Without a doubt, a lot of people have been waiting for Halo 5: Guardians. Xbox One owners have been clamoring for a truly standout exclusive game to justify their purchase of a still relatively new console, 343 industries have been desperate to wipe away memories of the mess that was the release of The Master Chief Collection and Microsoft have been waiting for their mascot to shift more of their console that is still playing catch up to Sony’s PlayStation 4. So does it deliver? Well, in parts but for the first appearance on a next generation console, Halo 5: Guardians flounders when it really should be knocking it out of the park.
Despite this, 343 industries have still managed to create a great game that has that same Halo feel whilst also adding enough modern twists so newcomers bred on more modern shooters like Call of Duty and Titanfall will feel at home. Action feels decidedly faster and this is helped with a new dodge move and the spartan charge which is just as useful for traversal as it is for taking out opponents. However, the most useful addition is the ability to clamber up obstacles, as pressing A whilst close to an edge enables you to climb up. This makes scaling heights much easier, which is vital to be able to make best use of vantage point to outflank enemies.
Also, for the first time in the series, you’re also able to aim down sights, which isn’t always as useful as it may appear to be, but does feel more in line with other modern day shooters. Weapons also feel a lot punchier and often you’re more troubled by having too many instruments of death to choose from than having the urge to get rid of an under-powered weapon. Also, aiming down the sights whilst jumping allows you to fire hover jets, which adds extra control over Halo’s infamous floaty jumps. All these improvements allow your Spartan to feel more agile than ever before, giving you more freedom and control over your Spartan, which is vital through both it’s campaign and multiplayer.
However, not all that Halo 5: Guardians has taken from modern day shooters is welcome as it’s also defined by it’s somewhat underwhelming campaign which is saved by a comprehensive multiplayer component. This is a shame as there’s so much promise in the campaign, both in elements of it’s story and combat.
The biggest mistake the campaign makes is throwing us into a story which clearly has high stakes but makes little effort in explaining exactly what is going on or who everyone is. There are some interesting plot developments, especially upon revealing the true intentions of enemy. However, the campaign assumes you have a working knowledge of Halo’s expansive lore and quickly dashes along from set piece to set piece, without really showing us what makes the characters tick.
You may think this isn’t important when your playing as Master Chief as he comes with enough franchise baggage and your partially right. The problem is that you in fact play through most of the campaign as Spartan Locke, leading his Osiris team, and you never truly understand his motivations. It was most telling when playing through the campaign co-operatively, that a friend and I both fought it out over who would play as Buck, the ODST played by Nathan Fillion from Halo 3, rather than Locke. At the end of the day, Locke is just a grunt following orders and there’s little to make you care.
Unfortunately, Halo 5: Guardians is filled with characters who we never get to know. This is a shame as clearly some characters have some interesting backstories that are hinted at, but anything interesting about them is left for fiction outside of the games. I’m sure Kelly, Linda and Fred are important in some way to Master Chief but to me they might as well be running the local B&B for all I know.
However, you often have to rely on your underdeveloped friends as both Locke and Master Chief are given ample backup in able to support the four player drop in/drop out co-operative campaign. For some, to have three other AIs fight alongside you was a concern but your companions mostly prove themselves to be not useless. You can direct them with a touch of the D-pad to attack enemies, move to a location or even jump into a nearby vehicle. They even come to resurrect you when your down. It mostly works, but playing alongside living breathing humans is far better.
Thankfully, combat in the campaign is as fun as it ever has been. Halo 5: Guardians offers a variety of locations for which to fight off the Covenant and Prometheans, who are less irritating than they were in Halo 4. Making use of the scale of the environments is key and using the Spartan’s new maneuvers allows you to duck and weave between cover, making combat better than ever.
However, it is a little disappointing that Xbox One’s processing power isn’t used more to create even more sprawling environments, filled with more vehicles, turning your screen into a scene of all out war. In this instance, it is somewhat of a missed opportunity but there are enough nooks and crannies along with memorable set pieces that make playing through the campaign both enjoyable and re-playable.
But where Halo 5: Guardians truly excels is it’s comprehensive multiplayer, which provides both old classics and excellent additions to Halo’s box of tricks. Most notable is the new Warzone mode, which pretty much does what it says on the tin. In Warzone, players are thrown into a 12v12 battleground on massive maps which are four times larger than anything previously seen in Halo. In this mode, players are tasked with either racking up 1,000 points first or scoring an instant win by destroying the opposing team’s power core, which only become vulnerable after holding several key points on the map at once.
What really sets this mode apart is how it ties so closely in with Halo’s new reputation system, REQ points. REQ points allow you to purchase packs of cards which either come as single use cards such as vehicles and power weapons or permanent unlocks such as a new visor. These cards can then be used over the course of a Warzone match once you have reached a certain level within each match. It’s a system that could have so easily been abused, especially with the option to purchase card packs with real money, but instead the system is incredibly well balanced.
What the REQ system really allows for though are sudden turns in tide of battle. This is because players either have the option to steadily spend the points they earn to have relatively small unlocks, such as requiring a battle rifle or a power weapon. Or instead the player can save up their points and then suddenly unleash a Scorpion Tank into the battle. It makes Warzones thrilling, and along with enemy Covenant and Prometheans thrown into the mix, Warzone matches are often twenty minutes of tug of war battles that can turn in an instant.
But if none of this is your bag, you can always turn to the arena mode which has old favourites such as capture the flag, SWAT and straight forward deathmatches. These modes don’t allow you to use any REQ packs other than cosmetic upgrades and temporary boosts. It allows for a truly comprehension multiplayer experience that is as enjoyable as ever.
Overall, Halo truly has never felt greater to play. Therefore, it’s disappointing that the campaign never truly utilises its new found sense of movement and immediacy, cramming in characters we care little for and a story that feels more of a stop gap for the next installment in the already planned trilogy.
Final Verdict 8/10