Fri. Mar 31st, 2023

LOS ANGELES — There’s no getting around it: The powers that be with Halo have some serious catching up to do after December’s debacle Master Chief Collection. In particular, that game’s smorgasbord of online modes, spread across a pack of four Halo re-releases, proved too much for the 343 Industries development team.

So we’re still a bit apprehensive about ambitious announcements for a new one Halo game, but making the biggest 343 at this year’s E3 was a good start. Say hello to Warzone, the series’ newest, biggest multiplayer mode to date. It is set to debut in October Halo 5: Guardiansand based on our two sessions in the mode during E3, it’s just the thing Halo need multiplayer.

PVE, PVP, PV-everything

Up to now, Halo online battles have reached up to 16 players, usually in eight-on-eight battles of modes such as Big Team Slayer. Halo 5‘s Warzone mode bumps that up to a respectable 24 players – not quite the whopping 64 players on console versions of the latest Battlefield games, of course, but still a welcome boost.

The reason for the bigger Halo teams this time around is because the levels and scope have grown dramatically and they elegantly juggle a combination of PVE (player versus environment) and PVP (player versus player) combat. Battles begin with two teams of 12 starting in their own respective bases, which are dotted with about two dozen AI baddies. Kill those and you’ll unlock the doors from your base to the outer arena, along with the ability to buy new weapons and vehicles.

From there, the two teams race to be the first to collect 1,000 points, and they have a few opportunities to collect them. As in most online shooters these days, the map contains three control points in the form of bases; whoever controls them all gets a few points per second. The bases in the level we tested were multi-level structures with lots of creeping passages, stairwells and corpse-strewn funnel points, so keeping them all locked down was satisfyingly tricky.

Simply killing an opponent scores a few points, while teams can rack up serious points if they take down the AI-controlled ‘boss’ characters hiding in the dark corners of the map – that is, far away from the checkpoint bases . They’re designed to be real damage sponges, so even if you send a bunch of soldiers to one boss, you’ll still need some time to take it out.

As a result, there’s a real trade-off in terms of how teams can focus their efforts. Should a team capture all three checkpoints, they can skip the entire point-gathering process by invading the opposing team’s starting zone and destroying its energy core, so skipping the optional bosses might seem smart. That said, killing a boss provides a giant boost: a Scrooge McDuck-sized pile of in-game currency.

Put some 22s on that Phaeton, son

The Halo series has never forced players to grind for weeks on end to unlock a la in-game weapons Duty, and that seems to be the same this time. However, in Warzone, players doing have currency to contend with, which is paid out based on completing objectives, killing rivals, getting ribbons, and so on.

That currency is shown as a vague “level”, and the more you spend of that level, the cooler stuff you can spawn at any safe point (including any checkpoints your team has overtaken). Spending two level points will allow you to exchange your stock weapon for a recharging gun, or generate a Warthog to ride in. As you spend more points, you can generate better things – from sniper rifles to rocket launchers, or from ghosts and Mantis robo-walkers to the new holy-what-the-Jesus Phaeton cruise ship.

In one of our Warzone battles, our team destroyed a boss rich in currency just as the enemy team closed off base three times. Our team rushed to spawn new gear, and between the influx of cash we just got and some team members who had already saved a few level points, we rolled difficult into the enemy. Phaetons, Mantises and rocket launchers, oh dear, oh dear.

(To clarify, this currency only exists in single combat, but it sounds like Microsoft is doing some sneaky stuff with a “REQ Pack” system that includes… including… microtransaction-powered items. Microsoft. WTF. No. Withdraw . Unplug. While you still can.)

Warzone’s general formula shamelessly plucks little bits and ideas from other recent online smashes, from Fall of the Titans‘s PVE elements on Dota 2 and League of LegendsXP-rich bosses, but man, it works. It is also rooted in the comfortable, old Halo moveset – one that was, admittedly, boosted via new speed-focused maneuvers introduced in January’s team deathmatch multiplayer beta, including run-and-slam melee attacks, ground pounds, and quick dodges.

We only had to test one arena, of course, and one that runs on Microsoft’s LAN, as opposed to potentially awful servers like the one that plagued The Master Chief Collection way too long – but our two Warzone battles really made the old feel new again in the Halo multiplayer universe. We look forward to fighting more in that game when the game launches in October; hopefully by then we’ll also have seen more of the game’s co-op campaign mode, which was only teased in a all linear demo at Microsoft’s press conference on Monday.

List image by 343 Industries

By akfire1

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