Since 2001 Halo has been one of, if not, the biggest video game franchise that Microsoft can bring to the table and in each of these titles we have seen Microsoft push their Xbox console to the limit and offer an extremely enjoyable gaming experience. Now fourteen years later here we are with Halo 5: Guardians, a title that has now been developed by 343 Industries stepping in to replace the previous creators of the series. With the main promotion of Halo 5: Guardians focusing on the Master Chief going rogue on humanity does Halo 5: Guardians manage to live up to the name?
Despite the events that continue to see the Convenant forces being defeated time and time again, a large force continues to fight under the reigns of a new leader who has captured Dr. Halsey, the creator of the Spartan Program. It is through this starting mission that players are introduced to Fireteam Osiris, led by former ONI member Jameson Locke, the familiar face of ODST Edward Buck, and two new characters in the form of Olympia Vale and Holly Tanaka as they are tasked with successfully rescuing Dr. Halsey and if possible, eliminating the leader of the Covenant resistance.
While Fireteam Osiris is tasked with that, the Master Chief and Blue Team, his team of surviving Spartan-IIs made up of Kelly, Frederic, and Linda, have been ordered to try and recover a derelict space station that has been occupied by Covenant forces. During said mission Chief is contacted by a voice that he and everyone else in the military thought had been gone forever after the events of Halo 4. Rather than obeying orders to return home to the UNSC Infinity, Chief and Blue Team choose to investigate this lost hope and, after being told that the Chief and his team are now AWOL, Fireteam Osiris must try and bring them back.
The way that Microsoft had been advertising Halo 5: Guardians’ big twist of featuring a hero going rogue, there is some misdirection here but for all intents and purposes it does still offer the core story for why the new Spartan team is chasing after everyone’s favorite soldier. That being said, the end result feels like something that was put together with every intention of focusing on building up the new faces of the game and only slightly advancing the overarching storyline of the Halo franchise while providing only the bare minimum of details.
For the majority of the fifteen available missions players will be stepping into the boots of Locke and his team as they try to track down Chief since, due to certain circumstances that can’t be discussed, they were able to make it to their location extremely easily and only through mimicking the same process can they make their unwelcome arrival. This means that, for the most part, the only parts that really drive the story forward are those that take place in the few missions while players are in control of Master Chief.
This leads to some rather oddly paced storytelling and ultimately feels very similar to what Halo 2 ended up offering, especially since the story kicks into high gear at the end with major consequences only to end and leave fans waiting for the next entry in the series. Of course there are still a very large number of highly intense and spectacular setpieces to experience as both teams and these moments remain a major highlight to the story despite its lack of focus.
It is worth noting that the characters are given a bit of development at the very least since they will often make side-conversation in-between firefights or during the few missions that simply require the player to speak to NPCs in a safe zone and this helps create an interesting team to play with at times, though even at best this still feels rather superficial as it only appears to have been done to build towards the future, much like the rest of the Halo 5: Guardians’ storyline.
In many ways the gameplay of Halo 5: Guardians has been refined and a number of additions to the player’s arsenal help make the always fast paced gunplay even smoother with tight controls and a constant sense of motion. Every Spartan now has the ability to sprint, grab ledges to climb up onto various vantage points, use a jet boost to either accelerate forward, leap backwards, or boost to either side in an effort to avoid incoming fire or enhance your momentum. To add onto this, melee’s have been refined a bit with Spartans running at a certain speed automatically performing a boosted shoulder charge capable of destroying walls and causing devastating damage to enemies. In fact, players can even use melee from the air by performing a ground pound while hovering and targeting your hapless foes.
While some may be a bit put off by this fact, Halo 5: Guardians also implements a full aiming mechanic that they have chosen to call “Smart Link” that allows every gun, ranging from your expected Battle Rifle to even Needlers pulling up sights to aim down. Aiming while in the air allows for a brief period of hover time, allowing players to temporarily pick foes off from the air, or in multiplayer catch a foe unaware as they run beneath you while charging a room. Though considering players will instantly be knocked out of their aiming by being damaged in any way, even with their shield up, it isn’t quite as easy as one may think.
As mentioned, these two mechanics may turn out to be a bit off-putting for hardcore fans of the original Halo titles but feel like natural progression as the Spartans continue to be outfitted to face off against Covenant forces and Forerunner enemies, often in three way battles where they can be caught in the crossfire. Of course this time, even if Chief or Locke manage to get annihilated by these two opposing forces they now have a team there to try and back them up.
Sadly doing away with split-screen co-op, Halo 5: Guardians focuses heavily on offering full campaign co-op where players can team up with their friends online to tackle the story, with the difficulty ramping up for every active player, of course if you choose to go things solo then you also are given a squad of three other AI controlled team mates to assist you. Your team can be commanded to move to certain positions with a simple Up tap on the D-pad, start to drive a vehicle, equip a dropped weapon, or target a specific enemy making them quite versatile.
That being said, this does mean that the Normal difficulty is now even easier than it has ever been before since players now will simply go into a “Armor Lock” state where they are downed with a small amount of time before death. Players can then be revived by their allies, given a temporary overshield boost, and find themselves back in the fight. Of course on harder difficulties things still remain incredibly punishing.
A clear through of the story on Normal solo may only take around seven to eight hours if you explore and collect a bit of intel or try to track down a few skulls on the way but those looking to challenge Halo 5: Guardians’ campaign on Legendary solo will be in for a hell of a fight as your AI companions will be going down just as often as you do and with the revival timer set to an incredibly low number, you’ll often die before your friends can get to you. Though since enemy AI is intelligent as well and will focus fire on your teammates, they will also probably go down in an effort to revive you. This means that those looking for at least the true Halo experience should tackle the campaign on at least Heroic and prepare themselves for an experience that feels as fast and enjoyable as ever with a handful of new enemies that require various tactics to take out as well as older foes with a few new tricks.
Moving away from the campaign and co-op we find ourselves at Halo 5: Guardians’ multiplayer mode where a number of the new mechanics really shine. Players will find that this time around loadouts have been removed in favor of every player now spawning with the same assault rifle and magnum as usual in standard gameplay modes, given a precision weapon in SWAT, or another set-up depending on the mode. This means that now players will find themselves taking advantage of weapons scattered throughout the many multiplayer maps in Halo 5: Guardians as well as seeking out power weapons, such as a rocket launcher or fuel rod cannon that periodically spawn throughout the match with marked locations.
Thanks to smart level design and the various new abilities that players can use, such as the ground pound, charge attack, hover-aim, and of course simply aiming players will find that even their basic loadouts can keep them more than competitive in a fight. There are still a number of modes to take advantage of in the Arena, though it appears that there are fewer than the norm here at the start, with various modifications of standard Team Deathmatch (Slayer), Capture the Flag, Skirmish, and Control being the mainstays in the pre-match playlists. Control and Skirmish feel like the most refreshing modes as Skirmish forces players to focus on being the last team standing or capturing a flag for five winning rounds while Control focuses on capturing and holding points on the map that allow for heavy use of hover-aim and ground pound causing massive damage to those unaware of their surroundings.
It is worth noting that while players will still gain points and level up their Spartan’s rank, they will also earn REQ points. These points can then be used to buy Requisition Packs that will occasionally contain rare unlocks that provide players new cosmetic armor, new icons to use for their logo, weapon skins, or boosts to REQ point or EXP point earning. These cards mostly play a cosmetic role in standard Arena but it is in Halo 5: Guardians’ new multiplayer mode Warzone that many of these cards come into play.
Two teams of twelve players are dropped onto a massive map with three bases to take control of but that is far from the only thing going on. The whole map is littered with AI enemies in the form of Covenant and Promethean forces all willing to kill the players on either team while the players duke it out with each other. Killing these AIs, which range from standard enemies to special named Hero and Legendary opponents, will reward the team with higher points that can win a match which creates an exciting experience as players need to not only defend their bases but also break off to slay special enemies to gain points, or better yet stop their foes from obtaining them, and it is through this system that players can also call in their REQ packs.
These cards are then used up, though they are often easy to re-earn as players will get numerous cards per REQ pack they either purchase using points or earn by leveling up and can be something as simple as summoning a Beam Rifle into the player’s hand to being able to drop down a Mantis and go rampaging through the enemy forces as powerful equipment can often swing a match in someone’s favor. That being said, it does create the feeling of imbalance at times since the team that is often doing better initially can easily hold onto their lead with powerful equipment call-ins to hold down your foes before they can build themselves up.
Visuals & Audio
As mentioned before, Halo 5: Guardians has some spectacular looking setpieces and while they may have been amazing using last-gen technology simply due to the way they are designed, they look absolutely spectacular here thanks to the improvements made to look Halo 5: Guardians as great as possible, making it perhaps one of the best looking shooters to date.
A lot of attention to detail has been spent on making sure that the worlds that players explore are varied enough to keep things feeling fresh at all times while the sci-fi action remains top notch as always to create a beautiful looking game that never fails to impress, especially since never once did I notice the title dip into any type of slowdown despite the amount of action and explosions that can go off on Legendary or in intense Warzone matches.
Thanks to the increased number of characters in Halo 5: Guardians players will be treated to quite a bit of dialogue this time around and most of it is voiced appropriately enough with fitting voice acting from both new and returning voice actors. The soundtrack remains a signature point in the franchise and Halo 5: Guardians doesn’t disappoint as it knows exactly when to bring in specific Halo music to heighten a moment and touch things up with fresh tracks to keep up the variety.
Halo 5: Guardians delivers the next step in first person shooters by keeping the action fast paced with a number of improvements and refinements to the system all while presenting itself as one of the best looking shooter you can ask for. It does feel like the story could have been handled far better, especially since certain events feel like they were padded out and very little explanation was actually given from what we did see, but with a multiplayer mode that shines thanks to the aforementioned refinements and the new Warzone mode offering plenty of intense and varied fun it will be hard to put Halo 5: Guardians down anytime soon.
Capsule Computers review guidelines can be found here.