There's a new trend that seems to be affecting the world of shooters. It's not enough to simply have powerful guns, challenging levels and enemy formations, and a balanced space to play with others competitively. These days a shooter has to have movement, even a level of grace, to stay competitive. And Halo 5 seems to have gotten that memo.
I played a few rounds of several of Halo 5's multiplayer modes -- a beta experience that will be open December 29 to January 18 for those who purchase the Halo: The Master Chief Collection -- last week in a loft in NYC. Most of the initial demonstration that preceded my playtime involved explaining the new ways your red or blue, male or female Spartan can move. Some of the ideas themselves might be familiar to established Halo gamers -- you're used to picking up jetpacks and other boosters to modify how fast you sprinted or how far you could jump. But in Halo 5's arena, every Spartan starts off on a level playing field, with six standardized forms of movement that everyone has access to from the start of each round.
My favourite of these is also the toughest to pull off: the ground pound. If you can jump high enough in the air, you can suspend yourself to aim for a slam to the floor that's just slightly more aggressive looking than the Mario butt stomp. It can be an instant-kill manoeuvre if you pull it off just right. Get one hit and you can consider it a victory. Two and you're a pro (or just very lucky). Getting killed by a ground pound is the same level of sting you feel after watching your corpse get teabagged, but with a deserved level of appreciation for your enemy too. And about a million times classier.
The other movement tweaks, though seemingly less exciting, can turn a normal feet-on-the-ground match into something much more dynamic. I found myself falling off of platforms frequently without meaning to, plummeting face-first into an entirely new battleground that I'd have to quickly react to to get my bearings again. I've seen players attempt to slide into cover but overextend off a bridge, landing in the middle of an ongoing firefight. I've tried to pull off a Spartan charge to land the perfect melee strike after a burst of speed but, missing my target by a few inches, ran off into a new corridor instead, and straight into a new enemy. And every time I got the upperhand anyway, despite having literally just been flung into this new combat scenario, was an added feeling of triumph.
Part of the messy tripping and falling of my experience with Halo 5 had to do with every player still coming to grips with the new forms of movement. It was the first time any of us had laid hands on the newest Halo game. I can imagine months in -- post Halo 5's release, or even the beta in December -- people will be pulling off trick shots with a combination of the gravity lifts and thrusters -- something 343 mentioned they have seen some of their "pro team" testers -- made up of StrongSide, Ghostayamei, Dersky, and Neighbour -- do. There's room for silliness in Halo 5 for those untrained players, but there's room for expert-level playing and tinkering around with the new movements, too.
But I haven't exactly broken down the nitty gritty of what I learned about Halo 5 in playing two of its modes, so here you go:
- The six new movements are: Stabilizer, which suspends you mid-air for more focused aiming. Ground Pound, which slams you into the ground for massive damage. Clamber, which lets you reach up to pull yourself onto higher platforms. Thruster pack, which lets you burst into any given direction, including while mid-air. Spartan Charge, which uses your thruster to send you shooting into an enemy. Slide, which is fairly self-explanatory.
- There's a new "energy sword" weapon called Prophet's Bane. It fights and feels pretty much like the energy sword you remember from previous Halo games. You'll run faster and lunge father with a melee strike using this weapon.
- You've got infinite sprint, but your health won't regenerate while you're running around like a maniac.
- Every weapon -- including those without scopes -- has a "smart scope" aiming system. If you're shot while attempting to zoom in through your sights, you'll get knocked out of smart scope. That last detail was specifically requested by Halo 5's pro-team testers.
- There's a new mode called Breakout. It was inspired by paintball games, in that once you're released, it's a mad-dash for cover to control a chosen point of the map. It's an elimination mode, so there are no respawns per round. Your shield power is lowered, and the first team to win five rounds wins the game. Games can come down to three versus one, or more tense one-on-one matches. Breakout was actually originally planned for Halo 4, but the development team ran out of time and decided to work on it for Halo 5.
- Other Spartans' avatars will blurt out key information -- about enemy placement, if they're reloading, if they have been hit, when special weapons are up, etc. -- so if you don't have a headset or don't care to participate in conversation with others, you can still get basic information you need on the field.
- Like in previous Halo games, Halo 5 has an XP system to unlock extras that are mostly cosmetic. Players who experience Nightfall will get different unlocks specific to them. Unlocking achievements will actually get you access to more unlocks, too. Anything you unlock in the beta will carry over to your main game when Halo 5 is released.