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After four months and dozens of new releases to steal away my attention, I’m still somehow playing Halo 5. Aside from the fact that it modernized and slimmed the tried-and-true Halo formula in smart ways, the reason for my commitment is obvious: It’s what all my friends are playing. When half the allure of hopping online is to just hangout with some buddies while tearing random strangers apart, repetition is hardly a problem. That’s even less of a concern for Halo 5 because its stewards at 343 Industries keep pushing out new game modes and maps and collectible gewgaws to mix things up, and it’s one of the game’s newest additions that has my Spartan crew fired up: Grifball.
To be clear, Grifball is only new to Halo 5. The rugby-like game mode dates back to 2007, when the creators of Red Vs. Blue devised its rules and tweaked Halo 3 in just the right way to support their wacky sport. With a goal on each end of the arena, two teams of players armed with giant hammers and laser swords fight to pick up a ball and run it into the opposing team’s goal. The first team to score five points wins the match, and that’s all there is to it. Given the game’s simplicity—it renders precision aiming and other difficult-to-master first-person shooter skills a non-issue—and Red Vs. Blue’s popularity, Grifball quickly spread through the Halo community, and it eventually became an official mode inside Halo 3 and every Halo since, with the games’ developers improving upon Rooster Teeth’s frenetic foundation with each new iteration.
But Grifball in Halo 5 is especially exciting. It’s been polished to the point where it looks like something that was always meant to be there, rather than a custom mode built from the tweaking of preexisting rules. Some of the little things 343 Industries added to Halo 5—giving players the ability to gain a burst of speed at the tap of a button or stop mid-jump and charge up a devastating attack that sends them torpedoing to the ground—feel tailor-made for this sport. All the added mobility means ball carriers have new ways to outmaneuver their assailants, jumping and juking around the court like the universe’s scariest running backs.
While there are plenty of hurdles to overcome—the two big ones are figuring out when to use each weapon and getting a feel for the size of the hammer’s invisible shockwaves so you’re not just constantly being splattered—it’s the same absurd, stripped-down sporting action that drives popular games like Rocket League. At its worst, and especially if you’re playing alone, it’s a brutal meat-grinder that engenders an inescapable futility. If you manage to gather a few friends, though, it’s a blast. We were calling plays, erupting with cheers after scoring with desperate Hail Mary passes, and trouncing less communicative teams in no time. This kind of nonsense is why online multiplayer was invented.