Some thoughts on the Halo: Reach beta

Halo Reach CoverI used to be a huge Halo fan.  Played 16 player LAN matches nearly every other night during college in the dorms on the original, and then stood in line at midnight to pick up my copy of Halo 2 even after we had downloaded an early leaked French version.  But even though I had loved Halo, the sequel left a bad taste in my mouth.  It was probably a combination of the totally crappy and unfinished story along with the extremely gimped pistol that just left me wishing Bungie still cared (not to mention the horrible "ohhh take it!" E3 Zanzibar video).  My brand new Xbox Live membership went virtually unused and I used my Xbox to play good games like Beyond Good and Evil.

By the time Halo 3 rolled around, I was as unexcited for the series as ever.  Every time there's a new Halo, we always here about how there's now more polygons in a gun than in an entire soldier in the last game. Who cares?  Well, I ended up playing through Halo 3 with a friend and I enjoyed it for what it was, a decent ending to a tumultous series.  Here I was, a guy who had beaten the first Halo over five times including on Legendary, and I was giving Halo 3 a seven out of ten.  What had happened in to this series?

I still played Halo 3 multiplayer with friends because that is all they wanted to do when we weren't playing Rock Band.  My skills from the original had surprisingly been mostly retained and translated decently across games, and I always performed pretty well within our group.  But I didn't love the game liked I loved the original.  When ODST came out, well, let's just say I've never even played it.

My friends were all super excited when the Halo: Reach beta was announced.  My friend who hosts all the game nights bought a few extra copies of ODST to go along with his three or four Xbox 360's, and I even convinced him to lend me one of them so I could play at home. Yes, I was actually a bit interested in a Halo game for the first time in years.

Upon playing my first few games of Halo: Reach, I have to admit, I really enjoyed it.  Some element that had been missing from 2 and 3 seemed to be back, but I can't exactly lay my finger on it.  I think it might have something to do with meleeing.  My controller setup has always been "green thumb", which allows me to melee without taking my thumb off the right joystick.  This fits my playstyle of a brawler pretty well, and I've always been going in for the melee attack whenever possible.  After the original, I always felt like the melee attack was nerfed or just messed up a bit, it didn't seem as effective, but suddenly in Reach I was busting heads again.

Halo Reach Master ChiefThe weapons also seem to harken back to the original more, the pistol is actually decent and the assault rifle is fun again.  I don't feel like I have to use the battle rifle to be even with everyone else even though I never liked the feel of it.  The needler also once again feels deceptively powerful, maybe it's just me though, I've always had a soft spot for that weapon.

I also am enjoying the basic class system, it's not nearly as deep as anything seen in Modern Warfare, but it at least varies up the multiplayer matches a bit more when people are floating around in jet packs or turning invisible.  I think the Covenant could use a little more variety in their classes, but at least I'm impressed with their new character models; they actually seem imposing now.

One of the cooler things I'm impressed with is that you can set social settings on the people you would like to play with.  Since I don't like hearing my speakers filled with racial or homophobic slurs, I can say I like playing with quiet, polite, looking-to-have-fun kind of players.  While it's obvious the system is totally broken in the beta, I hope it actually works in release.

Overall, I'm pleased with the direction the game seems to be going.  While there will never be another Halo 1, I think I can appreciate what Reach is trying to do better than 2 and 3.  I highly doubt I'll be buying the game at release, but it's nice to know that every other Wednesday night I'll be playing a game I actually enjoy with my friends.

Here's to Bungie not messing up the final release, and to whatever they have planned when they're finally done with the Halo series.  Even if it is with Activision.