Halo 5 Guardians Beta Impressions: Our Thoughts On Each Of The New Gameplay Mechanics And Features

By Matthew Buzzi , Updated Jan 05, 2015 12:01 PM EST

The Halo 5: Guardians Beta has been live for a week now, giving fans plenty of time to get a feel for the game and experience the new features and mechanics for themselves.

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I've played many hours of the beta by now, and come to a few conclusions about the changes and additions. My thoughts are overall quite positive--Halo 5 has grown on me the more I've played, and I think it's a lot of fun. Below are individual reactions based on the each of the new mechanics, with fuller impressions to follow at a later time.

For context, I'm a long-time fan who prefers competitive settings, and have been a hardcore follower of the competitive scene for many years. I have the same concerns and thoughts as many of you, and am also considering the game from the perspective of the general public--not just the enthusiasts. A common theme is that there are many differences from traditional Halo in the new game, but change is not always a bad thing--read on with an open mind.

Halo 5 Is Visually Impressive

This will be a short one as it doesn't have much impact on the gameplay, but this is a good-looking title. The soft lighting, high quality textures, and character models look great, and weapon effects such as zooming with the Light Rifle are really neat. The Spartan animations for the winning team after a match are a bit silly, but launching into Breakout matches off a mancannon is satisfying. Well done, 343--you've made a very attractive game. 

The Climbing Mechanic Works

Say what you will about climbing the geometry with an animation not feeling very Halo-like, but I'm not sold on that being a negative. While it may be a change, I think it's a solid addition, and makes traversing the map more fun and dynamic. Boosting or jumping to a ledge and pulling yourself up is both useful and feels cool, and it doesn't break the game. Maps (such as Truth's hole top middle, which should probably be removed) have to be careful about giving the mechanic too much power, but I enjoy using it, and believe it rewards clever movement and decisions.

Thrust Is Good, Too

While I'm less sure about the need for Ground Pound, and (the somewhat related) Sprint, I think the Thruster mechanic is really good. Armor Abilities were not welcomed by fans in Halo 4 and this may be a contentious opinion, but I think it adds an interesting dynamic to the game. Thrust is one-use boost that launches you a few feet in the direction you push, and comes with a cooldown of several seconds. You can traverse the map more quickly and intelligently with well-timed boosts, and it can be used in the heat of battle to dodge grenades or escape around a corner. There have been several times where I've burst into a room to surprise an enemy, and it's always a genuinely awesome moment when you follow it up with steady shots for the kill. It might have to be balanced for competitive play in terms of distance while sprinting or jumping, but it's a lot of fun to use and meaningfully impacts gameplay.

Sprinting And Spartan Charge Are A Mixed Bag

The inclusion of Sprint is probably the most-criticized decision 343 has made in relation to Halo 5, because it has a negative connotation with the hardcore fans. Its use in the recent Halo titles changed the gameplay for the worse by altering map flow and allowing for rapid escapes, but things are different this time around. While I'm not all for its inclusion just yet, 343 has at least made it so you don't recharge shields while sprinting. This means using it for a getaway is a genuine risk, as you may end up running right into another enemy's line of sight while you're still one shot, unable to defend yourself.

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In competitive matches, anyone with skill and good teamwork will make short work of someone running across the map one shot while unable to shoot, so it's certainly been balanced. I'm not sure it's needed, but it does speed up map movement--that can be good or bad depending on the gametype and map. Spartan Charge, on the other hand (melee while sprinting to the effect of an instant kill), I'm not a fan of. It's simply too strong, and not really necessary. Moreover, it feels more likely to award someone who was simply sprinting around and abruptly came across an enemy than it does anyone using it with strategy in mind. It feels like a get out of jail free card for recklessly running or being caught unaware, and I'm not a big fan--nerf it or lose it, in my opinion.

Aim Down Sights Isn't So Bad, And It Makes Sense

Fans were very apprehensive about the new scoping mechanic--rather than simply seeing a scope or zooming in, Halo 5 brings a Call of Duty style looking-down-your-gun's-barrel animation to zooming. More than just the visual change, there was some outrage that making use of ADS would actually improve your accuracy--the bullet spread of the SMG is lessened, for instance. While I can agree it's not very Halo, it's also not inherently bad. It makes sense that moving more slowly and using a scope reduces spread, and it's a gamble you can weigh in each situation. At medium range you'll appreciate your SMG and Assault Rifle not being useless, and they can still spray fast in close quarters without zooming if need be.

The Hover While Scoping Is Great

While you can turn it off, aiming down the sights and jumping (or vice versa) will put your Spartan into a hover. It lasts a few seconds, and you slowly sink before dropping, but it's a good way to peek over a wall and get a few shots off, or stay lifted just an extra second to scout for your team or snipe. Sometimes it's irritating to intend only to jump and aim more carefully like you would in past titles (hence the ability to turn it off if that's your preference) but I've found it genuinely useful in multiple situations. Getting that extra time to finish off a kill or surprise an enemy with shots is welcome in my book, and is not overpowered as you simultaneously make yourself an exposed target.

Breakout Has Potential

While it hasn't been seen in Halo before, the Counter Strike style (one life per round, no respawns) gameplay of Breakout has a lot of potential. While I'm not sure about SMG starts and don't love the map Crossfire, those have more to do with settings than the game mode itself. On a casual level, it can be a fun diversion from the usual game, providing some tense standoffs if teams are evenly matched. It can also be frustrating when watching teammates make poor decisions that ruin it for your team, since there's even more impact from individuals than usual. On a competitive level, we've seen the gametype work in Counter Strike and Call of Duty, and I think it has potential with the right settings and maps.

The New Presentation Is A Bit Overstuffed, But Thoughtfully Done

Spartans calling out everything that happens during the game can get a bit old, but I don't mind being told our team picked up the sniper, or that power weapons are about to spawn. It could get messy and confusing in competitive tournaments and can hopefully be turned off, but those additions don't bother me on their own. The name of the area you're currently in on the map is displayed above the radar, which is useful for learning and referencing. The in-game voiceover is even more cheesy than before, but that's sort of meant to be. Medals are well-implemented and are satusfying to be rewarded, such as Reversal for winning a fight you begin when down shots, and it's all streamlined. Everything is accessible, understandable, and has a uniting (and appealing) aesthetic. The controller layout choices are the standard fare with multiple setups available, and there are a good number of options for turning on or altering the function of new mechanics--I can only assume the full game will expand on the customization offerings.

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