The Forge community is more creative than ever
No, you're eyes aren't deceiving you - that really is the Mos Espa Open podrace from Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace. That's just how versatile the latest iteration of Forge - Halo's bespoke design suite - has become since it debuted way back in Halo 3. In its current form, Forge is more than just a tacked-on map builder - it's become a fully fledged creation tool in its own right.
Now you can do more than just place objects - terrain can be manipulated, objects can be scripted to provide bespoke behaviours and triggers can be added to control switches and levers. You can even track the performance of your creation in-engine, counting frames as you go. Yet just like other creation suites found in Minecraft or LittleBigPlanet 3, it isn't about how deep the option go, but just how creative users can be.
From fully functional podraces to brand new sports in themselves in the form of Grifball, Forge has gone from strength to strength thanks to a community ultra creative users. Check out the video below if you don't believe us - yes, that really is a mini-game involving flipping pancakes out of a griddle pan.
Grifball is back!
After three months of silence, developer 343 Industries finally announced the news Halo fans have all been waiting for: Grifball will make its Halo 5 debut later this month. Planned as part of the upcoming Hammerfall update (more on that in a sec), Grifball has become a phenomena all its own with its rugby-esque rules and use of gravity hammers and energy swords.
Created by Rooster Teeth (the big, YouTube video production studio most notable for its Machinima series Red Vs Blue) members Bernie Burns and Gavin Free, Grifball uses a modified version of Assault mode and remains one of the most popular playlists on Halo Reach and Halo 4. With its use of assassinations and all out mayhem, don't be surprised to see Grifball become just as popular on Xbox One as it did on Xbox 360.
Constant updates equal new (and free) content
In an age where every single triple-A game has a season pass equal to (or, disturbingly, greater than) the original price of the game, it's still potently satisfying to see 343 Industries opting to release all its planned Halo 5 content for free. Whether this means we probably won't see any single-player-related DLC or not is besides the point because Halo 5's co-operative DNA has blurred the lines between traditional solo play and multiplayer sessions. Now it's all about adding new items, modes, maps and customisation options that make that social experience all the richer.
The new Hammerfall update, set for release later this month, sums up this community focused release schedule to a 'T'. There's a brand new multiplayer map (available across most of modes and playlists) called Torque, the introduction of the Assault, Fiesta and Grifball modes into playlist rotation, the addition of the Decimator and Marauder armour sets and the Halo 5 debut of the Gravity Hammer. Not to mention over 30 other items that can be unlocked through play or bought via microtransations.
The likes of Treyarch are just as hot on supporting titles such as Black Ops 3 and other entries in the Call Of Duty series, but most of that content is locked behind premium DLC packs that pack a serious punch (most cost around £12 each) so that's a serious outlay if you want to keep up to date with the latest maps and weapons. It's refreshing to see 343 offering so much content for free, but it's a sadly an approach that's very much in the minority.
Social playlists keep multiplayer fresh
Patching in new items and maps might be all well and good, but it doesn't count for much if you don't have a consistent user base to make the most of it. Game release schedules have never been so star-studded, so keeping a game that's already left its launch window behind can be a serious issue. For the developer behind Halo 5, bespoke playlists and special events have helped keep the ring rust away.
Just take the recent Valentine's Day-themed DoubleDate weekender, which saw the Breakout map retooled for 2V2 Social Slayer with lovehearts painted all across the shop and the return of the Halo 2 Battle Rifle for good measure. These timed events are a great way for players to keep their Halo experience new and exciting, while offering a nice change to the usual rounds of vanilla TDM or CTF.
Pro tournaments are taking it mainstream
The Halo franchise has always found a place in competitive gaming, but with the eSports scene now going mainstream its lofty position at the top of the FPS card (alongside COD and CS:GO, naturally) is about to soar even higher. Considering Halo 5 has been welcomed almost unanimously by the community thanks to the way its systems and balance have been re-tuned specifically for pros, it should be no surprise to see it gracing even bigger events this year.
Halo 5 made its debut at the 2016 X Games last month (which has helped it cross over with the extreme sports that were also once a niche past time struggling to get exposure). Not only that, but the tournament that took place in Aspen (the 2016 Halo World Championship) was televised on ESPN (as well as the usual presence on Twitch). This coverage has given the Halo franchise an immense amount of legitimacy and helped bring the brand back into vogue both with gamers and with those previously untapped audiences. Bigger exposure can only mean even more content and events in the coming year, so there's really never been a better time to dust off your Spartan armour and jump back into the fight.
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