The Halo: Reach Beta just became within our reach yesterday early afternoon (EST) or late morning (PST). I was unable to get my hands on it until later last night. The multi-player beta currently provides a mix of solo and team-based matches, sorted into 2 different playlists Grab Bag (4v4) and Free-For-All (8 player FFA). Players can adjust settings based on gaming habits and even how they prefer during online battles.

Seasoned Halo fans will quickly learn if not already that the main controller layout has changed ... I would personally suggest prior to ever beginning an online battle to change you button layout to Recon (a more traditional Halo layout). The next thing that most people will learn is that now every player has a new special ability, selectable upon spawning / respawning. These "power-ups" include (for now):

###Spartan Classes - Loadout Ability
* Scout - Sprinting: This Spartan can do short sprints.
* Guard - Armor Lock: In the heat of battle this Spartan will slam his fist into the ground, conjuring an impenetrable force field that grows into an EMP blast.
* Stalker - Activecamo: This Spartan is stealthy, knowing when to blend in with his surroundings and obscuring nearby motion detectors.
* Airborne - Jetpack: When jumping doesn't get him to where he needs to be, he flies.
... more to come

Screenshot - Loadout Menu

Elite Classes - Loadout Ability

* Royal Zealot - Evade: This Elite starts with the Needle Rifle as his primary weapon and a Plasma Pistol as his secondary.
* Foot soldier - Evade: The Foot soldier starts with a Plasma Repeater as his primary and a Plasma Pistol as a secondary.

Elite Concept Model

Elites are definitely gone through some changes, both in appearance and their abilities. Without loadouts, Bungie claims that a Spartan and an Elite can run about the same speed (without Evade obviously). Elites are much bigger which obviously plays a huge role in gameplay. Lastly, Elites are not dependent on health packs as they only have a shield. You are probably wondering, just like me, on how gameplay is going to be balanced across Spartans and Elites. Bungie has this to say:

"So, how are we gonna work them into multiplayer? Well, in a number of ways. In some circumstances, like Arena, you'll only square off Spartan vs. Spartan or Elite vs. Elite. In others, well stay tuned.".

Like we have already heard from videos floating around the internet and Xbox Live in this instance Bungie had at least the announcement of Invasion in mind (yet we haven't witnessed this gametype firsthand yet).

Combat System

The Combat system comes very naturally to those who have played a previous Halo installation, Bungie made something that was fun and made it really well (so why change it). Armor Lock and the Jetpacks add a new element of game play, putting wrinkles in standard strategy. As you can imagine, Armor Lock is a great option if a Spartan finds himself over powered and low of health, buying some time. Jetpacks are also a great option for getting out of sticky situations and/or getting to a higher point more quickly and surprising the enemy. A thing to remember here is though, that you have the ability to change your "loadout" or special ability prior to each spawn so keep it fresh and keep your opponents always guessing.

Screenshot - Jetpack Loadout

Another big change in gameplay is that Bungie has re-introduced health packs once again. This means that melee attacks need to be well planned, the first melee attack takes out your opponent's shield where the second one delivers that killing blow. As always there is the dreaded beat down, but more importantly Bungie added a new twist, if un-detected (holding down B), your character will perform an assassination on your opponent. This new assassination move triggers a third-person animation of great delight and humiliation for the parties involved. Planning your move carefully and taking wise advantage of some of the blind corners in a map are necessary to carry out this move successfully. It is very delightful to pull off one of these stealthy moves, yet utterly humiliating if one is performed on you (easily seen as a new form of tea-bagging, yet a productive one). Always keep in the back of your mind where the nearest health pack is, just in case you need that extra boost in the middle of a firefight. This wouldn't be a new Halo without some new super cool weapons thrown into the mix. Below are lists of weapons that can be found in the multiplayer beta, Bungie is still tweaking and balancing these weapons. Some Halo fans will recognize and love whereas there are also a slew of new ones that have been added to the collection with many more unannounced.

Screenshot - Armorlock Loadout

New Weapons

* Needler Rifle: hybrid Needler and the Spartan Battle * Rifle. This thing is a deadly, long-range weapon.
* Focus Rifle: Covenant's nasty proton-pack beam, similar to the Spartan Laser (but a constant beam). Very deadly, stay away from at all costs.
* Grenade Launcher: just like it sounds. Features two modes, a dumb fire that's useful for quick shots, and a manual detonation (holding down right trigger after shooting).
* Plasma Launcher: Covenant's answer to the grenade launcher. Fires up to four self-guiding, super-heated plasma bolts at a single target.

Returning Weapons

* Assault Rifle
* Magnum (5-shot ... no dual wielding)
* Battle Rifle (single-shot)
* Sniper Rifle, Rocket Launcher, Fragmentation Grenades (moderately changed USMC)
* Plasma Repeater, Needler, Energy Sword, Gravity Hammer, Psalm Grenades (moderately changed Covenant)

Gamemodes / Gametypes

There are two different playlists, or game-modes, Arena (FFA) and Stockpile (4v4). In each there are, what Bungie is calling seasons, one month long periods when stats are collected and then reset at the end of the season. Once the end of the season comes around, yes every player must start fresh and all over again to climb to the top of the heap, but in addition there will be a Division placement that each individual player receives based on their respective performance in each playlist. Gone are the days of traditional online Halo rankings.

So far there are not too many new gametypes that have been introduced into the beta, just Stockpile and Headhunter. In Stockpile there are two teams will fight over the rights to four neutral flags. Points are scored for each flag that is within the confines of a team's marked territory when the counter reaches zero. Flags are collected on a sixty second basis. To win a team must either score 10 flags or have the highest number of captured flags at the end of 10 minutes of gameplay. Whereas with Headhunter (FFA) the objective is simple: every player killed drops a skull. The player with the most collected skulls wins, the catch is that a skull is collected only when deposited into one of the designated territories. There are different ways to win however. First to 25 collected skulls wins unless a player happens to achieve "Skullamanjaro" by collecting ten skulls all at one time. Another catch that is thrown into this gametype is that territories are active at random, so always have an idea where you are going prior to heading out somewhere.

FFA Gametypes (8 players)

* Slayer: Score 25 in 12 minutes
* Slayer Pro Round: Score 25 in 12 minutes (no radar)
* Classic Slayer: Score 25 in 12 minutes (think original Halo)
* Oddball: Hold ball for 150 points in 12 minutes
* Juggernaut: Be the Juggernaut for 150 points in 12 minutes (Juggernaut has Gravity Hammer and 1.5x speed)
* Headhunter: Score 10 skulls at once or 25 in 12 minutes

Screenshot - Headhunter

Team Gametypes (4v4)

* 1 Flag CTF: Team with most scores after 4 alternating rounds (round time limit 3 minutes)
* Stockpile: Score 10 flags in 12 minutes
* Oddball: First team that holds the ball for 150 points in 12 minutes
* Team Crazy King: Team to hold control of the randomly moving hill for 150 points in 12 minutes
* 3 Plots: Keep control over 3 different territories, first to 300 in 12 minutes
* Team Slayer: Score 50 kills in 12 minutes
* Team SWAT: Score 50 kills in 12 minutes (no shields, BR and Magnum only, no loadouts just sprint)
* Covy Team Slayer: Score 50 kills in 12 minutes (only Covenant ... aka use Evade)

Screenshot - Capture Flag

Final Analysis

Do I like Halo: Reach? Yes, but no.

Halo: Reach - Box Art

Why, because I believe Bungie has made a fun playing multiplayer platform. It plays very similar to Halo 1, which is a great thing but in itself a bad thing. I would expect Bungie or all companies to want to make a great relatively new game. Will there be surprises we yet not know about ... of course, we are talking about Bungie (can anyone say Invasion please). I think as time goes on and they take what they are learning from the beta and apply it to the RTM game, it will be spectacular. Is it worth buying ODST ... of course not, just play Halo 3! It is basically the same thing! You might say that I am prejudice towards Halo, and you would absolutely be correct in that statement (I started console gaming with it and passionately play it). Overall, I believe Bungie has delivered a great multi-player shoot yet again (no surprise there).