My hands-on time with Halo 5 was prefaced by one of the coolest experiences I’ve had at an E3: I strapped on a HoloLens for a mission briefing that was like something out of Star Wars.
First the distance between my eyes was measured (I’m a “perfectly average” 64.5, for the record) then Microsoft’s wireless augmented reality headset was carefully placed on my head over top of my glasses. That made it sit slightly further down my nose that I would have liked – something that would eventually make wearing the system faintly uncomfortable, but what came next made the inconvenience worthwhile.
I was told to stare at four dots the HoloLens projected onto a blank wall. I did this for 10 seconds or so while the system was calibrated, and was then instructed to look to my right. Floating in the air about 10 metres away was an opaque objective marker that counted down the distance between us as I approached it.
Another marker pointed me to a “window” that opened to reveal a star port, and then I moved through to a small room with a hexagonal table at its the centre. Once my allies had taken their positions around it, a small space marine flicked into existence and explained – complete with zooming maps and shifting objective markers – exactly how she wanted our session on Halo 5’s Warzone mode to go.
Her head tracked my movement, it all looked solid rather than see-through, and I couldn’t ‘break’ the hologram in front of me by changing my viewing angle or moving around. It was a spectacular presentation, only slightly dulled by the HoloLens’s small viewing angle – something that Microsoft has said is unlikely to be substantially expanded.
Warzone itself is a lot of fun. A ‘player versus everything’ mode that plonks two teams of 12 on maps four times the size of the biggest in Halo 4, it is a chaotic but entertaining ride that doles out plenty of variety. “It’s about putting all the best pieces of Halo into one sandbox mode,” says 343 founder Bonnie Ross. “With Halo 4 we learned a lot and learned how to build Halo, and now is the time to focus on ‘what is the heart of Halo?’ and ‘how do we innovate and push it forward?’”
The first order of business is to clear your base of about 16 AI. Once that’s done, you’re clear to enter the contested lands between team bases and battle other players, take on AI hordes and bosses, or attempt to capture one of three spawn points. To win, you must amass a team total of 1000 points, or destroy the opposing team’s core.
A core is only vulnerable when all three spawn points are in your team’s possession though, so this takes coordination. Those wanting to rack up points might instead head for a boss (or wait for one to arrive on the map as they do periodically), but bosses are pretty tough to kill solo, so again teamwork is emphasised.
Kills and objective completions reward you with energy and level you up. The higher your level, the more weapons and vehicles you have access to at the requisition stations found at each spawn point. However, each item has an associated energy cost, so you can’t simply buy the best of everything continuously, and each item only lasts one life anyway.
It’s a great system that sees a great variety of weaponry put to use on the battlefield, except that microtransactions might ruin the whole damn thing. 343 hasn’t laid out any specifics yet, but it would be a great shame to have some players buy their way to cruiseships and missile launchers while others rely on honest graft or the collection of ‘rec cards’ from the game’s Arena multiplayer mode to progress. We’ll see, I suppose.
Warzone does seem to be a great alternative to the more esport-focussed 4v4 Arena mode though. Its messy large-scale battles are certainly much more appealing to me, and there's something for players oif all skill levels to do to contribute in a meaningful way to their team's efforts.
Sure, the systems here are nothing new, but 343 has managed a nice synthesis of ideas from MOBAs and other shooters, and at least the AI provide a legitimate challenge (I’m looking at you, Titanfall). During a behind-closed-doors presentation, Ross called Warzone "the best of Halo in one mode". That's a big call, but my brief time with the game suggests she and 343 are definitely on the way to substantiating that claim.