The Halo I never knew I wanted.
It has been a long time coming, but a true Halo sequel has finally arrived on Microsoft’s new platform. Halo 5: Guardians has a lot resting on its shoulders; after the debacle that was the Master Chief Collection (which still has reports of not working properly) 343 Studios had a lot to prove. Halo 4 was their first entry as the new owners once Bungie departed, and while solid, was met with mixed emotions from the community. Guardians had to be different; it had to be good. The team at 343 was handed the most precious IP in the Microsoft stable, and with the Xbox One lagging behind the PS4 in sales, Halo 5 needs to be that game that brings the fans back.
While that may all sound a bit over dramatic, it bears some truth to it. The Halo series is one of the most recognized, and important franchises in gaming. With the problems of Master Chief Collection, and the split reaction to Halo 4, 343 had something to prove. Halo 5 makes some major changes the formula while still retaining a lot of what makes Halo so special. The end result is a game that is likely to please fans, and even impress a few non-believers.
Price I’d Pay: $59.99
Multiplayer: Up to 24 players online
Guardians’ campaign is not the longest in the series. The ever-hyped “Greatest Hunt in Gaming” is a bit of hyperbole. The game starts off with a wickedly fantastic cut scene that got me hyped. The action is intense, and bears a striking resemblance to the opening of the latest Avengers movie. It is intense. Players then take control of the new Fireteam Osiris, composed of ONI assassin Locke, Vale, Tanaka, and everyone’s favorite ODST Buck. Get used to this new team, as Guardians spends the bulk of its campaign with players controlling them.
The introduction to the game is exciting, but it quickly calms down and settles into the plot, wherein Master Chief and his Blue team, comprised of Spartan-IIs Kelly, Frederic, and Linda follow a strange, but familiar voice, thus ignoring orders and causing Osiris to come after them. Sadly players outside the lore never get a chance to familiarize with Chief’s team. There is little character building on that side, while Osiris definitely gets more in-depth explanation through in-game conversation. I want to know why Blue Team trusts Chief so much, at least more than one line explaining their loyalty.
The campaign spans 15 missions and as mentioned before feels shorter than previous entries. The core story is great, but it also feels like it ends right before it gets really good. Once the credits rolled I was dying for Halo 6, which is both a good and bad thing. The missions are broken up really well, and I loved the new larger areas for confrontations. There is more verticality to the levels, and as per usual, encounters are extremely satisfying.
The co-op dynamic is more evident in Guardians than any Halo before it. There are always four characters in my Fireteam, even during single player. Most of the time they serve as fodder, and there are even commands that can be given to them, albeit extremely simplistic ones. There are some boss encounters though that are infuriating on higher difficulties solo. They feel designed to be played with other players, and going it solo is an exercise in testing patience.
There are also new dynamics in Halo 5: Guardians. A lot of the staples of first-person shooters, which have been absent from the series, finally make their way in, in Halo fashion of course. Players can now aim down the sight of any gun; pulling the left trigger gives a close-up view of the aiming, which has become the standard for most shooters. The differences in Halo are that doing this in the air activates boosters that let players hover for a second. Also being hit knocks them out of the view.
Halo 5 runs at 60 frames per second, and while that has been a sticking point for a lot of games this generation, what 343 did to achieve here is impressive. The game runs a dynamic resolution that fluctuates up and down depending on the action. It is all technical jargon, and honestly most of the time I never even noticed, but having the series run at a fast, smooth frame rate definitely improves the experience. Halo feels great, movement speed is faster, and even with the sacrifices that had to be made, the design is still gorgeous. The levels are intricate and interesting, but I do wish we could get some new enemy types for once.
Of course the foundation of what has made Halo such a memorable series is the multiplayer. Halo 5 also takes this mode to new levels by splitting it up between classic and a new take on something familiar. Arena is where the action is. This 4v4 mode contains classic game modes such as Slayer or Capture the Flag. Everything is tightly balanced, and the maps are perfectly designed for the amount of players. This is a great place for players to get their feet wet, and get reacquainted with the type of MP the Halo series is known for.
Warzone essentially replaces Big Team Battle (for now, the playlist is still coming) and feels like the evolution of Spartan Ops. This brings 12 players on each side fighting to dominate a massive map. In addition to defeating the other team, there are also NPCs scattered throughout, and everything earns points. The first to 1000 or whichever team dominates the map wins. Matches run between 25-30 mins and really flesh out the traditional multiplayer of Halo. This mode is extremely fun and satisfying.
Players also earn REQ points which are used to open packs of cards that award new customization options, or gear and boosts. Think of them sort of like burn cards in Titanfall. Packs have tiers, with the more expensive ones containing better loot. Of course this is where the actual money-based microtransactions also come in. REQ points can be purchased with real money. I get it, but it doesn’t make it any less distracting to have free-to-play purchases inside a full $60 retail game.
Matches all ran smooth in both pre-launch and post-launch tests. 343 also stated they would add more playlists down the line, and to soften the blow of microtransactions, all future map DLC will be free. That is a nice gesture, and considering I have yet to feel the need to purchase any REQ packs with real money, I consider it a great trade-off.
Halo 5: Guardians is a fantastic step for the series. 343 Industries proves it knows the series, and this being the first official game on the Xbox One, it stands out as one of the pinnacle games for the console. I can see myself playing this MP long into next year, and it feels good to have the classic back in action without hiccups or issues. If you own an Xbox One this is a no-brainer, Halo 5 is a must-have game.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.