I have been a die-hard Halo fan all my life. I have been die-hard Halo fan in the sense that I think all of the Halo games were better back in the day. Halo 2 and Halo 3 were the best shooters you could play online. Then came Halo: Reach and I felt that the multiplayer was broken. Where was the Battle Rifle? Why is there no longer an exciting and motivating ranking system? Why is there bloom on the weapons? Why can players sprint? I felt alienated. I still played a lot of Reach, but I played it just because it was a social experience, because I had many friends to play with. And because it was fun to play a game I was good at.
A few years later Halo 4 appeared. I had no motivation to buy it, and had no expectations. I felt that Bungie had ruined the series with Reach, and I had no belief that 343 Industries could correct it with Halo 4. They didn't. After I casually picked the game up I quickly found out that this was even worse than Reach. An even less interesting ranking system. Battle Rifle and DMR were unbalanced. The weapon drop system was an annoying way to make the game more casual (at the expense of the competitive). And loadouts with different perks and skills meant that the distance between the players were bigger, instead of everyone having the same starting position.
I was very skeptical regarding Halo 5: Guardians. The game could not be any worse than Halo 4, I thought. At the same time I thought it could not be better than Halo 3. After a few hours in front of the screen, I left with this impression: yes, this might actually be better than Halo 3.
Halo 5: Guardians is by no means a classic Halo game. It is the game of the series (not including spin-offs like Halo Wars and Spartan Assault) which is furthest away from the classic Halo games, at least when it comes to how the game is played. Nevertheless, it's Halo at the core. It is still run-and-gun, it's still arena shooting, and it's still powerful Spartans in epic battles. 343 Industries have kept this core while renewing the game mechanics. And that bodes well, for while it doesn't remind me of the classic Halo, neither does it remind me of Call of Duty, Battlefield, Titanfall or Destiny. There's indeed a good chance that Halo 5 has managed to find his own niche, and so far it impresses.
First I will talk about movement in the game. Tim Longo, creative director of 343 Industries, said in an interview that one of the key principles was that all players should have the same base when it came to moving. Therefore, there's no loadout-system where players can add various perks, such as eternal sprinting or fast charging weapons, all movements are integrated into the game mechanics from the start.
All these movements are a form of risk/reward system, as Tim Longo defined it. This means that all movements in the game are at the expense of something else. One can, for example, not focus on sprinting all the time, because the shield does not regenerate while running. Ground pound should not be used all the time because it takes a long time to charge it up, and it thus you are very vulnerable when doing so. Stabilizer is much the same. It gives you greater shooting control in the air, but makes you really exposed and vulnerable. Clamber does not permit you to shoot while climbing. So we see that it's important to use these skills at the right moment. It is no longer just shooting skills and map control that are dominant in Halo, now it is also important that you make the right decisions.
With Halo 5 comes a new ranking system. Players familiar Halo 2 and Halo 3 may remember that players were placed within 1 (worst) to 50 (best) based on their elo-rating. This was a system that effectively meant that players could play with other people on their level. It was a motivating factor, and it ensured you always had something to strive for. In Halo 5 they venture away from the 1-50 system. Instead it will have different divisions that divide players. Altogether there should be seven divisions with bronze, silver, gold, and so on. A system that anyone who has played League of Legends will recognise. Tim Longo explained that players were divided into different divisions according to how good they were and that they could move both up and down between divisions. Moreover, the highest division in the game is reserved for the top 200 players, those who make the cut.
The maps presented for us in the beta clearly had a focus on competitive shooting action. I tried three maps, all of which were designed with symmetry in mind, and for matches with two teams of four players.
Breakout was created in the Forge mode of the game. The ground was patterned into neon squares, and simple, geometric structures created checkpoints and high points that looked out over the map. On one side of the center was a more closed area that served as a bottleneck.
Truth is a remake of the classic Halo 2 map, Midship. It is relatively similar, but some of the jumps that were in Halo 2 or 3 have been removed. Some have also been added. The way you move feels relatively similar to before, with some minor modifications.
Empire took place on the roof of a skyscraper and was semi-symmetrical, and was my favorite of the day. There were many closed-off areas that were designed for close combat, but the map was also equipped with two snipers, which rewards the players who can handle them in close combat.
The graphics have gotten a real lift. It is one of the best looking games I've ever seen. I feel that 343 Industries set a new standard with the graphics in Halo 4, which was just ridiculously pretty for an old-gen game. It was impressive how the metallic structures looked so real, how light effects made the whole so epic and futuristic, and how the huge spectrum of colour made the game a lovely visual experience. Halo 5 builds on Halo 4, and looks in many ways like an even prettier take on the same formula.
The game has a new aiming system. A system that was quickly criticised by many. Halo has always been a run-and-gun shooter, so that it now comes with an aim-down-sight system (ADS) may scare some. Let me just make it clear: it works very well. After playing a few games I didn't even think about the fact that it was ADS on weapons. It was not any harder to hit, and I didn't feel like I had less oversight. It worked seamlessly.
It is a bit special that ADS has been included on all the weapons I tried (which was Magnum, SMG and Assault Rifle). The AR has a modified version of ADS, and you're not actually looking down the sights. The screen zooms slightly, and the weapon is more accurate at distance. All the automatic weapons in the game felt quite powerful if you hit while aiming.
To compensate for this, de-scoping has been reintroduced. For those who do not know what that means, you now lose your aim if an opponent hits you. You must therefore aim again. Mastering this is clearly going to be a key point in duels. You're not necessarily down-and-out if it happens, but you do need to be quick at aiming and firing back.
With Halo 5: Guardians 343 Industries are taking competitive gaming and e-sports seriously. They have hired former professional Halo players to be involved in designing and contributing to the game mechanics. I'm very impressed with what I've played, and it feels like nothing is being left to chance. They've introduced new and old mechanics that makes the sense of mastery greater, while the game remains relevant and inline with modern shooters. Personally, the ranking system is something I am most excited about, and even though the beta doesn't include any ranking, I'm looking forward to playing it again this December.