Halo: Reach Beta Impressions

With the Friends & Family beta underway, I was able to play a few sessions of the Halo: Reach beta across a few gametypes. This isn't going to be an in-depth preview, but a broad look at some of the biggest changes Bungie is making to the Halo multiplayer sandbox.

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The two biggest changes to the actual gameplay lie with loadouts and armor abilities. Loadouts create classes, though these are not customizable by the player. Each one has a set of weapon(s) and an armor ability. In some gametypes, it might be the same set of weapons differing only by the armor ability. In others, the loadouts are fully unique.

This instantly allows for players to organize and establish roles on a team. Do I want to be the attention-seeking tank that creates a diversion with the Armor Lock ability, which grants the user temporary invulnerability and the cost of mobility and the ability to fight back? Do I take Active Camouflage and attempt to flank the enemy? Should I use the Jet Pack and scout, while gaining the high ground advantage? Or do I just Sprint forward, making a run for the enemy flag or a nearby power weapon?

This adds another layer of strategic choice to Halo multiplayer, especially with the removal of Halo 3's equipment. The difference here is that you've always got your armor ability and they are much more useful than any of Halo 3's equipment for that reason.

The new weapons are all fun to use, especially the DMR. The hardcore will hate that the Battle Rifle is gone, but the DMR might just calm the masses. It's basically the BR, but only fires a single shot instead of a 3-round burst. Skilled players will still be able to take down a Spartan in just four shots with the DMR. The magnum is also great, returning to its Halo: Combat Evolved glory.

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The upgraded interface and focus on using Reach's menus for all social features is a welcome change. No longer will you have to dig into the Xbox 360 Guide to invite players or get a party going. All of that is streamlined and occurs entirely in-game.

Voting between three known options up front for map and gametype is a definite bonus as well. Previously, the game would be assigned a map and gametype. Players could veto it, but have no information about what would replace it should the vote pass. Now, it's a definite choice between three scenarios (or none of the above). It removes a little bit of the control from Bungie, but it just means they have to provide more options in the playlists.

The Halo: Reach beta kicks off on May 3 for owners of Halo 3: ODST and is scheduled to run until May 19. The full game will be released this fall for the Xbox 360.