Developer 343 has made significant changes to Xbox One exclusive first-person shooter Halo 5: Guardians based on feedback to December's beta.
The headline change is that 343 will give players the option to turn off sprint in custom games.
343 added sprint as a passive ability to the Halo series with Halo 4 - a move that didn't go down well with those who preferred the consistent Spartan movement of the Bungie-made Halo games.
343 runs the Halo Community Feedback Program, designed to gather feedback from core Halo players. 19,000 people signed up, the developer said, and a survey showed that nearly 11 per cent of those felt Halo should not have sprint.
Sprint returns in Halo 5, and it remains on by default, but in custom games you can now toggle it on or off.
"One of the things Halo has historically done a great job of is providing options to players," 343 studio head Josh Holmes told me in a phone interview last night, "letting players customise their experience. It's in keeping with that legacy."
You'll also be able to turn off Halo 5's other Spartan Abilities, such as Ground Pound and Spartan Charge. This, in combination with the sprint toggle, means players will be able to create Halo 5 custom games with an old-school Halo gameplay feel, and opens the door to a "classic Halo" playlist.
Holmes said 343 didn't want to ditch sprint and the Spartan Abilities entirely because both play a key role in the evolution of Halo and the added mobility feel the developer is going for with the game.
"The Spartan Abilities have been at the core of the gameplay suite since pretty early on, like right around the beginning," Holmes said.
"The focus for us was delivering on that heightened mobility and that sense of being able to move fluidly throughout the environment. Sprint plays a big part of that."
There are other, key changes to movement that now apply by default.
- Increase base speed (faster base movement)
- Increase strafe acceleration (faster, more responsive strafing)
- Reduce top sprint speed (narrow the delta between base movement and sprint)
- Modify Ground Pound controls to prevent conflicts w/ crouch jumping
- General tuning & bug fixes for all Spartan Abilities (Thrusters, Clamber, Ground Pound, etc.)
The base speed increase is worth highlighting. Many beta players felt Halo 5 was too slow, a sentiment fuelled by the speed boost granted by sprint. So, 343 has increased base speed as well as strafe acceleration.
It's also reduced the top sprint speed, which, in conjunction with the other speed changes, narrows significantly the difference between base movement speed and sprint.
Here's Josh Holmes and multiplayer designer Quinn DelHoyo explaining the move to me:
One of Halo 5's more controversial features is the new Smart-Link aiming system, 343's take on the aiming down sights (ADS) employed by shooters such as Call of Duty.
All weapons in Halo 5 can be fired from the hip in traditional Halo fashion, but you can also zoom in to fire, focusing spread with weapons such as the Assault Rifle and SMG. 343 added de-scoping in a bid to balance the gameplay, but that failed to stem the tide of discussion around ADS and its place within Halo 5.
Here are the changes 343 has made to the Halo 5 weapons:
- Sniper Rifle: improve scope experience to making it less "clunky" and faster to scope in
- DMR: adjust position of the scope to improve visibility
- Bring back the SPNKr Rocket Launcher as a legendary version of the weapon
- Reduce bonuses for automatic weapons in Smart-Link & w/ headshots
- Remove grenade detonation in mid-air based on weapon fire
- Ability to turn on/off vibration feedback for weapons
- General tuning and bug fixing for all weapons
343 is sticking with Smart-Link, but it's tinkered with it slightly. A change worth further discussion is the following:
Reduce bonuses for automatic weapons in Smart-Link & w/ headshots
343 had said that in Halo 5 bullet damage remains the same whether you're zoomed in or firing from the hip, and so does player movement. The benefit of zooming in, then, is that it focuses fire. So, if you're using the Assault Rifle, for example, you can zoom in for more accurate shots. This troubled many players who swear by Halo's old-school arena FPS shooting.
Here's Josh and Quinn on the change:
Meanwhile, 343 has changed elements of the presentation of Halo 5's arena multiplayer. Each match begins with an intro and victory sequence, meant to "reinforce your identity within your team". They've been tweaked to feature considerably fewer chest bumps and high fives. Sorry, Halo bros.
The other improvements made to presentation include:
- Post-death replay: this will become an opt-in feature. After death, players will see a traditional follow-cam and have the option to view a replay of their death from the killer's perspective (as long as the feature is enabled within the playlist)
- Medals: decrease frequency and number of medals displayed in the medal feed
- Spartan chatter: players will have the option to turn this on or off in the settings menu
- Adding highlights to placed/dropped weapons to make them easier to see
- General tuning for announcer and Spartan chatter to reduce the frequency of events and focus on the information that matters most to players
The Spartan Chatter change is an interesting one. Spartan Chatter adds audio aids for enemy spotting and weapon spawns, among other things, and was designed to help those who don't use mics to communicate with their teammates.
But, according to 343, there was too much "fluffy" chatter. Here's Quinn:
Halo: The Master Chief Collection's disastrous launch is not lost on the Halo 5 team. That game suffered from terrible matchmaking that prevented many from playing online.
343 wasn't thrilled with the matchmaking in the Halo 5 beta, either. So it's looking to improve matters in a number of ways:
- Much faster matches
- Better skill matching
- Better feedback to players in the lobby and matchmaking experiences
- Allow players to set desired datacenter for matchmaking (may impact matchmaking speed and skill balance)
- Improved party vs party matchmaking
- Hide CSR ranks until in match to de-incentivise quitting
- Punish quitters with CSR penalties and matchmaking bans
Josh Holmes told me 343's goal is to make Halo 5 the best online experience ever in a Halo game - at launch and beyond.
Right now, Josh's words on Halo 5's matchmaking are just that: words. Given the high-profile failure of The Master Chief Collection's matchmaking and the negative feeling it created among the Halo community, the pressure is on 343 to avoid a similar fate for Halo 5.
As Digital Foundry showed with its Halo 5 analysis, the Halo 5 beta ran at a 720p resolution with a target of 60 frames per second. It was early days for the game, of course, with Halo 5 not due out until November 2015. So, Holmes said, expect the visuals - and resolution - to improve between now and release.
To my mind, the changes 343 is making to Halo 5 are a step in the right direction. The developer has shown a willingness to listen to the community and react. In many ways, I feel for 343. It needs to evolve the Halo experience in order for it to remain relevant for the wider first-person shooter audience schooled on the likes of Call of Duty, while at the same time keeping veteran Halo fans, those who hate sprint, Spartan Abilities and anything that detracts from the series' arena-style combat, happy. It's a tricky balancing act and, inevitably, 343 will sometimes wobble.
Change is good. But change just for change's sake is not. More than anything, I hope Halo 5's competitive multiplayer is fun and engages the Halo community in the same was Halo 2 and Halo 3 did. For me, 343 has made that more likely.
For more on the changes to Halo 5, head over to Halo Waypoint.