October 30, 2015
Halo 5: Guardians is a game chock full of change. Not only is it a new Halo for a new(ish) console - and by new, we mean new and not remastered - but it's a whole new era. There's a new protagonist joining Chief, there's a new approach to some of the multiplayer and many more things that are also new. Change isn't always good though, and that's where Halo 5: Guardians comes unstuck somewhat. Not completely, but enough to sully the overall experience.
Halo 5: Guardians sees you jumping back into the metallic space marine boots of both Master Chief and Spartan Locke, on one of the galaxy's most intense manhunts. You'll jet from planet to planet, facing off in intense firefights with Prometheans and Covenant alike, while trying to unravel the mysterious plot that unfolds in front of you. On the whole, it's an enjoyable sci-fi, space opera, with plenty of iconic battles littered throughout. However, it's classic Halo fare that very rarely veers away from the established formula. Consequently, it can be a little predictable at times, but from a spectacle standpoint, it's very much a solid Halo experience.
With Halo 5: Guardians, 343 Industries has opted to take a completely new direction with the game's campaign. Not that Spartan Locke is the second playable protagonist - that's nothing new, Halo 2 did that donkey's years ago - but that it's built for co-op from the ground up. First up, playing as two Spartans, both of which control identically is odd from a lore standpoint - Master Chief is the ultimate Spartan, but actually has less abilities than Locke... where was Locke when the world needed saving, eh? He seems capable enough.
What's more puzzling is how a game centering around two squads has terrible AI, which is all the more noticeable on the game's harder difficulties. Sure, it's great to play as a squad, issuing orders and what not, but not if your squad mates have the sense and self-preservation similar to a kamikaze monkey with dynamite strapped to its chest. The solution is to play with friends, of course, and you can, thanks to drop-in, drop-out online co-op. Still, the decision to take away one of its signature co-op components, a la split-screen seems to detract from Halo 5's co-op focused gameplay. If you're going to make a co-op experience that people can play solo, at least give the players the tools to accomplish that feat.
The gameplay itself, thanks to Spartan Abilities like the Spartan Charge and Ground Pound, and Halo's new-ish version of aim down sights, feels fresh. As fresh as its felt in years, in fact. Being able to charge through walls to find shortcuts, and hover while you line up a foe at the end of the battlefield, heck, even being able to mantle up ledges and boost across gaps make the Spartans feel far more like ultimate protectors of the universe, like they should. There's no qualms from me regarding the gameplay at all.
Online is where Halo 5 ultimately hits its stride though. Halo is one of the kings of multiplayer, and I don't see that changing anytime soon... in fact, with the addition of Forge and Big Team Battles inbound, it's only going to get better. That's a story for a different day though, as I've always said, I can only review what's put in front of me.
The multiplayer is split into two main pillars: Arena, which is 4 vs. 4 classic Halo action; and Warzone, more on that shortly – and of course, there are the classic Custom Games as well.
Arena is comprised mainly of your traditional playlists, from team-based objective fare, classic Slayer, Free-For-All and the fan-favourite, SWAT. These handle much as you’d expect, with the playing field being completely even, as teams battle for control of the power weapons – i.e. classic Halo combat, the same combat that’s made Halo one of the biggest multiplayer games in existence.
Then there’s the new Breakout mode, which is one of your more eSports orientated engagements – 1 life per round, best of 5. If that sounds like your kind of thing, great, but for me, Halo will always be about its standard but rightly revered modes.
From a maps standpoint, it’s hard to tell whether any of the fifteen included in the box will become as iconic as the likes of Ascension, Blood Gulch, Lockout or High Ground. I’m going to hazard a guess that they won’t. They’re solid maps for the most part - even the remastered Midship AKA Truth - but they don’t seem to have that iconography that previous Halo maps have had. That, however, is a question that only time can answer, for now, know that from a design perspective, they’re balanced and are great fun, making for some hectic battles.
Warzone is arguably Halo 5: Guardians' selling point though. This 20 vs. 20 mode has objective-based gameplay mixed with a sprinkling of Slayer-based battles all finished off with MOBA systems like AI controlled mid-bosses and a REQ system that gives you access to a whole host of toys should you level up enough mid-match. That on its own would have been perfect, but my only gripe is with the REQ packs system, which while might not be pay-to-win outright, players who do spend money via microtransactions will get a distinct advantage to those who use in-game currency to buy REQ packs.
How you ask? Well, simple, the more packs you open the more chance you have to get a legendary weapon (one time use, of course) or a rare card, like a Mantis. Sure, battle rifle vs. battle rifle, the best player is going to come out on top, that doesn't change, but if you have access to a Scorpion Tank, the lesser player stands more of a chance in reversing his fortunes, and can improve his chances of getting the best weapons by spending more cash. It's a system that muddies what would have otherwise been an almost game-changing addition. Truth be told, Warzone could really have done with more than three maps as well.
Want to hear the best news of all though? Simple. It’s that the matchmaking works, and not only that, it works well and rather quickly too. After the debacle that was Halo: The Master Chief Collection, this is by far the most important aspect of all. The only issue I had was actually getting the post-match report to load after every match.
From an achievements perspective, it’s all gravy. It’s typical Halo stuff here, which is a good thing. There are some multiplayer achievements, none of which are intrusive. All the rest are campaign, split between completing stuff on various difficulties, and doing some neat ol’ mission specific objectives – the kind of achievements that Halo has been good at over the years, In all, a pretty damn good list. Kudos, 343.
As a package, Halo 5: Guardians is a robust one and one with plenty of quality throughout. The campaign, while not one of the best in the series, is enjoyable enough, with ample content to keep players engaged from start to finish. The friendly-AI is just plain terrible, however, especially on Legendary difficulty, and the lack of split-screen is unfortunate. Otherwise, Halo 5 is great. The multiplayer is where it’s at, with Arena delivering classic Halo multiplayer experiences. Unfortunately, where it should be at is Warzone, but with only three maps and some disappointing microtransactions at its core, it sullies an experience that would have otherwise been magical.
Kazuma Jinnouchi easily manages to put his stamp on the Halo franchise with his fantastic score. It’s as if O’Donnell never left, which is high a praise I can give.
Halo 5 is a good looking game, with some impressive textures on for the most part. The 60fps makes the combat as smooth as its ever been.
It’s Halo, and thanks to the new Spartan Abilities, the gameplay feels fresh.
Lack of split-screen – even though we’re in a connected world – microtransactions and some horrible friendly-AI spoil what would otherwise be an excellent package.
Halo 5: Guardians’ achievement list is very Halo-y. There multiplayer achievements aren’t too intrusive and their campaign achievements require thought and replayability. It’s a great list.
Halo 5: Guardians is an exciting Halo package, marred only by some questionable design decisions, like microtransactions and some shoddy friendly-AI in the campaign. It’s not a classic Halo, but 343 is moving in a good direction with the franchise.