‘Halo 5: Guardians’ to return franchise to its competitive roots

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Hal0 5: Guardians
343 Industries
Microsoft Studios
Xbox One

Alongside Halos 1 through 4 in the upcoming Master Chief Collection, fans will also have access to the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta, starting December 27 and ending January 22, 2015. Not much else is known, but it will go beyond server stress tests unlike most modern betas, analyzing and incorporating user feedback to create a more balanced, refined experience. This makes sense considering the beta begins almost one year before Guardians is expected to ship in the winter of 2015.

The beta announcement came in this short CG trailer, which also reveals a glimpse of new gameplay features, and 343’s vision for competitive multiplayer. At one point, the trailer’s text reads “All new Spartan Abilities” which is slightly misleading and not to be confused with “Amour Abilities”, interchangeable skills found in Halo: Reach and Halo 4.

Frank O’Connor clarified via a NeoGAF post, stating that Amour Abilities will not be returning in Guardians, and that Spartan Abilities are passive skills, akin to duel wielding. This is significant news for competitive multiplayer enthusiasts, as they’ve long lamented the unpredictability of Amour Abilities, and demanded a more equal playing field.

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The use of the words “Next Generation Arena Multiplayer” around the 19-second mark is an interesting side note. With Halo 4, 343 Industries rarely recognized Halo’s arena shooter heritage, if ever. Their approach with the 2012 title heavily incorporated reward-driven mechanics, found in twitch shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield. This acknowledgement suggests an admittance of Halo 4’s unpopular design decisions and a return to Halo’s signature gameplay style.

Perhaps confirmation that Halo 5: Guardians will indeed have a strong competitive focus was during an E3 GiantBomb podcast, in which O’Connor criticizes the overuse of Call of Duty-style mechanics in first-person shooters:

“We’ve seen first-person shooters get more and more complex, and more and more reward-driven. There has been kind of backlash about it. I mean, not just with our stuff, but like, other people’s games where there’s just too much and people want something sort of simple. And as eSports comes back, they want something more balanced and more symmetrical and fair.”

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This view is consistent with 343’s hiring history in 2013. The studio recruited professional Halo players and veteran community members to aid in the development of Guardians and other Halo properties. 343 also acquired Josh Menke, former senior designer at Blizzard Entertainment (Menke implemented competitive matchmaking in StarCraft II and World of Warcraft).

Though Guardians remains tightly under wraps, the implicit news from E3 suggests the game will strongly focus on competitive play. This approach is a reversal of Halo 4’s design philosophy and a return to the original trilogy’s arena shooter roots. Fans will get a brief taste of 343’s new direction for Guardians when the beta launches this December.

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