E3 2015: Holographic Warzones Come Alive in Halo 5
As my squad and I stood around the command center, Commander Palmer was just beginning her transmission. Her video communique rose from nowhere to rest in the middle of the war table, with all five of us squaddies hanging on her every word. We were about to enter a Warzone, which was being contested by another team of Spartans, with Forerunner and Covenant enemies also vying for a piece of the pie.
Palmer guided us through what was expected of us on the mission, giving details on key points on the map, including where enemies might be hiding out and which spots could help us control the battleground. The key difference between this briefing and countless others we'd seen in Halo game before being that this was no cut scene; Palmer was right here in the room with us. Well, at least a virtual version.
At the Microsoft E3 press conference this year, we saw Hololens in action. While Minecraft has been made fairly playable within the virtual reality/augmented reality helm, there haven't been many other practical gaming uses shown with the new technology just yet. Just before my hands-on with Halo 5's Warzones, I was escorted into a mock dropship, where "scientists" were waiting to fit me with a Hololens. After having my eyes measured, a technician placed a Hololens on my head, and sent me down a hallway to my next objective. Instead of telling me where to go though, Hololens fired up and guided me with the familiar Halo waypoint chevrons to the war room where Palmer would soon appear.
You can see exactly what I was seeing in the image at the top of the article, and Palmer was there in 3D briefing us on the mission ahead. The experience itself isn't something that is likely to make it out beyond this little tech demo, but it was certainly an interesting way to hype players up before going hands-on with actual Halo 5 multiplayer. Being a part of that moment rather than just passively watching it got me more invested in the upcoming action. The immersion breaks if you move around too much, as the field of view is set, and Palmer doesn't move with you when you shake your head. Even though it wasn't as interactive as the Minecraft version, it's still pretty captivating to be in a room dressed up like a UNSC ship taking orders from one of the baddest Spartans to ever don the armor.
After the short Hololens segment, I got to try a second match in Warzone. I previously tried the night before at a different event, and had much success. In this post-Hololens match, the team I had must've still been blinded by the technology they just witnessed. It's the only way I can explain how we lost so dramatically.
Warzones pits you and another Spartan squad against one another for control of a given map. In addition to human enemies, 343 has also included Covenant and Forerunner AI foes that also contest certain points on a given map. It's a score-based battle, and everything you do will earn you points, with the goal to hit 1000 points first. Objectives litter the arena, including securing assets like garages and armories, or things like hunting down a particular high-ranking alien enemy first. The longer you control the assets, the faster you'll score big points, and thus earn new in-game upgrades.
Requisitions is how Warzones lets you customize your Spartan on the fly. Everyone starts with the base assault rifle and pistol, but by performing well, you can earn Requisition Points to be used to upgrade your arsenal in a snap. There are hubs scattered throughout the map where you can trade your RP for rare, more powerful armaments, or you can keep hoarding them until late in the game, and redeeming them on a respawn. While weapons like the battle rifle and shotgun will become more permanent parts of your loadout, items like rocket launchers, energy blades and Spartan lasers last the length of your life. Once you die, that weapon is lost until the next time you earn enough points to snag it.
Though this can result in some players going on relatively big tears, the fact that you don't have to battle over these items at spawn points helps balance the overall match much more. Plus, if human opponents are really giving you trouble, you can always turn your attention to the AI alien menaces, and still earn points towards your team's total. That there are multiple ways to contribute regardless of your skill level should do well to make Halo 5's multiplayer that much more accessible.
Additionally, while I only got to play on one map (Escape from ARC), the variation in corridor and open-spaced combat was impressive. There are long sight lines if you're into sniping, but shotgun warriors will have just as much room to work their magic. Add in vehicular combat, and you've got yourself a nice mix of gameplay styles that again offer opportunities for players of all types to really develop a playstyle that suits them best. Warzones' flexibility is its greatest asset, and there's really no wrong way to play.
The player vs. player vs. enemies style of Warzone is a welcome addition to Halo's storied multiplayer component. In just the few matches I played at E3 this year, I think I've found my new online home for this years' Xbox One shooter exclusive. There's variety, there's excitement, and for the first time in a long time, there's a much more even battlefield.
Halo 5: Guardians will be available on the Xbox One on Oct. 27.