Hands on with Halo 5's new Warzone multiplayer mode at E3

During last week's Xbox Media Briefing, Microsoft announced the new 'Warzone' multiplayer mode for the upcoming Halo 5: Guardians. The announcement trailer revealed that Warzone would support 24-players online in a combination of player-versus-player (PvP) and player-versus-everything (PvE) game styles.

With the bump from 16 players up to 24 and new PvE elements, Microsoft and 343 promised that Warzone would be the largest Halo multiplayer experience yet. I was lucky enough to try Warzone for myself at E3 2015, joining a 24-player game and battling it out with my fellow journalists. It would be my first hands-on experience with Halo 5, and an unforgettable one at that.

Read on for firsthand impressions of Halo 5's multiplayer Warzone game type!

Co-op and competitive multiplayer collide

Multiplayer games tend to keep their competitive, and cooperative game types separate. As far as co-op goes, mainline Halo games have always offered campaign co-op for 2-4 players, with Halo 3: ODST introducing the addictive Firefight mode (which sadly has never returned) and Halo 4 packing the so-so Spartan Ops mode.

On the competitive side, Big Team Battle (and Halo 4's Big Team Infinity Slayer) has always supported the most players of any game type. Up to 16 players would split up into two teams and try to score more kills than the opposing team.

Halo 5 Warzone

One issue that weaker players sometimes have with large-scale games like Big Team Battle is they might not feel like their individual contribution has much effect on the results of the game. If you're like me, you spawn, spend some time heading towards the action, and will be lucky to get any kills before the opposing team takes you down. Smaller maps and game types at least have less downtime between the action and perhaps less chance of getting swarmed by enemies.

Warzone is the first Halo game type with both cooperative and competitive elements. It's sort of like Big Team Battle mixed with a Horde mode, in that each team will need to deal with both the opposing team and AI-controlled opponents during the fight. It also seems to address the downtime and player contribution issues, as Warzone gives you more things to do between run-ins with the enemy team.

Halo 5 Warzone

Entering the Warzone

Seeing as how Halo 5's Warzone mixes in some AI enemy fighting like you'd get in a campaign mode, it only makes sense for games to start in a cinematic fashion. After all 24 of our players Ready up, we witness a dramatic flyby of the massive 'Escape from A.R.C.' map.

The map is set in a mining complex. Surrounding the complex on all sides is a huge body of water. But the complex doesn't rest on an island in that water. Instead, it sits well below the water line, with futuristic technology keeping the facility dry and the waters at bay.

A female narrator explains that enemies have broken through perimeter defenses, putting the base on lockdown. Depending on the settings, these enemies could be Prometheans or Covenant Remnants – our game features the Prometheans (first introduced in Halo 4). She tells us to eliminate the thread and secure the home base.

The Warzone battle itself begins with the members of our team stepping out of their D79H-TC Pelican flying transports and joining a group of non-Spartan Marines already in battle. These AI-controlled teammates wear the same color as your team: red or blue. A counter at the top of the screen states that we must eliminate 16 attackers. The Prometheans have spread throughout our base, but our team hunts them down without too much trouble. Once they all go down, the narrator exclaims "Home base secure."

Halo 5 Warzone

Req-ing crew

Having taken back the base, we can now take advantage of the brand-new requisition system. Several "Req Stations" sit throughout the map. To use a station, your team must control the surrounding area. Simply walk up to one and press the X button to activate it.

Req Stations allow players to switch loadouts at will and/or purchase limited-use weapons and vehicles. The energy you earn during the battle function as the requisition currency. Kills and assists against both human and AI opponents award precious energy, so even players who don't stand much chance against other players still have a chance to gain points and buy good equipment.

I mostly save up for rocket launchers and energy swords – always easy to use for quick kills. Note that you're not safe from enemy fire while using the station. Later in the game, I get killed right after cashing in some points for a weapon. What a waste!

Halo 5 Warzone

Winning the war

Each team begins the match with several locations in its possession: tanker, tower, outpost, etc. The areas between the two bases, such as the armories, loading dock, and storage yard, start out unclaimed. Near as I can tell, occupying a location after having killed all human and AI enemies within it will take possession for your team.

The primary benefit of capturing a location is it becomes a respawn point for the owners. The closer your respawn point to the enemy base, the quicker you can get there after dying. And, of course, owning the location provides access to its Req Station as well.

At various times throughout the match, a skull icon appears on the map. A timer near the icon tells how long before Prometheans or Covenant will arrive. The narrator announces their arrival too. Once the hostile aliens show up, either side can gain points by killing the invaders. That might be the smartest option for less-skilled players.

The AI faction occasionally spawns bosses as well. The Promethean boss is called Knight Strategos. He towers over Spartans and other units. The Covenant boss goes by Baron 'Sroam. I didn't get to see him, but apparently he flies a Banshee. Don't expect to kill these guys all by your lonesome; they pack a six-pack of punches. Killing a boss will score your team a whopping 200 points.

Why do points matter? They can win you the game! The first side to reach 1,000 points takes the victory, so a boss kill definitely helps. The match has a time limit (18 minutes in our demonstration), so score also determines the winner when matches run too long.

The other way to win is by destroying the enemy base's core. You'll have to work at that by first capturing all bases on the map. After you do, the core opens up and becomes vulnerable. Destroy it to take the win!

Halo 5 Warzone

Whether the red or blue team wins, that team will enjoy a cinematic take off from the battleground. In my case, our team does not get that satisfaction. We lost, but everyone seemed to have a great time.

I'm not sure if Warzone will capture the co-op gamers who have given up on competitive multiplayer. Victory still comes down to one team playing better than the other, after all. But you can find some fun cooperative moments when the Prometheans and Covenant come a-calling. And the smaller goals of earning energy to buy equipment prove more engaging than just running across some huge battlefield looking for trouble. I expect competitive players will have just as fine a time, especially with all the human and AI opponents they'll get to blast.

Halo 5: Guardians comes exclusively to Xbox One on October 27.

Do you guys prefer co-op or competitive multiplayer? Anybody like them both equally?

Halo 5 – Xbox One – $59.99 – Preorder at Xbox.com (opens in new tab)Preorder at Amazon (opens in new tab)

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!

  • Easily my most anticipated game of 2015. Can't wait!
  • #halonerd
  • Halo is life.
  • Halo is love.
  • Good to see you here Sam.. Hope you are enjoying at The Mothership.
  • Life is Halo.
  • Very good to see you look well lol, Halo is the game
  • Agreed Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • I so serious about Halo 5 , this will be an amazing Xbox experience, I play the MC collection everyday so I'm looking forward to the action Halo 5 will bring. We're talking Major Action and Epic battles all on the Xbox One
  • So pumped for this game. Already preordered the limited edition. This game could easily become my GOTY
  • Think this will be my most played game type. To me its like a mashup of parts of Unreal Tournament, TitanFall and Halo.
  • Can't wait.
  • Slightly off topic.  Do any of you guys here at Windows Central have any information about this upcoming Halo: Fall of Reach anime?
  • Yes. It's not anime it is more American animated style. It comes with the limited and collectors edition of halo 5 guardians and available on the 27th.
  • Nicely written article Paul!
  • Thanks very much! :)
  • The biggest problem with Halo multiplayer is that it's really difficult for novices--especially those not part of a well organized team--to not be anything more than sharkbait. I appreciate how it differs from other FPS games in that it's truly about teamwork and controlling the map--particularly where the power weapons spawn. But that's also my least favorite part of Halo PvP multiplayer: well organized teams who know the maps and can gain control of power weapons and sniping spots right away make it amost impossible for the other team to win. I'm all for skill and teamwork deciding games, but it's really lopsided. This Warzone mode seems very promising by increasing the number of players and by adding in AI grunts like Titanfall's Attrition mode does, so that novices can better contribute. But, the requisition system has me worried. One of my biggest gripes with Titanfall was the level-up system in which higher-level players had a huge advantage in terms of the equipment and skills available to their loadouts. This is somewhat similar to Halo's empahsis on power weapons, which create an even bigger disadvantage. I like games where everyone is on equal footing all the time, or at least is pushed towards parity. Falling into a hole that cannot be climbed out of because the opponent has huge advantages makes it less fun. Instead of giving everyone the ability to 'buy' power weapons and the like--boosts that will undoubtedly exacerbate the gap between pros and novices, as the pros will earn them at higher rates--I'd rather the game have a smart, Mario Kart-esque underdog system where it recognizes which players need the most assistance and rewards them accordingly to try to balance the game out. That way, gamers with insanely good kill-death ratios only get basic weapons or vehicles from the Requsition feature but players who have a terrible kill-death ratio get power weapons and power vehicles. That way, the kill-death ratios have a higher probability of balancing out, and then as they do, the distribution of power weapons and vehicles will return to being more balanced.
  • That would be amazing if they did that. By evening it out there would be more fun for more people.
  • I love that idea too, though for higher k/d players, it would suck to never receive ANY power weapons or vehicles just because they're better. I think it would be better/more fair to have a percentage of chance that differs between higher and lower ranked (or skilled) players. That way the higher skilled players wouldn't feel as much that the game is catered to beginners
  • Something like letting the better players earn the power weapons and claim them at the Req stations whereas the players with lower kill-death ratios get to start off with them every time they die (or every other time, or whatever they find works best for balance).
  • I started playing halo mp at number 3. I found it very hard like you. But persistance and plenty of swearing I finally got the hang of it. Now im a pretty good player. I had no problem with titanfalls level system. I liked starting with nothing. Still able to finish mvp in games at level 1. Just practice
  • I think that's the problem, though: the elite players are elite because they have so much practice in, but for gamers with limited free time (Happy belated Fathers' Day everyone!) or for those who like playing a variety of games, it's tough to ever get good enough for it to be fun instead of frustrating. When I'm Level 50 on Titanfall and have all the loadouts I want, I am actually pretty decent. But start me off at Level 1, and my KD suffers big time. In Halo, though, I just get dominated all the time (Titanfall benefits me because it doesn't take as much to kill someone, and I'm not good at aiming, whereas Halo takes way too many shots to kill someone, especially when they do things like crouch jumping...I just can't aim that well). When we used to play Halo: CE back in the day, my friends and I liked to play with everyone on the same footing: Prisoner > Slayer > Rockets only. It was really fun because one-shot-kills made it more equal for everyone.
  • I cant really relate to you that much. I don't game anywhere near the level I used to. I have 3 children now and my own business. I'm 32. If I haven't played halo for awhile it does take me a few games to get the flow again. But after that im playing pretty well. Halo is alot more like unreal tournament and quake 3 arena where its about working down your opponent. As opposed to cod/bf/killzone where its normally who sees who first wins. Titanfall for that matter as well. Except the titans add strategy that cod and bf could only dream of. Once halo mp really click in your head, it opens up for you in terms of winning battles. I was terrible for the first 2 months of my halo mp career.
  • It sounds like you've played a nice range of different FPS franchises. Which one is your favorite, and why?
  • Wow. Well I started with doom as my first back in the pc days. I've pretty much played them all from half life to bioshock. Not a big fan of cod or any game that uses infinite respawn enemies in single player. Breaks immersion. Hmm the best. Well I hold in high regard the half life 1. Perfect dark n64. And I thought bioshock 1 was fantastic. Titanfall is one of the most well balanced mp fps I've played. So much strategy in that game. As a perfect package? As a whole franchise? I'll say halo. Firstly the story and it lore is 2nd to none in gaming for me. Its not so much that its necessarily completely unique in its scifi story. But the design and its background universe for a game is leagues ahead if any game. Imo. The multiplayer is always a challenge to, and so many game modes and options. Top 3 franchises would be Halo,
    Half life,
    Titanfall Modern military shooters aren't really in the same league.
  • Awesome can't wait!!!
  • Buying it for the single player mission as an old tome fan. Can't keep up with young crowd anymore. Especially online. I can't even seem to have time to even aim anymore. Oh well. It was fun while it lasted.
  • I like the co-op aspect of multiplayer. Earning energy for upgrades is nice too. Like your detailed review and walkthrough of your experience. Sounds like this will definitely be worth the wait.
  • Just add Firefight, best MP mode after Horde in Gears.
  • Warzone looks amazing. Looks like it feels a bit like battlefront 3 but with the halo universe. Vehicles, objectives, ai, boss battles. Just pure epic. Day 1. The story to looks awesome. Bring it on.
  • Luv the action
  • This sounds really fun. Might get me back into Halo.
  • Did you guys manage to check out the mobile scene at E3? Anything on Lara Croft GO or Torchlight?
  • I didn't see either of those. Did see Brothers, Minions Paradise, and a couple others. Not on Windows devices though.
  • I hope I can make as many fun memories playing Halo 5's MP as I did playing 1 and 2 in college all those years ago.
  • I hope there are no issues at launch like the previous collection. I wasn't all that into the multiplayer myself but warzone does intrest me. I will be preordering this eventualy. I lookforward to playing the coop with my gf soon.
  • This looks amazing. Stoked!
  • JELLY!!!!