most of all, those sweet, sweet medals. Everything I loved about competitive Halo returns. Jeff Steitzer’s schtick might be old by now, but I’d be lying if I said his over the top shot calling didn’t make me giddy.

For its first week, Halo 5’s multiplayer was mostly stable. The matchmaking woes that crippled the company and the Master Chief Collection do not appear to affect the beta. I did get kicked out of a few loading screens and there were frequent instances of match loading that took much longer than the on screen timer suggested. This is an early, early version of the beta and can’t be too upset about it. As for bugs or glitches, the game played smoothly enough, though I found some curiosities in the Spartan Hub section, where players can customize the look of their Spartan. I earned a few pieces of cosmetic gear yet they didn’t show up until I picked up the game a few hours later. I also couldn’t view any of the medals I earned. There’s a counter to denote the number accumulated over time but I miss browsing the master list. I was a huge fan of the multiplayer data Bungie made available and I hope Halo 5 gets the same treatment.

Halo 4 may be a distant memory, though Halo 5 has me excited again to play. So far, the Halo 5 experience feels lighter than other games. With abilities and weapon loadouts out of the picture right now, there’s a noticeable and comfortable “pick up and play” feel that modern shooters have eschewed in light of Call of Duty’s popularity. Who is to say, though, that it will stay this way? With 343 offering new content throughout the beta period, things could change - although I hope they don’t. There’s still work to be done, but the multiplayer is shaping up to deliver the familiar experience I never knew I’d enjoy.

Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.