Warning: This review of Halo 5: Guardians will contain minor spoilers for the campaign. Read on at your own peril.
There’s no doubt that Halo 5: Guardians is the most highly anticipated title on the Xbox One this year. In spite of the divisive nature of the last two titles, the hype for this game has hit deafening levels in the days and weeks leading up to the launch for obvious reasons. With this being 343 Industries‘ third installment in the vaunted franchise, it’s time they make this series their own. So, does it live up to the lofty expectations?
Let’s get right into the campaign. The Master Chief has gone rogue, which prompts the UNSC to send Spartan Locke and Fireteam Osiris to bring in the legendary hero. But what prompted Master Chief to go AWOL? It began with the loss of Cortana at the end of Halo 4. In the wake of the battle with the Didact, John-117 has lost his shit without his other half. It’s strange, yet gripping to see a battered version of Master Chief, one who is no longer the unshakable soldier. He’s gone on mission after mission with no rest in between, probably in an attempt to soften the blow from losing Cortana…but surprise, surprise, she’s back!
Making a surprising appearance to Master Chief on one of his missions, she asks him to seek her out — against UNSC’s wishes. However, in doing so he is labeled a traitor. Things get interesting when you find out about the newest threat to the galaxy, and soon thereafter, things really go off the rails with some mad revelations that make the future of this series once again seem bright.
“Level design is
much better than Halo 4″
The campaign is relatively short, spanning 15 missions in which you’ll be going back and forth between Fireteam Osiris, led by Locke, and Blue Team, led by the legend himself, John-117. You’ll spend the majority of your time playing from Spartan Locke’s perspective, as Blue Team only gets a measly three missions of their own. A few planets are visited, each being compelling in their own unique way. Sanghelios, in particular, includes one of my favorite moments in the game, where you’re in a race against time to reach a certain location while a historic battle rages in the backdrop. Level design is much better than Halo 4, with an emphasis on varying between tight, claustrophobic corridors and large battle arenas. There is plenty of verticality incorporated into the level design too, which makes the worlds you explore feel more expansive than ever. The slew of hidden routes and secrets add that extra incentive to sniff around the place instead of running and gunning your way to the next checkpoint.
Halo 5: Guardians scores extra brownie points for bringing a lot of atmosphere to several of the game’s locations, and really making them feel alive. There are also a lot of very interesting battles going on in this universe. You’re in middle of the war between the Swords of Sanghelios (Arbiter’s group) and the Covenant, and it’s absolutely epic. It’s also incredibly frightening when you come face to face with the giant structures known as Guardians. And I haven’t even mentioned the gorgeously rendered cinematics that further enhances the action in missions.
“It’s gorgeous, imaginative,
and the most technically impressive
Halo game to date.”
Before discussing some issues I had, let me say this: gameplay-wise, the campaign is a blast. There are exciting moments that rival even those from the original trilogy. Case in point, there’s a moment where you’re racing down the side of a massive structure hovering over a Forerunner planet. It’s gorgeous, imaginative, and the most technically impressive Halo game to date. Experimenting with the large array of weapons against newly improved enemies feels as exciting as ever. Mostly, you’ll be facing Prometheans, but they have new tricks that make for refreshing battles. The attention to detail is splendid, as well, especially when you listen in on banter between silly Grunts who constantly make fools of themselves. 343i has clearly mastered the game both mechanically and visually. Pacing was also refreshing as more downtime was introduced in between all the space battles and non-stop pew pew pew action.
Now, on to the real issues I had with the narrative. First and foremost, the hero vs. hero storyline is completely overblown. Yes, we can’t judge it poorly because the marketing, but our expectations were set by Microsoft and 343i insisting that an all-out, knock-down, drag-out slugfest was going to happen through the tidbits of story they released. There’s no bad blood between the Spartans, and Chief isn’t much of a traitor when all is said and done. He’s always done whatever he believes is right, so it doesn’t make sense that all of the sudden, he’s labeled a “Benedict Arnold.” Characters in the game even mention that he always does what he wants. And this is to say nothing of the fact that the dude has saved the galaxy time after time.
Locke is supposed to be a by-the-books soldier who is brave enough to take on the challenge of hunting down the the UNSC’s most decorated Spartan, but he’s really just a boring lead that could be swapped out with anyone else with almost no repercussions. Worse yet, he plays exactly the same as Chief. In fact, with the exception of Buck, a.k.a. Nathan Fillion, all of the Spartans are extremely vanilla. They don’t have much of a personality of which to speak, and they barely register any emotion. The history between the members of Blue Team is actually interesting, but unfortunately none of it is explored in the adventure. Maybe the next game will delve deeper into all the characters?
The villain’s motives are questionable, and a bit of a stretch, if we’re being perfectly honest. There’s one baddie in particular that seems to have completely gone against everything they had previously believed in with no real explanation. There’s still time to explain that further down the line, but as of now, all the motives make very little sense.
What’s truly baffling is the over-dependence on the expanded fiction of the Halo universe. If you haven’t kept up with the ancillary story outside of the games (e.g. the books), well, you might want to keep Google open. There’s a good portion of the game that will be completely lost on you if you cannot connect some loosely related dots. Not even the audio logs scattered throughout the campaign will be enough. I don’t mind expecting players to know what occurred in the previous four games in the franchise, but not everyone keeps up with everything Halo, so it’s unfair to expect us to do so. Master Chief’s fallout with the UNSC also makes more sense when you keep up with the stories outside of the games.
The highly emphasized team AI controls were really hit-or-miss. Being able to point at a certain object, whether it’s an enemy or a weapon, and having your squad know exactly how to react is sweet. All you need to do is look in the direction of the object and hit down on the D-pad. It works well enough, but I just didn’t find too much use for it. As smart as my team members were, I found them shooting at already downed opponents. Even worse, when I would go down, they’d come to save me no matter what obstacle was in their way, which usually resulted in their own demise. Grabbing three skilled friends to go through the campaign with you will solve this problem, and doing so is actually recommended when playing on harder difficulties. However, this insistence on playing with real, live humans makes the lack of local splitscreen multiplayer even more frustrating.
Some other annoyances include the same boss fight being used multiple times, with very little variation, and the aforementioned lack of local co-op. With all of that being said, the future of the story is exciting. Keywords being “the future.” It’s no excuse for the mess of a story in this installment, but the base of it is something special, and I really did have a good time playing through it a couple of times.
Of course, everyone knows that Halo is more than just the campaign. Let’s talk about the saving grace of this package: the multiplayer. Wow, just wow. Although 343i still hasn’t mastered the skill of weaving an epic story yet, hot damn do they know how to build a multiplayer experience. The multiplayer experience is worthy of any and all high praise; it’s by far the best aspect of the package.
“If you have a group of friends to play with, Warzone is your game type.”
The new kid on the block is Warzone, which as you may have surmised from its name, includes large-scale battles. It incorporates sprawling 12-on-12 matches in which everyone battles for control of particular points of interest. The goal is to reach a predetermined score by any means necessary. How you get to that finish-line is up to you. With several ways to victory, it means your team is never really out of it until the it’s over. Fans of the series will really enjoy it. The newly introduced Requisition system — which evokes Titanfall‘s Burn Cards to a certain extent — makes it fun to collect cards for weapons, vehicles, and even cosmetic gear.
Rolling out the gear is used with in-game points accrued throughout the match, so there’s no exploitation of powerful weapons. Collecting enough in-game currency is easy enough that the microtransactions aren’t abrasive at all. They’re present if you want to use them, but they aren’t detrimental to the gameplay experience. If you have a group of friends to play with, Warzone is your game type. You can check our previous coverage for a more in depth look at the new mode.
But, Arena is still near and dear to my heart. This includes the intimate, tense 4-vs-4 battles that encompasses the likes of Slayer, Team Death Match, and my personal favorite, Swat, in which you frantically hunt opponents down to get sweet, sweet headshots. Get me Swat on the map Regret, and it’s game over. For Halo purists, Arena contains the best game modes, and it feels so good to be back in action. Despite the fact that the ability to aim down the sights was such a hot topic in the community, it honestly proved to be more of a disadvantage. The fears of it feeling like a Call of Duty clone, however, can be put to rest because the mechanics are as polished and tight as you’d expect them to be.
The maps are expertly crafted with varying sizes to match the game types. Maps with tight corridors are perfect for the smaller-scale Arena modes, and the larger Warzone maps include strategic choke points, as well as plenty of open space for vehicular combat. I must applaud 343i for killing it on this end. For everything that went wrong with the single-player campaign, they knocked it out of the park with the multiplayer. While reviewing the game, I didn’t get experience any server issues and, barring any Master Chief Collection-sized meltdown, you should be fine.
Here’s the thing — based solely on the multiplayer content and the promise of what’s to come, narratively speaking, there’s enough here to make it a worthy entry in the series. Those who already fully invested in everything Halo will find the campaign to be a fascinating addition to the ever-expanding canon. Yes, you can have fun with the campaign by simply ignoring the missteps and taking in the grand set pieces, but it’s no excuse for the sloppy tale. The outlook at the end of the game paints a much brighter future, and that in itself is exciting. In the meantime, though, we’ll always have Swat.
- Feels like the beginning to what can be an epic space opera. The conclusion to this game got me more excited for the future of the franchise than most of Halo 4 did.
- Good pacing for the most part, and some epic escape sequences. There are exciting moments that will get your blood rushing.
- This could be the best multiplayer in a Halo game yet. Collecting REQ cards is fun, Warzone is epic, and Arena is the perfect change of pace.
- Locke vs. Chief is way overblown. Locke is a boring character with an interesting past that is only mentioned a couple of times.
- The same boss fight used throughout the game.
- Overly depends on external narrative. You will be lost with some events in the story if you haven’t kept up with the books. I suggest Googling names while playing, if you’re not down with reading the books.
RATING: 3.5 OUT OF 5 BURRITOS
This review was completed using an Xbox One Copy of Halo 5: Guardians provided by Microsoft. The game hit stores on October 27, 2015 exclusively on Xbox One