Forward unto current gen
Halo 5: Guardians is following the success of the first original Halo effort by 343 Industries, Halo 4, but many years have passed and the demands of the genre have not only shifted but grown since the launch of the current generation of consoles. Yet, Halo 5 delivers enough of a self-contained experience in solo and multiplayer that anyone can pick up and play without much investment in the evolution of play mechanics and backstory. Granted, Halo 5 is a direct sequel and is steeped in enough history and lore to satiate even the authors of Halo wikis.
The ancient Prometheans—led by the chatty Warden Eternal—continue to threaten the galaxy, and it’s once again up to Master Chief to take them out. There are a few wrinkles in the narrative, however. Players can now control Jameson Locke and his team of advanced Spartans in their hunt for the AWOL Master Chief, who is himself chasing a wayward Cortana around the universe.
In Halo 5, 343 has focused on the bare essentials of what made Halo a gaming icon, mainly its action-driven interfacing with an engrossing alien world. The adventures have up to this point been a solo one. This campaign, though, oscillates from Chief’s Blue team to Locke’s Osiris team throughout the same arching story, without ever feeling as if you’re backtracking and merely replaying an area with a different character.
The two crews are made up of an interesting mix of characters. Locke is a competent military leader but not full of much charisma, so it’s great that he’s surrounded by interesting soldiers like Vale, Tanaka, and Buck of Halo 3: ODST fame (bolstered by Nathan Fillion’s likeness). It’s the opposite for Blue Team, where Linda, Fred, and Kelly are virtually indistinguishable from one another and don’t get in the way of Master Chief’s super hero-like status. Both teams’ chemistry shines during in-game communication, and although Chief’s brief “dramatic” dialogue moments seem odd compared to his usual demeanor, he is driven by a desire to save a friend who has been with him (and us) since day one—so the emotion resonates.
The massive scale and substantive narrative still only serves as a delivery system for an addictive and compelling shooter. I bested the 15 campaign mission in 12 hours, and it can be finished in less if blasting through on normal difficulty. While optional, the co-op campaign complements the already fantastic enemy AI with a scaled challenge depending on the difficulty setting. Playing as Chief or Locke provides negligible gameplay changes but both bring the wonderful pleasure of plowing through enemies as a suped-up, hyper-mobile soldier of metal and guts. Spartans can now dash, clamber some ledges, and squash the opposition with a ground-pound maneuver from above. None of these feel like invasive or exploitable changes, instead allowing for the tactical, vertical exploration of terrain.
The punch that comes from the sound of delivering death from your varied arsenal has been given the Xbox One treatment to go along with what is now the best looking game on the system. Halo at a stable 60 frames-per-second is remarkable and can hold its own against the best looking shooters on the market. Once you’ve put some time playing in 60fps you’ll understand why 343 chose to shift its resolution from 1080p to 900p in parts to maintain the optimal frame rate. Since the variations are indistinguishable to the human eye, consider the issue moot.
One other major shift, sure to divide many, is the adoption of the Iron-Sight interface for all weapons. You’ll be rewarded with better accuracy, and it’s an honest addition that does not diminish the use of hip-firing your weapon. It’s an intuitive cosmetic change whose only crime is being called “Smart-Link.”
You’ll no doubt happen upon the desired lines of a campaign level—the most easily navigated route between a checkpoint and destination—but the large maps encompass many ways to orient yourself and your team toward your objective. These almost never come across as delineated paths that are easily enumerated for later exploration. The maps are designed as if the areas are naturally occurring, and you’d be hard pressed to share the same engagement plan with a different player, on foot or otherwise.
Traversing the campaign’s major Spartan offenses against the Prometheans is where 343’s ambitions come to fruition. Halo 5 is unremittingly intense, especially during its third act. Taking on the Warden and his cronies on a well-crafted terrain under an epic music score maintains a fever pitch of excitement and ferociousness for so long that I didn’t mind the more tempered moments between missions. Simply, it is a superb example of how to coalesce a video game’s best features into one.
Halo 5 shouldn’t just be celebrated for its campaign, though. The latest entry in the series carries over many of the same multiplayer modes from games past; they’re tremendous fun, quick, rewarding and shouldn’t be abandoned for anything incompatible with the skeleton of the series. Arena is your standard PvP multiplayer polished with the inclusion of an eSports focused game type known as Breakout, pitting 4v4 with no shields and one life per round on maps tailored for the mode. Variations on Slayer, Capture the Flag, and Strongholds all help round out the traditional multiplayer structure. Halo’s brand of PvP never feels outdated or gives the impression that it’s clinging to too much of its past. Neither does Halo 5 pretend to be anything it isn’t: it is Halo multiplayer through and through, win if you can, survive if it lets you, using strict arsenal provisions. Competitive Skill Ranks also return and do a great job (in a limited pre-launch capacity) of maintaining excellent player balance online.
Halo 5 adopts a reward system known as REQ—short for requisition—which rewards players with points regardless of what the they do throughout multiplayer. The collected points can be redeemed for REQ packs, containing unlockable weapons, armors, skins, assassination animations, and more. Because they look like cards and can be bought with real money, it may scare some away. REQ packs, however, never feel game-breaking. Even if every REQ card can be unlocked by paying, players will still have to perform well enough with their team to deploy powerful cards during what the system is meant for, Warzone.
This is where my previous claim of genre cohesion may begin to obfuscate. Warzone is very much styled after MOBAs, mixing PvP and PvE with dynamic objectives on some of the largest Halo maps to date. Wrapping your head around your role on the 12-player team can be daunting at first, and coordinating the use of REQ packs convolute the platform’s mission, but after a few matches it’s easier to get a sense of how best to approach this multiplayer mode. The addition of enemy AI seems random at best, and were demolished pretty quickly by my team. The AI isn’t paired with the well designed set pieces from campaign, so it comes across as if random enemies were just sent to the field to die. I did find it a great way to encourage the team from simply camping on a base, however, as taking down AI rewards a ton of points.
Think of Warzone instead as a way to simply play Halo 5 online without too much concern for the competitiveness that accompanies Arena. It’s eventually fun and exciting with the right folks, with enough to shoot at for anyone. I did experience a few connectivity and drop issues with this mode, even during optimal matchmaking and on a 60mbps connection, rendering play useless. Hopefully these bugs are worked out before the game’s wide release.
Halo 5: Guardians has delivered the robust, well-rounded experience that we have come to expect from the series. The core Halo combat comes through with a taut and exciting odyssey across spacious maps: it is the thread that keeps everything in tact. The assorted play modes are gratifying. The sound and visuals are top notch. If Microsoft follows through on its intent to hone in on eSports, Halo will continually polish and tweak its already stellar multiplayer experience. 343 Industries has been tasked with keeping the franchise relevant among a sea of shooters. They have delivered.
|Developer: 343 Industries • Publisher: Microsoft • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 10.27.15|
The continuation of a new Master Chief saga, the refinement and additions to multiplayer for casual and pros alike, plus a gorgeous presentation made possible by current generation technology—all add up to the makings of a FPS worthy of the Halo series’ best iterations.
|The Good||Beautiful, potent, and vital addition to the longstanding series with modes friendly to all player types. Fast and ferocious multiplayer.|
|The Bad||Killing Covenant has worn out its welcome, Warzone lag, no Big Team Battle or Forge at launch.|
|The Ugly||Getting killed by an AI marine in Warzone.|
|Halo 5: Guardians is a Xbox One exclusive. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review.|