Halo: Reach Multiplayer Beta Hands On Preview - Checks And Balances
Written Sunday, May 02, 2010 By Dan WebbView author's profile
For early access beta players, there are only a handful of modes to lose yourself in and a couple of maps – Powerhouse and Sword Base – but there are more than enough to put the game’s weapons and special abilities through their paces.
First and foremost, Powerhouse is a mostly open map with a handful of interiors to take cover in. The map itself is home to a number of power weapons to try and gain control of, including a Focus Rifle, a Rocket Launcher, a Grenade Launcher and a Brute Hammer. Sword Base on the other hand has a more broad range of power weapons including an Energy Sword (duh!), a UNSC Sniper, a Plasma Launcher and a Shotgun – I know it’s not classed as a power weapon, but in the tight corridors, it can be just as effective as one. Each map also contains your standard array of Needler Rifles, DMRs – which seem to be all over the place – and Needlers, amongst many more of the traditional Halo weapons.
The game modes that are available out the gate – or for us early access folk anyway – are more of the traditional modes with a few new ones thrown in for good measure – for example, Stockpile and Headhunter. However, whether you decide to go it alone or enter the team based playlists, there should be just enough to keep the action fresh.
Including the ability to vote on a selection of 3 game-types – or “none of the above” – pre-match is definitely a welcome addition and of course, playing with the customisation while it matchmakes is a nice distraction. It must be said though that the customisation on the whole seems completely pointless, after all, Halo is a first-person-shooter (duh... again) and the customisation is purely cosmetic. You don’t really see your Spartan enough to justify investing the time and effort into it.
Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, game-types. The current batch isn’t really that extensive, but it is a beta rather than a demo and it is refreshing to see the newer modes like Stockpile and Headhunter being the obvious favourites to the current batch of voting Halo-ites. Team SWAT though will always be a favourite of mine. True story.
Having played my fair share of games, there are many things that concern me regarding the game’s weapons, mainly their balance. Firstly, it seems that all of the weapons with one or two exceptions are a little too weak, with it taking sometimes a full clip and even a beat down to get your scalp. Secondly, some of the weapons seem severely underbalanced compared to their previous iterations. For instance, the Needler Rifle – which is basically a glorified Covenant Carbine rifle from Halo 2 & 3 – actually takes a lot longer and more headshots to take someone down than you may be used to. Then there is the DMR, which is Reach’s version of the Battle Rifle that shoots a single larger projectile round instead of a three shot burst, and again it still seems to be slightly underpowered compared to the aforementioned Battle Rifle.
The Plasma Launcher on the other hand... well, that’s way too powerful and it almost renders you undefeatable. Sure, there is a slight pause as you wind up its potential, but after that it's a completely one-sided affair. That split-second incidentally is not enough time to take down its user, so prepare to run like mad when you encounter someone with it or accept the inevitable.
Other things like the Needler’s projectiles having less of a homing range and the same with the fully charged Plasma Pistol, will definitely make things seem a lot different than we’ve become accustomed too. They say change is good, but it doesn’t feel it here.
The biggest game-changer is definitely the load outs and special abilities, and while on the face of it, some may seem more advantageous than the others, there really is a time and a place to use each of them. Available in the beta currently are the Guard, Sprint, Jet-Pack and Stalker abilities – with the Evade ability also available, but only when the Covvy Slayer game-type crops up.
The recharge time on all the abilities is a handful of seconds and I found that whenever I wanted to use them, they had always recharged in time. It wasn’t very often I was left cursing the recharge rates, so the balance seems spot on there to me.
It definitely seemed like everyone gravitated towards the Jet-Pack and Stalker abilities to begin with, but after experimenting with the Guard and Sprint classes, they’re just as effective. Take the Guard ability for instance, an ability that puts you in an invulnerable but standstill state for a short period of time. I found that when playing an objective based game – CTF, Territories or Stockpile – when you're flag carrying and coming under fire or when you’re returning the flag to its spawn, the Guard ability was terribly effective. It seems like the most pointless power to start with, but it can allow you a few extra seconds rest to regain your shields or protect you from severe danger until your backup arrives.
The Sprint and Evade abilities on the other hand make melee weapons like the Brute Hammer and the Energy Sword completely devastating weapons, giving you an added edge over your opponents. The Jet-Pack ability is... well, a jet pack for your Spartan/Elite and makes getting around suitably easier, while the Stalker mode – which is an invisibility cloak – is effective, but the fact it cancels out your weapon sounds and adds decoys to your radar as well as your opponent’s radars actually meant that I personally have tended to steer clear of it now. Those in particular are two fixes that I’d love to see for the final version, because the silent combat is frankly quite off-putting and the crazy decoy ridden radar actually puts you at the same disadvantage as your foes.
Speaking of things I’d like to see fixed, how about Bungie makes a way to stop the announcer saying, flag dropped, flag picked up, every two seconds for those players that decide to throw the flag. By all means, let them throw the flag, but don’t tell me every time they do it.
As far as the gameplay goes on the whole, it definitely seems faster, thanks in part to the new special abilities, and the new tweaks add a much needed sense of fluidity to the proceedings. The well-received and largely-borrowed ability to spawn on a teammate who’s out of combat means you can jump back into the action pretty much in an instant. It’s perfect for mounting offensives on the Capture the Flag, Stockpile and Territories game-types.
Whilst the actual levels themselves don’t really seem to have received the visual makeover we were quite hoping for - although this is still a beta - but the Spartans and the weapons are some definitive eye candy to gawp at. As far as the frame-rate goes and the online experience, lag free is an easy way to sum it up, which is always a bonus. The real test will come on Monday though.
I must stress that, yes, we’re aware it’s a beta and so ironing out these balancing issues is part of its purpose, much like part of the purpose of this preview is making sure that these unbalanced aspects get, you know... balanced, and the best way we know how is bringing them to light.
We’ll bring our opinions on the new game modes as and when they get unlocked, but for now, Bungie have their work cut out for them judging by this first showing. I surely can’t be in the minority when I say this, but I actually preferred Halo 3’s multiplayer to Reach’s as it currently stands. Thankfully there are a good few months before it ships, so Bungie can tighten the experience up somewhat and balance the weapons. That being said though, once you get to grip with the strengths of the special abilities, it’s hard to go back to the old setup. Now that’s a hook if ever there was one.
The Halo: Reach multiplayer beta is touching down on May 3rd for all Halo 3: ODST owners. If the words of Major Nelson are anything to go by, expect it late morning PDT/late afternoon ET and early evening GMT.