Halo 5: Guardians
Last year, 343 Industries and Microsoft brought us Halo: The Master Chief Collection. This compilation gave players Halo 1-4, alongside the first-time ever Anniversary Edition of Halo 2. It allowed folks like myself who got into the series thanks to multiplayer to dive into the story. Playing the campaigns back-to-back allows the plot to flow far more smoothly and combined with the already-addictive gameplay, turned it into an easy recommendation for everyone. Plus, it was so packed with value that it had appeal to players who always wanted to try the series out and just felt like they didn’t want to start at such a late point.
One nice benefit to getting MCC at launch was that it allowed you to enjoy some of the Halo 5 multiplayer beta. Here, it was clear that the graphical overhaul was fairly substantial and we’d also be treated to a faster-paced Halo game than ever before. It blended the traditional shooting and swordplay mechanics with a heavy dose of parkour. In a sense, the beta made it clear that Halo would now be a blend of Halo with some Titanfall and Advanced Warfare thrown in with the increase in agility and maneuverability.
To some, this came as a huge shock – but in the core campaign, and in multiplayer, it all works to create a better experience for the player. The stories of the Halo franchise began somewhat simple, with many things explained and a lot of things left in the dark. The expanded universe explored in books helped fill in gaps, while the later entries were more story-driven. Halo 4 took this to new extremes with CGI, and Halo 5 keeps that trend alive.
Halo 5 relies on the Halo Nightfall series to some degree, with Jameson Locke as the main protagonist here and Master Chief running his own team as well. They’re each for the same greater good, but choose to go about it in different ways. Just like with Halo 4, you get a compelling narrative told with a large variety of characters. Main characters are given a lot of depth – with Locke and Master Chief’s teams being built up reasonably well too. They aren’t given a lot, but you do gain a sense for at least some personality traits for them. The team aspect of things makes the single player game more enjoyable as you’ll get some guidance on where to go, and help in battle.
The blend of multiplayer parts like healing and team attacks make for a more enjoyable campaign. It feels more alive with it being a group effort to accomplish a goal, and the fairly regular dialogue helps in that regard as well. It seems like you’re in this persistent world and have allies, enemies, and all manner of affiliation in-between. Shades of grey can either be a storytelling crutch or a benefit, and they help the narrative in Halo 5.
The sped-up gameplay adds a lot to the experience both offline and online. Offline, it allows you move around from set piece to set piece. There’s never a dull moment, and that trend continues with multiplayer. Some will lament the loss of split-screen multiplayer, but the online mode selection adds a lot of variety to the mix. The initial beta for the game showcased Arena, and it’s one of the most radical shifts for the series.
Based on the visual changes alone, it’s easy to see this being a polarizing setup. You get regular modes like team deathmatch and capture the flag, but with a huge twist. You’re now confined to small areas and the action is faster than ever before. The arena stylings are bright blue and yellow obstacle courses, and visually, it’s a strange mix – but it works. It comes off as a training room for the characters, so it still fits the narrative to some degree if you just use a bit of imagination.
The super-confined environments completely change the dynamic of multiplayer, as you have to look around each corner very carefully. Rushing around is a surefire way to get killed since your characters stand out so much against the environments. There are little compartments in the levels and you have to choose between staying hidden and possibly lucking your way into an out of nowhere win if you attack from behind. However, you will basically doom yourself to being a sitting duck. You need to stay active and go for the hunt. Sure, you put yourself at greater risk – but there’s no need to fear a death in this mode.
It’s a first-to-five wins mode, so a team losing a round doesn’t mean a whole lot. You might as well go all out and focus on just having fun. Every now and then, you’ll die in a hilarious way – and then you can rebound within minutes and save everything with a one-versus-three victory with the odds against you. It’s an exciting mode, and one that is perfect for people strapped for time to get in a gaming session. You can get a single set of arena matches done in about 15 minutes, and they all feel satisfying since they’re so fast-paced and full of action.
Those with more time on their hands will love warfare. It’s a gigantic team versus team setup with a huge map to dominate. Unlike Titanfall, which gave you fairly small pieces of land to hold onto – you get robust areas to protect here. There will be large buildings that need a whole team to cover them, and doing so feels rewarding as you plot to at least try and have someone cover every major entrance and exit. That plan will work, and then you’ll have a game where that never works and the whole team just gets slaughtered by one person since everyone was just standing still and never changed their direction.
Visually, Halo 5 is one of the Xbox One’s biggest showcases. The environmental texture work that dazzled in the public beta is even more impressive here thanks to so many different kinds of environments. The main campaign alone takes you into dark skies, beautiful natural environments, and more traditional sci-fi settings. Each of them looks distinct, and they all move smoothly. Despite fairly large teams and horde-based attacks, there’s never any slowdown. There is some texture pop-in though, but I only noticed it during a staircase-heavy section of the game towards the end. It was slightly jarring, but didn’t affect the game in any major way.
The soundtrack is as epic as one would expect from a Halo game. The sweeping orchestral songs are back and in full effect, with some new ones reflecting the grander scale of this game’s narrative. The voice is on-point as well, with everyone doing a fantastic job. Even your team’s side characters are well-acted, with some NPCs adding to the narrative just through their voices – like the AI leader of a colony you meet about a third of the way through the game.
Halo 5: Guardians switches things up quite a bit by shifting the focus to Locke instead of Master Chief, but it moves the series forward in big ways. Now, Locke can basically star in his own games without a loss in quality, and by putting him on equal footing with Master Chief here, they’ve easily added years to the franchise by doing so. Halo 5 is an outstanding game and one of the finest first-person shooters ever made. Its design is versatile, and it’s the best-playing entry in the series so far.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
This review is based on a digital copy of Halo 5: Guardians for the Xbox One provided by Microsoft Studios.