Despite being on shaky ground with some fans, 343i does anything but play it safe with the latest addition in the Halo franchise with Halo 5: Guardians. Featuring a new hero, very little Master Chief, new squad-based combat, new gameplay elements, redesigned multiplayer and the loss of split-screen, you can’t help but admire 343i for their bravery.
This new entry marks the second game in the Reclaimer Saga and like Halo 4, is very much based around the Prometheans. A strange new threat has emerged in the Universe, with little understanding of what it is or why, your job is to unravel the mystery and save humanity once again.
Halo 5: Guardians features two groups of Spartans: Blue Team led by Master Chief and Fireteam Osiris led by Agent Locke. Despite being our new hero, Agent Locke proves difficult to warm up to. His personality is basically a very generic and bland soldier, lacking in a certain legendary aura that Master Chief has. The only likeable member of his team is Buck, voiced by and based on Nathan Fillion (that guy from Firefly). I can’t actually tell you anything about the other two members of his team as they contributed so little to the game that nothing left a lasting impression on me.
Following his loss in Halo 4, Master Chief has decided to link up with three of his former Spartan II members that he grew up with. While their personalities aren’t developed much on screen, playing as such legendary Spartans led by Master Chief does feel every bit as epic as it should.
For reasons I do not wish to spoil, Master Chief and the rest of Blue Team decide to disobey UNSC orders and set out on their own mission. In response, the UNSC sends Fireteam Osiris to bring Master Chief home.
Halo 5: Guardians is not Master Chief’s story though. He is playable in just 3 of the 15 missions. Even then,the primary purpose of all three of those missions seems to be to form context for the next Fireteam Osiris mission. Having waited 3 years to play along in Master Chiefs next adventure only for him to play a more supporting part was a huge disappointment to me and I’m sure will be to many fans. Seeing his role in this latest escapade to save the Universe go from hero to zero is unfortunately not the only discourteous role longtime fans of the series can expect in the story.
If you can get past this shift, the Campaign is without a doubt of the same high quality that we have come to expect from Halo. Trying to piece together what is happening and what will happen will keep you hooked right through to the last mission. Though lacking in the epic moments the franchise is known for, the Levels are still consistently solid.
As soon as I completed the Campaign I wanted to up the difficulty, jump back in and play through all the amazing Levels again.
The story sees you travel to numerous drop dead gorgeous locations ranging from a futuristic alien city to a long forgotten alien planet long since overtaken by lush overgrowth of vegetation. Halo 5: Guardians is without a doubt the most visually stunning game I have played. On countless times throughout the game I found myself lingering in an area to absorb the awe-inspiring sites around me. The level of detail put into character models, environments, weapons and vehicles in the game is truly unmatched.
Despite an upgrade in hardware, the size of the Levels are very similar to that of previous Halo installments if not a bit smaller.
Generally, things shuffle along in a reasonably wide sized corridor rather than open battlefields. One of the big improvements in Level designs come from the multiple paths available. More so than in previous games, there are numerous paths, some hidden some obvious, which you can take to get to different vantage points.
With the addition of having fellow Spartans following you around comes the ability to issue squad orders. Despite the lone-wolf nature of previous games, commanding a squad fits in surprisingly well into the feeling of the game. Issuing orders comes in the form of a context sensitive button press. Point at a downed ally will have someone revive them, point at an enemy will have them focus their fire, point at the ground will have them go to that general vicinity and pointing at a weapon will have them pick it up.
You can’t tell them to go to specific places and sometimes they can’t figure out how to get somewhere properly and end up with the ‘close enough is good enough’ mentality.
Issuing squad orders does allow for a more strategic approach to combat, allowing you to pull off flanking maneuvers and attack from strategic locations and even have them carry along that useful weapon you found but don’t really feel like using at the moment.
You, along with your Spartan teammates, can now be revived on the battlefield, assuming of course you don’t get disintegrated by one of the more epic Promethean weapons. After being downed you have a certain time limit to be revived before you bleed out and are taken back to the last check point. This in combination with having a squad does make many parts of the game slightly easier than it otherwise would be. This didn’t prevent me from dying more often than I would have liked to admit.
This is due to opponents in Halo 5: Guardians generally being tougher and more intelligent than in previous entries. Throw a grenade at a Hunter and he will knock it back, get too close to an Elite and he will pull out his energy sword, try to shoot a Promethean and you may find yourself shooting nothing but a Promethean Watcher spawned shield. Fighting more admirable foes makes getting through battles feel more meaningful and rewarding.
It isn’t just your enemies who have seen improvement, Spartans are now decked out with a whole new range of abilities to use at any time. The most useful of which is the Thruster Pack. This enables you to use a short burst of your thruster to quickly dash off in any direction allowing you to dodge incoming bullets or quickly hide behind cover. Other abilities allow you to float mid-air and shoot, slam down on the ground, shoulder charge enemies as well as grab onto ledges.
The integration of all these new Spartan abilities enables Halo to shake off that decade old feeling that it has carried through over the years and embrace a more modern gameplay style that is much more enjoyable.
All these additional elements make the gameplay in Halo 5: Guardians the best yet in the series.
What is a shooter without good gunplay and thankfully Halo 5: Guardians delivers in spades.
There is no game changing new additions in this entry but instead its strength comes from bringing us a diverse and balanced selection of weapons. Fan favourites like the battle rifle and surprisingly powerful pistol make a return. With the one exception of the SMG, there wasn’t a single weapon I encountered that I didn’t enjoy taking enemies does with.
While the Campaign is what gets me to the table, it is the multiplayer in the Halo series that keeps me from leaving. Halo 5: Guardians boasts a diverse range of multiplayer modes targeting a broad range of gamers. For your more typical Halo players there are modes like Team Slayer (aka team Death Match), Capture the Flag and Strongholds (aka capture points).
All these modes deliver the experience you would expect.
For the more competitive fast-paced online shooter fans there is SWAT and Breakout. With no shields to protect you, both these modes focus quick reaction time and accurate shooting with headshots being the key to winning. For those with the skill, these modes will provide you with a challenging but rewarding online experience.
The biggest new multiplayer addition in Halo 5: Guardians comes via way of the fun new 12 v 12 multiplayer mode called Warzone. These epic matches, taking place on massive maps, feature a mix of different game mode elements. Points are awarded to each team for capturing bases, taking down one of the extremely tough AI or capturing and holding bases.
While I have always found Halo’s multiplayer to be focused more on individual triumphs, Warzone is based solely on working together as a team. Instead of feeling like an epic Spartan, the increased difficult of AI opponents and large number of players makes you feel like just a soldier on a battlefield.
While this is certainly different from the typical Halo vibe, I actually found this multiplayer mode more gripping. I found myself having fun even when not playing well or contributing much which is certainly different to how I feel in one of the other online Halo modes.
All the great new improvements in the gameplay have been fully utilised in the in the layout of the multiplayer maps.
Making use of the ability to climb ledges, the maps feel more like an open 3D environment than a series of flat vertical Levels. The care that has gone into creating the small details like the layout of the objects and that extra path or area off to the side makes each level feel great. While aesthetics isn’t usually a big focus on multiplayer, 343i has to be commended for showing the same outstanding level of care in the visual design as the physical.
The Campaign in Halo 5: Guardians, minus a few plot elements that didn’t sit well with me, lives up to the standards the series has set.
The overall gameplay has improved, now feeling modern and generally more enjoyable. The addition of squad based gameplay adds a new strategic element that fits well into the overall gameplay. The multiplayer has also seen improvement through the superb Level design and addition of the fun new multiplayer mode Warzone.
Between the great Level design, stunning graphics, exceptional gameplay, awesome multiplayer and an engaging story, Halo 5: Guardians proves why Halo is the juggernaut it has become.