The Halo Reach beta test launched about two weeks ago and I have had quite a bit of time to play the game. I took notes for the rest of you that may not have had as much time or the chance to check it out yet. Overall I am pretty happy with the updates that Bungie has made in this new version, keeping in mind that it is only in beta format. Bungie has made quite a few new additions that they have been showing off and testing out. This includes a new interface and the gameplay itself. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights.
The first thing that you will notice is that the match-making has been modified to get you into the map you want to play right away. In Halo 3, you were given a random map and the players voted yes or no if they wanted to play that map. If the vote passed, you moved along and the game loaded up that map. However if it got voted down, you waited another 20 second for the new map to load and you had no choice but to play it. The new system for Halo Reach gives you four choices instead of one. You will be given three maps (with the potential for different game types also) to choose from and a none-of-the-above option that gives you three more selections. I’m hoping they change the none-of-the-above option to random to keep things moving forward instead of starting another round of voting.
Once the game loads you will see another new addition to the game. Before the match starts you will have the option to choose a player class. The four classes have special abilities that are sprinting, shield, jet pack and invisibility. The special abilities are pretty self-explanatory, but each have their own benefits and drawbacks. The sprint ability can get you away from enemies more quickly but it can also get you to them more quickly if you aren’t careful where you’re going. The shield is the worst out of all of them, in my opinion. It makes you invincible but it also freezes you in a crouching position and does not let you attack. Sure, it lets your teammates find you to hopefully clear out enemies that might be around waiting for the effects to wear off, but if they time it right you will have zero-chance to fight back. The jet pack is cool but the novelty will wear out quickly here. This should be much more interesting in the single-player campaign than in online multiplayer. And that just leaves invisibility which is the same as the blue orbs from Halo 3. All of the abilities have specific time limits and automatically regenerate. You can also change your special ability before each respawn.
Along with the four abilities, it also gives the chance to have different starting weapon options. Previous Halo titles had all players starting with the same weapon set at the beginning of every round. This allows for more diverse game play as each game type and special ability can have different primary and secondary weapons as well as different amounts and types of grenades at the start of each round. All of these new options are going to make it much more difficult to balance, but should make for much more enjoyable gameplay as you can play to your individual strengths. For me, I’ll take the sprint ability with a shotgun and a gravity hammer all day long.
Other than the new abilities, the game play itself is almost the same as Halo 3. The biggest difference that you will see is the ODST-style heath meter. You still have your primary shield like in Halo 3, but once your shield is gone your heath starts running out. Health will not regenerate like your shields anymore. Instead you will need to look for health packs on the walls to get back up to 100%.
There are some new weapons also. The Battle Rifle appears to have been replaced with a more powerful midrange rifle that does not fire as many shots as the old weapon. You will also find a new grenade launcher and the return of the Halo 1/ODST zoom pistol. Most of the other new weapons are just updates the guns from Halo 3.
The choice to have your player avatar be a Spartan or Elite is gone in this game, as Bungie has given the Spartans and Elites different play styles. These play styles are highlighted in new game modes that have been introduced. The two main ones that I have been playing are Generator and Invasion. Generator is a 3 VS 3 battle with each team taking turns protecting and attacking the generators. The Spartans always defend and the Elites always attack. The Elites do not have the ability to sprint but instead have the ability to duck and roll for a speed-boost. The problem with the Generator mode is that it is only 3 VS 3. If you have someone drop out of the game, it becomes nearly impossible to destroy all Generators for the win. Having it setup for 4 VS 4 would make it more interesting in my opinion, and also make the loss of a player have less of an impact on the rest of the team. The thing I liked about this mode is that it takes advantage of the ability to pick your spawn point. There are 5 different points that you can scroll through to pick for your starting point so you can be closer to destroying or protecting the generators.
The other game mode is Invasion. I don’t think this one is quite ironed out all the way. However, it has a great concept and the potential to be one of the best new game types for Halo Reach. This is a 6 VS 6 Spartans vs Elites match up that takes place on a huge map. The Elites are on the attack while the Spartans are defending several key points on the map. It starts off with two zones that the Elites need to stay in for 20 seconds to deplete the shields. Once this is done the Spartans fall back to defend another rally point and eventually a main key that needs to be stolen by the Elites like capture the flag. The match ends when time runs out or the Elites steal and return the key to their home base. There are a bunch of flaws with this game-type, though. First, players on each team are broken up in to groups of two. The point being that you can use the previously mentioned spawn point choice to move to the best location on the map. This means you can also spawn right next to your buddy from your group of two to give a helping hand. The problem with this is that it doesn’t always allow you to change your spawn point. If your buddy is flying through the air on a Ghost, you will spawn in mid air and then immediately suicide straight to your death. I’m going to assume that this is a flaw in the beta that does not always allow you to change your spawn point, as I fell to my death three times in a row and almost broke the D-PAD on my controller from trying to pick a new spawn point. The other issue is the scoring to win the match. It is nearly impossible for the Elites to win the match as they have to steal the final key in order to get enough points to win. One point is awarded for destroying each of the sets of shields while the Spartans are given 3 points for defending the final key. Overall its a lot of fun but probably needs a little bit more balancing to get it just right.
“Overall a lot of fun but needs a little bit more balancing” is probably how you could best describe the whole Halo Reach Beta experience. Bungie has introduced some really cool stuff that takes Halo multiplayer to the next level. And thats the thing, it’s still Halo. If you are still playing Halo 3 then Halo Reach will be a welcome addition to your game collection. However, if you are on your last legs for this franchise then you may not be as excited as there is nothing ground breaking here. Yet. I have been doing my best to keep in mind that this is a beta test of a game that won’t be ready for retail release until this fall. That leaves plenty of time for Bungie to pull out all the stops and come up with that game changing new addition. I have faith in Bungie that they won’t disappoint.