It’s already somehow been three years since Halo 4 came out. It brought many refreshing concepts to the Halo series. Generally, many of them were favored while some were not. The story ushered in a new age for Halo, both in and out of game. A new trilogy was born while a new studio, 343 Industries, was given the keys to the kingdom. The plot was convoluted and far from a straight shot, but the game showed some promise. The controls were tight and the graphics were some of the best on the Xbox 360. With 343’s sophomore effort, and the middle part of a second trilogy, they have done a much better job with Halo 5: Guardians.
Let’s start with that campaign. For more or less the last year, 343 has promoted an epic struggle that is taking place between beloved Master Chief John 117 and a new Spartan, named Locke. Locke and his team are tasked with hunting the missing Master Chief down, while Master Chief is trying to locate Cortana. Master Chief also has his own team of Spartan pals to back him up. Similar to Halo 2, you will find yourself swapping back and forth between Master Chief, and Spartan Locke. The problem is that like Halo 2, you don’t really care at all about what’s happening with the person who is not Master Chief. Why do I want to hunt down Master Chief when I could just be playing Master Chief and getting to the important stuff? It was very similar to the Arbiter storyline in that I constantly had no interest in the plot.
This isn’t to say the campaign isn’t great, however. The through line of the story is much more established, and you don’t find yourself scratching your head (with regards to the plot itself). The campaign has a lot of your usual Halo set pieces involving big scary enemies, large battles, and of course, vehicle sections for more or less the sake of putting them in the game.
As mentioned, there are squads when you’re playing as both Master Chief and Locke. This allows the game to support up to 4 player co-op. You do have basic squad commands, which are “Move Here,” or “Attack This Guy.” It helped with tougher enemies because it allowed them to aggro it while I flanked and attacked. There’s a revive system, and usually unless you run in like an idiot, you’re probably going to be okay. I did die quite a bit on normal, but that’s because the game had added boss enemies. The boss enemies are quite difficult and I found myself actually considering them a challenge.
The weaponry in Halo 5: Guardians is quite extensive. There’s not just UNSC weapons, but also of course Covenant as well as Promethean. You can now look down the sights a la Call of Duty for any weapon, however, it does not provide any accuracy bonus, and largely because it’s a Halo game, I found myself avoiding doing this. A large pet peeve of mine is that I enjoy using human weaponry far more than the other two, but most levels didn’t have ammo laying around so I always felt forced to use the others. Your Spartan suit allows for some neat new moves. You can sprint into a melee, called a Spartan charge. You can dash in any direction by pressing the B button, allowing you to get out of some risky scenarios and into cover. A more unique one has you looking down the sights while in the air, causing you to hover until you stop looking down the sights. It seems sort of shoed-in for multiplayer purposes.
The graphics are some of the best currently on the Xbox One. 343 has engineered some behind-the-scenes trickery to keep a steady 60 frames per second while adjusting the resolution on the fly. It plays better, and the giant set pieces and battles look incredible. Things are blowing everywhere, there’s battles happening in the distance, and the scale of everything just seems massive top to bottom. It makes you feel like you are incredibly important in the ongoing conflict.
Overall, my time with the campaign was pretty fun. I enjoyed charging through levels with my squad dominating everything in sight. As mentioned, there’s a lot of unnecessary moments that seem like they were put in just for the fans, but that’s sort of the point in a weird way, right? Locke’s side of the story causes a lot of issues with story pacing, and frankly I don’t really care about his or his crew’s characters, even if one of them is Buck from ODST. I wish the story would have just focused on Master Chief, with cutscenes (all which look incredible, by the way) for the Locke business. It would have kept some suspense that you’re being hunted while being the hunter. The ending will probably leave a poor taste in a lot of mouths that were burned by Halo 2’s ending. While it’s not nearly as bad, you have to remember that this is the middle game in a trilogy. It didn’t help, however, that there is literally an objective titled “Finish the Fight.” However, unlike Halo 2’s which kind of just made me angry, this ending made me want to know more and to see through to this trilogy’s conclusion. Halo 6 is going to go in some very interesting directions.
Next up is of course the infamous Halo multiplayer. Multiplayer is broken down into two things. The first is Arena, which packs your standard playlists, and the second is a new mode called Warzone.
Arena (for the time being) is four vs four in various game types. You have of course, Slayer, as a mode which allows for random presets, such as CTF and more. I was happy to see that SWAT is one of the playlists at launch, which is incredibly competitive. Some fan favorites like Oddball are currently missing. As of writing, a new playlist for the weekend, Shotty Snipers, has come online. Expect to see a lot more of this. 343 has already announced that Big Team Battle and Forge Mode will be patched in shortly. The other nice thing, every map pack for this game will be free.
The new features that your character can do such as the jump boost and hover, definitely change the way multiplayer is played. I think it’s fair to say there’s an established “rule of combat” for Halo. This pretty much includes initiate, throw a grenade, and shoot each other until one dies. With these little tweaks to the controls, that kind of changes everything in a big way. It’s especially useful in SWAT or Snipers where you feel a shot and need to get behind cover quickly.
Warzone is the newest mode to Halo. Basically, it’s 24 players total with each team trying to capture objectives while fighting AI enemies and other more powerful enemies to hit 1000 points first. It borrows heavily not just from Battlefield, where you are capturing objectives in an order, but also from MOBA-style games where you have AI enemies appear that need to be taken down as a team in order to win. It requires partial communication in that there should at least be a small team talking. It’s incredibly difficult to capture a base by yourself, and borderline impossible to take down some of the tougher “boss” AI enemies. It makes for a very exciting and welcomed mode to Halo multiplayer, but I feel it needs to be a bit more established before we start to see it become as big as Arena Mode.
Another new addition to Halo Multiplayer is the REQ System. It’s basically card packs containing weapons, vehicles, boosts, emblems, and customizable armor. These range from common to ultra rare and can be purchased or unlocked by winning matches and collecting points. You can also purchase them with real money, though I’ve never found myself needing to (so far). It’s a similar system that Titanfall introduced with burn cards, however it’s much more expanded.
The meat of your REQ cards will be spent in Warzone, where similar to MOBAs, “REQ levels” will unlock. From here you can go up to terminals during the match or between spawns that will allow you to choose REQs. So for example, instead of spawning with the default assault rifle and pistol, I could spawn with a shotgun and a Warthog, assuming I have those cards on hand to use. It makes for an interesting dynamic because you don’t necessarily want to use rarer cards when say, you have one left or are losing the match. Once I use those shotgun and Warthog cards, for example, they’re gone forever. Generally, it creates a real nice match flow where towards the end, someone might spawn a Scorpion REQ, but another will spawn a Rocket Launcher REQ to take it out. It makes for fair balancing, but you have to wonder if it all should have just been contained to cosmetics as there’s a ton of ways to make your Spartan stand out. I don’t think it ruins the gametype, but I would welcome if they make this mode alternatively available with spawns during the round.
You can also somewhat use these in Arena as well as Boost cards, which are sort of like gambling cards. For example, I can equip a Boost card before a match that will give me double XP if my team wins. I think it’s just because we’re all so used to an Arena Mode that it’s going to take some time to get used to anything else.
Overall, Halo 5 is a hell of a step up from Halo 4. The graphics are some of the best on the Xbox One along with amazing cutscenes, the sound mixing and performances are very well done, controls, variety, and rock solid multiplayer make for an incredible experience. It’s nice to hear a new soundtrack mixed in with some of the most recognizable video game theme music ever composed, to boot. The campaign is a fun time, tells a story I actually followed, and I look forward to going back on harder difficulties to see if I can pull it off. The multiplayer is still certainly Halo multiplayer, but most of the maps are pretty great. You’d think they’d try to put in all of the multiplayer stuff off the bat, including things like King of the Hill and even Grifball, but the focus is clearly to get the fanbase in and then open the floodgates. The REQ system can be a tad overwhelming, but in time, players who stick around will definitely appreciate its variety of unlocks and rewards. At the end of it all, it’s another Halo, and that’s definitely not a bad thing.
Halo 5 Guardians
343 Industries have taken Halo 5 and improved over Halo 4 in every way. A unique story has been crafted and the gameplay is as sharp as ever. They've shown that they're more than just the guys who took over for Bungie. If you have an Xbox One, you shouldn't miss it.