Since taking the reins of the Halo franchise, 343 Industries has had a lot to prove to the fans of the series. Its original creators Bungie set such a high bar for quality that the idea of a newly formed studio creating something even close to it seemed laughable. After the mix reviewed Halo 4 343i has released what they claim is officially their take on Halo. Halo 5: Guardians not only represents the years of work and dedication of the team but also the culmination of their attempts to shed the baggage of Bungie and truly become THE Halo developer.
First and foremost, Halo 5: Guardians is a massive game. It offers something for just about everyone with its various modes and gameplay options. Fans looking for story content and narrative will find it. Those looking for a cooperative experience set in a Halo sandbox can have that to. Players looking for an intense, heart racing competitive arena can get that too. Even those who want to dive into competitive multiplayer but want a more casual experience can have that too. Each of the options delivers not only a fun and engaging experience but also feels connected to each of the other modes through player investment.
The campaign of Halo 5: Guardians picks up after the events of Halo 4. If you have only played Halo 4 and didn’t engage with any of the expanded fiction like novels, comics, or the excellent audio-drama ‘Hunt the Truth’ then much of the story will seem a bit ambiguous to you. Players get to play as both Master Chief and the newest Spartan to the mix, Spartan Locke, throughout the campaign. Players take control of one of the two lead Spartans during each of the games 15 missions.
The game was built exclusively with coop in mind so each Spartan is joined by 3 other squad mates. Master Chief’s Blue Team and Locke’s Fireteam Osiris feature characters present in the expanded fiction. The marketing for this game has been a bit deceiving. It appears that they have tried to set up the story claiming that Master Chief has gone rogue tasking Locke with hunting him down. It appeared that this would be the major narrative for the whole game. I don’t want to spoil anything but lets just say that’s just a small part of the overarching narrative for the game.
Players are able to direct their Spartan squad mates around the battlefield by commanding them to attack certain enemies. Squadmates are also able to heal and revive downed players. This ditches the need to start a mission completely over like the previous games. In the end these new squad controls are a mixed bag of good and bad. Directing your squad to attack is extremely useful to help tactically take down enemies. The heal mechanic however often lead to my squad mates getting killed by the very thing that killed me. It was a bit more tedious and frustrating than just restarting from a checkpoint.
Speaking of the new squad mechanics, the Spartans themselves have new abilities too. The team at 343i have created a Halo where the Spartans finally feel like super soldiers. These Spartan Abilities open up the battlefield to players in a new way creating both offensive and defensive options. The new clamber ability allows players to climb to higher levels introducing more verticality than was in the previous games. A boost option allows players to quickly burst their Spartan in any direction. This can be used to evade enemy fire, grenades, or even unleash a devastating melee attack. These melee’s can be used to deliver a ground pound attack from the air too that can quickly dispatch groups of enemies. Unlimited sprint is also available but comes at the price of a non-recharging shield while sprinting. These new abilities speed up the gameplay and creates a more fluid shooter experience.
The campaign take between 8 to 10 hours to complete depending on the chosen difficulty and your attention to detail throughout each mission. The campaign contains the typical Halo missions fans have come to know including some being focused on a certain vehicle or mechanic with a few new twists thrown in. The new Spartan Abilities add to the formula and make the still seem to feel fresh. The action is intense and fast. Halo has honestly never felt so good. I consider myself a Halo lore nut and I found myself wanting to get through the cutscenes quickly just to get back to the action. That is something that I have never really felt in a Halo game.
By the end of the campaign there is a bit of a resolution for the characters, at least with the immediate threat, but players will be left longing for more. This was of course intended on 343i’s part to push players to an inevitable sequel or maybe to something upcoming in the expanded fiction. It does feel a bit like Halo 2’s ending however which is not really a good thing. The ending of that game felt abrupt and left many players upset by its lack of a resolution. It doesn’t feel as inept as that one did but it still could have been resolved a bit better.
It should also be noted that Halo has never looked this good. The game runs at a locked 60 frames-per-second and the movement and speed of the high resolution graphics look stunning. Halo has always been a mix of realistic and imaginative graphics and it definitely shows here. Outside of the upcoming Star Wars Battlefront which is just in a league of its own in terms of graphics, Halo 5: Guardians is the best looking game on the Xbox One, and it should be.
The campaign mode is great but lets face it, Halo lives and dies on its multiplayer. With Halo 5: Guardians players are given a wealth of options to dive into. First up is the Arena which is the typical competitive multiplier mode. Here players can choose to play the classic Team Slayer mode or any of the great Objective modes available. A new game mode Breakout offers one of the most competitive experiences ever offered in Halo. This round based 4v4 mode gives each Spartan one life and is about as intense as it gets. The first team to win 5 rounds is crowned victorious. It is a pulse pounding mode that is something the MLG crowd has already latched on to and is sure to keep Halo 5 relevant on the competitive scene for the coming years.
The maps included vary in their locations and incorporate the new Spartan abilities by being more vertical than the Halo’s of the past. The maps allow for quicker escapes from danger and the opportunity to drop down on top of enemies. Map knowledge plays an important tis go around since 343i has abandoned the idea of player load outs in favor power weapon control. This harkens back to the original Halo games. The sense of weapons control is what made their multiplayer great in my opinion. Matches almost always felt like a game of chess and that feeling is back with this installment.
Halo 5: Guardians also has one big addition up its sleeve on the multiplayer side of things and it is hands down my favorite part of the game. That addition is the new game mode Warzone. Warzone is classic Halo combat on the biggest scale ever represented in the series. It pits two teams of 12 Spartans against each other battling for control of 3 bases spread throughout the map. Control of these bases is key because not only does it create a spawn point if controlled, but if a team is able to controls all 3 bases then the opposing teams core will become vulnerable. If the core is successfully destroyed then it will automatically end the match and crown the one team victorious.
Core destruction is not the only way to win. Another option is to be the first team to score 1000 points. Points are awarded by killing members of the enemy team or for killing any of the random AI enemies that spawn on the map. That’s right, this new mode introduces AI combatants to the competitive multiplayer of Halo and it is fantastic. This addition gives players the option to attack the enemy team or go after one of the legendary enemies that has spawned on the map. This leads to some thrilling action that can quickly create swings in momentum with some AI enemy kills offering upwards of 150 points.
Another piece added to the mix in Warzone is the new Requisition system. This new system has been infused into almost every mode of Halo 5: Guardians but is really focused on enhancing Warzone. As a Warzone match progresses a player earns Req points to be used to purchase weapons, vehicles, or upgrades when spawning into a match. Players use Req Cards to do this. The more powerful the weapon or vehicles is, the more Req points it will cost. This creates a balance that forces players to decide to maybe pass on some lower tier equipment early on to later spend more Req points to gain more powerful equipment later into the match. It creates a flow to each match that overall seems fun and balanced
The one glaring issue however with the Req system is the way in which these Req cards are obtained. Packs of cards are obtained by using a form of currency that is gained from doing just about anything in Halo 5: Guardians. Playing any mode will net you some amount of currency to buy the packs. Like collectible trading cards, you never know what cards you’re going to get in each pack. I must admit that it is fun to open the packs and see what cards you’re lucky enough to get, but when these cards can only be used once ever it quickly becomes an issue in Warzone. For me, this created a bit of ‘gamer anxiety’ because I didn’t want to waste cards during a match if I didn’t need to. Couple in with that the fact that these packs can be purchased with real money via Xbox Live and it created a system that on its surface is new and fun but can felt a bit game breaking when I was clearly on the wrong side of someone who has spent some money for packs.
With that being somewhat of a concern it doesn’t take away from the overall experience of Warzone. It is an absolute blast and is Halo at its finest. Massive maps filled with action around every corner makes it the most fun Halo experience I’ve had in years. I am absolutely addicted to this mode. It is great for those players turned off by the more competitive side of Arena because with the AI combatants being thrown into the mix, these players can just focus on them and still help their team overall. It is both a casual and hardcore mode at the same time.
Halo 5: Guardians is hands-down the best Halo has been in years. It has quickly muscled it’s way into my personal Top 3 Halo games of all-time and is surprisingly a contender for the best shooter experience of the year. 343i should be commended for being able to bring in what was great about Halo in the past but still make it feel new and modern with their own twists on the gameplay. Although it isn’t perfect, Halo 5: Guardians is fantastic and is a must own for every Xbox One owner out there.
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