When the Xbox One launched roughly two years ago, Microsoft’s all-in-one console did so without a brand new Halo game to generate interest and increase hardware sales. Notable exclusives like Sunset Overdrive and Forza Horizon 2 went on to strengthen the brand’s holiday 2014 lineup, while Halo: The Master Chief Collection suffered a wide array of technical issues and made fans weary of the franchise’s future.
With the long-awaited retail release of Halo 5: Guardians, 343 Industries and Microsoft are aiming to erase the past and create one of the best Halo games ever made. After spending extensive time with this title, I can conclude that they have succeeded in a creating a fantastic multiplayer game with a convoluted and discouraging storyline. Here are a few more reasons why Guardians may or may not appeal to you.
Halo 5: Guardians takes place directly after the events of the last game and revolve around a new threat designed to eradicate the entire galaxy. Still copping with the loss of Cortana, Master Chief receives a cryptic message from her while on a mission with his squadmates and breaks protocol by deciding to venture deep into the solar system to find her. Shortly thereafter, this captures the attention of the United Nations Space Command (UNSC) and they end up sending Spartan Jameson Locke and his Osiris Team unit to investigate the iconic hero’s whereabouts. The overall plot is similar to most generic science fiction based storylines, with a few twists and turns to keep the pace interesting from start to finish.
While all of this may sound compelling to a casual Halo fan, there are a few issues that I personally think will annoy diehard fans of the series. For starters, it’s worth noting that Master Chief’s role is significantly diminished throughout most of the campaign, leaving him to take a backseat to Spartan Locke and Team Osiris. Considering how important this legendary character is to both the franchise and the Xbox brand as a whole, this was especially disappointing to witness even though it was clear 343 was heading in this direction with the opening cinematic reveal. When you throw in the simple fact that the campaign is approximately 15 missions long though, this especially makes the decision to have Master Chief less involved in the narrative even more puzzling.
Another gripe that I have with the campaign stems from the uneven lengths of certain missions when compared to others. I recall three specific missions where the player simply had to deliver messages back and forth between two individuals who were only a few feet away from each other. All of these encounters could have been condensed into either the previous or next mission to cut down the need for creating more chapters. It is worth noting that there are skulls and various forms of intel to collect during each mission. This is primarily the sole reason why so many missions exist, but I personally still think all three of these experiences didn’t need individual chapters. The campaign takes about 8-10 hours to complete.
Moving away from the narrative, one of the single most enjoyable aspects about Halo 5: Guardians lies within its core gameplay mechanics. Combat is still brutally satisfying thanks to both the various weapons and enemy types that you’ll encounter. Ground pounding, busting through vents, and operating different combat vehicles/ships also brings more excitement to the overall experience. Unlike earlier games in the series, this title is very much centered on using teamwork to achieve the best results. As either Spartan Locke or Master Chief, you have the ability to instruct your AI controlled teammates on where to go and who to attack. This intensity is only heightened further when you participate in seamless drop in, drop out co-op campaign with friends. This feature adds another layer of strategy to the game and is without a doubt the best way to experience what the campaign has to offer.
When it comes to graphics, Halo 5: Guardians is simply gorgeous to look at. The game runs at an impressive 60fps locked throughout the entire campaign and the visuals also remain crisp despite slight resolution shifts that tend to happen from time to time. Each level is massive in size and scale and beautifully designed from top to bottom. 343 made it very clear from the beginning that they wanted this title to perform well in terms of industry standards and for the most part they have certainly delivered on that promise.
Most of the popularity behind the Halo franchise comes from its highly competitive and engaging multiplayer features. 343 have upped the ante considerably with Guardians by giving us two fantastic multiplayer modes called Arena and Warzone. Arena continues the legacy of previous Halo games by allowing players to participate in 4-vs-4 matchups across 5 different playlists. Warzone takes multiplayer a step further by allowing 24 players to engage in huge battles with AI enemies and each other while also completing rigorous objectives. Below is a quick list of Arena and Warzone match types to further illustrate the variety of options that you have to choose from.
Team Arena – A compilation of 4-vs-4 themed battles.
Slayer – Traditional 4-vs-4 player matchup.
Breakout – 4-vs-4 elimination style battles.
Free-For-All – Every spartan for themselves.
Swat – Headshot only kills matchup.
Warzone – Massive 24-player battles with AI enemies and objectives.
Warzone Assault – 24-player battles based on destroy and defend dynamics.
Another important aspect of the multiplayer experience comes from the addition of requisition packs that can be purchased or earned through gameplay sessions. These packs consist of unlockable weapons, armors, skins, XP boosts, assassination animations, and more. Most of these bonuses work as cosmetic changes in Arena mode, and instant game changers in Warzone mode. It’s also worth noting that every player has to play a certain number of matchups in each category before ranking up. All of this results in a truly balanced and rewarding way to experience multiplayer.
When it comes to online multiplayer games, lag and persistent connectivity issues are the norm. With Halo 5: Guardians, this is absolutely nonexistent and it’s a core reason why this title may very well go down as one of the best multiplayer games so far this generation. With so much love and attention given to the multiplayer, it truly is a shame that the same effort wasn’t pumped into crafting a better campaign.
Overall, I’d say Halo 5: Guardians is a thrilling first-person shooter and a great entry in the series. If you are new to the franchise and you love shooters, then this game will definitely grab your attention. However, if you are expecting a story mode that allows you to play as Master Chief throughout most or even half of the missions, then you certainly will be disappointed.
This review was based on a digital review copy of Halo 5: Guardians for the Xbox One provided by Microsoft Studios.