Having been a little disappointed with Halo 5’s Campaign, I think it’s fair to say I was really hoping for big things from its multiplayer offerings. Indeed, these days many games are often at least as geared towards the online, MP experience as they are the solo, SP stuff – and, if it’s all done well, a great multiplayer can redeem even the most average of games. I’m still relatively new to all the online stuff in general, but (initial humiliation aside, obviously) it’s an element that I’m increasingly becoming quite a fan of, so, armed with some high expectations – and a ridiculously huge pair of headphones – I threw myself into Guardians Multiplayer with gusto, very much hoping to be impressed.
The good news is that I wasn’t disappointed, and the even better news (from my point of view) is that I wasn’t as hideously bad as I feared I would be. I don’t mention that to brag, but because it allows me to highlight my first point – namely that Halo 5 is relatively easy to get the hang of. Where it immediately sets itself apart from other FPS shooters – and why it’s ultimately quite kind to beginners – is that, on many levels, it’s a multiplayer stripped back to basics.
To start with, there’s no real faffing about with loadouts, weapons or armour, at least initially – and that means that you can just go right ahead and jump into the action without first having to figure a lot of stuff out (unless, like me, it takes you a bit of time to figure out you don’t have to figure that out). You essentially begin each game with the same guns as everybody else, and (to start with at least) you won’t be running into somebody who’s carrying a super-weapon, or sporting some seriously pimped-out armour. Depending on the game mode you’re playing, that’ll prob’ly change during the course of the round, but initially, you’ll be on a fairly level playing field. In practice, what that meant for me was that my learning curve was considerably smaller, and less steep, so the number of games where I got battered until I’d figured my shit out was reduced substantially.
Also helping in that respect is the fact that you do have armour – what with being a Spartan and that – so whilst I got killed a lot, it wasn’t as much as it could’ve been – and I had a bit of breathing time/space to fight back (or, more often, run the fuck away screaming like a coulrophobic at a clown convention!). Of course, the flip-side of this is that everybody else has armour, so they’re harder to kill, but on the whole, I think it’s better to not die as quickly.
In the longer run this lack of customisation might be an issue (I’ll get to that later), but for now, I’ma call it as being a reasonably good thing at the outset of your Halo 5 MP career, and there was less of the initial confusion and/or ‘what the actual fucking fuck is x, y or z’ that I experienced when I was playing a CoD, or Battlefield for the first time!
Now, in terms of Game Modes, Halo 5 might be considered somewhat limited, but that’ll likely depend on your point of view. There’s the usual FPS staples here, but not quite as many variations as in some other games. I’d have perhaps liked to see one, maybe two other options in Guardians, but I also think there tends to be one or two too many in other games, so again, it’s not the worst balance. There’s Capture the Flag (self-explanatory), Breakout (One life – No Respawnage!), Stronghold (gain/keep control of areas), Team Slayer (4v4, first to 50 kills), Free-For-All (Individual Slayer – no teams), SWAT (no armour or radar) as well as what will likely be considered Halo 5’s crowning glory, Warzone.
Depending on your preferences and tastes, obviously, some of those might appeal to you more than others, but it’s worth having a play around with them all, just so you don’t overlook something that suits your play style, or attention span, or whatever. For example, I found Capture the Flag to be the best place to hone my skills at first, because the relatively small arenas, coupled with the small team sizes, allowed me to get to grips with everything in a slightly more forgiving environment. Given there are natural areas of focus (that’ll be the flags), I found it much less of a 360° theatre of death, and it was considerably easier to stick with the rest of my team, and consequently pick up more kills and assists.
Of course, whilst the other modes are fun enough, WARZONE is the pinnacle of Halo 5’s multiplayer shenanigans, and almost certainly the thing that’ll keep most people coming back time and again (amongst other things, it really is rather addictive). Warzone is a large, sprawling map of mixed objectives, and you’ll be tasked with killing real-life players, as well as a fair amount of AI baddies too. There’s real-estate to capture (and hold), and at various times you’ll also be alerted to AI elements arriving on the scene, and if you dispatch these, they’ll add Victory Points to your team total – some, not a lot of points, others a full-on shitload of them.
There really is a lot of different stuff to focus on, and it’s a refreshing twist on the usual ‘rack up x number of kills’ stuff – and it can ultimately make games more interesting and rewarding. See, there’s no time limit in Warzone (it’s usually the first to 1000 Victory Points), and the mixture of elements can create a real ebb and flow in momentum, particularly if you’ve got reasonably equal teams. Some games can last upwards of half an hour, and it’s sometimes possible for a team getting all different kinds of battered to pull off a comeback of epic proportions – stealing it right at the death.
On the other hand, if one team manages to capture all three bases, the enemy’s home base becomes accessible, and the core can be destroyed for an instant win (once, humiliatingly, within less than 10 minutes). Essentially, what all of this means in practice is that there’s a premium on multi-tasking, and finding a balance in what your team focuses on. If you all go chasing after AI bosses, for example, you’ll ultimately leave bases vulnerable, and risk getting overpowered that way, but if, conversely, you just focus on holding onto real estate, you’ll allow the opposition to chase down all the high-scoring baddies at their leisure. This obviously means there’s a distinct advantage to using ‘comms’ too, and it can be essential in alerting the rest of your team to opportunities, dangers, and what’s going on at various times. Somebody giving a quick ‘they’re attacking base x’ shout-out can allow you to make your way there to help defend it (or, if you’re like me, respawn there when you die within the next 3 seconds), just as a quick ‘we’re attacking y’ can allow you to go there, and maybe just tip the balance in your team’s favour (again, probably not if you’re like me). Basically, use your ridiculously large headphones – because they’ll be a massive bonus.
Also, helping with the ebb and flow of Warzone games is the all-new REQ SYSTEM, which is Halo’s answer to all the in-game perks/streaks/bonuses type-stuff that feature in most FPS games. As you, and your team, achieve certain things, you’ll receive energy that will gradually increase your REQ level. At REQ stations (and the respawn screen) you’ll then have access to additional weapons, perks, vehicles, power-ups etc – which, provided you’ve reached the necessary level (and already have access to them via collected cards), can be brought into play. Again, if you or your team use these wisely, it can make a real difference to your collective fortunes. If your team’s struggling with an uber-boss, jumping into a vehicle with decent firepower might just mean your team finishes it off before the opposition have a chance to do so (I’ll come to that again very shortly). Likewise, if you’re attacking the enemy’s core, picking up a superweapon from a REQ station might just allow you to destroy it before they re-capture a base and their core becomes off-limits again.
However, there’s a catch (who’da thunk it, eh!?), and let’s say you’re not that great with a particular superweapon – or just not that great in general – and you get killed almost immediately after getting it. That means that a) that’s not yours again when you respawn, and b) the guy who just killed you can go right ahead and pick it up if he fancies using it. And just like that, the superweapon that you paid your hard-earned REQ points for is now in the hands of your enemies. Which tactically speaking, isn’t, you know, the greatest of moves.
In terms of earning your REQ gear (as opposed to the energy to ‘withdraw’ it), you’ll get it from REQ packs – which can be acquired by various means. You’ll get given packs for levelling-up, achieving certain specific commendations (kills with a weapon, headshots etc), as well as having the option to buy them outright – either with cold hard cash, or with REQ points accumulated in-game. Packs are random (with higher level packs giving a better chance of getting good stuff), so you can’t just ‘buy’ a specific doodah. I have to say, I ended up with a hell of a lot of Mongooses (Mongeese?), and decidedly crappy weapons – but you can sell them back for more REQ points – which I did. Immediately. On the other hand, the REQ points awarded are fairly generous I feel, and I average about 2000 per game. Given the Gold packs cost 10 000, I think there’s a reasonably fair balance there – and it’s commendable that you’re not pushed to spend actual money if you don’t want to.
Finally in terms of what’s good about Halo 5 Multiplayer, it’s worth mentioning that it all usually plays really, really, well, and I’ve not experienced many issues in terms of getting ejected from games, or lag, or trying to shoot guys who are flitting around the screen like robots under strobe lighting. I mean, it has happened (the disconnected thing has occurred on my three best rounds so far, which was fucking infuriating) – but just not that often, and I suspect at least half of that is the fault of my shitty ISP, rather than the Halo folks. Halo 5 uses dedicated servers (as opposed to Peer to Peer stuff), and it mostly benefits from the smoothness and consistency that this generally provides. There’s nothing worse than playing an online game and it not working properly, for whatever reason, and it’s great that I’ve experienced relatively few problems here. Hell, there’s enough stuff to get frustrated about in MP anyway, so it’s always a bonus when connection/lag issues aren’t the biggest of them.
Now, the bad stuff, or perhaps more accurately, the not-so-good-depending-on-your-point-of-view stuff. Firstly, let’s combine the lack of customisation thing with the REQ system in general, and look at how it plays out in practice. Whilst on the one hand having the same weapons/armour etc as everyone else is arguably a “fairer” system, it also doesn’t allow you to play to your strengths, and in my opinion, it severely limits some of the tactical options available to you and your team.
Take sniping for example, and in some other FPS games, I’ve found a Sniping Loadout to be useful, not just for me, but for my team in general. Sure, nobody likes getting sniped, but in objective-based games, it’s often a bonus to have somebody who can cover your back from a distance, and it increases the tactical/strategy options open to your team. In Halo 5, unless you’re lucky enough to find a sniper rifle lying around, it’s only available to you once you’ve reached REQ level 6! And even if sniping’s not your thing, it’s highly possible that the Assault Rifle just isn’t either (it is pretty rubbish, and for anybody more than a few feet away, basically useless), but instead of having/unlocking other weapons that you can start/respawn/loadout with from the get-go, these can only be accessed via a REQ console, and only when you’ve reached the necessary REQ level.
Sure it’s great that nobody’s running around with miniaturised Nuclear Warheads from the outset, but when you can’t tinker around with similar classes of weapons – find one that’s not unfair per se, but merely suits your own strengths, or style, I think that’s a bit of a shame. On balance, I also think it makes Halo 5 less interesting in the long-run, limits how long people will stick around, and I think it ultimately punishes players who might not be the quickest in the world, but who can even the odds with a bit of forethought, or strategical thinking. Again, I realise there’s the counter-argument that this might do just the opposite, but personally speaking, I’d like to see a bit more choice and/or customisation options. As it is, I’m basically resigned to just using my magnum until I get to REQ 4, because the AR is just so shockingly bad, and because I’m not a big fan of the standard Battle Rifle either. And, as far as I can tell, the variations of these (better range, scopes, etc) are only unlocked by finding them in REQ packs – i.e. blind luck – so you can’t earn/grind your way to improving/customising them either.
Next, and running with the fairness theme, I think Warzone in particular has some issues. Those AI baddies I mentioned earlier, well, all the VP and XP points for killing them go to whoever fires the bullet, grenade, whatever that kills the bad dude, and I’m yet to be convinced that the system isn’t broken – not just in terms of fairness, but also in terms of like, actually how it registers this shit. Taking the former, it’s genuinely brutal if you, or your team, have been pummelling a guy for 10 minutes, only for the first shot from one of the other team to take him down – and I get that, on some level, that’s the point, but I think it’d be considerably fairer if there was some kind of system where you got x points if you take 25% of his life, etc, etc.
In terms of registering said kill, I’m genuinely starting to think it’s all a bit glitched. You get personal XP/Commendations etc. for taking down enemy AI (i.e. something pops up on screen) and I swear to god there have been times when I’ve been the only fucker firing at a bad guy, only for it to say my team took him down (no pop-up acknowledging I did, or even that I frickin’ assisted), or way worse – that the enemy did. Over the course of 10, 20, 30 games this might average out, sure, but in that particular game it’s just the worst, particularly if you feel like you’ve been cheated, and it’s more infuriating than any other aspect of Multiplayer I’ve ever come across.
The second most infuriating one, for the record, is Halo 5’s annoying habit of not respawning you where you’ve asked to be respawned, and absolutely not just because there’s an enemy nearby either. In fact, many’s the time I’ve chosen a base which is totally controlled by my team, only to find myself randomly outside (a fair way away), just to immediately get picked off by an enemy. Sometimes, hilariously, this has been in the middle of a freakin’ road, and I’ve been run over before I’ve even regained control of my spartan.
My last, final gripe is that, even though for the most part, Halo 5 is a lag-free, smooth experience, there are times when I’ve been killed by bullets going round corners, through walls, and over cover – basically just generally defying the laws of physics – and that can be a telltale a sign of bad design, lag, or both. It’s not necessarily game-breaking, but if you’re behind cover (and call me old fashioned here) you should be behind cover, and if you’re dying, either the bullets that were fired when you weren’t behind cover are taking waaaay too long to register, or the cover’s not done properly. Either way, it’s a pain in the arse, and frustrating – and judging by the ‘WTF…I’m behind an effing wall’ stuff I’m hearing in-game, a fairly common occurrence.
However, and in CONCLUSION, Halo 5: Guardian’s multiplayer is reasonably well done, and it certainly makes up for the deficiencies in the Single Player Campaign. In fact, taking the two things together, it elevates Halo 5 from a resounding ‘meh’, to something more of a ‘Yeah, I’m having quite a lot of fun with this, actually’. I don’t think it’s the best Multiplayer I’ve ever played, but it’s certainly not the worst, and it is fairly addictive. Quite whether it remains so will be the main issue (particularly with the lack of specialisation, customisation and working on weapon/role specific niche stuff), but for now, it’s worth playing, and is interesting and different enough to keep you in that ‘just one more game’ zone for at least a while.
All-in-all, Halo 5: Guardians – multiplayer and Campaign – is a safe, solid offering – but not a jaw-droppingly awesome game changer. If you’re looking for that, you should probably give this a miss, but if you’re just looking for some new, fresh Halo-ey goodness, with an involving Multiplayer thrown in for good measure, you probably won’t be too disappointed with this, I reckon!