Jump into Halo 5: Guardians today, and you’ll find the multiplayer servers are absolutely alive with players. This is some achievement, when you bear in mind that the game was released way back in October 2015. So why does Halo 5’s multiplayer enjoy such an enduring popularity?
Well, it’s really very simple. It’s the best Halo multiplayer in years.
Oh, you want details? Ok, well here’s a rundown how developers 343 Industries, with Halo 5, have utterly nailed the Halo multiplayer experience more comprehensively than any other game in the series.
Before Halo 4, the series had always been committed to the more arcade-style, pick up and play arena combat of the Quake era of multiplayer shooters, where players all start with the same weapons and pick others up from spawn points around each map. This approach promoted a level playing field above all else, emphasizing individual player skill and map control over the load outs, perks and kill streaks that have become commonplace in the genre, popularized by Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare more than a decade ago.
With the release of Halo 4, it was clear 343 had pandered to the Call Of Duty crowd by adding a big dollop of what they thought gamers were now expecting in a multiplayer shooter. Gone was the emphasis on fairness, in its place, the sort of huge, lumbering progression system that has become a hallmark of the modern COD games. Unlockable perks, weapons, and kill streaks, previously unthinkable in a Halo title, were now very much in.
The fanbase overwhelmingly showed their displeasure at the changes by simply not bothering to stick with Halo 4’s multiplayer. It seemed that gamers rather preferred their Halo to still feel like more like Halo than anything else. It was clear a major rethink was needed for Halo 5.
Now, all that remains of that progression system is a barebones ranking ladder, and REQ cards (more on those later). And, best of all for long term fans, Halo 5 signaled a complete return to the level field of play the Halo series was always known for.
Despite 343 brutally culling many of the features it added in Halo 4, the latest game in the series isn’t a complete regression. More new ideas are implemented, its just now they’re more like subtle tweaks, and, crucially, they work.
Take the thruster pack that allows a little sideways dash, either on foot or while in the air. It’s a far cry from the previous perk-style modules that have now been thrown in the trash, and simply adds an understated extra level of strategy to one-on-one encounters. Ledges are can now be clambered onto, another small but significant addition that honestly feels well overdue. You can also now aim-down-sights with most weapons, but unlike other shooters, this only allows you to line up your shot better and doesn’t confer a benefit to the actual accuracy of the weapon. This is Halo, so you’ll still be shooting from the hip at the first opportunity. That’s if you want to survive more than a few seconds.
Weapons feel more balanced than ever before, too, something even Bungie never got quite right. Guns that have previously seemed useful only in the single player campaign, or have been made obsolete in multiplayer by punchier analogs, are now likely to be perfectly viable options, depending on the circumstances.
Perhaps 343’s biggest addition to the Halo pantheon is the new game mode, Warzone. This large-scale battle mode has both teams competing to capture points on the map and eventually infiltrate the enemy’s base and take out their power care. Unusually, there’s also an element of PvE thrown in too, granting players extra score towards their team’s total by taking out waves of enemies and tricky bosses. The results are suitable chaotic (especially when you factor in REQ points, which allow the use of all of the game’s craziest and most powerful weapons and vehicles) and serve as a nice palate cleanser to the pared back Arena modes that Halo is usually associated with.
In keeping the core mechanics of the Halo gameplay, and tailoring the additions so that they added to the experience without taking anything away, 343 have brought that quintessential Halo feel back to multiplayer.
It’s heartening to see that lessons have very much been learned from the fiasco that was the Halo: The Master Chief Collection launch. That game was released in a criminally broken state, with eager fans having to wait weeks before the server issues that plagued the launch were finally fixed.
Now, Halo 5’s multiplayer is the epitome of slickness, so much so that it could be considered the yardstick against which other multiplayer shooters are judged. The connection is consistently stable, with the move to dedicated servers significantly lowering the latency levels. Also removed is any potential for host advantage, along with that always-inconvenient mid-match host migration.
And to cap it all off, the game maintains a very smooth 60fps, even on the sizable maps – something few games running on console hardware can boast.
Halo 5 is packed full of content that is all available to all players, so there’s none of the community-splitting we’ve seen when companies opt to release maps as DLC and introduce season passes that some buy and other don’t.
There’s an absolute raft of game modes too, including all the old favorites, coupled with the aforementioned Warzone to add a little spice. It all adds up to what must be the most comprehensive overall multiplayer package the Halo series has yet seen.
Microtransactions are often the cause of ire among fans, especially when they’re added to such a venerable franchise. Here, 343 have managed to make the stuff you can buy with real money feel desirable without breaking the game by disrupting that perfectly balanced level playing field. The way they’ve done this is with REQ packs.
REQ packs are unlocked with experience levels or can be purchased with real-world currency. These packs contain virtual cards, some of which are immensely powerful weapons that can be used in-game, but, crucially, these can only be accessed in-game once you’ve earned them by bringing up your REQ level, and are only available away from the game’s core Arena modes. This removes any potential disruption of Halo’s delicate balance, leaving the most traditional, cherished modes in Halo’s repertoire untainted by pay-to-win nonsense.
These components combine beautifully together to make what is simply the perfect multiplayer Halo experience. Rather than looking too much at what other developers are doing with their shooters, 343 have focused on the particular elements that make a great Halo game, and improved on every one of them.
Now, if they could just get the next game’s single player right, they’d really be onto something.