Halo: Reach Beta Impressions
Confession: I'm a Halo fangirl. It was my duty to sink my teeth into Halo: Reach and tear it open with eager, ravenous hands. And that I did. It was brutal. Insane, even. Like a junkie, I couldn't wait for my next fix. After Halo 3 had long lost its lustre and I had made the more "adult" jump to Call of Duty 4, I had almost resigned myself to the fact that I would not take an energy sword in hand ever again. Fortunately, the Halo: Reach multiplayer beta has completely renewed my faith in both the online community and fellow Halo nuts around the globe. I'm grinning like a psychopath as I pull off assassination after assassination. The riveting multiplayer matchups are just what I needed to rekindle this long-smoldering love affair. And I know I'm in. Hook, line, and sinker.
Halo: Reach is the Halo you know and love with a brand new bag of tricks. Sometimes, a fresh coat of paint is all it really takes to improve on a classic tenfold, long after it's worn out its welcome. Jumping straight into the beta, one of the most noticeable augments is certainly the revamped player customization system. Embedded within a seamless user interface with fluid, smooth transitions you'll find sharp, angular menus awaiting to turn your Spartan into the hero of your dreams. Armor set pieces are unlocked via credits earned from getting your hands dirty and playing the game. Current ranking factors into what pieces of your Spartan puzzle are available.
It's a system that rewards time spent in-game rather than pithy milestones a la Call of Duty, and is vastly improved over the inferior customization options seen in that of Halo 3 and the previous incarnations. The standard set of emblems you know and love are also available with which to make your online presence uniquely yours, as well as new four-character service tags rather than the standard "number-letter-letter" combination of old. You want to be a unique snowflake amidst a sea of gamers? Step right up. It's not perfect, and you'll need to invest plenty of time in order to completely customize your avatar to your liking, but it's a start.
Beyond the subtleties of Spartan customization lies the true meat and what you really came for: kicking ass in the various gametypes and maps packed into the beta. Prepping is only one stage, you see. Before one sets foot into the infamous lobby one must look their absolute best. Journeying into matchmaking is the next logical step. If you thought your Aunt Edith's facelift radically altered her appearance, wait until you get a load of this. A completely revamped matchmaking lobby awaits eager Halo players, rife with subtle improvements. For instance, information about what your friends are doing is displayed atop the familiar slate-greys seen in the player customization menus. That sleek font and glossy finish invites you to waste countless hours on that couch in your undies. Seamless integration of the more social aspects of the game is most certainly appreciated -- no need to visit the Xbox 360 guide any longer. Everything is in one convenient location.
At the launch of the beta, only a select few playlists were available: “Arena," (ranked Team Slayer, 4v4), "Free-For-All," and "Grab Bag" (roll the dice and see what comes up). Throughout the lifetime of the beta, gametypes such as "Invasion" and "Generator Defense" made the scene, and thankfully so -- they're two of the most dramatically different ventures you've seen in Halo thus far. Pitting Spartans vs. Elites in both offensive and defensive roles, both experiences are not to be missed.
Invasion will likely be the game of choice for those better suited to the more tactical side of online carnage. As an objective game, it pits two teams of six against each other. One team steps into the shoes of the gnarly Elites, and the other team is comprised of the Spartans who must defend against onslaught led by said Elites. Always on the offensive, the Elites are looking to pick up the coveted coordinates of Earth, the "Human Hive." Once these coordinates are acquired, they intend on putting an end to the scurrying members of the human race.
Throughout the three phases of Invasion you'll either be defending your home world of Earth as a Spartan or tearing through defenses with the goal of ultimate carnage as an Elite. Beginning with a phase meant solely to claim territories, the action quickly fans out to the next phase, where Spartans must encroach on the Elites' defenses accordingly, and Elites must see to it that not one of the genetically-enhanced grunts makes it in to thwart their plans. It's fast, frantic action, keeping you on your toes at all times, though admittedly there's far less work to do as a Spartan. Also, if you want to be picky, where's the Cole Protocol of the Halo mythos that should be in place? Regardless of minute Halo universe discrepancies such as this, Invasion remains one of the most exciting gametypes to come out of the Reach beta, and one I'm eager to get into more fully now that the experience has already wound down.
Generator Defense takes a page out of the team objective book, again pitting Spartans versus Elites. In a twist, however, during the second round you'll be playing for the opposite team. It's a rather peculiar mixture of Slayer mechanics and team objectives. As a Spartan, you're charged with (shock and dismay!) defending a set of generators: three to be exact. As the generators are spawned on the opposite side of the map, you'll need to reach it and then contest with the Spartans, who spawn in the same area so that setting up defenses is as easy as securing the area at the beginning of a round. Very quickly you'll find that energy swords remain one of the easiest ways to destroy the coveted generators, and that playing as an Elite is a bit more tough than simply holding down the fort. It's an interesting departure, to say the least, and much lighter for us non-tacticians who need a decent amount of Slayer sprinkled in to keep things exciting.
Of course the standard Team Slayer, Team Swat, CTF, and other familiar favorites are included within to whet your appetite for some old-school Halo carnage. But for those of us clamoring for an update, Reach includes multiple brand new game types, such as "Stockpile," in which players are given a set amount of time to collect ten flags. A new twist on the traditional CTF match, it calls for players to hoard these flags in their base and defend them until 60 seconds pass. It's the longest minute you'll ever be faced with. These new ventures ranged from the meticulously tactical as mentioned previously (Generator Defense) to battles of epic proportion (Invasion.) I particularly enjoyed throwing myself into Headhunter, where you need to deliver skulls to an ephemeral extraction point, much like a tumultuous CTF even more chaotic than Stockpile.
Finding a match was never difficult. Unfortunately, it seemed as though fellow players had not yet gotten used to the brand new voting system in place. A side bar gives you three game types to choose from, along with a "none of the above" option. Most players I came across didn't bother to vote, instead leaving their checkmark idling on the "default" option. Because of this, I was shuffled into the same matches over and over: Stockpile and Team Slayer rearing their heads most often.
If you want to take your game to the next level, Slayer Arena exudes a much more brutal and competitive nature than seen in typical Slayer games, and I can appreciate that. The better player you are, the better rank you're assigned. When a "season" of Slayer Arena comes to a close, your in-game ability is evaluated in order to award a rank befitting of both bragging rights and closer skill placement so you're not stuck playing with the Halo elite or no-talent noobs. If you're out for blood, prestige, and glory, then Slayer Arena is where you'll want to hang out.
As far as the actual in-game setup? It's received a full-on makeover as well, boasting the addition of a loadout system that completely changes the feel of the game. At your spawn, simply choose from the list to the right which class seems "perfect" for you. There are barebones weapon choices tied to each loadout, assigning an assault rifle, pistol, and two frags to get you going no matter which class you choose to go with, so that shouldn't be a deciding factor. Be a Stalker to scramble enemy radar and turn invisible. The Airborne class's jetpack lets you fly, if only for a short while. Stepping into the shoes of a Scout gives the gift of speed and brutality, via sprinting. A personal favorite of mine, it's great for those of us who abused the Marathon perk of Call of Duty 4. Lastly, going with the Guard option provides you with a nearly impenetrable shield that deactivates after a short period of time. In team-based outings, your role as a Guard can prove to be invaluable, acting as "bait" so your team can get a leg up on the competition. Fortunately, an on-screen gauge keeps track of the ability's usage and once it's all gone, you'll need to wait for it to build up once again, ensuring that little exploitation takes place.
Of course, with new gametypes, playlists, and various other niceties, you can expect to be tweaks made to the core Halo experience. And there are. Fan of the big bad BR? Say hello to the DMR, the Designated Marksman Rifle, which blows the beloved BR out of the water. Assassinations may now be performed by sneaking up on an opponent where a sweet miniature execution scene will be carried out, leaving your enemy dead on the ground. It's a beautiful thing. The brand new Focus Rifle, an apparent love child of the deadly Sentinel Beam and a Jackal Sniper, allows you to pick jet-packing Spartans out of the air with the greatest of ease. The old stand-by, the grenade launcher, is particularly deadly. Plasma Launchers and Plasma Repeaters up the "alien" factor a notch, something previously elusive in the Halo mythos, dangerous and functional, if not a bit unwieldy. My personal favorite, the Needle Rifle, was my go-to gun for kill after kill, though I often went back to old faithful arms such as the energy sword, which is always good in a pinch. The new assortment of weapons is definitely something to get used to.
Brand new control options, a gorgeous new highly defined finish on all the environments and players, and the updated feel to something undoubtedly classic makes Halo: Reach most certainly a game worth keeping on your radar. There's something for both new and old players alike, and a simple retooling can sometimes make all the difference. Though the beta is now winding down to an end, there's only a short amount of time to wait until the retail version hits stores shelves this fall. Suit up, and let's go. I can't wait to assassinate each and every one of you.
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