After logging numerous hours in the highly anticipated and ultimately important Halo: Reach multiplayer Beta, Bungie has left the sweet taste of promise and potential in my mouth.
I’ve hunted heads in the game’s HeadHunter mode, popped headshots left and right in SWAT, and I’ve journeyed to the ambitious battlefield of Reach‘s newest and most daring game-type yet, Invasion.
While the Beta is, by definition, an unfinished product, the level of detail, definition and structure, is remarkable and in fact exceeds the multiplayer component of many games available at retail today.
Arguably, the most exciting and ambitious component of Reach is its Armor Abilities. These come in five flavors at the moment and include Sprint, Armor Lock, Active Camouflage, Jetpack and Evade. Whereas in Halo 3, these power ups were scattered throughout the map and had to be picked up, in Reach you start with one.
As you can likely deduce, Sprint affords its beholder the ability to run super fast, for a short amount of time. It’s great for escaping the heat of battle and can be a determining factor in your eventual life or death.
Armor Lock, already the most annoying part of the Beta, allows its user to slam his fist into the ground and become invincible for a period of time. While employed, this Armor Ability prohibits you from moving and when it expires (or you choose to end it) you’re an easy target, prone to the scope of a headshot. It’s useful when an incoming vehicle is barreling towards you, but in hand to hand combat, it’s kind of lame.
Active Camo is just as it sounds and allows you to become invisible whenever you desire. Man is it annoying when someone uses this, sneaks up behind you and knifes you in the back for a one-hit kill. This Ability is most useful in Capture The Flag game-types, as it allows you to stealthily enter the opponents base, snag the flag and at least make it a decent distance before your foes see a flag magically walking away.
Jetpack is already the best part of Reach. The ability to reach any lookout, ascend any building and escape the bullets of battle, is a great tool to have at your disposal. However, with this newfound ability to flyyyy, comes the fact that when you do choose to use it, you’re literally a flying target, easily falling into the reticules of enemies. That said, its pros outweighs its cons and if you’re like me, you’ll use this Ability more often than not. There is one caveat for Jetpackers though. If you fly to high and use up all your pack’s juice on the way up, the fall damage on the way down will kill you. Remember to pad your landing!
Evade is an Elite specific ability and allows these aliens to move extremely nimbly throughout combat. Hold down LB to use the ability and flick the directional stick in any direction and you’ll very quickly duck and roll in the direction you chose. If a Spartan is raining fire down on you from high above and you’re in the middle of an open combat zone, a few somersaults with the Ability will get you out there quickly.
Halo: Reach introduces a handful of new weapons to complement the Abilities, but before we talk about them, we need to speak of Loadouts. When a match starts, you have a choice of weaponry. Each has a primary, secondary, grenades and an Armor Ability. Everyone plays Halo a little differently, so you’ll have to play around with options and find the one that suits your play style best.
First, players will need to get accustomed to the new Magnum Pistol. This handgun can be fully scoped and is a beast of a headshot weapon.
The DMR, or Designated Marksman’s Rifle, is the Battle Rifle (though Bungie says it’s not) of Reach. It’s great a medium to long range and is a great headshot weapon.
I’m a little concerned with Bungie’s choice to make the Magnum pistol exactly as deadly as the DMR. I constantly found myself running into battle with the DMR, absolutely expecting to win the shootout, only to find my foe, with a Pistol, killing me faster. Seems kind of wrong.
Next, the Focus Rifle is quite a treat. This bad boy is a combination of Halo 3’s Sniper Rifle and Sentinel Beam. You can scope it in, but instead of “shooting” enemies, you “cook” them, which is obviously a lot more fun. Cook an enemy for long enough and they fry to a crisp, leaving their corpse lifeless on the ground. It’s not terribly easy to amass kills with this weapon, but when you pull it off, the smile stricken across your face will make it all worth it.
The Plasma Launcher is the weapon I’ve waited for I think my entire life. This gun follows the same king of “charge-and-kill” mechanic of Halo 3’s Spartan Laser, but this one will fire before it’s fully charged. It fires up to four rounds of deadly plasma. These plasma projectiles can lock on to both human and Elite targets or, where it’s more effective, vehicles. Basically, you scope it in, select a target, hold down the fire button and if you can get all four round to lock on, you’ll most certainly get the kill, but feel free to let go after one or two. What’s more, if you die, the guided munitions will still hit their target, and hopefully get you a kill or two.
Next, the Grenade Launcher, a single shot beast, is one of the most intriguing and (possibly) awesome weapons in Reach. It fires one shot at a time and when fired, the grenade skips once, then explodes. However, if you hold down the trigger after launch, you can make it explode whenever you like. Used this way, you can shoot a projectile at an oncoming enemy and when he stands near it, let go of the trigger and BOOM, he’s dead. I haven’t been able to effectively use it yet, but I’m sure when I do master it, it’ll be a deadly weapon.
The Needle Rifle is also a weapon I’ve longed for since Halo 3. Similar to the DMR in power and effectiveness, this Covenant weapon shoots Needles one shot at a time. It’s a headshot machine and those with skilled hands will rack up more than many kills with it. Additionally, sink enough shots into the body of an enemy, and, similar to the Needler (which is also in Reach!), it will force them to feel the power of pink mist.
Beating down enemies in Halo: 3 was pretty much my favorite thing to do. I can’t think of something more exciting and rewarding than charging a foe, tapping B and ending their killing spree. Unfortunately, Bungie has ramped down the effectiveness of Beatdowns in Reach. In fact, the term Beatdown is gone, in favor of Pummel. In Bungie’s defense, Pummel is a pretty awesome term. And, again thankfully, the horrible double melees or melee sandwiches, whatever you called them, are largely gone in Reach. You can’t wildly run into frag-fests hoping to beat down enemies as easily as you did in Halo: 3, because it just won’t work!
In the Beta, Bungie has a handful of game-modes and playlists available, allowing you, if you become bored with one or another, to keep it fresh and play a multitude of game-types.
If you’re a Lone Wolf fan, there’s HeadHunter. In this game-type you’re all by yourself and every time you or someone else dies, they drop a skull. You pick them up and must bring them to a “drop zone.” You can be risky and collect a bunch of skulls before running back to the drop zone, but know that if you get capped, you drop them all. The game is played to 25, that is unless someone amasses 10 skulls at once, at which point that person will earn the “Skullamanjaro” award, ending the match. Yeah, I did that once.
Then there’s the Arena. This is the place that Bungie says will be for the best of the best seeking the highest level competition. Play enough matches in a day and you’ll get a daily ranking and beyond that a season ranking, good for bragging rights. This mode isn’t entirely fleshed out at the moment, but its aim is, according to Bungie, to give the hardcore, skilled players a reason to not reboot their character and trounce low levels as they climb the ladder again.
And the elephant in the room. It’s Invasion. This game-type is Bungie’s most ambitious yet. Similar to Battlefield: Bad Company 2‘s Rush Mode, this game-type progresses through three different phases. It pits Spartans versus Elites. Elites play offense and Spartans defense. It’s played exclusively on the Boneyard environment, a map larger than anything Bungie has ever done and truly speaks to the studio’s very strong ability at crafting largely scaled environments, something fans (or maybe just me) have clamored for, for years. As Elites capture points from the Spartans, new and more powerful loadouts and eventually vehicles become available for both sides. The game ends (if Elites are able) with the Elites stealing the “Core” and transporting it to a Phantom, docked on the corner of the map.
The offshoot of standard Invasion is Invasion Slayer. In this game-type, it remains Spartans versus Elites, but it’s a game to 100 kills, but there’s a twist. Instead of standard kill, kill, kill, there’s a strategic take gamers must use to succeed. As Spartans or Elites capture points, more powerful loadouts become available. It breaks down like this.
Phase 1 (0-25 kills, or until the 4 minute marker)
Spartan Weapon Drops: Power Weapons (Rocket Launcher, Sniper Rifle)
Elite Weapon Drops: Power Weapons (Plasma Launcher, Focus Rifle), or a Ghost
Phase 2: (26-50 kills, or until the 8 minute marker)
Spartan Weapon Drops: Power Weapons, or a Warthog
Elite Weapon Drops: Power Weapons, or a Ghost, or a Banshee
Phase 3: (51-75 kills, or until the 12 minute marker)
Spartan Weapon Drops: Power Weapons, or a Warthog, or a Scorpion
Elite Weapon Drops: Power Weapons, or a Ghost, or a Banshee, or a Wraith
Invasion Slayer, so far, has been the most rewarding Halo multiplayer I’ve ever encountered and this game-mode is certainly a long time coming, and I’m certainly excited that Bungie has it very well nailed down at this early Beta stage.
Then there’s Stockpile. This game-type is a spinoff of Capture The Flag. Flags spawn at specific points on the map and it’s your team’s duty to carry these to collection zones that hop from location to location throughout the game. There’s two ways to win here; either capture 10 flags in the allotted time, or capture more than the other team when time expires.
The final new game-type in Reach is Generator Defense. This mode doesn’t go live in the Beta until May 14 and it certainly sounds interesting. Like Invasion, it pits Spartans vs. Elites. Three Spartans must defend three generators and three Elites are tasked with destroying them. Simple. Straightforward. Should be fun.
Don’t worry, if you seek familiar affairs, Oddball, Capture The Flag, Team Slayer, SWAT and others are mixed in to the rotation.
There’s only three maps available in the Beta right now (one more when Generator Defense goes live). They include Boneyard (for Invasion only) PowerHouse and Sword Base.
PowerHouse is an outdoor location, looking similar to High Ground from Halo 3. It’s full of water, indoor and outdoor locations, dark hallways and alluring lookouts, great for raining fire down from. Jetpackers will love PowerHouse, as there are a few places only these Ability will be able to get to.
Sword Base is a very straightforward map. Visually, it resembles Cold Storage from Halos of yesterday and has two distinct sides with bridges, on various elevations, for travel from side to side. There’s a Sniper Rifle on this map and it’s extremely useful if you’re perched in the right spots. Also, due to the verticality of this environment, you’ll find yourself using the Jetpack Ability. Use it to ascend to higher levels and you’ll rack up kills on unsuspecting enemies.
Boneyard, as said before, is a Invasion only map. It’s huge, the largest Bungie has ever built. There are big open spaces, but also dark and enclosed areas where frag-fests and melee attacks will run supreme. There are also several vertical layers, accessible through scaffolding and staircases, perfectly suited for snipers and Focus Riflers looking to rack up headshots.
Bungie.net Stat Integration
Just like in Halo 3, Bungie will let you track your in-game statistics online at Bungie.net. They’ve redesigned the look and feel of it and overall, it’s just much better. It’s truly incredible Bungie went to such extensive lengths to incorporate stat-tracking with a beta.
While I’m certainly not the most skilled Halo: 3 player (a highest skill 36 in Halo: 3) my skills from that game transferred to Reach and I’ve enjoyed nearly every minute spent in the Beta. It’s certainly not Halo: 3.5 and this is very exciting. Bungie provides an incredible tease with this Beta and it’s going to be an extremely long haul from when the Beta ends (May 19) to early Fall when the title releases.
Play some Beta with me if you’d like. My GamerTag is “eddie not eddy”