The review I just wrote for Halo 5: Guardians – Multiplayer ended up being considerably longer than I expected, indeed considerably longer than some academic textbooks, so some stuff got cut just to reduce the chances of anybody reading suddenly slipping into a boredom coma. In amongst this stuff was some general observations I’d made about the Halo Community – which weren’t necessarily integral to the review – but which I thought might be worth mentioning anyway, for various reasons. Moreover, it occurred to me that precisely because I’d suggested Halo 5 multiplayer was quite kind to newcomers in terms of all the shooty-shooty stuff, it would perhaps be beneficial to highlight another reason it might be a good place for reluctant multiplayer types to jump in and have a crack at it all – namely, how great I found the Halo Community.

I did say that I’d maybe do some ‘any other business’ stuff arising from the games I played during silly season, so, you know, consider this one of them.

Raging_OnlineAnyways, before I’d ever played an online shooter, I’d had various misgivings about them, and pretty much decided a priori that they weren’t really something I was particularly interested in. Admittedly, a lot of that was because I figured (correctly, as it turned out) that I’d be rubbish at them, but having seen various videos and such, I also thought I could well do without 13 year old kids constantly telling me just how rubbish I was at them, particularly via the medium of a colourful, and convoluted ‘yo momma’ joke. To be clear, it’s not that I’m prissy about swearing or anything, and I’d have been very surprised if any of the language thrown at me was something I hadn’t heard before (or, in fact, used many times myself on any given day), but because gaming was a thing I did to relax, or unwind, I figured I could do without all the faux alpha male bullshit that seemed to come with multiplayer gaming.

As it happened, when I actually had a go, it seemed apparent that I’d slightly overestimated that part of the online stuff, but not completely, because it was still a thing. And it was decidedly more of a thing in some games than in others. In games were there’s that automatic ‘comm connection’ between the killer and the kill-ee, for example, I found the level of vitriol significantly higher, and more worryingly, I often found myself guilty of it too. Obviously, when you’ve just got dead, there’s a high degree of frustration there, and you’re considerably less likely to be all like, ‘Ah, well played fine sir, you really have bested me in this particular instance’, but I found that there was a kind of escalation, and/or inevitability about it all that was hard to avoid.

killcamSo, for example, if there was a guy who’d killed me a few times – and was somewhat less than gracious in doing so – I’d be waaaaay more inclined to offer back some variation of ‘How d’ya like them apples, ya murrf@ckin’ little sh*tkicking, c%ck-faced ballbag’ (you know, for example) when I (finally) managed to return the favour. As you’d perhaps expect, that didn’t really do anything other than further rile that guy up, and then he’d come back at me, then I’d go back at him, etc, etc, ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

For the most part though, I was reasonably OK with getting my ass handed to me because I totally expected to have my ass handed to me, but there was a definite sense that some of the better players were the worst offenders – especially when they’d been killed by somebody whose stats/level/etc weren’t that great, and who they considered to be unworthy, or even unwelcome in their game. Even worse, I’d often find I’d get similar levels of abuse from my own teammates, if they thought I wasn’t good enough, and if they thought I was going to cost them a game, or whatever. Again, this seemed to increase exponentially the better the player was (or, perhaps more accurately, thought he was), and there was a degree of ‘get the f@ck out of my game’ explicit in that abuse too. This wasn’t always the case, obviously, but it, and stuff like it, occurred enough for it to be a distinct pattern, and for me to associate that particular game with that kind of stuff.

Halo 5 MP1Why do I mention that? Well, because, so far, not only have I not noticed much of that in Halo 5: Guardians, but I’ve often noticed the opposite side of the multiplayer coin. Of course, there’s no “comm connection” on kills/dying, so that helps, but in terms of how the Halo 5 community generally works, I’ve found it nicer, much more supportive, and ultimately, much more rewarding.

I mean, you do still hear a fair amount of swears, and there’s still a degree of randomness to it all (the other day, one kid was freestyle rapping about how much he loves his cat, which was nice) but on average, it’s just less grim. A fair amount of the angst that does exist is directed at the game itself, rather than individual players (I mentioned the cover thing in my review, for instance), and because there’s a distinct tactical advantage in communicating with your team, that seems to act as a catalyst for general team-work and support.

I’ve heard plenty of ‘guys, help us at x, we’re getting pummeled from the North…’ stuff, followed shortly thereafter by a ‘Thanks – you were awesome’ type thing. Likewise, I’ve heard people listening to their team mates, and changing their game to offer that support; maybe a ‘Hold on, I’ll get a tank and help you out’, or a ‘I’ve got overshield equipped, get ye behind me if you can’. Some of this, I suspect, is between pre-existing fire team members – but, crucially, they also tend to be more supportive, and helpful to non-members in a game. That expertise, and sharing of knowledge, is priceless, and I honestly thought it was great to see and hear.

Halo 5 flagOf course, I might have just been lucky so far, and your experience may very well differ significantly, but having played upwards of 20 hours in Warzone, I feel it’s unlikely that my experience is a huge statistical aberration. I’ma finish with an anecdote, which, whilst being anecdotal (obviously) I think is worth mentioning anyway, and precisely because it fits in with my general observations about Halo’s community.

So, in one game, one guy was clearly struggling to get to grips with everything, and was clearly getting quite frustrated, and close to the point of quitting, probably permanently. Even though his ‘What the….?’, ‘How do I…..?’ ‘Where’s x, y and z?’ type questions were largely rhetorical, one guy actually turned his mic on to answer them, with good humour and patience. This then acted as a catalyst for other people to do the same, and just generally share advice, which in turn encouraged other newbies to ask their own questions. Eventually, rather than the established players just calling out the others for being shit, this particular round ended with them rallying everyone, talking them through stuff, and just generally being pretty cool. Because of that, our team started performing quite well, and what had looked like being a genuine ass-whooping two minutes into the round, ended up being turned around, and the game lasted well over half an hour, and we were only just defeated by a couple of points right at the death. More importantly, that guy who was on the verge of quitting had stuck around, improved his understanding (and consequently, his performance), and he, and everyone else had really taken something from the experience.

Halo 5 MP3Anyways, it was revealed (right at the end of the round), that this guy was recently disabled, and that he had been given the Xbox/Halo by his kids in the hopes it might help with his rehabilitation. Obviously, one swallow does not a summer make, but I thought that whole episode was genuinely quite special, and in the sometimes overly aggressive world of gaming, really quite commendable. I’m not ashamed to admit that it fair had me welling up, and long after I’ve stopped playing Warzone, it’ll be something I shall remember.

My point, if you’re still with me, is that credit should be given to both 343 industries for designing a game which encourages cooperation and to the Halo players for understanding and fostering that too. There seems to be an underlying appreciation that it’s everybody’s game, and that it can ultimately benefit from a shared sense of ownership and enjoyment.

Moreover, if you’ve been reluctant to try online multiplayer, or even if you’ve stopped playing it because of the aggressive, antagonistic nature of some games, you may very well find Halo 5: Guardians a welcome exception to that. Again, I can’t guarantee it, but my overall experience (as an average, and with some exceptions) is that it’s generally been built, and nurtured, as a community, and at the end of the day, it’s much, much better because of that.