The Halo 5 Guardians beta launches on December 29, 2014, and anyone that purchases a copy of Halo: The Master Chief Collection is guaranteed access. It’ll be just a small slice of what’s to come, a look at the “arena multiplayer” action in Guardians.
While we’re not entirely clear on just how much is going to be there, we did get to spend some time recently trying it out and chatting with developer 343 Industries. It’s still very definitely Halo, but 343 continues to shape its own voice for the series as it moves from Halo 4 to this sophomore effort.
There are a few significant changes that ought to impact the overall pacing of competitive play in Halo 5 Guardians. The new Breakout game mode helps to highlight it, too. A slower-paced take on Halo multiplayer, Breakout pits two teams of four against one another for five rounds set in smaller, custom arenas. Everyone has an M7 SMG and reduced shield capacity, and there are no respawns. It’s intense.
Here’s a rundown of what we know about so far:
You’re able to sprint indefinitely in Halo 5 Guardians, but there’s a cost: Your shield won’t regenerate while you’re sprinting. You’ve got to actually stop and wait for the recharge.
Whenever you take damage and your shield starts to deplete, a meter materializes just above the shield meter. It’s filled up to start with, and it drains out after you stop taking damage for a few seconds. Once the meter drains completely, your shield recharges. But if you sprint while that secondary meter is still draining, it fills all the way up again.
You don’t have to stop moving completely to get your shield back in Halo 5 Guardians, but it’s locked off while you’re sprinting.
Every Halo fan has been here at some point or another: You make a flying leap toward a platform, only to hit the ledge and fall just short, at which point you tumble back to the ground and directly into the crosshairs of an enemy team member. No longer!
In Halo 5 Guardians, the new Clamber ability allows you to hoist yourself up onto ledges that you don’t quite manage to land on. It’s simple. Just press the jump button (A) as you reach the ledge, and your Spartan will hoist himself or herself up. This is a common feature in other modern shooters, and now it’s been added to Halo.
The Thruster Pack popped up in Halo 4, and it returns in slightly altered form for Halo 5 Guardians. For one, everyone is equipped with one (at least, that’s the case in arena multiplayer). It also works a little differently.
The thruster pack uses jet boosters to let Spartans dash quickly in any direction. Control of the boosters is mapped by default to the B button, so you can use it to dash in any direction whether you’re in the air or on the ground. There’s a brief recharge time between uses, but thrusters are handy for quickly sidestepping enemy fire or getting behind cover.
Where most shooter fans spend their time staring down the sights of whichever gun they have equipped, Halo’s always been about the hip-fire first. Certain guns do sport a scope of some kind, going all the way back to Combat Evolved‘s unstoppable pistol, but mainstays like the Assault Rifle always shoot from the hip.
That all changes with Smart Scope. Now, pressing LT gives you an iron sights view with whichever weapon you have equipped (even energy swords, to help you prepare for a lunge). There’s a catch though: De-scoping returns as well. Halo has always balanced the few scoped weapons it has by knocking players out of their scoped view as soon as they take damage. 343 did away with that in Halo 4, but it returns in Halo 5 Guardians to balance out the universal sights-aiming.
Smart Scope also interacts with your Spartan’s Thruster Pack in a unique way. If you leap into the air and activate Smart Scope, the thrusters automatically kick in, keeping you aloft for a few extra seconds while you draw a bead on your target. It also makes you a very obvious and tempting thing to shoot at, since you’re just floating in mid-air. Use with caution.
Close-quarters combat gets a few new tricks in Halo 5 Guardians. Standard melee and assassination attacks (melee from behind) return, of course, but they’re joined by the new Shoulder Charge and Ground Slam abilities.
Shoulder Charge is easy. Simply sprint at your target and press melee while you’re still sprinting. The game momentarily switches to a third-person perspective as you watch your Spartan barrel shoulder-first into whatever you lined up to attack. It’s a very powerful attack, capable of one-shotting unsuspecting enemies even if they’re at full shields.
Ground Slam is a little more complicated. First, you need some kind of a drop. This is a leaping attack, and you’ve got to fall further than the height of your jump to make it work. So find some surface — platform, set of stairs, whatever — to leap off of.
While you’re in the air, press and hold the melee attack button, and you’ll see a targeting reticule appear on the ground below you. Move the target around to pick your landing point before the Ground Slam charges, and then watch as all the force of a falling Spartan is brought to bear on any nearby enemy.