Last week, in my Halo 5: Guardians review, I briefly talked about the game's comprehensive new PvP matchmaking system. However, during the pre-release review period, I didn't really get the chance to properly test it out because the pool of players was small, and restricted to pre-release playlists that threw everyone together regardless of their CSR (competitive skill ranking).
Now that the game has been out for a week, I've been able to fully evaluate just how good Halo 5's matchmaking is – at least from an anecdotal, personal level – and am reporting back as promised with a short extension to my review to cover this aspect of the game.
And so far, I'm really impressed with the way that matchmaking works. I've not been shy in admitting how poor I am at playing competitive FPS games in the past, despite absolutely loving them. There's just something about the challenge that I really enjoy, and when I do get kills, they really mean a lot to me.
But that's not to say it isn't frustrating to frequently get my ass handed to me on a platter by better players. To me, it's part and parcel of the experience – at least it is in most games whose matchmaking seems to be more about putting people together based on good server connections, rather than their level of skill. What I've been longing for, however, is a game that does a really good job of matching players of equal skill – and Halo 5 seems to be doing just that.
The way that matchmaking works in Halo 5 is that when you first start playing Arena – the most competitive aspect of the PvP side of the game – you have to play ten "placement matches" before you're ranked and given a CSR. These ten games are essentially your introduction into Arena, and once you've played through them, you're ranked on your performance and put into one of seven categories: Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Onyx, and Champion. Needless to say, when I played through my commencement games, I didn't do particularly well, and ended up being ranked bottom of the barrel bronze.
Still, I don’t really care too much about that. If that's what I rank, then so be it. What's most important to me is that I'm grouped together with players of a similar level of ability (or indeed, lack thereof) so that the competition is at least fairly equal – and so far, this definitely seems to be the case.
On the downside, queue times can sometimes be long as I wait to either join a rolling group in progress, or for enough other bronze baddies like me to join the queue. However, once a game starts, I've noticed that I actually do far better in them than I do in other FPS games whose matchmaking isn't as good. In those games, I'm usually repeatedly killed, and often prop up the bottom of the score sheet with just a few frags to my name. In Halo 5, most of the time I do pretty damn well and score an above-average number of kills - usually ending up somewhere in the upper half of the scoreboard.
Ultimately, it's clear that I'm playing with people of a similar skill level to me. Encounters with other players are sometimes protracted as we both shoot at, and try to melee one another in a fairly equal fight. In my placement matches, when I met another player, most of the time I'd be shot and/or be on the receiving end of a deadly melee hit in short order, and would barely stand a chance. In my CSR-ranked games, it's a much fairer fight, where sometimes I emerge the victor, and sometimes the other player might get the better of me.
I've also seen plenty of players who are obviously worse than I am. They're slow to turn, and if I run behind them, it's almost like they forget that I'm there, and just run off in another direction: a classic n00b trait that I know from when I first started playing FPS games. There are also players I can quite happily rush at, knowing that their aim isn't good enough to take me down before I close the gap and melee them to death. My point being, sometimes I can do well in my Bronze CSR-ranked games, and sometimes I don't – but on average it's a fair fight that results in fairly close matches that deliver exciting and tense competition.
What I'm most interested in seeing is if I continue to do well, whether I might even rank up to Silver. That's definitely an interesting concept, and I'm going to continue to put time into Arena to see if that's the case. I'd certainly be personally very happy to be put into a slightly higher category, even though it'd probably mean that I'd end up finding myself mostly on the bottom half of the scoreboard. But as long as I was still doing well, and not being completely destroyed by other players, I really wouldn't mind at all.
I'm keen to know whether Halo 5's CSR system works at higher levels and delivers the same kind of balanced games that it does at Bronze level, but I can't see any reason why it shouldn't. Either way, I'm really happy with the way that matchmaking works, and would go so far as to say it's one of the best systems I've encountered in an FPS. It's been quite a revelation for me, turning PvP from something that I normally enjoy, but find frustrating, into something that's just pure fun. I feel great playing the game, and for the most part competition is fair and equitable – just the way it should be.