Hands-on with the Halo 5: Guardians Multiplayer Beta

It’s almost here. The day Halo fans have been waiting for since the day they finished Halo 4. That’s right, the official unveiling of Halo 5: Guardians gameplay is upon us. Perhaps not surprisingly given the Halo franchise’s deep multiplayer lineage, the team at developer 343 Industries decided to show off the next evolution of the series’ multiplayer first. At HaloFest, the team introduced the world to the Halo 5: Guardians Multiplayer Beta that will begin on December 29and run through January 18. It will be open to everyone who purchases Halo: The Master Chief Collection for Xbox One.

We had the chance to go hands-on with the Halo 5: Guardians Multiplayer Beta last week for a closer look at the future of Halo multiplayer. Even in this early state, it’s an absolute blast to play.

Though Halo 5: Guardians will have a variety of both large and small gametypes and maps, the focus for the multiplayer beta will be on intense 4-on-4 arena action. There will be seven maps in the beta (we checked out three of them), as well as a brand new game type. One map, Truth, is a striking homage to Halo 2’s Midship that features multiple levels and curved Covenant hallways. Empire, on the other hand, is a showcase of human industry, with a large central command area and Warthog garage. Finally, there’s Crossfire, a map which looks like a virtual Spartan training area and features a slightly disorienting floor grid.

Team Slayer matches on the maps were just as awesome as you’d expect, with lots of hooting and hollering going on throughout the game. That tone changed, however, once we got a taste of the new Breakout game. In Breakout, each player is given one life per round, with each team needing 5 rounds to win. It quickly became apparent that coordination and communication were paramount, as straying too far from your squad usually resulted in being picked off. It’s an intense new Halo multiplayer experience that we can’t wait to explore more.

Halo 5: Guardians mutiplayer features the addition of a booming pre-match voiceover that calls out key strategic locations on each map. It’s a great way for new players to get up to speed more quickly, as is the fact that nearby players will actually “call out” locations if they’re under fire or have the enemy pinned. Finally, there’s the weapon pad system, which shows where so-called “power weapons” like rocket launchers and sniper rifles will spawn and how much time is left on the countdown. It’s a great way to ensure regular and intense clashes as teams vie for control.

One of the coolest new features in Halo 5: Guardians is the Smart Scope, which provides a tight, sighted view with an overlay linked to your Spartan’s helmet. The Smart Scope gives each of your weapons a zoomed view, though there’s no difference in damage from the traditional hip firing. It’s a neat system that will give some added info on your target, but it’s not always ideal since you’ll be de-scoped if you’re hit by enemy fire. It’s another layer of strategy on top of an already highly strategic experience.

In the spirit of keeping the proverbial playing field as even as possible, the team at 343 is giving each player a variety of powerful tools to fit their needs. On the mobility front, Spartans now have unlimited sprint, though that comes with a big catch: your shield won’t recharge while you’re sprinting. This means that every time you take fire, you’ll need to quickly decide whether to take cover or run, adding a bit more critical thinking to the mix. You can also slide by crouching mid-sprint or clamber up to ledges or platforms with a tap of the A button.

Replacing the armor abilities seen in previous Halo multiplayer offerings, the Halo 5: Guardians Multiplayer Beta features a variety of thruster abilities. By tapping the B button while holding in a direction, you’ll be able to dodge from side to side or dash. While you’re running, pressing the melee button will perform a Spartan Charge. This will immediately knock down the shields of an enemy facing you, or kill them if hit in the back. There’s some risk to that reward, though, as you’ll be vulnerable for a moment if you miss.

For the truly bold, there’s the Ground Pound. After leaping or boosting into the air, you’ll be able to hold down the right stick to bring up a reticule on the ground. Once an enemy runs under you (and providing you don’t get shot out of the air), you’ll be able to smash down onto them, killing anyone you hit directly and stunning anyone nearby. Finally, the Smart Scope and the thruster abilities come together in an awesome way, as you can zoom with the left trigger while jumping or falling to hover in the air. This provides some temporary high ground, but leaves you vulnerable if you’re spotted. It’s a lot of fun, especially if you’re able to get the drop on a foe running around a blind corner.

Even though it’s still almost a year from its 2015 release, the Halo 5: Guardians Multiplayer Beta is proof positive that the future of Halo is brighter than ever. We’ll be bringing you more throughout the week here on Xbox Wire.