2012’s Halo 4 was the product of a series in transition; Developer 343 Industries’ début was a tightly designed and serviceable entry to the series, but by clumsily parroting more modernized shooters, they alienated long-time fans as well as failed to win new ones.
With Halo 5: Guardians, the franchise has emerged triumphant from its awkward transitional phase; embracing the qualities of modern first-person shooters without losing its identity.
After a mission takes an unexpected turn, the Master Chief and his team of Spartans go AWOL, prompting the UNSC to send Spartan Locke and his own fireteam, ‘Osiris’, to hunt the Chief down. It’s hard to say much more without giving away spoilers, so suffice to say the story soon grows beyond this simple premise.
Halo’s story has never been very accessible to newcomers and Halo 5 is no exception. Even as someone who’s played every game in the series, I still felt in the dark at times, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the journey that ‘Guardians’ takes you on.
That’s thanks in no small part to new protagonist Jameson Locke. Don’t be fooled by the marketing, which sold Chief and Locke as joint protagonists. You only play as the Chief for 3 of 15 missions; Locke is very much the main man.
He’s not exactly a fountain of charisma, but he gets more dialogue in one game than Master Chief has had in all of his put together. Add to that the playful banter and camaraderie between Locke and the other members of Fireteam Osiris, and you have a reasonably engaging group of characters to spend the 8 hour campaign with.
The ever-likeable Nathan Fillion deserves special mention. His performance as the wise-cracking Edward Buck fills the void left by Sergeant Johnson; bringing some welcome comic relief.
Previous Halo games were designed for single player, but provided the option of up to 4-player co-op. In Halo 5, it’s immediately clear that the campaign has been designed for co-op. If you don’t bring a full complement of four human players, any remaining slots are filled by AI-piloted Spartans.
You can give a few simple orders to these AI companions with a single button-press. You’ll never be able to coordinate any kind of strategy with them, but beyond the available commands of “go here”, “pick up that weapon”, “get in that vehicle”, “shoot that enemy”, I never really needed them to do anything.
The level design reflects this change in focus. Missions are still linear, point-to-point affairs, but there are plenty of open spaces and opportunities for flanking to encourage team tactics. It’s by no means a sandbox, but it’s considerably more expansive than your average ‘corridor’ shooter.
The way you get around these levels has changed as well. Players have been given a host of new movement-focused abilities. Sprinting and climbing make traversing the environment satisfying. Abilities like the ‘Spartan Charge’ and ‘Ground Pound’ are great for quickly closing the distance between you and your enemy, and the new thruster packs allows for short, rapid dodge movements.
While you won’t be as agile as you would be in Titanfall or Call of Duty, this new-found mobility goes a long way in updating Halo to feel like it belongs alongside these games, as does the ability to aim down the sights of the weapons. Importantly, it also makes the Spartans look and feel like the super-soldiers they’re supposed to be.
The selection of enemies you’ll fight is largely unchanged from Halo 4, but it’s worth noting that those annoying, flying enemies are now far less common, making fights against Forerunner foes feel less like banging your head against a wall until it falls down.
Headlining Guardians’ multiplayer is the new ‘Warzone’ mode. Two teams of 12 compete to either be the first to reach 1000 points or destroy the other team’s base. You earn points by getting kills, capturing and holding key parts of the map, or killing the AI boss enemies that occasionally drop in.
The maps are much bigger than anything seen in previous Halos. They have to be to accommodate the large numbers of players and vehicles. It seems 343 wanted to put their own spin on Battlefield‘s popular ‘Conquest’ mode, especially when you realize that Warzone’s variant, ‘Warzone Assault’, is very similar to ‘Rush’, another popular Battlefield gametype.
What makes Warzone so different from traditional Halo multiplayer is the REQ (requisition) system. Players earn REQ points over the course of a match, which can be spent on powerful weapons and vehicles.
It’s a system that takes some getting used to, but it’s worth it for the added layer of tactics it creates through resource-management dilemmas. Do I spend these 7 points on two powerful weapons, or one tank? Do I spend them all now, or save some for later?
Warzone is great fun, and offers something new and different to classic Halo multiplayer. It’s a shame that, at release, there are only 3 maps for it, even if they are 3 very big maps.
Those who want a more traditional multiplayer experience will feel right at home in Halo 5’s Arena mode. New gametypes like the single-life elimination mode ‘Breakout’ and the new map-control mode ‘Strongholds’ are available alongside classics like Team Slayer and Capture The Flag. Sadly, fan-favorite Oddball is conspicuous in its absence.
This is arguably the best Halo’s multiplayer has ever been. 343 have managed to balance the weapons brilliantly, making sure that every one is useful in its own way. The maps aren’t particularly varied in design, but the new movement system makes them easy to get around, creating fast-paced matches where positioning is now just as important as good aim and quick reaction times.
It’s clear that 343 had eSports in mind when designing Arena mode. Most of the maps are either mostly or completely symmetrical, and the matchmaking system finds players at your skill level based on a league system. All this, along with the superb weapon balance, combines to create the purest, most competitive multiplayer I’ve seen in any game for years.
Like previous Halos, you can create custom gametypes to play with your friends, but the ‘Forge’ map creator isn’t available until sometime in December. Thankfully, Halo 5 has more than enough content to keep you occupied until then.
Halo 5: Guardians is an outstanding return to form. While the story is hard to follow at times, the gameplay is superb, and a major step up from Halo 4. Warzone is a fun and accessible addition to Halo’s multiplayer suite, and the Arena is a finely-tuned, competitive experience that gets the adrenaline flowing and the heart pumping like no other multiplayer can. The fact that all this plays at 1080p and 60 frames-per-second, is the icing on the cake.
Too Long; Didn’t Read
- Characters with some semblance of personality.
- Expansive levels
- Greater focus on mobility
- Warzone is new, different, and fun
- REQ system adds depth
- New gametypes compliment the classics well
- Perfect weapon balance
- Fast, exciting gameplay
- Nathan Fillion
- Story is inaccessible and difficult to follow
- Only 3 Warzone maps
- No Forge… yet