Halo: Reach Beta ImpressionsBy Andrew Pfister - Posted May 04, 2010
We were fortunate enough to get a jumpstart on the Halo: Reach beta this past weekend, and some of us devoted our Friday, Saturday, and Sunday hopping between Powerhouse and Sword Base, learning weapon and choke locations on the map and getting a feel for which of the new armor abilities we liked the most. Keep in mind that none of us should be considered Halo experts, but hey...we like what we like.
Halo multiplayer and I have an abusive relationship. I want to like it, I really do. I recognize and respect the beauty of its balance, the constant strategizing you need to stay alive and keep your kill/death ratio in the positive, and how every 1-on-1 showdown can turn into an epic survival story.
I also hate getting headshotted from halfway across the map 0.17 seconds after turning a corner, so you can imagine the emotional rollercoaster that was this past weekend playing the beta. So far, though, I've been doing much better in Reach than I ever did in Halo 2 or Halo 3 multiplayer. I'm not exactly sure why that is (maybe I'm more patient than I was back then? Nah…), but as someone who has always favored team-based objective games, I’m really enjoying the new Headhunter and Stockpile modes. I have to rely on a bit of luck in Headhunter, scoring most of my points as a scavenger when multiple people die and I'm the one left to pick up the scraps. But my evasion skills (and intelligent use of the active camo armor ability) makes me great for collecting flags in Stockpile. I'm also playing defense around our capture point, to make sure that nobody on my team picks up my flag, takes it out, then puts it back in and poaches my points (that's happening, so be careful on Stockpile).
I'm also doing fairly well on 1-Flag CTF, which so far is vastly more fun on Powerhouse than Sword Base. On offense, I like to go Stalker off the bat and either make a quick run for the flag or the rocket launcher tucked away in the back drainage. I'm not particularly talented with the rocket launcher, mind you, I just like to keep it out of enemy hands as long as I can. When we switch to defense, I turn on the jet pack and go straight into flag pursuit mode -- it's easier to get a bead on the flag carrier and the surrounding battle area from 50 feet up.
But the thing with Halo for me -- and it will always be "the thing" -- is that I'm only having fun when I'm in an equally-matched party. I don't need to be first place in kills (like that's ever happened), or even have a positive K/D, I just don't want to be completely and utterly destroyed by someone who's played Halo multiplayer religiously for the better part of the last decade. And the beauty of Halo's high level play is what damns it for the rest of us not-as-talented folk. For example, that round of Team SWAT where I got murdered five consecutive times from headshots I couldn't even see -- sometimes immediately after I spawned (fix that, Bungie). I'm not sure why matchmaking decided to place me in that group, considering that I changed my social preferences according to my talent level, but it immediately soured an otherwise pleasant weekend of earning credits, clutch flag-capping, and the occasional revenge kills. But unlike H2 or H3, the pseudo-class system is going to bring me back with an open and hopefully more patient mind.
(P.S., please fix grenade splash damage.)
(P.P.S., the announcer's vocal inflections on "Oddball!" are awesome.)
The Reach beta has been an interesting experience to me. Along with the new (currently) overpowered weapons and the new integration of class selection, I have to say that the multiplayer is a major improvement to Halo's online experience. That's not to say that the beta doesn't have its problems. As I mentioned before, the new weapons in the game seem way overpowered and make the game feel unbalanced. Since this is a beta version of the game, you have to assume that this will be tweaked before the end product. Also the melee bash seems to be a bit buggy, at times resulting in a very weird scene of dying and then watching your opponent die like they had just been unplugged from the Matrix.
Aside from such balance issues, the game experience seems much more streamlined and varied. Instead of always being the same Spartan over and over again, you can choose to play the game differently than just run and gun. The beta is definitely an upgrade to a great multiplayer experience that can be enjoyed by everyone, even if you don't play 18 hours a day. It offers great options that allow you to match with people based on skill level or connection rate. It's also a much more forgiving game, as it doesn't punish you for not having played it for a week straight. All the classes and powers are available to everyone, putting players on a equal playing field from the beginning. All in all, the beta is a great experience, especially with the addition of jetpack bashing, an occasional assassination animation, and awesome tank-stopping shield explosions. This game feels like one of the best multiplayer experiences to date.
Ignoring my skills (or lack there of), far and away the biggest personal turnoff for engaging in the multiplayer in games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is pacing. Those games are so damn fast; keeping up with what's happening is its own meta-game -- an acquired skill. Death might not be a brutal Counter-Strike-esque one-shot experience, but against skilled players, it's not far off. Halo, however, is a heck of a lot slower. By comparison, Halo is actually mellow, which is why I've always found myself drawn exclusively to Halo to scratch a multiplayer itch.
I've sunk less than an hour into Halo: Reach's multiplayer beta, but the thrill of my first headshot with the Designated Marksman Rifle, the child-like laughter after floating into the air with a jet pack and flailing to the ground after someone marked me from across the map, and the knowledge that entering into a one-on-one matchup with someone in Halo doesn't always mean the combat will be over in a fraction of a second is what's making the experience work.
I might not be any good at Halo: Reach now or ever, but Halo multiplayer has consistently given me something that other competitive multiplayer shooters evade with novices: fun.
I'm not going to judge the beta too harshly, as definitely there was a different breed of early adopter this past week, but man, it was brutal going back to multiplayer Halo. I'd spawn and die. I'd round a corner and die. I'd be off on my own and die. It was frustrating, infuriating and not a whole lot of fun. It didn't help that it was my first time playing in a while and that Sword Base is a horrible confusing mess of a map.
I'm really looking forward to Reach's matchmaking, which didn't work that well with only 3,000 people playing at one time as I found myself leaving groups only to be matched with the same folks on the next search. However, there was one shining moment: I got my greedy hands on the hammer with my Stalker class so I could hide and whack-a-mole fellow Spartans. One Hammer spree later, I was finally positive K/D and life was good. Until the next match. And the next one. And the one after that. Maybe tonight will be different…
Whether Halo: Reach’s multiplayer will be fun depends on the matchmaking. When I played the game this weekend and early last week, the beta was limited to “friends and family” of Bungie. Friends and family of Bungie are damn good at Halo…at least, I hope I don’t suck that badly. I got killed a lot, often without even knowing how or why. One-shot deaths by over-powered lasers and other too-strong guns suck.
If the matchmaking system ends up putting me in games with other people who haven’t devoted their entire life to playing FPSs because they have jobs and/or other interests, and the weapons are balanced, Halo: Reach will be fun to play in the adrenaline-drenched, anything-goes style of Halo 3’s multiplayer. Also: I gotta imagine the various overpowered weapons will be given appropriate nerfs. When these changes are made, Halo: Reach multiplayer will be about as fun as Halo 3. The new armor abilities are cool, and the feel is slightly different than previous games, but if you’re more of a casual, let’s-have-fun multiplayer player, Halo: Reach is a lot like Halo 3. It honestly seems more like a fine-tuning than an overhaul.
Please note that I love anything Halo related, so my thoughts are completely biased and unfounded. Halo: Reach was awesome, all because of the jet packs. JET PACKS!! I spent most of my time on the beta trying to fly around the maps, which meant I was a pretty easy target (more so than usual) for all the hardcore players in the game, and so I didn’t really pay attention to the game (more so than usual) and died a lot (more so than usual). Overall, I thought the options of different classes provided a good angle to the gameplay by giving us more than one area to learn, figure out and excel in. They each seemed to equally prove their advantages and disadvantages, so I’ll be curious to see which class people will pick in future games and what will work best for me. Let me rephrase that: what will work best to keep the rest of you guys from shooting at me.
I also didn’t come across any teabagging, which I liked because things like that hurt my feelings. Sometimes Halo players are mean and should be nicer to each other. Like, stop shooting at me. I’m just trying to explore the world with my jet pack. Leave me alone.