The Halo: Reach beta has come and gone and now exists in the memory of hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of Halo fans worldwide. I, of course, played quite a bit of the beta and now I’m here to give you my impressions of what I experienced in my time with the game. True enough, players were granted such a small glimpse into what Halo: Reach will offer when it releases in the fall of this year but what was on display here was more than enough to get excited for. What I experienced in my short time with the beta was also more than enough for me to be able to safely say that Halo: Reach will be one of the best multiplayer games released this generation.
A lot of fuss has been made about the new additions to Halo: Reach since the unveiling of the first multiplayer trailer and a lot of people have been quick to make snap judgments about it based solely on that trailer, calling Halo: Reach “Halo 3 with jetpacks”. Well, let me be the first to tell you that that is not true in the slightest. This doesn’t mean that Halo: Reach feels completely different from its predecessors because it doesn’t, it is a Halo game through and through but the new additions make it feel fresh and alive in ways that Halo 3 wasn’t.
First, the most intriguing new feature that was added to the mix is the armor abilities. This addition alone fundamentally changes how the game is played and leads to some more exciting confrontations. For the Spartans, there are four key abilities in the form of the ability to sprint, a jetpack, the ability to activate active camouflage, and the armor lock ability, which grants you temporary invulnerability. The Elites also have similar abilities but instead of the ability to sprint, Elites gain an evade ability, accomplished by performing a smooth combat roll in any direction. These abilities have some very interesting usages and can get you out of trouble in a number of ways.
For instance, I recall a time when I had the active camo ability and I found myself being shot at. This was an encounter I knew I couldn’t win so I jumped over an edge, activated the camo and crouched. There, I was almost completely invisible and when my opponent followed me over the edge, he didn’t have a clue as to where I was (besides knowing that I was in the general vicinity) and I was able to get the drop on him and a quick and easy assassination.
All of these abilities have great applications beyond what you might expect and because of this; they allow players to really get creative in how they use them. I’ve seen some players get stuck by plasma grenades and quickly go into armor lock, which causes the grenade to fall off. I’ve seen a player jump out of a doomed Banshee as it flew over the edge of the map and use their jetpack to fly to safety. I’ve even used the jetpack myself to hover above a doorway and then swoop down upon an unsuspecting enemy just as he entered a room to assassinate him from above. The applications beyond these that I’ve mentioned are just a few of the almost limitless ways of using these abilities to change the course of a battle.
The best thing about these abilities is that they don’t feel overpowered in any way. Each of these abilities has its own recharge period and each has its own benefits and drawbacks. The armor lock ability may make you invulnerable for a short period but it also makes you completely immobile so if you’re surrounded by enemies with none of your teammates around to help, you’re probably still going to die as soon as you come out of armor lock. The active camo is useful in that it makes you almost completely invisible when you remain immobile and the fact that it scrambles enemy radar so it makes sneaking around in enemy territory a bit easier but it also dulls the sounds around you and scrambles your radar as well. Combined with the inability to hear most of what’s going on around you, someone could very well be sneaking up on you and you’d never see it coming.
As with every new Halo game, new weapons are thrown into the mix and others are rebalanced to make things smoother and more balanced. In terms of new additions, there is a grenade launcher which (surprise!) launches grenades that detonate when you release the trigger. It takes some getting used to but it can be very useful once you do. Another new weapon is the Covenant Focus Rifle which functions similarly to the Sentinel Beam from Halo 3 but is a great deal more powerful and is best used as a support weapon because of its ability to quickly cut through shields.
There’s also the hilarious addition of the Plasma Launcher which launches up to four grenades with light homing at a target. There’s something special about sticking four plasma grenades to someone because to can practically see the sad and pathetic look on your unfortunate victim’s face as they realize their life is about to come to a quick and unpleasant end. It’s unbalanced, sure, but hilariously so. If Bungie left it as it is, I’d be pleased.
My favorite new addition is probably the Needle rifle, which combines the combo-explosion power of the Needler and the semi-automatic firing rate of the DMR. While it’s slightly less powerful than the DMR and consequently less efficient at dropping enemy shields, once their shield is down, once you’ve embedded three needles into their body, they will ignite and explode, much like the combo-explosion of the Needler. Of course though, a single headshot from this rifle once an opponent’s shield is down is all you’ll need to drop them, just like the DMR.
In addition, the default assault rifle has received a visual makeover and has become a rather effective killing tool at short to medium range. The Needler, a very powerful weapon in capable hands seems a bit toned down in Halo: Reach which helps it in terms of balance because it is included in the Elite loadouts in most modes.
Halo has long been one of the more balanced shooters on the market but Halo: Reach is even more balanced than previous games in part because of one omission. The Battle Rifle, which was so popular in Halo 2 and 3, is gone. In its place are the two new weapons discussed earlier, the DMR and the Needle Rifle. The Battle Rifle was the great equalizer in Halo 2 and 3. You didn’t have to like it but you had to use it. One way or another, you were forced into becoming familiar with the BR because it was such a good general use weapon all around. At short range, the shotgun, rocket launcher or dual SMGs would likely win over the BR and at extremely long ranges, the sniper rifle will beat it but at medium to long ranges there’s no better weapon to use. It’s so versatile, accurate and powerful that there was little reason to use anything else.
In Halo: Reach, there is no great equalizer. As always, every weapon has its strengths and weaknesses but now, there’s no one weapon that stands tall above the rest in the same way the Battle Rifle did. This contributes a great deal to the game in terms of balance. There’s more of an incentive to try out new weapons and experiment with different combinations in Halo: Reach that wasn’t there in Halo 3. The result is a game that feels more varied and balanced.
Stay tuned for the second half of my Halo: Reach Beta Impressions coming up very soon.