Microsoft has the strongest AAA games lineup this holiday season and Halo 5: Guardians is a major part of it. Over the years, the adventures of Master Chief have been met with critical acclaim. Halo 4’s campaign was solid, if not largely unmemorable, but it felt like the developer was establishing itself. Unfortunately, their second game in the franchise falls flat in terms of story. While playing through the campaign is fun and it is well-made, the actual narrative leaves much to be desired. Luckily the multiplayer is back to being fantastic.
This is the best playing Halo to date. Upgrades to mobility are the name of the game in the FPS genre recently and developer 343 Industries has nailed it. While there are purists who are against being able to sprint, the addition of it being infinite and available at all times is a necessity. Spartans can now clamber or mantle up ledges allowing for different flanking opportunities and vantage points as well as having access to a short rechargable thrust in any direction. The most satisfying addition is the Spartan Charge where you sprint and then melee launching into whatever is in front of you and knocking enemies into the air as well as revealing alternate paths in the campaign. You can also now hover in mid-air for a short time if you zoom in with your weapon.
Specific to the campaign are different squad commands while playing as Master Chief and Spartan Locke. They can mark targets for AI teammates to focus on, can be sent to a specific position or ordered to revive a teammate (including yourself) in the Gears of War-esque “down but not out” feature. If co-op is your thing, before each mission you and your friends will pick which squad member they would like to be resulting in different starting equipment and bonuses.
Story and Modes:
The marketing for Halo 5: Guardians has been that there are two sides to every story, in this case being the iconic Master Chief and Spartan Locke. However, the end result does not resemble what those ads conveyed to us. Out of the 15 main story missions in the game only three of them have you controlling Master Chief and Blue Team. The rest of the time, you will be controlling Fireteam Osiris as they try to hunt down the Chief. This is immensely disappointing because it is Blue Team’s story that is actually progressing the plot while Osiris is always playing catch up just to locate them. Couple that with a wholly unsatisfying major revelation about the main villain, and you have the weakest campaign from a story perspective in the main series.
But the Halo series has always been a matter of “you get out of it as much as you put into it” which in this case your knowledge of the expanded fiction. Tanaka was introduced in the Halo: Escalation comic series while Vale was first featured heavily in the novel, Halo: Hunters in the Dark while all of Blue Team have been around since the novel, Halo: Fall of Reach by Eric Nylund in 2001 and are childhood friends of the Chief. The news of including Blue Team in the story was amazing, but their implementation is lacking with them barely having any screen time as well as less combat chatter than Osiris does. As far as Locke’s squad, former ODST-turned-Spartan Buck played by Nathan Fillion is a great character with enough quips to keep make you laugh. But while Locke is fantastically voiced by Ike Amadi after original voice actor and likeness, Mike Colter, left the project, you don’t relate to him or his team as the Chief’s story is the more interesting one. The adversarial and aggressive attitudes of the Chief and Locke are barely present with the exception of one admittedly pretty awesome cutscene.
Multiplayer is of course back and, unlike Halo 4, better than ever. All of the classic modes are there such as Slayer (which is now Team Slayer), Free-For-All and various objective modes. There is also the single-elimination Breakout and, my personal favorite, SWAT. Warzone is the big new mode which acts like a Big Team Battle but with points to capture and NPC bosses to take out for bonuses like a MOBA. As you play the match, you will unlock requisition levels allowing for access to new weapons depending on the tier you have unlocked. Do you spend your level two Req level for a decent alternate weapon or hold out and save it up for a Scorpion tank? It is a fun mode, but in my experience with it thus far, the team who captures the center point first usually goes on to win. You can also buy Requisition packs either with real money or Req Points earned through playing to unlock consumable weapons and vehicles to use in Warzone. Luckily, you earn enough points just by playing online that you will consistently have enough for a gold tier pack every three to four matches.
Visuals and Sound:
Halo 5 is a gorgeous game from the minute details to the massive areas you fight in. More so than in previous games, the locales you go to are impressive and visually fascinating with the high point being the homeworld of the Elites, or Sangheili known as Sangheilios. Character models are extremely detailed and look great both in gameplay and cutscenes with the faces looking amazing. The game also runs at a solid 60 frames per second which feels perfect for the speed of the game. There can be some odd visual glitches that happen, but they are minor and don’t detract from the experience.
The sound is great across the board. The music, while not having as many memorable tracks as games past, still fits nicely and gives you that Halo feeling. 343 Industries’ revamp of the weapon sounds from Halo 4 return and sound better than ever and the voice acting is fantastic for every character.
Within the Halo series, this fifth main iteration adds some integral changes to the core gameplay formula. The new clamber ability allowing you to scale ledges is a game-changer that allows for different paths to be taken to the same objective. Along with the improved emphasis on mobility that seems to be popular with recent games in the genre, the game still feels like Halo while also feeling up-to-date. This is the first entry in the franchise that makes you feel like what a Spartan should feel like.
My first time through the campaign, I played with two buddies on the normal difficulty setting and it took us four and a half hours to beat the 15 missions. That is short and it’s not like we were trying to speedrun the game as well as a couple of the missions taking about 45 seconds. There are skulls and intel files to find to add some replayability, but that is all the campaign will offer you. While the single-player mode is disappointing from a story perspective, it is still a whole lot of fun to actually play. This extends to the game’s multiplayer modes with the traditional options you know along with the new Warzone mode which is pretty neat. If you are a Halo fan already, you have probably picked this up. But if you aren’t and are interested in the story, this is not the place to start. I would suggest picking up The Master Chief Collection (which now works) and then moving on to 5. While 343 Industries didn’t hit a home-run with Halo 5: Guardians, it is still a great game.