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?

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Paul Acevedo

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!