In November last year, 343 Industries released Halo: The Master Chief collection for Xbox One and announced that it would include the beta version of Halo 5. Halo 5 Beta launched on December 29 and will run until the 18th of January. The beta is online multiplayer only - no single player.
The graphics and audio in Halo 5 are more clear and crisp than ever. Footsteps, gun shots and reloading all sound great. It looks great visually, particularly the Tron-like, futuristic appearance of the Breakout arenas with warped, shifting grid patterns in the dark blue floors, and the deep purples and blues in the curved, flowing walls and view of space through the roof in the Truth map (a modern re-make of Midship from Halo 2). It looks noticeably better than Halo 4. It is only in 720p to allow for a smaller download (a little over 10gb) - the final version of Halo 5 will be in 1080p and should look slightly better than the beta version. It runs very smoothly and so far I haven't seen any problems or glitches.
The gameplay mechanics are robust and watertight. Even though it is only a beta version of the game, it feels like a well oiled machine. The action is very challenging, fast-paced and FUN. It's faster and more difficult to master than Halo 4, which also makes it more satisfying. Quick reflexes and some practice are necessary for a satisfactory K/D ratio. The controls are very responsive. Moving and sprinting feels smooth and precise. Unlike in Halo 4, spartans no longer run out of stamina and can sprint indefinitely, although they cannot shoot or recharge their shields whilst sprinting.
Another difference from Halo 4 is that loadouts can no longer be customised. 343i have removed unnecessary weapon unlocks, ability unlocks and loadout customisations, reverting to the simplicity and level playing field of previous Halo games. Many Halo fans, myself included, think this is a wise decision. A player who picks up the game for the very first time will be using a spartan with the same guns and abilities as someone who has been playing for 100 hours. The starting loadout for the final week of the beta is assault rifle + battle rifle (previously, it was battle rifle + magnum).
A new audio feature in Halo 5 is spartan callouts. During gameplay, spartans will automatically say things to eachother, telling fellow team members where enemies are, or if they're attacking ("throwing grenade", "throwing one out", "clean kill", "good assist", "downed him" and my favourite: "took his head off!") or if a power weapon has just become available ("ten seconds to weapon pad", "weapon pad's ready", "sword will be ready in 30", "sniper rifle's ours") or if they're under attack from enemies or friendly fire ("we lost one", "watch your grenades. Same team!", "'nade incoming!", "friendly down"). This adds to the feeling of action and teamwork in multiplayer and can also be entertaining.
343i have given spartans in Halo 5 some new movement abilites to spice things up a bit.
Stabilizer (left trigger whilst in the air): this ability allows your spartan to hover in the air and aim for a few moments. This adds a fresh, vertical dynamic to combat. Jumping up from behind ledges and aiming/stabilizing gives you a temporary, floating vantage point where you can shoot at enemies for a few moments and then quickly drop back behind cover.
Thruster (B button): this ability propels your spartan in a quick, short burst in whatever direction you are moving. You can use this at any time whilst on foot or in the air, although it takes a few seconds to recharge and can't be used constantly. This is great for quickly dashing backwards or sideways out of danger, or forwards to close the gap between you and the enemy for a melee attack or sword kill. The ability to quickly dash behind cover at the last moment before death after having my shields depleted has saved my ass many times. This great new mechanic adds more versatility and speed to the movement in Halo.
Ground pound (click right stick whilst in the air): this is an interesting new ability which takes some practice to master. Whilst in the air you hold the crouch button which brings up a target reticle on the ground, giving you a couple of seconds to aim at enemies below, then when you release it your spartan launches toward the ground and concussively slams into your target. It is a very powerful attack which also has some splash damage. When you are floating in the air and aiming the attack for those couple of moments, you are a target for enemy fire, so this one must be used carefully. It is hard to use, but very satisfying when pulled off successfully.
Clamber (A/jump): this ability allows you to jump towards a ledge and climb up over it if you don't quite make it far enough to land on your feet. Simply press A a 2nd time as you hit the ledge during the jump and your spartan will grab the ledge and climb up. This one is very handy and easy to use, a welcome addition to Halo.
Slide (crouch/right stick whilst sprinting): this ability allows you to sprint and crouch into a short slide. I haven't used this one too much, but it can come in handy when sprinting towards an enemy who is shooting at you, allowing you to slide underneath their gunfire and finish with a melee. Very useful for sword kills.
Spartan charge (right shoulder button whilst sprinting): this one gives spartans the ability to sprint and thrust towards the enemy in a shoulder charge. More powerful than a standard melee, and satisfying when used effectively.
All of these abilites are available to every player from the get-go.
There are 3 gametypes available in Halo 5 Beta: Slayer, Breakout and Strongholds.
Slayer is the same gametype Halo fans will be familiar with from previous Halo games. 8 players, red vs blue, 4 vs 4, 50 kills to win or a 12 minute time limit if neither team reaches 50 kills.
Breakout is a great new gametype which wasn't in previous Halo games. Like Slayer, it is also 4 vs 4, but there is no respawn or motion tracker. Each team starts together as a group at each end of the map, which allows players to stick together and work as a team. The aim is to eliminate all spartans in the opposing team to win the round. The first team to win a total of 5 rounds wins the match, so the length of a match can be anywhere from 5 to 9 rounds. The shields are weaker in this gametype, and one melee strike or a well thrown grenade is enough for a kill.
Strongholds is a new mode which was just added today for the final week of the beta. Each team must work together to control 3 specific zones in the map to win the match. Teams will only score points if they control at least 2 of the zones.
At the end of every match an animation occurs where the winners fist pump and high five eachother. Good times!
Another new feature in Halo 5 is the smart scope system. It is a zoom function linked to your spartan's visor which every weapon now has. Guns which previously had 0 zoom now have a slight zoom, which also narrows the cone of fire slightly, decreasing bullet spread. This is balanced by descoping, which un-zooms you whenever you get shot. For some guns, such as the magnum, it gives them ADS (Aim Down Sights). For others, such as the assault rifle, it is only a slight zoom with no ADS.
Most of the weapons available in Halo 5 Beta are human/UNSC weapons. There are currently no covenant weapons except for the prophet's bane (energy sword).
The battle rifle, DMR, sniper rifle and rocket launcher are all basically the same as in previous Halo games, but they all look and sound better than ever. The trusty assault rifle is not very noticeably different, neither is the magnum.
The battle rifle is a good all round weapon for combat at any range, better than the DMR at short range but the DMR is more effective at longer ranges. The new DMR has a smaller crosshair and seems to be more precise than in previous games, requiring better marksmanship for effective use.
The assault rifle is quite effective in short range battles and moderately effective at medium range. The new SMG looks a little bit different than older SMGs and now has a rectangular sight on top of the weapon for smart scope/ADS. It has received a noticeable increase in damage compared to previous games and is very powerful in close range firefights but not quite as good as the assault rifle at medium range. The magnum is probably one of the weakest and least useful weapons, but has a fast fire rate and can occasionally come in handy in close range battles.
The new sniper rifle looks and sounds better and more powerful and has a 5x and 10x zoom. Pulling off a headshot with it is more satisfying than ever, considering the new spartan movement abilities and faster moving targets.
The hydra, new to the Halo series, is a guided grenade launcher. It can be fired from the hip, or you can use the scope to lock onto enemies, making the projectiles seek their target.
The energy sword is the same powerful tool of melee destruction that players loved in previous Halo games. Interestingly, it also has a smart scope function, allowing players to lock onto their target before lunging in for the kill.
The light rifle also makes a return and seems to be more powerful than the light rifle from Halo 4. It has a slower fire rate and smaller clip size compared to the battle rifle. This is an accurate and satisfying weapon to use, with great, futuristic sound effects and an awesome looking scope whilst zoomed in. A few of my friends have said that they think the new light rifle and SMG are overpowered. It will be interesting to see if 343i scale back the damage for these in the final version of the game.
Overall, Halo 5 Beta is challenging, fun and definitely worth playing. Every Halo fan with an Xbox One and the Master Chief Collection should jump in ASAP and experience this awesome sample of the next installment in the Halo series if they haven't already. I'm eagerly awaiting the release of Halo 5 and will be squeezing as many hours as I can into playing the beta until it ends on the 18th. Are you looking forward to Halo 5 and have you played the beta? Let me know in the comments.