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Combat evolves: The multiplayer beta for Halo 5 Guardians is now live

Halo 5 Guardians won’t be out for Xbox One until fall 2015, but developer 343 Industries has an early taste of what’s to come in the game’s freshly launched multiplayer beta. It runs from December 29 through January 18, 2015, and it focuses on the game’s 4v4 small-team arena modes.

The catch is that you need a copy of Halo: The Master Chief Collection to participate. Beta access was included with the collection, which gathers the first four numbered Halo games (along with all their multiplayer content, running in original engines) into one package. It marks the debut of Halo’s first-person shooters on Microsoft’s latest console.

Expect the multi-week testing period to change and grow over time. The focus will remain on 4v4 competitive combat all the way through, but 343 intends to unlock additional maps, modes, and gear over time.

Related: Here are five ways that Halo 5 Guardians plays differently than any Halo before it

The story in Halo 5 Guardians picks up after the events of Halo 4, which also happens to be 343’s series debut. It centers on a new character, Spartan Locke, as he goes looking for the missing Master Chief after an unexpected attack on the colony worlds. There’s also a galaxy-threatening mystery at play. So, you know… typical day at the office for the UNSC.

Alongside the beta launch, Microsoft also announced the availability of pre-orders for three different versions of Guardians. There’s the expected $60 standard edition (which comes with a poster for all pre-orders), a $100 Limited Edition that includes “new digital content to enhance Spartan combat and exclusive items wrapped in a uniquely designed steel book,” and a $250 version that includes everything in the LE release plus a numbered commemorative statue.

It’s worth mentioning that The Master Chief Collection has struggled mightily with its online performance since launching in November 2014. There’s plenty of time for 343 to learn from any mistakes and iron out issues well in advance of fall 2014, but you’d do well to keep all of this in mind as you mull any potential pre-orders.