The Spartans have returned in Halo 5: Guardians, and the multiplayer part of the latest entry in the long-running series is a return to form, with 343i finally crafting a competitive multiplayer experience that stands side-by-side with the best that Bungie had to offer. In the days leading up to launch and now that the servers are overflowing with paying players, we've been trying out returning modes and new playlists alike. If you're among those getting stuck into Halo for the first time (or even if this isn't your first rodeo), here's a few hints and tips that might help improve your K/D spread in the days and weeks ahead.
Back to Basics
This first section is about the equipment you'll be using, rather than specific advice regarding the different modes on offer. The range of weapons and vehicles has never been more robust. With that in mind here's a few observations that should help you become more effective on the battlefield.
The Assault Rifle is the standard starting weapon in most playlists, and 343i has made it a more potent option in Halo 5. Much of that potency comes from now having the option to aim down sights, but it also feels like it's packing some extra punch. Having said that, the most important rule of old still applies here: fire the weapon in short sharp bursts, because extended fire simply isn't as effective. There is of course Covenant and Forerunner equivalents, such as the Suppressor (which fires guided projectiles similar in style to the Needler), which can be very effective at close range, and the Storm Rifle.
Another series mainstay, the Magnum, has also become an increasingly effective option, and long gone are the days when it was painfully ineffectual. The Magnum can be a very useful option even when up against more powerful weapons, and if you can line up those headshots you can quickly rack up the kills.
The DMR and the Battle Rifle offer players a solid mid-range option, and like the Magnum, headshots are king. The increased range of both weapons means you can hang back during a gun fight and pick your shots, doing plenty of damage and finishing off those engaged in closer combat. However, the increased effectiveness of the Assault Rifle means that you might not feel the need to grab a DMR or BR on some of the smaller maps.
Rocket launchers, the quick-fire Hydra Launcher, the classic Sniper Rifle, and the new Covenant Plasma Caster each have their own particular strengths and weaknesses. Rockets are slow but devastatingly powerful, the Hydra fires more quickly but lacks power in comparison (it's reminiscent to the old Brute Shot). Players performing the role of sniper need to be very accurate otherwise they're effectively removing themselves from the battle and offering nothing to their team. The key thing about these weapons isn't so much how you use them, but more that you deny the opposition team access to them, so make a point of grabbing one if the chance presents itself, and stick close to your team so if/when you bite the proverbial bullet, one of them can pick up anything you drop.
There's a huge range of weapons now, which allows 343i to give each one a very specific function on the battlefield, and although some will feel similar, none are exactly the same. The Forerunner Scattershot and the UNSC Shotgun are both pretty similar, for example, but the Shotgun packs the heftier punch, while the Scattershot has a slightly longer range and its projectiles can ricochet off of walls. The Boltshot might seem like a good alternative to the Magnum, but it's only viable when charged, otherwise it's ineffective against an enemy with a full shield. The SMG on the other hand has an incredible rate of fire and can strip a shield and take out an opponent in short order, but it's really only suitable for use in confined areas.
Perhaps more important than any new firearm or revised design, 343i has changed the way we interact with the weapons in the game via the new aiming system, whereby players can aim down the sights of every gun, increasing the potential for accuracy across the board. However, this new system has a drawback, in that one hit can be enough to knock a player from this view. With that in mind use the iron sights or scope at the appropriate moment, usually when your opponent is unaware of your location and is a suitable distance from you, and try to avoid bringing up the scope when fighting in confined spaces.
Of course it's also worth getting to grips with the vehicles in the game. A Mongoose offers up to two players a simple way of quickly moving across the map. The Ghost is a lightweight offensive option, but they're great against infantry and a boosted charge can instantly kill. Meanwhile a skilled Banshee pilot can inflict damage from above, and without the right weapons in the group, they can be a total nightmare to take down.
The iconic Warthog makes a return, and in the multi-purpose vehicle a good driver is just as important as a competent gunner (just be careful if you load the vehicle with players, because one shot from a Spartan Laser or equivalent and everyone's hitting the respawn screen en masse). Finally there's the Scorpion and Wraith tanks, both of which pack a hefty punch and keep enemies at distance with alarming ease (though if you're attacking one and you can get close without being noticed, they're relatively easy to dispatch by clambering aboard and either planting a grenade, or just hitting them repeatedly).
Making a Move
The changes are many and varied, as 343i have sought to find an entirely new balance for the game's multiplayer. The most prominent difference between Halo 4 and its successor is the removal of the armour abilities of old, and their replacement with the new universal Spartan abilities. This is manifested most notably in the range of movements and actions now available to every player. In one stroke 343i levelled the playing field, and what a difference it makes.
Clamber/mantle is probably our favourite revision in the whole game. Like we said in our review, there's nothing as frustrating as going for a jump and missing it, your Spartan bouncing off the ledge, looking a total tool in the process. Thanks to the new mantle this is now a thing of the past, and it's simpler to move around the battlefield, and it feels better to do so because you know the chances are you're going to be able to make any jump that you attempt.
Traversal is made even easier thanks to the thruster that every Spartan takes with them onto the battlefield. Unlike Halo 4, players can now move in any direction they please, so effective combined use of the mantle and thruster means that with a little practice you will be able to easily move around the battlefield, especially when moving up to the higher levels of the different maps.
The thruster also offers the chance to jump up and then briefly pause mid-air and place your shots (of course, this also makes you a static target, so be careful when doing this, especially playing Swat). Another useful trick is to throw grenades from this temporary vantage point, as you're clear of any splash damage. Alternatively you can also turn a hover into a melee attack, using the Ground Pound to slam down on the floor beneath you, killing an enemy with a direct hit, and potentially stripping the shields of anyone standing close by.
Sprinting hasn't changed all that much, other than the player can now achieve an optimum speed (you'll notice a visual signal on screen when you're there) and then initiate either a charge or a slide. The charge attack has your Spartan slam their shoulder into the enemy, and it can be an effective way of taking out an opponent who's attention is held elsewhere. Meanwhile, not much can beat a well-timed slide and shotgun attack, in terms of both potency and the satisfaction it brings.
One key thing to remember is the new balancing implemented by 343i means that when you're sprinting you won't be able to recharge your shield, so while you're running away, if you're really low on health, you might well be presenting your opponent with a very vulnerable target to aim at. Thus it could sometimes be better to stand your ground and fight.
It goes without saying that the new maps all need to be learned like the back of your hand, and no description offered here would be as useful as simply playing on them yourself. One thing to be mindful of though; as is the case in the campaign, there's plenty of places where a careless player might fall to their death, so be mindful of your environment, especially when you're jumping about during combat.
Make Your Match
There's a variety of different game modes in the post-launch rotation, and each requires a specific approach. Here's some basic pointers to help you get to grips with each playlist.
Team Arena is mixture of playlists, including Capture the Flag and Strongholds. In CTF teams must take the enemy flag and drop it off at their own base (you can't score if the enemy has your flag), and the best advice we can offer is to make sure you communicate with your team about who's hanging back and defending, and who's making a move on the enemy base. Move in pairs wherever possible, and exercise caution when entering the enemy base as there's likely going to be a welcoming committee.
Strongholds is similar to most of the capture modes you'll find in other games, but here there are a couple of key differences. There's three zones to capture (one on each side of the map, a third in the middle), and teams only score when they hold two or more of the zones. Kills don't make any difference to the score other than weakening the enemy team's presence in any given area. Make sure to target two zones, ideally ones that are quite close together, and work to protect both. You don't need to hold all three, so only push for the third if the enemy team is weak or disorganised.
Slayer is the return of the enduring classic. Four on four combat over medium sized maps. Power weapons are on timers, and these timers are now attached to each weapon and it's easy to see when the next will drop (there's also a handy announcement to remind you), so unlike the Halos of yesteryear you don't have to keep track of when the Rocket Launcher is going to drop, now the game will tell you. As we mentioned earlier, denying your opponents access to the power weapons is a key tactic, as is holding vantage points and, where possible, controlling higher ground.
Swat is a quick-fire match where players come equipped with either Battle Rifles or Magnums. This mode is all about the headshots, so keep that reticule aimed slightly higher than normal at all times (we often use the back of a teammate's head when setting our sights as the match first starts). You can make it harder for your enemy to get a clean shot at you by hopping about the environment. That said, the best tip is get to know your maps; work out where you can get long lines of sight, and where's best to perch in order to get eyes on areas of high traffic. Another tip, you can also shoulder charge into unaware enemies for a quick and easy kill.
Breakout is a fresh-faced game mode that draws inspiration from Counter-Strike. Both teams are aiming to be the first to win five rounds, and victory is achieved by either killing all four opponents (you don't respawn), or by taking the solitary flag located in the centre of the map and dropping it off in your opponent's base. Caution is the watchword here, so protect your life at all costs, and know when to push on your enemy's position. Out of all of the modes mentioned here, this is the one where talking to your teammates will make the most difference, so go armed with friends if possible.
Free-for-all is a bit unbalanced at the moment, and perhaps there's too many Spartans in the playlist as it currently stands (the player count is eight), making it hard to get into a rhythm as one-on-one battles are interrupted with too much frequency. We'd like to see the number of players reduced to six. In terms of advice: keep moving, check your corners, and if you get a nice weapon try and find a place on the map that'll let you get the most out of it (for example, don't be afraid to camp for a bit if you get the Shotgun, as you'll likely not last that long anyway, or head to a vantage point if you grab a Sniper Rifle). Oh, and always keep an eye out for other players getting into scraps, because it's often easiest to get a kill from someone who has just disposed of another player, as they'll likely be recovering their shield/health.
Finally there's the Warzone modes (there's currently the vanilla mode and Assault). There's different ways to win a game of standard Warzone, and it doesn't always mean killing the most enemies. High profile NPC characters and patrols drop on the map and taking out a boss can grant your team a huge number of points, and doing this seems to be the surest route to victory. If and when a boss drops, make haste to their position and go in all guns blazing. In Warzone Assault there's no NPCs, so concentrate all your efforts on capturing the enemy bases and then destroying their core for the win.
Warzone includes features reminiscent to MOBAs in that every player levels up over each match, and as they level up more capable weapons become available. You can access loadouts from the respawn screen, but there's also terminals dotted around the map that allow you to upgrade your gear once you've reached the prerequisite level. Keep an eye on your progress and know what unlocks when, because having the better gear will make a difference, especially when the NPC bosses drop and they need to be taken out quickly.
The REQ packs that you get offer up permanent unlocks and cosmetic items, single-use weapons and vehicles, and XP boosts to activate pre-game. You earn the credits needed to unlock these packs at a fairly steady pace, and while you can buy them with real money should you wish, we really can't imagine many people needing to do so, as it only takes an hour or so of playing to earn enough credits to access the most expensive gold packs. Many were worried that the introduction of microtransactions might unbalance the game, but that doesn't seem to be the case, at least during these early days where players are still getting regular bonus REQ packs as they level up (you'll get them for hitting every new rank, for example). Once progression slows it'll be interesting to see if this changes and pack drops become significantly reduced.
Did We Miss Anything?
There's also a few actions that you can practice that will help you become more deadly in multiplayer. One classic move is taking down a player's shield with a shot from a Plasma Pistol and then hitting them with a single shot from the Magnum. It's a very effective tactic, and a staple that longterm fans will all know well. If you're a newcomer make sure you practice it the campaign so you can do it quickly and efficiently in PvP.
Purposeful use of grenades can make you practically unplayable. A direct hit from a Plasma Grenade is a personal favourite of ours, as it's a guaranteed kill (and because when you "stick" an opponent they have a split-second to contemplate their inevitable fate). A Frag Grenade is great when used with an Assault Rifle or similar, so lay those grenades to soften your opponents before moving in for the kill. Finally the Pulse Grenade can be turned into an effective trap; if an enemy is chasing you simply throw one down once you've rounded a corner and when they come after you they'll be met with a nasty surprise.
In fact, as a general rule, corners are your friend. They offer respite from attacks, but they also offer opportunity for a change of tactics. Don't be afraid to sometimes surprise an opponent by stopping once you've gone around a corner, then turning around and confronting them with a melee when they follow in pursuit. Sometimes it pays to do the unexpected. That said, it's also worth playing it safe where possible; live to fight another day, and help your team by making sure the opposition doesn't get cheap kills at your expense.
There's also the levelling system, which needs a mention. In Halo 5: Guardians there's two, an overall rank linked to the amount of games you've played, and individual ones for each playlist. In the latter you have to play a certain number of games and then you get ranked as either Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Onyx or Champion. It might take longer than the initial ten matches to find your true level in any given playlist, so keep going and it won't take long before you're playing games against similarly skilled opponents.
Apparently losing won't take you down a rank, but winning will increase your standing, so keep practising. What we like about the new system is that each playlist is separately ranked, so there's differentiation. If you massively prefer one mode over another, because you have different ranks for each, you'll be competing against different sets of players. The tiered levelling system makes every game matter, so you shouldn't see too many people running around being silly instead of playing properly.
We should also mention that there's alternative control schemes. The standard setup will be fine for most people, but others will benefit from switching to a different scheme. We've been using Bumper Jumper for years because it means you can hop and shoot simultaneously with greater ease (it's also one of the reasons why we've not been mentioning which buttons are mapped to which controls, because ours are different to the ones that most people will be using). Be warned, it can take a while to master a new scheme, so our advice is to make the switch and then hit the campaign while you find your new rhythm.
There's a lot of ground covered there, and those who've played a lot of Halo before will already know much of what's written above. But for newcomers to the franchise, those who might find the new systems and features daunting or complex, we hope this little guide has given a few pointers that'll help you on the battlefield. Good luck, and we'll see you online.