As the Halo Reach beta sneaks ever closer, we corner the guys at Bungie on what to expect in terms of weapons, vehicles, assassinations, and armor abilities.

May 3rd is a big day for Halo fans. The Reach beta kicks off, and anyone who picked up Halo 3: ODST is eligible to participate. Bungie has remained silent on many of the multiplayer features, but sandbox design lead Sage Merrill, sandbox designer Josh Hamrick, and community manager Brian Jarrard deliver a wealth of new information about the game in this exclusive Q&A.

Read on to learn about all the new weapons, assassinations, vehicles, and armor abilities – the biggest change to the core combat experience. In addition check out our media gallery that showcases all the new features. Enjoy!

How many of the weapons, armor abilities, levels, and other features will be available to play in the upcoming public beta, in comparison with the final retail build several months later?

JARRARD: The public beta is going to include a huge chunk of Reach sandbox goodness. I think players will actually be surprised at how much is there, but in order to maintain the core game experience and get useful feedback, we needed to include a well-rounded offering. Suffice it to say there will still be surprises waiting in the final game this fall.

We hear there are some new weapons that will be available during the beta. Can you walk us through those?

MERRILL: One new weapon we’ve yet to really talk about is the focus rifle. This is the Covenant really long-range “reach out and burn your face off” sniper-slot weapon. We didn’t want to make just another sniper rifle, but we did want to fulfill that type of role so we made the focus rifle that utilizes a slightly different, “tracking” skillset. It’s not an instant kill weapon, it does significant damage, but you need to hold it on your opponent for approximately one and a half seconds to kill them. It’s more about long range suppression than instant death, but it still falls into the category of pseudo “power weapon” so it won’t be all over the map or included in load-outs.

HAMRICK: The focus rifle is probably the most frightening weapon to be attacked with in the entire game. It’s definitely the one I’ll be watching closest in the beta and we’re still tuning it.

MERRILL: The plasma launcher is the Covenant’s answer to the rocket launcher and Spartan laser all rolled into one. It’s primarily designed as an anti-vehicle weapon but it’s still quite effective against infantry. It charges then fires up to four super-heated plasma rounds that all track against bipeds and vehicles. It’s not actually firing plasma grenades, but the rounds do have a similar delay time from when they stick to the target and eventually explode. There’s a delay that leads to some really spectacular chain-reactions as well as quite a few “from the grave” medals.

HAMRICK: My favorite part of the plasma launcher is the delayed explosion for each round and the resulting chain reaction.

The new grenade launcher

MERRILL: Another new weapon in Reach is the grenade launcher, aka “the pro pipe.” This was primarily designed to fill a similar role to the plasma pistol and give the Spartans an EMP-capable weapon. It has two modes of fire – manual and auto. If you pull the trigger and release it, a single round will fire and detonate upon hitting a target. If you keep the trigger held, the player can choose when they want the grenade to detonate. You can essentially leave a cooked grenade on the ground around a corner as a trap and detonate it from a distance or have it explode in mid-air to take down a flying opponent.

HAMRICK: It’s important to note that we definitely do not view the grenade launcher as a “power-weapon” like the rocket launcher or sniper rifle. We want this to be something that can be included in load-outs; it’s more akin to the shotgun in that regard.