Last Thursday I posted an article about my adventures with Halo 5: Guardians' campaign mode. At that same preview event, we also spent a good few hours playing through the game's two multiplayer modes: Arena and Warzone. However, due to the weird and wonderful world of press embargoes, I can only now tell you about the PvP side of the game.
First up, let's talk about Arena. This is basically classic Halo PvP in which two teams of four face off in fairly small-scale battlegrounds and duke it out for top honors. Players are grouped together using a new competitive skill rating system that ranks participants on seven levels, so, if it works as well as it promises, that should make for some fairly even matchmaking. Once teams are assembled, it's game on in either Breakout, Strongholds, Capture the Flag, or Slayer modes.
We started off with Slayer, which has a simple enough premise: the first team to notch up 50 kills takes the win. Players start off with a standard assault rifle, and additional, more powerful weapons are dropped onto the battlefield at regular intervals throughout the skirmish that can be picked up and used by the first person to grab them. Needless to say, firefights break out over these weapons, as they can certainly help tip the balance in favor of your team.
After a few rounds of Slayer, we checked out Capture the Flag, which needs little introduction: simply take and bring home the enemy flag three times for victory. Of course, it sounds easy enough, but the maps are pretty well designed to make a flag run highly dangerous, and you certainly need the support of your teammates to make it home to safety if you manage to grab a flag.
Finally, we tried Breakout, a new mode that I really enjoyed playing. Players compete in a best-of-nine series of rounds. That might sound like a lot, but when you consider that each participant only has one life, and there are no respawns, rounds can really fly by. The objective is simple enough: eliminate the enemy team to win. We played on the fairly small Trench map, which feels like some kind of computer-generated training program, strewn with plenty of obstacles and ramps to hide behind. It was hugely fun, and really quite intense: the game commentary does a great job of telling you exactly what's going on, and helps ratchet up the tension – especially if your teammates start getting picked off.
While Arena PvP was largely familiar in terms of its gameplay, what was new was the feel of the game. Players are now far more mobile than they've ever been. Spartans have unlimited sprint capability (although shields don't regenerate while you're running at full tilt), and they can also climb over obstacles and up onto ledges. It's not quite as fluid and smooth as the parkour-like Call of Duty: Black Ops III and Titanfall, but it's close enough, and helps Spartans feel far more dynamic than in prior games – and indeed modernizes Halo so that it can stay abreast of its competition. Sprinting and clambering aren't the only new maneuvers. Spartans also have thrust move capabilities, which enable them to quickly move to evade incoming fire, and they can now also slide. This is really handy for situations like sliding around a corner to shoot at enemies who might be lurking behind cover.
It doesn't end there. Like in Campaign mode, there's also Ground Pound, a drop-in melee move where players jump into the air, charge up their thrusters, and then hurtle back down to the ground causing a concussive wave that's powerful enough to take out any enemies who are unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end. It didn't take long for me to learn this move, and it can be quite devastating, especially on multi-tiered arenas where you can easily drop down on your foe from above. It does feel like a very powerful move, but not too overpowered – while you're in the air charging your thrusters, you're essentially vulnerable to being shot, so you have to time everything right to make the most out of this maneuver. The final new move is Spartan Charge, a sprint/melee attack that's quite powerful, but not enough to pull off a one-shot kill unless your enemy is low on health.
Put all these new moves together and you end up with a game that feels like a significant evolution to the series, and one that brings it bang up to date. The new maneuvers are all quite intuitive, and once you get the cadence of Thrust-dodging, and figure out the right distances for clambering on objects without getting hung up, Spartans start to feel athletic and free-flowing. What I like about these new additions is that they open up the game to more interesting and nuanced tactics: you have more options available in terms of potential moves, and that makes for a richer PvP experience.
After playing Arena for a few hours, we then moved onto what was the highlight of the day for me – Warzone. I played a demo of this new 12-on-12 multiplayer mode at E3 and walked away impressed, and ever since then I've been looking forward to playing it again. It's basically an epic battle that mixes elements of PvE and PvP as two teams battle it out over nodes, which are represented by bases. When a Warzone game starts, you have to assault your base and eliminate any Covenant threats to take control of it. Once that's done, you can then move to the main building at the center of the map, which you can take control of by occupying it long enough to capture it. Needless to say, this is where the action is, with both enemy forces essentially squaring off to take control of this pivotal node. Whichever force captures it can then go and assault the opposing team's base to start ratcheting up serious win points.
Throughout the battle, mini-events take place, such as elite PvE forces appearing and assaulting different areas of the map. These threats can be taken out for additional points – but they're not easy to defeat and require some good team coordination to take down. What I like about this is that it adds a new element to the proceedings. Should you and your team go and take on one of these points-rich objectives, at the risk of leaving your nodes sparsely defended, or do you let the other team go for it, while you assault their nodes?
Warzone is a hugely fun mode that brings large-scale combat to the Halo series. While 12 versus 12 doesn't sound like a lot of players compared with the likes of Battlefield's saturated Conquest mode, fast spawning, nicely-sized maps that help promote close-quarters action without feeling too tight, and plenty of PvE distractions mean the action feels quite intense and concentrated.
The REQ System
Something that's new to both Arena and Warzone is the new REQ system. These are essentially packs of cards that you can buy with REQ points that you earn by playing both game modes, or acquire by completing specific objectives. Inside each pack is a random selection of items, such as unlockable weapons and armor, vehicles, and cosmetic items like different assassination moves and stances. Some of these items are one-off use, while others are permanent, such as weapons with specific augments like long-range sights.
There are more than a thousand of these cards, and they come in a variety of packs that vary in cost. The cheaper options have common, less useful cards while the more expensive packs can have rare, legendary and even mythic items. Any cards that you acquire go into a collection that you can sort and administrate whenever you want.
REQs are used in Warzones by utilizing a REQ station at one of your occupied bases. By logging into a station, you can quickly change your loadout, swap weapons or even spawn vehicles if you have the right cards – and enough energy to use them. Energy is generated throughout the battle, and, depending on the card you're using, it has a specific cost to use it. As you might imagine, the more powerful the card, the more energy you need to cash it in. This helps keep the game reasonably balanced – do you spend all of your energy on a high-end card, or do you go more modest and spread your energy cost on reasonably powerful gear and vehicles?
In Arena, to ensure that the game is kept as balanced as possible, only cosmetic REQ cards can be used. That makes total sense, since in a four versus four battle, being able to summon a powerful shotgun or sniper rifle would be overpowered and would tip the balance too much in your favor.
To be blunt, I wasn't quite sure about the REQ system when it was first explained to us. It just seemed like a neat idea to add a premium pricing system to Halo 5 – you can buy packs of cards with money, as well as earning them with REQ Points garnered in Warzone and Arena. However, as we played Warzone, it became apparent that the REQ system adds an interesting new element to the gameplay, and one that doesn't feel particularly unbalanced or overpowered. You have to earn enough energy points to be able to use your cards, and in a way they almost function like an alternative to COD's score streaks, only a little more user-friendly, because you're constantly earning energy points for doing pretty much anything in the game, and you don't lose them when you die.
Bottom line, the multiplayer aspects of Halo 5: Guardians are shaping up very well indeed. Both Arena and Warzone offer two different takes on multiplayer PvP, with Arena being a little more e-Sport oriented, while Warzone is a little more casual and fun in nature. It's still fiercely competitive, that's for sure, but it's far more user-friendly than the tighter, more close-knit combat of Arena.
Put them together with the campaign mode, and you've got a game that I'm certainly very excited about. Look out for our full review of Halo 5: Guardians when it's released on October 27th.