Anyone with even a passing interest in a Halo game has most likely dabbled in its multiplayer. The series has an uncanny ability to draw people together and many gamers will be able recall with perfect clarity their favourite Halo multiplayer moments. Personally my fondest memory is the lengthy Monday night 4-player split-screen sessions (on an old CRT TV no less) with Halo 2 during my second year of Uni. I only had three good controllers with the fourth having taken an unfortunate swim in a warm glass of Sunnyvale Medium White. The loser would have to use this controller and assume the mantle of Goon Boy and wear it like a brand of shame. Whatever custom modes we played it always ended on Free-For-All King of The Hill on Midship and the matches were a blinding mix of unbridled chaos and ridiculous fun. We still talk about those nights with reverence although our taste in wine has somewhat matured.
All the colours of the Spartan rainbow
Halo 5’s multiplayer offering is probably its greatest asset and naturally where the game will find its longevity. The game’s greatest departure from Halo games of the past is the sheer speed of the gameplay. The frantic online matches have a blistering pace to them but tick along smoothly at 60fps at 1080p. The speed and fluidity of the combat plus new moves like clambering and dashing allows for greater manoeuvrability and strategy, with skilled players likely to find many little tricks to keep them ahead of the opposition. Firing accurately under pressure is paramount and true to the Halo style it’s all about headshots. Talking about headshots the Halo 1-esque Magnum is back in particularly lethal form. As a starting weapon I feel the Magnum is perhaps a little too powerful, and skilled players who can score headshots with ease will terrorise people with this weapon.
This Spartan doesn’t have long to live
A painful way to go
In this ancient war of Red versus Blue there are two main modes: Arena and Warzone. Arena is reminiscent of the Halo games of yore, providing tight 4 v 4 action in small to medium-sized maps across various different objectives. Most of the objective modes, such as Capture the Flag, Slayer, Shotty Snipers and SWAT will be familiar to Halo fans, but there are a few new ones thrown in there for good measure. There’s Strongholds, a hardpoint-style mode where two out of four zones must be controlled to earn points as well as a new mode called Breakout. Breakout has a single neutral flag that has to be captured but the twist is that each Spartan only has a single life. This mashup of Halo and games like Counterstrike is sure to find a legion of new fans, and matches are tense and exhilarating. One glaring omission is King of the Hill, one of my favourite custom game modes. Hopefully this is introduced at a later point as I think many fans will miss this mode. There is also no split-screen for any multiplayer game modes, which has long been at the heart of Halo.
Many of the maps are symmetrical and 343i have made no secret that they’re going for a style conducive to MLG tournaments. Map design is relatively simple and tends to let the gunplay do the talking, but they provide many tactical opportunities for things like flanking and owning the high ground. Being a Halo game there are also map-specific power weapons to pick up and wage war with. Unlike previous entries these power weapons have indicators that tell you both where they are and when they’ll spawn next. Some will believe this takes some of the skill of map memorisation out of the game, however it does create a new dynamic whereby whole teams tend to converge on power weapon spawns with often hilarious and deadly consequences.
Warzone is the other half of the multiplayer experience and is an absolute blast. This game mode features 12 v 12 action on sprawling maps, and mixes elements of both PvP and PvE. Points can be gained for killing Covenant and Promethean AI enemies as well as the opposing Spartan team, and oftentimes you’ll find yourself fighting both at the same time. The first team to 1000 points wins the game. Titanfall attempted something similar to this with its Attrition mode, however Warzone feels like a far better implementation of the concept. Skilled players and newbies alike are likely to find their groove in these matches and find the best way to contribute to their team’s victory.
While being a brilliant addition to the Halo brand, Warzone also features by far the series’ most contentious feature: microtransactions. Warzone uses an intriguing Requisition (REQ) system whereby cards for special weapons, vehicles, armour pieces and boosts are acquired via REQ packs. REQ packs come in three flavours: Gold, Silver and Bronze, and each contains a mix of cards of varying rarity and permanency. These can be bought with REQ points gained through playing normally, but if that’s not your style than you can simply skip all that and buy them with real money. They’re quite cheap and will likely entice a few people to take this path, and what is really quite a cool, well-thought out system is sullied by the presence of these real money shenanigans. There is some balance in the form of making more powerful cards unable to be redeemed until you reach a certain REQ level in each match (you can’t just waltz into a match with a Scorpion tank) but I can’t help but feel my respect for Halo has been poisoned somewhat by this practice. I never thought I’d live to see the day that Halo had microtransactions, but such is the ugly age we live in. The presence of microtransactions in a competitive context for non-cosmetic items in a full retail game is unscrupulous at best, and I am saddened by the fact Microsoft Studios/343i decided to go this path. While the mode is undeniably fun, it remains to be seen whether Warzone will turn into an unbalanced, pay-to-win nightmare.
Hey kids, ya wanna buy some REQ packs?
With the intimate battles in Arena mode and the sparse battles in Warzone, it seems that there is no middle ground. Maps like Sidewinder and Blood Gulch are timeless Halo classics for medium to large game modes (the optimal size and player count of which sit approximately between that of Arena and Warzone) and have been reincarnated in various forms in Halo since its inception. 343i have decided to leave them behind in this iteration and I can’t help but feel the game is worse off for it.
Multiplayer in Halo 5: Guardians feels like a bit of a mixed bag. While the new movement mechanics provide a welcome evolution for the series’ tried and true gunplay, the lack of split-screen and the idea of only having player counts at the very extremes of small and large seems odd. Similarly, the bold new innovation and mostly excellent execution of the fantastic game mode Warzone is riddled with obnoxious microtransactions. While the multiplayer is fun and addictive and something I can see myself playing for many months to come, I can’t shake the feeling that in trying to reinvent itself Halo has perhaps lost something important along the way.