The three week beta for Halo 5: Guardians' multiplayer is the sort of beta designed specifically to help not just stress-test the online servers, but to see what needs to be changed, said Chris Lee, the game's director of production.
"It's definitely a work in progress," Lee said. "It's early in the development cycle. There's still a lot of work to be done in post beta, that's why we say it's a real beta."
The team at developer 343 Industries is most interested in gameplay balance and how players will react to some of the sometimes significant changes that Halo 5 brings to the franchise.
"We want to know how abilities are being used, about map exploits, feedback on modes," Lee said. "Then we're going to talk all of that information and use that to make the game sing for Halo 5: Guardians' launch."
The beta, which will run for three weeks and include seven maps and three modes, seems to be focused on a very specific element of Halo 5's multiplayer: mobility. In this latest Halo, Spartans will be able to do things they've never done before, like slide, climb and infinitely sprint. The changes bring with them the potential to throw Halo's multiplayer into a tailspin, completely knocking the balance out of kilter. And the team seems very aware of that.
That's one reason 343 Industries hired a group of full-time eSports gamers to work as a special group within its QA department.
"We call them the pro-team," Lee said. "They come in to give gameplay feedback."
It was the pro-team that helped identify how much unlimited sprint could unbalance the game. Because of their concerns, 343 went back to the drawing board and came up with a counter-balance: Sprinting Spartans can't recharge their armor until they stop.
The end result, Lee said, adds an extra level of strategy to a multiplayer match.
"They're an amazing resource to tap into," he said. "They'll find exploits and skill moves to pull off.
"When they find something we have to decide if it's an exploit, a bug or a feature."
Once the beta kicks off, 343 will be pushing them to offer their own take on the game, and point out problems they find.
"We're going to encourage fans to go to Halo Waypoint and comment there," he said.
The team is also going to be launching something called the Halo Council. While Lee declined to offer much in the way of detail he did say that the program will allow gamers to opt in to be able to have an "official conversation" with the development team about the future of the game and the franchise.
"We haven't released any details about the council or how we will select people for it," Lee said. "But we will be releasing more details over the course of the beta.
"We definitely want the feedback. We have been really diligent about making the core of Halo, Halo while still evolving things."
In my short time with the beta, it felt as if 343 has done a good job of doing just that. While the multiplayer beta definitely has that Halo feel, the new abilities completely change the way you approach the game.
Our hands-on time with the beta started out with a four-versus-four match of Slayer on the map Truth, which is based on classic Halo 2 multiplayer map Midship. The quick match gave us a chance to adjust to some of the new Spartan moves, like sliding and the ground pound. It also gave me my first chance to wield the Prophet's Bane, the Halo 5 take on the energy sword. The Prophet's Bane has an enhanced run speed and lunge distance, the developers told me. Most importantly, it still allows you to smack down enemies up close and personal. Next, we shifted over to Empire, a brand new map that takes place on a skyscraper, for another round of 4v4 slayer.
Finally, we got a chance to try our first match of the new Crossfire mode on the Breakout arena map.
In Crossfire, two teams of four fight to wipe out the opposing team before time runs out. Each player has one life per match. The first team to win five matches, takes the game.
The map we played on was inspired by real life competitive paintball fields, Lee said. To further amp up the action, Spartans have less shields in this mode, he said. Because the map is relatively small and slightly maze-like, the gameplay tended to be incredibly intense, especially when coupled with the new Spartan moves.
To succeed in Crossfire, players have to move tactically, seek cover and use a lot of communication.
Lee said that the beta is just a part of Halo 5's mulitplayer.
"We have a lot more of multiplayer to show," he said. "We'll have more about that stuff as we get closer to launch."
He also hinted that there might be a chance that people who didn't buy the Master Chief Collection might get a chance to check out the beta.
"We're excited about including the beta in the Master Chief Collection," he said. "But we don't have a number of how many will participate. I want all of the Halo fans and people excited for the game to be in the beta."
Will there be other ways to join the beta, I asked.
"Right now," he said, "you need to purchase the Master Chief Collection."
Make sure you check out all of our Halo 5: Guardians' multiplayer beta coverage, from the screens to the interviews to the videos, right here.