Five Things We Learned from the Halo: Reach Beta

The epic adventure that was the Halo: Reach beta has come and passed, complete with unlocked modes along the way, and an extra day of gaming. It was blissful to return to a world of plasma-scarred landscapes and the beeping of replenishing shields. A world that felt oh-so-familiar, but strange and new at the same time. Though I probably could have put together a list of 10 or 15 important things to note, for sanity’s sake we’ll stick to five.


Create-a-Spartan

The world of Halo is apparently a more “modern” one, if you get my meaning. No longer content with simply allowing us to each choose a color scheme and logo for our Spartan or Elite multi-player avatar, Halo: Reach offers a much more diverse customization platform which allows you more control over the color and appearance of your character. Different armor sets and pieces can be chosen and colorized in any combination of a primary and secondary color. However, these are merely aesthetic changes. These are unlocked at various levels and milestones throughout the game as your progress is tracked via the “credits ” that you obtain over the course of each match. If this sounds remarkably like Modern Warefare 2, it is quite similar. Clearly Bungie has seen the sales figures and heard the feedback. The days of racking up pointless experience points in multi-player with little or no benefit to them or the rank achieved are long, long gone.

The changes won’t affect your gameplay, but they will make your Spartan unique, and will make you identifiable from the other players out there.


Class warriors

Another concept that Bungie is “borrowing” from the competition is the idea of a load-out, or a class that can be chosen before each re-spawn. Weapon load-outs are different for some classes and each class also comes with a unique ability. Abilities are short-use, rechargeable actions like cloaking and sprinting. There are four classes for both Spartans and Elites. Each has at least one class ability that is unique to its race, but for the most part they mirror each other rather well. This shows an attempt by Bungie to mix up the same old Halo gameplay without getting too far away from the run and gun style that we all know and love. It’s a great example of adding bits and pieces to a tried and true method without completely re-inventing the wheel.


Race In-equality

Aside from the exclusive abilities for each race, Reach is making a concerted effort to create more differences between the Spartans and Elites other than size and skin. While both races now feature a full complement of weapons in all categories (hooray for the needle sniper rifle and a more potent Elite assault rifle) these are not simply mirror images of each other. Frequent play time with each race reveals slight differences in fire rates, reload time and even damage to some extent. No word on whether additional tweaking will occur before the launch of the game, but this does indicate a concerted effort to expand the gaming experience by creating variety and parity within the framework of the game. This is one of the changes that I’m most excited about. In previous Halo’s I never had one thought regarding playing as an Elite in multi-player. There wasn’t a compelling reason to ever change my skin from that of a Spartan. Now, with certain race specific modes and these weapon differences, players have more of a reason other than what looks cool to them.


Remember Tribes?

Veteran PC gamers will probably remember a first person shooter known as “Tribes”. It and it’s sequel “Tribes 2” were amazingly popular among the multi-player shooter crowd and were the center games of many a LAN party that I attended in my younger days. Aside from employing vehicles years before other games would think to, it was famous for giving every player a jetpack which could be used to traverse the battlefield with. Now years later Halo: Reach is doing the same, with the addition of jetpacks to one of the battlefield load outs. Its probable that they will also make an appearance in the single player experience.

Jetpacks don’t break the experience at all because of the charging aspect of their use. Flying through the air is smooth and targeting/shooting while hovering isn’t difficult. It’s also not very difficult to shoot at flyers, so don’t think that your enemy will have a significant advantage over you just because they are soaring over the battlefield. Movement with the jetpack is a little slow and I wonder if Bungie might tweak the speed of flight before the game releases. If so, I’d have them up the power just slightly.


Changing perceptions:

Since Halo: Combat Evolved we’ve seen the series add plenty of changes and update the game play bit by bit, but it’s pretty much always been the same experience. This time, things are really changing. The advent of the jetpack, as well as the agility and sprint abilities fundamentally changes the way players are forced to strategize. Time was that if a player chased an enemy around a corner, he could be certain as to where on the other side of the corner that enemy was. Now, you could be pursuing enemies around corners or pillars only to find them not where they “should” be. Layers of verticality have been added to Halo that never existed before. New platforms and hiding places can be had for snipers or players wielding rocket launchers. Simply walking into an area that appears empty no longer guarantees that it is.

Though simple additions, these types of changes that add more layers to the levels and give players more choices as to where to go and how to maneuver might end up changing the Halo experience more than new maps, vehicles or weapons ever have.

You could look at these five impressions and point out in perfect General Disarray manner “(insert game here) did it!” and you’d be correct. There are certainly many elements of Halo: Reach that seem pulled straight from Modern Warefare 2, Team Fortress 2 and other popular shooters of the day. While detractors will use this as further evidence that the Halo franchise is nothing more than a basic first person shooter that has never really been innovative, I don’t see anything wrong with borrowing the best and most popular portions of other games and implementing them successfully.

Imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery and as we see time and time again in the gaming industry, if something works, everyone is going to be doing it. The other thing to remember is that the quality and detail of all of these elements isn’t simply haphazardly thrown together. Bungie takes painstaking pride in ensuring that every element of its games are well executed and have their own particular twist. After several years of fantastic games, do we have nay reason to doubt what they’re doing with Reach?

Something we missed? What stood out in the beta the most for you? Let us know in the comments.