Launch day is upon us for the latest entry in Microsoft’s vaunted Halo franchise. I talked a bunch yesterday about the pressure that I think this game is under to succeed, especially in this first launch week. So today, now that I’ve put a couple hours into messing with customization and playing a few rounds of Warzone, I thought I’d talk a bit about what I saw and felt. Halo is very much a “feel” game – especially in the online multiplayer.
Before I ever step foot into the online arenas in pretty much any shooter these days, I look at the customization options that are available to me. In Halo that used to just be emblem and armor colors, but has since evolved to include a whole slew of armor pieces and helmet options. Halo 5: Guardians takes that even farther than every before. In previous games there were maybe 20 or so helmet choices – in Halo 5 there are 75! That extends to the armor choices, and there are even more options than to customize than ever before. Visor colors, weapon skins, emblems, the stance your Spartan takes in menus and even assassination animations all can be changed to your personal choices. I think today I spent maybe 20 minutes or so just looking at all the different things I could tweak, and changing my actual setup with the very few options I had at launch. What I’ve always liked is that Bungie and 343 have always put some incentive behind customizing your Spartan with achievements. I love that, mainly because I always think that the more that players can make their in-game avatar their own creation, the better.
Once all that is handled though, it’s time to dive in to the arenas. I went with Warzone, both because it’s new, and also because I’m kinda waiting for my fireteam to play Arena matches – at least this week. Warzone had definitely piqued my interest pre-launch though. I always thought that Big Team Battle was the best way to experience the classic Halo gameplay, and Warzone is BTB done the Next-Gen way. Player vs. Player vs. AI in a massive 24 player lobby is tailor made for the world of Halo. With the new Req system that lets you pick weapons and vehicles as you want them – assuming you have the energy to buy them – it makes each game a lot more dynamic. It’s not about waiting and timing the spawns on power weapons and vehicles anymore. It’s about keeping an eye out for players doing well and knowing that they could be pulling a Scorpion out any time now. Keeping those power weapons banked for those moments is a really big tactical move now.
All that is great when you realize that the default Warzone mode is essentially a big version of Battlefield‘s Conquest mode. You need to grab the three control points in order to open up the enemy team’s Energy Core, then blow it up. It’s Conquest, but works both ways – there’s no offense/defense, it’s just push forward until you win, or counter any attack coming your way. That in-and-of itself would be awesome for Halo in a BTB setting, but then you add in the AI enemies. They pop up every few minutes, with callouts and everything. Your team is rewarded for killing them – the harder the enemy, the more score your team gets. It’s entirely possible to win a match without holding onto the control points the most. Pick off the bosses, keep slaying enemy Spartans and you will have a win on your hands. All in all, I really think that Warzone is a really fun way to play Halo – it’s the perfect Halo experience really. It’s everything that the franchise has always been about in one setting. I really hope that we’ll see more than just the three maps available right now as the DLC season kicks off.
One thing that I always keep in mind when I play Halo is how it makes me feel. Halo has always been a game that’s close to my gaming core – some of my favorite gaming memories are from huge LAN parties back in High School in the original game. And so far, with a pretty small sample size, Halo 5 is doing a really good job of keeping that feeling there. Each weapon feels great – and different. Sure there’s some ducks in the bunch – I’m looking at you Plasma Caster – but the most important weapons all feel just like they should. I think that the opportunity for those special moments might be better than ever before with this game. The new mechanics make it easier than ever to move around the maps and get into combat – and then maneuver in combat. I can definitely see map knowledge and movement being more important than it has been in a long time here. Again, it’s still really early, but I gotta say, I have a good feeling that Halo 5 might be the game the series needed it to be.