The public Halo: Reach beta currently being held is a strong reminder Bungie's last Halo game is just around the corner. After ten years working on the series, Bungie have emphasized their efforts to go out on a high note, making this the definitive Halo experience. We've been playing the beta over the last couple of days, and it's clear a great deal of planning went into altering some of the components, while at the same time retaining the core elements the franchise is known for. New additions for Halo: Reach include a new armor system, leveling elements, and several new game types, to name a few.
One of the most obvious changes fans will immediately notice is the armor equipment system from Halo 3 has been scrapped. In its place is a class system that determines your armor load-out, however, these classes differ from those in Modern Warfare simply because they aren't customizable. The idea behind Halo: Reach's class system is to have players pick their load-out based on the unique armor ability that comes with it. Some abilities in the beta include the scout's sprint, the guard's shield - making the player invincible but unable to move for a short time - the airborne' jet pack, and the stalker's camouflage. Strategically dividing up these classes on your team is very beneficial for objective based matches. For instance, having a group of guards defending the base is very effective because they can withstand a barrage of grenades unharmed.
Another addition to the Halo franchise is a leveling system, which is the cornerstone of what Bungie is describing as "player investment". Players gain experience points, called credits, from playing Halo: Reach online. Much like the class system, Halo is putting its own spin on a popular mechanic in first-person shooters at the moment. Leveling up in Reach doesn't grant access to better equipment, abilities, or weapons of any kind, instead, credits are spent on cosmetic adjustments to each player's character. These tweaks don't affect combat in any way, as Bungie has been adamant that players will always be on an equal playing field. They should be commended for sticking to their guns on this one.
Player investment comes into play by rewarding people who spend a bit of time, say an hour, online everyday. The "challenge of the day" feature multiplies the credits awarded for completing different tasks each day - for example, getting 20 flag captures on stockpile mode. Bungie's goal is to encourage daily participation in the Halo community, and to diversify play styles by challenging players to complete an objective in a way that may not match their regular strategy. This initiative seems to rely heavily on the assumption people really want to trick out their characters, and maybe they do - personally, it's not my cup of tea.
There are several new game types in Reach, alongside the standard slayer and capture the flag modes. Stockpile, a variation of capture the flag, places multiple flags across the map which must be carried to each team's home base, then defended. The flags will periodically respawn at random locations on the map. Arena mode is tailored for the hardcore crowd who enjoy seeing their scores ranked against their peers. While playing arena, players participate in a season of competition, at the conclusion of which divisions are created based on performance. This evaluation of skill will surely benefit matchmaking, as well as providing bragging rights to players in the highest ranked divisions.
Invasion is a new objective based mode, beginning with two teams of six players. Teams are further broken up into three pairs, which are important because of the unique spawning setup used for Invasion. Each pair is linked throughout the match by the ability to spawn right next to their partner. This spawning system works quite well, as it waits for the live player to be in safe territory before dropping the other player back in, thereby avoiding the frustration of instantly dying after a respawn. Invasion's objectives unfold in stages, pitting one team with the task of assaulting the other's base. Once the initial goal is completed, the game generates a new objective somewhere else on the map, much like tactical shooters such as Battlefield or MAG. Another dynamic that effects strategy in Invasion is the make of each team - it's Elites vs. Spartans, each side possessing different abilities. There's a lot going on in this mode, we didn't even get to the vehicles.
Overall, the Halo: Reach multiplayer beta introduces a number of promising alterations to the traditional Halo experience. That being said, the game still keeps the vast majority of mechanics fans have become accustom to over the years in tact, perhaps to a fault. Speaking as a relatively casual Halo player, Reach feels a little too familiar, however, for the target audience of dedicated fans, it's an improved version of what you love. If you own a copy of Halo: ODST and haven't tried the beta, you've got until May 19th to do so, but I'm willing to bet Bungie will extend it as they did with Halo 3's beta.