Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Review Platform: Xbox One
Release Date: October 27, 2015
Not many people play shooters for their storylines anymore, but in the past, Halo games have been a welcome exception. Unfortunately, Halo 5: Guardians does not quite live up to this standard for its campaign. While there are a few memorable missions and the campaign as a whole is entertaining, it lacks the story coherency of Halo Reach or Halo 2. SOME SPOILERS TO FOLLOW:
The campaign is split unevenly into two storylines: One focusing on the Master Chief, and the other focusing on a team of Spartans captained by an ex-ODST named Locke. Chief is only in three out of the 15 missions in the campaign, and Locke’s portion, with one exception (landing on the Elite home world was amazing), is far from memorable. The issue lies in poor character development. Most will know the story of the Master Chief by this point, but without reading the Halo book series, or delving deep into the wiki page, Locke and his team were complete strangers. This could have been easily solved by one or two flashback cut scenes/missions, but Halo 5’s story just sort of rambles on without trying to explain itself.
That being said, the missions that focused on Chief’s team were a joy. It felt like good old Halo, and made it feel like focusing solely on the Chief and his newly developed team might have been a better direction for the story to go. The two-team storyline seemed like a good idea in theory, but the team at 343 Industries didn’t even follow up on their promotional campaign. All of the trailers leading up to Halo 5’s launch focused on Master Chief being hunted by Locke and his Spartans. There were also cut scenes that made it seem as though particular storylines would be played out from both perspectives. In actuality, the teams met a total of two times throughout the entire game, and on neither occasion was there any interaction beyond a short cut scene. This lack of interaction made the stories feel separate, and never let them flow together as a whole.
Focusing specifically on the mission structure: objectives themselves were laid out well, with expansive maps offering many points of attack, and allowing for a variety of strategies to beat the mission. Having options for how to approach a target is great, but when playing the single-player campaign, it didn’t make much of a difference. Having two lanes to fire from when playing with an intelligent human companion makes for short work of some of Halo 5’s nastier enemies (such as Hunters, Knights, and Wardens), but the AI is so far from intelligent, it’s borderline idiotic. Several times AI would just stare at my character from five feet away as I bled out beneath an Elite’s boot heel. With that in mind, it is best to play Halo 5 as a co-op game, or on an easier difficulty, because the AI provides little to no help.
Keeping that in mind, it is clear that Halo 5 was meant to be played as a cooperative game. Four player co-op campaign is a blast, and a first in the Halo series. Jumping into a legendary campaign mission with a few friends provided the ideal level of challenge, while still being fun enough to see through to the end. The main story may not be great as far as narrative content goes, but between hidden data points and skulls, there’s a lot to go back for.
Finally, I just want to say that it’s a personal pet peeve of mine when a game’s story can’t stand on its own (with Halo 2 being the only exception). Halo 5 ends on a cliffhanger, and when the campaign was already mediocre, paying out $60 in two years to find out how it continues is not an appealing prospect. It’s exciting to see a campaign in a year when single player modes are dying, but it needs to be a fully fleshed out story or nothing at all. Hopefully the next chapter in the Halo saga will deliver that.
Ok, now that the ugly stuff is out of the way; The multiplayer alone makes this game worth its price tag. 343 Industries has done wonderful things with game modes, matchmaking, and varieties of weaponry. Everything about the online component of Halo 5 is fantastic and made the experience worth it overall.
The standout feature of Halo 5’s multiplayer is a new mode called Warzone. It has a similar feel to the core gameplay of Titanfall only with bigger teams, smarter AI, and more options. Warzone sees two teams of 12 face off against each other, attempting to maintain control of 3 capture points while taking out enemy captains (e.g. Elite groups, banshee squadrons, etc.) and managing the attacks of other human players. Initially this mode didn’t feel like Halo in that it was mainly objective based, and the map did not spawn weapons. However, after playing a considerable amount, it became an all-out chaotic battle that was beyond fun. All the classic multiplayer modes are still in Halo 5, but Warzone brings something new to the table, forcing players to work together in order to dominate an ever-changing battlefield.
Warzone is also the mode where you’ll use Halo 5’s Req Packs, a new system of booster packs that unlock pieces of armor, custom weaponry, and powerups. These powerups can range from calling in a tank to gaining a brief overshield at spawn. They change up gameplay, and can turn the tide in what would otherwise be a losing battle. Initially, these Req packs seemed like a scary, freemium turn for the series, but everything can be unlocked through playing in game, with real currency only allowing boosts and not affecting balance. The game does not penalize users for not wanting to shell out additional cash to buy their packs, and every piece of gear can be found with in-game currency. The packs provide a fun reason to keep playing, and are a nice, random way to unlock armor and other cosmetic upgrades.
In addition to new modes, Halo 5 also boasts a large catalogue of weapons pulling from the Covenant, UNSC, and Forerunner arsenals. Weapons from each race can serve the same function, but are distinct enough to not feel like simple re-skins. For example, there are 4 range precision rifles in the game: The Battle Rifle, Carbine, DMR, and Light Rifle. All of these weapons have essentially the same function, but differ in their fire rate, damage output, and zoom modes. These small changes mean that each multiplayer match will be a little bit different, and everyone will be able to find a weapon they like to use.
It is also worth noting that the sound effects on all of the weaponry are fantastic. Even firing the somewhat dinky plasma pistol sounds menacing and believable. The booming cracks of the DMR from across the map let you know that danger is close, and make areas of the game actually feel like a real battle. It’s details like these that make Halo 5’s multiplayer battlefield feel alive and vibrant, even after hours of continuous gameplay.
This sentiment is also echoed in the multiplayer map design. The visuals are gorgeous, especially when looking at the Warzone maps, which are some of the biggest in the series’ history. Every location feels distinct, and the maps have recognizable areas that makes it easy to call out where enemies are to coordinate strikes. There’s no standout maps like the original Blood Gulch, but overall, Halo 5’s maps are a solid offering.
Navigation of these maps is also easier than ever. Halo 5 has overhauled some of the more traditional movement mechanics of the series. Gone are the days of choosing sprint as a powerup for class loadouts. Each player starts equipped with sprint, as well as boosters, which are useful for quick dodging or making the final push to get across a gap. Players now also have the ability to mantle climb, which makes for varied locomotion when moving around maps, and escaping enemy fire. Spartan shields are gone entirely, and active camo has once again been reduced to a map pickup. This initially felt like the series was attempting to copy the bland-but-popular style of Call of Duty, but after only five minutes of gameplay, it was clear that the changes were all for the better. All of new features make for a more mobile Halo experience, and don’t detract from the game’s style in any way. With the new movement style, there were always new options for traversing the varied map set.
Halo 5’s campaign is nothing special, but will provide the requisite Grunt killing that many gamers have been pining for over the years. Co-op campaign is great in a group, but those who are looking for a story arc are in the wrong place. The AI is bad, but the rest of the mechanics behind shooting and movement are great, so most of the time you won’t need your squad on lower difficulties. Halo 5’s mastery is in its multiplayer. Warzone brings a breath of fresh life to a landscape of tired Call of Duty cloned multiplayer games, and brings back the feeling of big team battles from past entries in the series, while improving on the format. Matchmaking servers actually work this time, unlike Master Chief Collection, and fighting with friends has never been easier. Overall, the game’s greatness stems mostly from its multiplayer, but it’s enough to make it worth playing.