Halo has been a part of my life for a long time, not to mention a caveat for many fond memories growing up. Halo was the reason I bought an original Xbox, which quickly became my go-to game for after-school matches with my friends. Moving forward, Halo 2 was my big introduction to LAN gaming, where eight of us would get together for some of the best weekends during high school. It didn’t stop there, though. When I moved out of home, playing Halo 3 online with my housemates was a social religion (and borderline obsession). It was from there, however, that my interest declined. I couldn’t stay invested beyond the launch week, and I never could work out why that was until I played Halo 5 online.
Let’s look at Halo 4, for example. Sure, it was ‘technically’ okay, existing in a safe space between Halo Reach and Call of Duty, but it didn’t quite feel like Halo. Both in its core mechanics, and especially the way in which the multiplayer had been ‘modernised.’ I dislike XP systems that restrict weapons and abilities for competitive advantage. I’m not much of a fan of perk-based systems either. It’s the level playing field of an arena shooter that makes Halo exciting to me; and precisely what it had been missing. I want the freedom to pick up anytime I want with equal advantage; with my skill being the core factor of play, and this is what Halo 5 brings back. I’d even say its the best Halo MP to date!
If you’ve read my campaign review, you’ll know that I wasn’t overly keen on the story, but that I did highly praise the gameplay advancements; in particular, the clamber ability. I don’t want to retread everything that I’ve already covered, but let me just recap by saying that I think the core mechanics of Halo 5 are outstanding and that 60FPS is a game changer. Out of everything that has evolved in Halo 5, clambering and the improved framerate would be the two most prominent components missing if you were to play an older Halo title today. I know that a lot of fans associate faster-paced multiplayer with Call of Duty, but I want to immediately squash concerns that Halo has been further ‘CoDified.’
Let’s first lay out the basics for how multiplayer works in Halo 5. Essentially, there are two core modes: Arena, which is is designed with conventional unencumbered matches in mind, and Warzone; a thoughtful evolution of Big Team Battle, and something entirely new for the franchise. To begin, let’s start with Arena, which includes no loadouts and is free from XP barriers. All your conventional game types exist here, with mostly 4v4 variants where all weapons are on the map and everyone has the same abilities. You still gain XP from winning matches, which is tied to a universal level across all modes. However, you’ll also earn a currency called REQ points, which is the biggest change to multiplayer.
These new REQ points are a big part of Warzone. Essentially, this is a match type where two teams of twelve compete to capture bases while fighting AI enemies for additional points. The first team to reach 1000 wins. What makes this idea unique is that as you play, your in-game REQ level builds up; allowing you to gradually requisition better weapons, vehicles and boosts. Requisitions themselves are represented with cards (similar to Titanfall), and you collect them by purchasing booster packs between matches using the aforementioned REQ points. These points are accumulated at the end of all match types, regardless of who wins, and awarded based on your personal performance and accolades.
I know this sounds messy, especially when you consider booster packs can be purchased with real money. But no need to panic: not only does the REQ system keep players motivated, it has a minimal impact on the competitive balance. First of all, booster packs are randomised, so you never know what you’ll get. In the packs, you may be lucky to get a permanent unlock, such as a helmet or armour set; however, the rest are one-time use only (for weapons and vehicles), and can only be used during Warzone. Arena is totally clean. Not just that, while playing Warzone, you still have to play well to unlock the ability to use them, and you can easily lose your weapon to the enemy or get hijacked.
It’s important to clarify that it’s not difficult to accumulate enough points to buy packs, because, as mentioned, you collect them after every match type whether you win or loose. I also have a marginal appreciation that some of the proceeds go towards the Halo Championship prize pool. I still don’t condone them, but it’s not the worst use I’ve seen for microtransaction profits. After two weeks playing online, I can confidently say I’ve rarely been tempted to spend, and often find myself enjoying the unlock process. You see, you also receive special booster packs from leveling up, obtaining a new rank, or from completing various challenges. Halo 5 frequently rewards its players, and it feels good.
It likely comes as no surprise that I’m a fan of Arena. In fact, it’s my favourite online competitive multiplayer mode since Halo 3. The launch playlist is currently a little stock-standard, but Team Arena works especially well as it cycles players through all the core modes: Team Slayer, Capture the Flag, Strongholds and Breakout. I’m a big fan of this as I have a tendency to stick with Slayer, and it’s refreshing to step out of that. Speaking of Breakout, it’s the biggest addition to Arena and one of the best things to happen to Halo. It’s made for eSports, with two teams battling it out over several rounds with only one life per round, and no radar or shield. You either kill the opposing team or capture the flag to win.
What makes Arena shine is how fast it plays in comparison to earlier installments. Don’t let that worry you, though. That glorious floaty jump is fully intact, and despite having smart zoom on all weapons, you will still shoot from the hip plenty because there is no accuracy penalty. The big difference is that everyone can run freely, and with the clamber ability, it’s easy for exciting chases to ensue as players can quickly jump and climb across the vertical-friendly maps. Everything about Arena feels smooth and fluent, not to mention harmonious. Everyone starts with the same loadout, abilities are universal, power weapons drop into key locations, and sprinting directly ties into your shield regeneration.
Warzone expands upon the game’s qualities by taking multiplayer in an exciting new direction. I have to admit, I was concerned with how requisitions would impact the competitive balance, but the way in which your REQ level slowly builds to expand your options feels very natural and fair. It’s the perfect way to cater to those who enjoy intensive customisation options without compromising the game’s integrity with XP barriers. It’s a lot of fun to communicate as a team as you try to capture bases and rush together to take out primary AI targets. My only concern is that PVE events can feel repetitive after awhile, and with three maps, it’s easy to see it all. It would benefit from more random elements.
Talking about the maps specifically, I think fans will mostly be happy with what’s arrived at launch. It’s quite a decent selection, although I do think that, despite being very well designed, the visual style of some isn’t quite as memorable as in earlier games. However, it’s been promised that we can expect at least 15 more maps, and at no additional cost. It’s encouraging to see Microsoft finally address the issue of splitting their player base with map packs, so this is very encouraging. I’d personally like to see them launched one by one, with a big emphasis on each, and hopefully a few more for Warzone to flesh it out a little more. We can also look forward to an all-new Forge mode next month as well!
Whether you have issues with the campaign or not, there is no denying the excellent qualities of Halo 5’s multiplayer component. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with those who prefer XP unlocks, custom loadouts, and perks, but, to me, that’s not Halo, and this installment serves as a strong reminder of what it should be about. Not only does Arena embrace a purist approach that reinvigorates the classic Halo formula, the franchise also takes a definitive step forward with the addition of Warzone. The duality of these two modes works well while the REQ system ties them together in a non-invasive way. The gameplay has never been better, and the ability to run and climb adds a whole new dynamic to how you play. As a longtime fan, I believe Halo 5 delivers the most definitive multiplayer to date.