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:
Quinn DelHoyo: We wanted to have that be more of a choice. So, if you want to sprint to go and get a power weapon and try to race the other team, you can do that at the sacrifice of guns. But, we also wanted to make it a more meaningful choice, so you can maybe not sprint to certain locations if you don't need to, and you can get there a little bit faster and have your gun ready.
And we also enjoy the dances, or the duels, where there's 1v1 or 2v1. We wanted to allow players to have another skill to improve that, and that was strafing. We also needed to increase it when we increased base movement speed, so you don't feel a little sluggish.
Josh Holmes: When you have a player who is sprinting across the map, you feel like, okay, as I'm shooting at that player I can match pace with him a little better than I would otherwise be able to if that delta was as wide as it was in the beta.
Quinn DelHoyo: The biggest one we focused on was the difference between sprint speed and your movement speed. The team took it really seriously.
It's made it more of an interesting game where, someone who wants to sprint away, you can actually use your thruster pack and thrust forward around that corner, and then because your movement speed is higher you could finish off kills a lot easier as well. It just made the decisions a lot more interesting.
Josh Holmes: We don't want the game to feel too fast. But we don't want you to feel sluggish or slow, as you're a Spartan. We'll continue to hone that balance between now and launch.
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:
Josh Holmes: Specifically we're looking at the overall spread between zoomed and un-zoomed fire with automatics. Part of our intention is to make automatics a little bit more viable within mid-range and then of course at short-range distances. The team feels the strength of those automatics at mid-range to the outer-edge of mid-range was a little bit too strong, because the spread narrowed a little too much within Smart-Link. So that's one of the things we're adjusting.
We're also making some adjustments to the way we do headshot damage. In the beta, headshot damage was done regardless of whether your shields were dropped or not, and now we've changed that so you only get an increase to your headshot damage when the shields are down. It does the same base damage when they're up, and then as soon as you drop the shields now you can go for the headshot. It's a slight difference, but it actually has a pretty meaningful impact to the power of the weapons.
Quinn DelHoyo: Also it helps them feel a little bit more consistent. The beta definitely had bugs. That was awesome. That's why we're glad we had it out there. But there were things with the headshot damage on shielded opponents with the Assault Rifle, sometimes, even with the SMG, where players who used it were like, I can't kill anything with this gun. It's terrible. And then next moment they get absolutely destroyed by a player using it.
The headshot damage multiplier created a sense of randomness, and it was hard for players to predict and understand, okay, this guy has an SMG, I kind of understand how he's going to attack me now. We're trying to get a lot more consistency in the game. That is the primary goal with tweaking the automatic weapons.
Josh Holmes: We wanted to provide a consistent experience across all weapons, so all weapons had these kind of dual functions that people could use predictably and consistently. We also wanted to realise the way the Smart-Link between the Spartan Visor and the heads-up display and the weapon would work, and go back to the intention of that fiction when it was established, and try to realise that as we were going to next-gen, and bring that to life in a more believable fashion.
Those were our goals. We understood it would be something hotly debated among the community. We're happy with where things have landed generally, but obviously there are a lot of improvements and refinements we're going to make between now and launch.
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:
Quinn DelHoyo: We're looking at toning down some of the more fluffy type of stuff, like maybe the guy telling you, hey, you had a good headshot, good job, you're really cool! Those kinds of things we're looking at toning down and keeping it more to the important information stuff, like, hey, I'm taking damage from this location, or, there's a guy I physically shot at this location.
The main goal was to have that for people who don't have mics who want to play multiplayer, so they could get interesting call-outs, and then the game feels really smart. We felt we hit that the game feels smart, but there was a little too much fluffy type of commentary we're looking at.
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.
Josh Holmes: One of the biggest challenges we have with matchmaking in Halo, and it's something we focused on for the beta, is finding that balance where you've got a competitive experience. You want to have players of similar skill brought together into a game. You don't want to start the game until you have a full suite of players. You want to make sure you have even teams at the beginning. And that's something we focused on for the beta.
But at the same time you're also trading off some of those things against matchmaking time, and, how long does it take for me to get a match? How long does it take for me to just get in and start playing? I don't think any of us were really happy with where we managed to get to at this early stage with the beta. That's our focus as we move forward to launch. How do we get faster match times? How do we make sure we have even better skill-matching? We're taking our new CSR (Competitive Skill Rating) system and continuing to refine that so we have a more accurate sense of player skill, and we're able to bring those players together to create even more competitive matches.
Generally, when we look at all the stats from the beta, the end result of matches, and the closeness of scores we saw pretty consistently across the beta, we were pleasantly surprised, but still not satisfied with where we're at. All of those things are intertwined as we look toward launch as top priority items for us to continue refining and improving the online experience for Halo 5.
We want this to be the best multiplayer experience for a Halo game when we launch.
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.
Josh Holmes: 60fps is a foundational part of the experience, and then we want to make sure we're delivering the best-looking game possible. The 720p resolution for the beta was based on how early we are in development. The optimisation and visual polish process is typically something we do towards the latter stages of development.
We're going to continue to work on optimising and polishing visuals. The 720p resolution is not the final resolution for the game.
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.