January is always an interesting part of the year with gaming, Online usage is up, with people playing all their new games from the Holidays. But contrasting that, there usually aren’t too many big releases during the month. Instead we’ll usually see a few DLC packages, or downloadable games. In this year’s case, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is getting the Havoc pack this month, and we’re seeing the release of a current-gen Resident Evil remaster, as well as the current-gen Saints Row IV edition. Neither game is what I would call a major entry for this year.
On the other hand though, this month saw two high profile betas. While the Halo 5: Guardians beta technically started at the end of December, the majority of the beta ran through this month. The other beta, a larger scale pre-release beta than the Big Alpha, was for Evolve. It featured more content than the Big Alpha, but only ran for essentially a weekend, plus a couple days. These two betas show two very different approaches to pre-release events.
With the Halo 5: Guardians beta, it ran for a longer period of time, but had a much narrower focus. I wouldn’t ever really expect to see a beta feature a single player campaign, so this being solely multiplayer makes perfect sense to me. That said, the multiplayer in Halo is so varied and robust, that seeing only three game modes felt like they were holding something back. Halo is a series that’s been known now for years for having a multiplayer that’s full of not only built in game modes, but the flexibility to create all kinds of crazy modes. I think that 343 could have provided a scaled down version of their tools for custom modes. As it turned out though, I think they picked the modes for the beta for a couple reasons. Slayer was there because it’s probably the most played variant online; but the other two modes, Breakout and Strongholds, are both technically new game modes to Halo. It makes sense that 343 wants to feature them, not only to test them in an online environment, but also to promote them a bit. In general, Halo tends to fall into pretty typical patterns – objective games like CTF or Oddball always do well, while games like Assault or King of the Hill tend to fall more on the competitive side, appearing less frequently online. I think 343 wants to make sure that Strongholds or Breakout (or both) work well online and could in fact also work in the competitive world too.
All things considered though, the modes weren’t really what bothered me more about the Halo 5: Guardians beta. It was the map selection. Normally, in a beta I don’t expect much in the way of map variety. But then, most betas don’t last three weeks. Nor do they cycle the maps in and out. That’s really where I was most confused. The beta started with Truth and Empire, both on Slayer. The next week, those maps were pulled – and replaced with Regret and Eden, again on Slayer. What I couldn’t understand was why the first two maps had to be pulled down totally – why not keep them in, and have a four-map rotation. It made sense to me too, since those four maps were all inter-related. Truth and Regret are maps based around the same base – Midship. Truth is a pretty direct update, and Regret is what they’re calling a Remix – it’s Truth, just with a few twists to make it feel unique. It’s a clever way to build the map list, without creating an insane amount of extra work. Empire and Eden are also remix pairs – just not based around an old map this time. To me, I think it would have made sense to put all four in one hopper. Adding in the final map that appeared – Pegasus – wouldn’t have really been a bad thing, it could have broken up the monotony of playing the same two basesets. In the end, that limiting of the maps selection for the beta, is what made me limit my playing. I really enjoyed the gameplay, but it got old fast on two maps only.
With the Evolve beta, this was a bit different focus. The game has already gone gold. It’s too late to make major, sweeping changes. Instead, this was more of a, give the players a bunch of content, let them play essentially the full game for a weekend, and try to catch and squash as many bugs before release. Providing players with the first two sets of characters, both hunters and monsters, let Turtle Rock look at how they interact well before launch. Beyond that, pre-orders of the game before and during the beta unlocked the third and final set, and will have them all open in the full game. I’m not a huge fan of the early unlocks just for pre-ordering, but that’s a topic for another day. Honestly, the Evolve beta felt more like an almost complete game, probably because it was close to the final build, if it wasn’t the actual final build. There were strong built in tutorials, and every map that’s present in the game was in the beta. I think it was just a last chance tune-up prior to launch, which certainly has merits that can hopefully help keep Evolve from having yet another broken launch.
One area where both betas did overlap was that both allowed the player to keep whatever unlocks they managed to get in the beta for the full game. In Halo‘s case, that mainly amounts to just cosmetic gear; with Evolve, that’s characters and upgrades. That’s a very different mentality from say last year’s Titanfall or Destiny betas, both of which had player wipes after the betas closed. I think both styles have their merits – I’m more inclined to be okay with Halo‘s approach, since cosmetic gear doesn’t impact gameplay (generally) while characters and upgrades can very much alter gameplay. Early on in a games life, I would rather have as many players as possible on a level playing field, as opposed to having players that were in the beta having upgraded characters, or players that pre-ordered having final tier characters. It’s up to the developers in the end, and we just have to hope they know what their doing.