After 4 straight weekends, it’s safe to say beta season is finally over.

Thank god. There’s only so much of that I can fucking take.

Next time someone tells you “playing video games all day is easy”, remind them of this past month. Remind them that you played 20 hours of the same map/mode from a game that wasn’t even finished. Remind them that you fought hundreds of game crashes, technical bugs, and optimization issues during those 20 grueling hours. Remind the-

Oh…we didn’t all do that?

You’re telling me you all didn’t use vacation time this past month to play the hottest new FPS titles before they launched in the next few weeks?

Well damn. Guess I really am just built different.

Video game betas have evolved so much over the last two decades. The first betas I remember were really just selling tools for publishers, like when you had to buy Crackdown to get access to the Halo 3 beta or Bulletstorm to get access to the Gears of War 3 beta. Did we give a single fuck about either of these generically named games that time and bong hits have melted out of our memory?

Nope, and still don’t. In fact, I’m not sure either of them ever made their way to the actual disc drive of my Xbox 360.

But you best believe yo ass that those nights playing the Halo/Gears 3 betas went down as some of the best nights of my high school gaming years.

Then, we slowly transitioned to betas that were essentially free-to-play weekends set only weeks before the game launched, like with the Overwatch beta. Could you imagine being a casual noob, having no idea what ‘Overwatch’ is, downloading the beta, loving it, and then finding out the full game was coming only two weeks later?

I mean that’s a guaranteed sale, especially when you’re talking about one of the best shooters of all time.

Then you’ve got Fortnite which launched as a beta and, technically, remained a beta for nearly 3 years.

Then you’ve got PUBG which looks like it’s still in beta despite being out for nearly 4 years.

And that’s honestly where we are now. So many games over the last 3 years have launched in horrible, unfinished states that have taken months to turn around. Some launch with little to no content, some launch with laggy inconsistent servers, and some launch with game-breaking bugs that erase your entire save file and make you start over except you don’t want to start over cause you were almost done and so you never beat Fallout 4 and have very little desire to ever play it again.

Gone are the days where you could just buy a disc at a store, load it up at home, and never have to worry about updates and patches. Now we’ve moved to a digital landscape where developers can literally miss their deadline, sell their game as a complete $60 product anyway, and slowly fix it over the next 6 months.

And while that may sound like some crazy analogy from a gaming conspiracy theorist, think of the games that have dropped in the last 2-3 years that fit this model. Cyberpunk, Anthem, Fallout 76, Battlefront 2, Battlefield V, Sea of Thieves, The Division 1+2; they’re all over the place.

I’ve been battling this in my head all weekend as I prepared to write this blog. Half my brain tells me that the betas for Call of Duty Vanguard, Halo Infinite, and Battlefield 2042 should really only be taken with a grain of salt, the other half is convinced this is exactly how the games are going to feel on launch day.

So really, with all that being said, how do I actually feel these games are gonna be at launch? Let’s get into it.

Call of Duty Vanguard Beta

It’s hard to pick apart Call of Duty games from one another if you haven’t played CoD in a few years. At its core, it’s still the same game we’ve been playing since CoD 4: lightning-fast kill times, extremely generous aim assist, a ton of killstreaks, and a community at war with itself. The only thing that really changes from year to year are setting, maps, gun balancing, and new ways for Activision to make even more money off you.

Is that the most cynical, negative light to view this franchise in? Absolutely.

But is it true? 100%.

And based on the beta I played a month ago, Vanguard isn’t going to do much to change that formula up other than turning the sun into a giant lens flare. It still has many of the same killstreaks we’re used to, including some of the old WW2-specific ones like doggies. It still has the exact same guns we’ve used time and time again and the MP40 is the best one by far, again.

You still can’t see people on the map easily with all the muted browns, greens, and greys all blended together. I cannot tell you how many times I would play a game and start raging because I couldn’t figure out where I was getting shot from. Some of that I’m sure had to do with the audio balancing that Sledgehammer Games admitted needs more work before launch, but most of the time my old man eyes just couldn’t handle playing Where’s Waldo 2 (WW2) yet again.

Nothing really has changed. The biggest innovations (that we saw in the beta) are a “combat pacing” slider that no one really wanted or cares about and a Champion Hill mode that is just a slight variation of the Gunfight mode introduced two years ago.

I kinda knew this was coming considering the game is being made on the MW2019 game engine, but I was hoping for at least a little bit of originality. But outside a change of setting and a slight facelift, the game remains the same.

And here’s the thing: that is completely fine.

Many people don’t want CoD to evolve. They want it to remain that fun, pick-up-n-play shooter that they enjoy for an hour a day when they get home from work. They want to be able to sit in a room with claymore on every entrance, peek through a window, get a nuke, and be done in time for the Sox game at 8pm.

And you can see that with the public’s response to MW 2019 vs. Black Ops Cold War. Cold War is by far the better competitive game of the two with longer kill times, more balanced weapons, and an improved map pool. But if you ran a poll right now in the community on which game they like better, MW would win in a landslide. Why? Because the casual CoD community greatly outweighs the competitive CoD community and that’s the only community Activision cares about.

So while many people are going to buy Vanguard and enjoy yet another year of the same ole CoD, I think I’m gonna have to pass.

Halo Infinite Beta

On the flip side, Halo has arguably seen too much change over the last decade or so.

There are a few key principles to Halo that make Halo…Halo. The first is long kills times, or as the Bible says:

“Break the shields, shoot the head.” – John 1:17.

The longer the time-to-kill (TTK) is the more shots the player has to hit, which means they have to actually aim and land their shots. It also means if someone wants to be a dirty little camper bitch boy, a good player still has a chance to win that engagement.

The second principle is slower-paced movement, which in the older Bungie games is PAINFULLY slow. You take two steps too far out in the open, you’re dead. You don’t move with your team? Congrats, you’re now in a 3v1 getting absolutely destroyed.

The third principle is more general; an even playing field. When you start a match in Halo, you start with the same guns with the same attachments (none) as your teammates and opponents. Everything else spawns on the map; powerups, snipers, rocket launchers, etc.

When done right, these three principles work perfectly in tandem to make one of the greatest first-person shooters of all time, and Bungie did an incredible job balancing these principles while implementing new things over the 4.5 games they developed.

343 tho…yea they have kinda shit the bed…

They kinda just ignored all these principles and went crazy for two whole games. Jetpacks, booster packs, sprinting, sliding, loadouts; it’s no wonder why old-school Halo fans were upset. Halo 4 + 5 weren’t Halo. They were some disfigured crossbreed of what used to be Halo and whatever was popular in shooters at the time. Add to that the fact that Halo Infinite had one of the worst trailers in all of E3 last year, was delayed a full year because of it and this is rumored to be one of the most expensive video games ever made and you can completely understand why Halo fans were ready to give up on the franchise entirely.

Well, I can say now after pouring more time into the Halo Infinite beta than any of the other betas I played this year:

Halo is back.

It was by far the best beta of the month, which it should have been considering the team got a full-year extension. But really the win here is that 343 seems to have finally figured it out.

Yes, they did still add a bunch of modern movement mechanics like sprinting, sliding, grapple hooking, etc. But unlike in earlier 343 titles, everything feels much more balanced. Sliding has a slight boost but has to be timed correctly or you put yourself in a vulnerable position. Grappling is fun as hell but can also leave you wide open to be gunned down by the entire enemy team. There are no cheap forerunner aimbot guns (yet). The kill times feel perfect.

And overall, it just felt good to be playing Halo again. Riding around in a warthog with the boys, hitting ridiculous no scopes, hijacking banshees, fighting for that last flag capture in a 2-2 BTB match; there are not many experiences in gaming that can match that level of nostalgia.

It was just a taste, but it really feels like 343 has finally figured it out. We’ll know more when the game is released in December, but it looks like we have some great years of Halo ahead of us.

Battlefield 2042 Beta

Unlike CoD and Halo, I have never looked at a Battlefield game as a competitive experience. It’s one of those games you get on with the boys to have fun and do fun shit like blow up a building or spend 20 minutes trading sniper shots with a guy 500m away. And let me tell ya once you strip away all the competitiveness, it can be one of the most fun FPS games out there.

It’s also one of the most frustrating franchises ever to exist as EA DICE just loves throwing their fans through a blender every year.

Let’s just run down some stats for a second: out of their last 5 games, only one has received critical acclaim (Battlefield 1). ALL 5 have launched with numerous glitches, bugs, and multiplayer connectivity issues. Two of them, Battlefront + Battlefront 2 were dead within the first few weeks post-launch. Battlefield V was so poorly received on launch it gave EA its worst stock drop in nearly a decade.

This is not a studio known for making good games, much less having everything together by launch. They’re more known for releasing glitchy messes with very little content and fixing it all over the next 6 months. Unfortunately by then, most of the player base has moved on and the game ends up being a colossal failure.

And Battlefield 2042 seems to be following that same path.

By far the glitchiest beta of the three, you can definitely tell this game needs more work. Yes, the devs have already said the beta is based on a build that is a few months old (when it actually is only seven weeks old according to leaker Tom Henderson) but this game was supposed to originally launch next week.

And while I had a lot of fun with the beta and am usually pretty tolerable with certain types of bugs and glitches, some of it was hard to stomach. I have a midrange gaming PC (2070 Super + Ryzen 5 3600) and I was struggling to maintain over 90fps on low settings at 1080p. Not being having crossplay ready and saying their “goal” is to have it ready by launch is a major red flag. The audio on all levels was just as bad as Vanguard. The game crashed once every other game.

And again, this game is coming out in 6 weeks.

It just feels like we’re getting set up for another big letdown, which shouldn’t be surprising considering EA and EA DICE’s track record but it’s just as heartbreaking. We know this studio can make a good game; Battlefield 1 was one of the best shooters from last-gen. And yet for some reason, they just can’t seem to consistently replicate that level of quality.

I’m not completely out on this game since it really is THE game my boys and I have been waiting to play all year, but I’m kinda just expecting to be disappointed until everything is fixed 6 months after launch.