If there is one thing that Halo 5: Guardians makes perfectly clear it’s that 343 Industries is not Bungie. 343 demonstrates its willingness to craft its own game, rather than ride on the coattails of Bungie. The story and gameplay both make bold choices that usually payoff. There is certainly a lot of risk in fundamentally changing a game, and while some elements fall flat, the game as a whole is great. Halo 5’s true achievement is showing that 343 is quite capable of crafting its own vision for the world of everyone’s favorite Spartan.
343 has been building up the story of Spartan Locke and Master Chief for quite some time and it has even been referred to by some as “The Empire Strikes Back” of Halo. There was almost no way the campaign could live up to this hype. Thankfully, 343 delivers an intriguing look at the greater Halo universe, resulting in a solid narrative that continues earlier plot threads and creates exciting new ones all the same, even if it isn’t perfect.
You take control of two different fireteams throughout Halo 5’s story, Fireteam Osiris, led by Jameson Locke, and Blue Team, led by Master Chief. The balance of these two teams is one of the most interesting elements of the story, for better or worse. Of the games fifteen missions, Master Chief is only playable in three of them, while Spartan Locke and Fireteam Osiris get the most playtime. Interestingly enough, the story still feels centered directly around Master Chief and his relationship with Cortana. Osiris is constantly one step behind Chief; always trying to figure out what’s going on around them. The best parts of the story are the last several missions as everything comes into place and sets up Halo 6 perfectly. This admittedly makes some of the missions in the middle feel pointless.
Halo 5’s campaign is filled with fan service, but rarely at the expense of the plot, and often to the benefit of it. Filling one role on Locke’s team is the ODST graduate Edward Buck. Seeing Buck return as a Spartan is awesome, and his rapport with the rest of the team is great. He’s definitely the most interesting character on the team. Chief’s team is also filled out with characters that hardcore Halo fans will recognize, as several of them appear in the books. It’s also great to see the Arbiter return and to witness his ongoing conflict with the covenant. Some of the story will be confusing to players who haven’t dived into the expanded Halo fiction (like myself), but it isn’t hard to come up to speed once the story gets going.
This isn’t to say that Halo 5’s campaign is without flaws. The characters are bland and unimaginative, and even when they try and give them backstory it falls flat. Buck and Master Chief are the most personable characters in the story and they do little more than recite quips and one-liners. This is especially disappointing because all of the characters have interesting tidbits of backstory sprinkled throughout, but these never come into play. The dual team plot device, while interesting, doesn’t deliver as well as expected. The stories rarely cross up, but when they do it’s exciting, even if it isn’t the rivalry 343 lead us to believe. I just wish there was more of a reason for the game to be divided like it is. The pacing can sometimes be thrown off thanks to some filler-y content in the later levels, albeit very exciting and interesting filler content that recalls the classic Halo trilogy in a big way.
Halo 5’s story revolves around the Halo universe and the situations, rather than the characters themselves. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the story kept me intrigued throughout and really delivered in the closing hour. It’s certainly one of the boldest Halo campaigns yet, and in many ways, I think it pays off. Some fans will likely be disappointed by the lack of Master Chief, but the story being told in this new trilogy is certainly intriguing, and I can’t wait to see how it pays off in the end.
Unlike the slower methodical pacing in Halo’s of old, Halo 5: Guardians is a fast paced and action packed experience, both in campaign and multiplayer. You’re now given a whole range of movement options, including clambering over walls, a thruster pack, sliding and rocket boosted sprint. This also leads to a host of new offensive options like the dashing Spartan Charge and Ground Pound. Another new addition is the smart scope, in which every weapon has an option to aim down the sights. Much like Halo 4 you still die much faster than past Halo games, which makes sense due to the faster paced gameplay. Even if these may seem like minor changes, these Spartan Abilities and faster deaths give Halo 5 a completely unique feel from its predecessors.
These new improvements really show up in the campaign, especially when playing co-op on Normal or Heroic. As you play the game, you begin to feel more like a super hero than a super soldier. Maneuvering effortlessly around the field is some of the most fun I’ve had with Halo in years. Guns fire like you expect them too, vehicles drive like you want them too, and enemies feel just challenging enough without being frustrating. The combination of Covenant and Promethean enemies, in addition to low ammo on guns, results in a strategic approach to the games campaign. There are some frustrations in the campaign though, such as the poorly handled boss fights and meaningless “talking” missions. You repeatedly fight a boss called the Warden Eternal, who can only be damaged from behind. This results in a frustrating experience of trying to force your teammates into the correct position and unload your weapon into his back. It also emphasizes the focus of Co-op in Halo 5. While I generally enjoyed the campaign, Multiplayer is a bit of a mixed bag.
The Arena, a more traditional Halo experience featuring Slayer, SWAT, Free-For-All, and the new Breakout game type, is quite enjoyable, even if it is designed for high level play and skilled players. As someone who isn’t very good at competitive shooters, Arena took a long time to capture me and provide any fun. I felt as if I was constantly dying and that the game was moving too fast to keep up with. Eventually I settled into a rhythm and began to see the benefits of the Spartan Abilities and how they spiced up the slow pace of past Halo games. Breakout mode highlights the focus on high level play. It is a mode that features single kill elimination and no shields. You play until a team has won five rounds of this intense combat mode. Every other mode plays similarly to past Halo games, but now with a more intense and high speed focus.
Halo 5: Guardians introduces a new mode, Warzone, that lands with mixed results. Warzone attempts to capture the feeling of war using AI enemies, strongholds, vehicles, and 12v12 player combat. The true highlight of this mode is the sense scale. There are multiple objectives to accomplish with fights going on all over the place. You truly feel as if you’ve stepped into a warzone and even the worst of players can feel as if their contributing to the team effort. Capturing strongholds, taking out enemies, taking out AI enemies, and even just spawning in vehicles can all be a huge boost in the game.
That doesn’t mean Warzone is without issue though. The vehicles, power weapons, and even loadouts are tied to a Requisitions system in which you buy packs and open them for random items. You can buy this with real money or in game credits that are earned fairly easily. You also earn packs easily for ranking up and completing commendations. While this system works pretty well in practice, it does suck that your potential enjoyment of this mode is tied to random drops. Another issue is that boss enemies’ points only count towards the team that gets the last shot on it, meaning the Red team can dominate the boss and the blue team can steal the kill. Some of these bosses can dramatically turn the tide of the battle, making all of your efforts in capturing the bases pointless. Warzone is best enjoyed when you aren’t taking it seriously, but rather enjoying the chaos that it provides.
Halo 5: Guardians is one of, if not THE, best looking and sounding games on the Xbox One. The environments are absolutely gorgeous. You travel to 3 planets, plus a few “facility” type areas, and all of them ooze detail. Whether you’re on the glassed planet of Meridian or beautiful wildlife of Genesis, you’ll be sucked into the environments.
Enemy designs are quite elaborate. Promethean soldiers look excellent thanks to the particle effects and detail capable on the Xbox One. Even the Covenant look new and improved thanks to some updated and more detailed character models. Facial animations and human designs are still weird looking in game, but they look excellent in the pre-rendered cut scenes. Speaking of which, the cut scenes are expertly animated and filled with action and emotion.
Even though Martin O’Donnell is no longer on the Halo series and composer Kazuma Jinnouchi has taken the reins, the Halo music is still as powerful and bombastic as ever. The main theme still rings out throughout certain missions and the music is always adding to the tension in ways that you’d expect. In addition to the excellent music, the sound effects are some of the best I’ve ever heard. It really sounds like sci-fi epic. Guns and vehicles both have a certain “pop” to them that is truly visceral.
While Halo 5 doesn’t change much in the realm of First Person Shooters, it does take Halo in a whole new direction. Instead of the slow methodical pacing of older Halo games, Halo 5 takes a fast paced and speedy approach that focuses on more arcade shooter fun. This change won’t sit well with everyone, but it does dramatically change the way Halo plays, from campaign to multiplayer. 343 definitely wants to make its own name on the Halo franchise, even if it doesn’t always work.
Halo 5: Guardians’ longevity depends largely on how much you embrace Warzone and Arena multiplayer. If you truly love the multiplayer modes, hundreds of hours can be invested in them without ever feeling dull. You can also use the points you earn to buy Req. packs and continue hunting for those rare items, either to use in warzone or customize your Spartan. It’s also worth noting that Halo’s franchise Forge mode will be coming to Halo 5 in December, which will surely renew interest in the game.
The campaign will only last you around 7 to 8 hours on Normal and only a few hours longer on Heroic. The game may even take less time with friends, so much of the games value comes in from its multiplayer modes. The replay-ability factor is also limited since there are no truly standout missions in the game and very few that you can approach in different ways. There are dozens of collectibles and a skull hidden in every level that may send you back to them, but little there is little incentive outside of that.
Halo 5: Guardians is no doubt going to be a divisive game in the months to come. Some will praise it for its bold choices and fast paced gameplay, while others will bemoan those same bold choices and the drastic changes made to the franchise’s gameplay. The story lacks compelling characters and has a weak middle act, but the conclusion brings some exciting changes to the world of Halo. The true highlight of Halo 5 is the dramatic changes to gameplay, which makes everything feel faster, more visceral, and a nice change of pace from the Halo of old. Even though the game is far from perfect, such as the issues plaguing Warzone and the story, Halo 5 is an excellent game and is sure to keep you playing for days.
Final Score: 8/10