I was lucky enough to partake in a limited preview of the Halo 5 beta over the weekend. Though the preview came as a surprise (I was twitching when I got the announcement),there was an edge of uncertainty going in. While we must acknowledge that 343 Industries has been working around the clock to address, update and patch the issues that have plagued the Master Chief Collection since it’s release, it was still appropriate to be apprehensive about their latest undertaking. Regardless, it’s admirable in effort and form to release a preview of a beta of a game that is set to be released in about a year from now. It seems that i343 wants to change the conversation, rebuild trust and utilize community feedback to reinstate the iconic science fiction first person shooter to its former state.

But to my (and probably many others) surprise, the preview was executed flawlessly. And even with the somewhat negative responses that have been circulating about the beta, I actually had a blast playing it. So let’s take a quick peek at what you can expect to sink your teeth in come December 29th when the beta opens up for everyone who owns Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

Fast and Furious

Halo 5 is fast. Very Fast. 343 Industries have brought back sprint – a feature tentatively introduced in Halo: Reach as a load out ability, and became a mainstay in Halo 4 – and have added a thruster pack ability. Combined, these two features make moving across the map much quicker and much more efficiently, leading to a fast-paced battle out:

Whether you’re a fan of these implementations or not, the good news is that they’re not necessarily game changers simply because everyone starts off with the exact same abilities. i343 has (for now) done away with Halo: Reach and Halo 4’s different loadouts and has evened the playing field for everyone. For those still weary of these changes, don’t be; your shields won’t regenerate while sprinting and you can’t spam the thrust ability.

On top of these changes, there is also the implementation of several abilities (that everyone has) to both attacking other Spartans and using your environment to move around in different ways. I haven’t mastered all of them, but here’s a neat chart to both explain it’s purpose, and how to use them, come the 29th:

Spartan Abilities - Image by 343 Industries

Spartan Abilities – Image by 343 Industries

ADS and New Weapons

H5 MP Beta Truth No Retreat - Image by 343 Studios

H5 MP Beta Truth No Retreat – Image by 343 Studios

Another huge change is the implementation of aiming down sights for the assault rifle, SMG and (for some) the pistol. You can now use the AR and SMG with more accuracy, leading both to becoming true primary weapons. The pistol, on the other hand, has had a various scoping abilities depending on the game. I kept forgetting to use ADS when shooting with the assault rifle but when I did, I noticed a much tighter bullet spread. Do I prefer these changes? Not really, but once I finally got the hang of it, I became much more threatening when confronted with someone using a BR or DMR. I do believe, however, that both these guns are slightly overpowered. If you have decent accuracy and a steady hand, the AR and SMG seems kill faster than a precision weapon. There was also only two types of grenades, the frag and plasma. Contrary to the OP-ness of the AR and SMG, the grenades are underpowered and sometimes I would chuck a few frags in the enemies direction without putting a dent in their shield.As this is the beta, i343 will undoubtedly fix any weapon balance issues and bring back the superiority of precision weapons and of the grenades.

Speaking of the SMG, the beta has reintroduced this weapon in Halo 5 as well as the Prophet’s Bane, a new and more powerful energy sword. You move faster when you have it, and if you scope with it, your lunge will be far greater in distance.  As for other alien weaponry, we haven’t seen any yet .The full beta will most likely have these as there will be more maps.

The Community Responds

Concept Art Halo 5 - Image by 343 Industries

Concept Art Halo 5 – Image by 343 Industries

I’ve been going over countless forums, comment sections and articles on people’s opinions on the Halo 5 beta. While most have responded positively, there has been some backlash. Whether it was their dislike for the new ADS feature or movement speed, many have been comparing it to the Call of Duty franchise, and lamenting the loss of what has been dubbed “the real Halo feel” and they are right – to a certain extent. Going forward, Halo will not resemble entirely the glory days of Halo 2, and even Halo 3; but that isn’t a bad thing. Quite frankly, what I’ve seen in Halo 5 is actually a return to the spirit of the original series. They’ve discarded many of the features from Halo: Reach (load out abilities) and Halo 4 (kill streak rewards) that have disgruntled gamers and focused on what really matters: the battle out between players.
That is why I don’t understand the comparisons between Halo 5 and COD. I’ve played copious amounts of both, and I just don’t see it. If you come face to face with an enemy Spartan in Halo, the outcome of the battle doesn’t necessarily depend on who sees who first, or who shoots who first; it depends on skill and acquaintance with the game play mechanics. All Spartans start off with the exact same abilities and weaponry, and must fight to gain control of the better weapons littered across the map; weapons that everyone has equal access to. The change in movement speed doesn’t necessarily bring Halo in coalescence with COD, it just takes the base formula and supplants it into a quicker environment.
In essence, Halo 5 feels like a Halo evolved, a product of progress and contemporary changes in competitive first person shooters. Kind of like the two sides of a Janus face, i343 is giving a nod to what had previously made the series a landmark while attempting to bring it forward and keep it in line with the current trends in shooters. And so far, i343 has my confidence.

Then again, you’ll have to try it yourself. If you already have Halo: The Master Chief Collection, or waiting for Santa to bring you one tomorrow, the official beta starts up on December 29th and runs through to January 18th, 2015. I’ll see you in the arena, Spartans.