Halo is undoubtedly one of the most iconic franchises when it comes to shooters, and video games in general. For over a decade, fans of the series have been along for the ride, with all it’s ups and downs. Halo 4, 343 Industries’ first real outing with the series, released back in 2012, was a major change that was a big disappointment for many Halo fans, and last year’s launch of The Master Chief Collection was tumultuous to say the least. However, with Halo 5: Guardians, 343 has brought us not only the next chapter of the series, but the Halo game fans have been waiting for.
Halo 5: Guardians injects the classic Halo gameplay with a slew of new mechanics that make it feel fresh while still maintaining the essence of the series.
The most notable addition is a collection of abilities to make players more mobile. Mobility is a recent trend in shooters, championed by games such as Titanfall and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and 343 have hopped on the bandwagon. This is not a bad thing. In fact, it is an amazing thing. Moving around in Halo has never felt so smooth and fluid.
In terms of new abilities, the thing that stands out the most is the capability to clamber up ledges. This simple addition makes traversing environments so much easier. Gone are the days of needing to crouch jump off a perfectly timed grenade explosion to get into those hard-to-reach areas. On top of this ability, you can perform a sprinting melee dash, boost for a few seconds after jumping, dodge in any direction using the thruster pack, and perform a charged up ground-pound attack in midair. Altogether, these abilities make you feel like the mobile, tactical super-soldier you expect to be as a Spartan.
Another new feature is the ability to aim down the sights with any weapon. That’s right, every single weapon in the game lets you zoom in a tiny bit to get an accuracy boost and, in some cases, alter the functionality. Each weapon also has a unique smart-link “scope” that appears on your HUD when you aim down the sights. weapons like the DMR and Sniper Rifle have their usual, familiar scopes, but weapons such as the Assault Rifle and the SMG have a little Holographic display that pops up to make it easier to aim. The Covenant and Promethean weapons are where things get really interesting. Some of these Hud elements look really cool, but in the case of weapons such as the Fuel Rod Cannon, it can be a bit cluttered. However, it’s not much of a complaint about an otherwise great addition. Another cool thing about zooming in is that, if you do it in midair, you will hover in place for a few moments, allowing you to land a few shots before falling.
Additionally, Halo 5: Guardians livens up the campaign with squad tactics. Unlike previous Halo games, where you spent most of the campaign lone-wolfing it, in Halo 5, you always have a team of Spartans at your back. Bungie played around with this idea a bit in Reach, but most of the time it felt like your fellow Spartans were just kind of there, not really doing anything. Whether you’re playing as Locke and Fireteam Osiris or the Chief and Blue Team, you’ve got people to back you up. Your squad actually makes a difference, providing you with cover and helping you to take down enemies much quicker. I noticed several times that when I ran way ahead of my AI teammates, or they got stuck somewhere, that I would die a lot faster. Your squadmates can even revive you if you get taken down. Additionally, you can order them around, telling them to move to a certain location, focus on a specific enemy, pick up a weapon, or get in a vehicle.
This experience is only compounded in co-op. Since the two main playable characters in the game each command a team of three other Spartans, in co-op, each player gets his or her own unique character. No more playing as a clone of the Chief or some random Elite that has no bearing on the plot! And, of course, being able to revive each other is a huge plus. It will certainly make you hate your friends a lot less when one of them accidentally kills you with a grenade in the middle of a LASO run.
The best part about all these new features is that they do not detract from the Halo experience at all, they only add to it. Halo 5:Guardians, at its core, still feels very much like a Halo game.
The multiplayer of Halo 5: Guardians is split into two separate modes: Arena and Warzone. Arena is essentially your standard Halo multiplayer experience. Warzone, on the other hand, is an entirely new mode.
If you’ve played Halo multiplayer before, then you know what to expect in Arena. This is where you will find game types such as Slayer and Capture the Flag. With Halo 4, 343 took the gameplay in an almost Call of Duty-esque direction with customizable loadouts, ordinance drops, and a “kill cam.” This was a move that a lot of longtime fans weren’t happy about. But they definitely listened, because all of that is gone. Halo 5 takes the arena style combat the series is known for and builds upon it with heaps and heaps of polish to craft a super enjoyable experience. I haven’t had this much fun in a Halo game in years.
Arena adds a bunch of new game types, such as Strongholds, which is sort of like a king of the hill game combined with the Domination game type from Call of Duty, and Breakout, which is a very interesting game mode where to win each round, a team must eliminate all the members of the opposing team, or capture a neutral flag. Strangely, though, many Halo staples such as Oddball and Assault are absent. Overall, the lineup of game-types is slightly underwhelming, but the tight gameplay more than makes up for it.
In terms of maps, Arena seems pretty well rounded. There is a varied selection of maps in Human, Covenant, and Forerunner locations that take full advantage of the new mobility mechanics. The maps are all designed around these mechanics, so traversing them is fun and easy. There is also a collection of maps made using the game’s Forge mode that shipped with the game.
Warzone brings an entirely new experience. It is an entirely new objective-based game mode in the vein of Halo: Reach’s Invasion game type, except the teams are twice the size. That’s right, this mode is 12v12. Halo fans have wanted something like this for years. The basic gist of Warzone is that teams are trying to capture all the bases on the map, and then destroy the opposing team’s core, located in their home base. As you get kills and capture bases, you unlock the ability to requisition higher tiers requisitions in the form of alternate weapons for your loadout, power weapons, alternate variants of weapons, power-ups, and vehicles. In a sense, Warzone is like Halo 4’s multiplayer, except more balanced. Some requisitions, such as standard Battle Rifles and SMGs are permanent, whereas power weapons and vehicles are one-time-use. The requisitions you have access to are dependant upon what you unlock in REQ Packs, which we will discuss later.
Additionally, there are two different style of Warzone. The first is an asymmetrical game type in which one team is defending their base, while the other team is trying to push them back to their home base and destroy their core. This is the game mode that plays the most like Invasion. The other game type is a symmetrical one where the two teams are squaring off to capture all the bases on the map. Once a team controls all the bases, the opposing team’s core becomes exposed until they can capture a base. There are also AI bots in the form of marines to assist each team, and Covenant and Promethean forces that attack both teams. You get points for killing these enemy bots, and for holding bases. In order to win, a team must rack up 1000 points, or destroy the enemy team’s core, which is an instant win.
Both Arena and Warzone are very enjoyable, if very different experiences. Together, they make for a well-rounded multiplayer experience.
Halo 5: Guardians takes full advantage of the Xbox One. I thought the HD remaster of Halo 2 looked gorgeous, but this game looks even better. Halo 5 is the best looking Halo yet. The graphics are great, but that alone doesn’t make a good looking game. The campaign is full of very beautiful looking environments, from Human worlds, to exotic Covenant and Forerunner locales. The Halo series has always had great looking locations and stunning vistas, and Guardians is no different.
Halo 4 was the first game in the series that had a soundtrack that Bungie composer Marty O’Donnell didn’t have a hand in crafting. Instead, the soundtrack was composed by Neil Davidge, and I personally felt that it just wasn’t very memorable, save for a few tracks. The biggest gripe I had was that it just didn’t feel very Halo-y, despite being good music. This time around, Kazuma Jinnouchi, who composed a handful of songs for Halo 4, took the reins for Halo 5: Guardians. Halo 5 has a fantastic, and epic, soundtrack, which continuously stands out, and frequently has plenty of moments where the classic Halo music shines through, especially during the Blue Team missions. One of the main themes from Halo 5 is a perfect blend of the original Halo theme and the main theme from Halo 4, and it just works so well.
Halo 5: Guardians throws us right into the action as we are introduced to our new heroes. Unlike previous titles, in Halo 5 we start off as a playable character that isn’t Master Chief: Spartan Jameson Locke. We also get to meet the rest of the Spartan IVs of Fireteam Osiris: new characters Holly Tanaka and Olympia Vale, and fan favorite Edward Buck from Halo 3: ODST, voiced by none other than Nathan Fillion. Bungie once said “Truly, if he were any better, he’d be a Spartan,” and now 343 has delivered on that. After some brief exposition, we’re thrown right into the action with a spectacular cinematic. This first mission really only serves to introduce players to new mechanics and get them into the Halo mindset, and it does a great job at that.
The second mission is where the real story begins. Here we’re back as the Chief, but we’re not alone. Accompanying us are characters fans of the franchise have been begging to make an appearance in the games: the Chief’s fellow Spartan IIs of Blue Team: Kelly, Fred, and Linda. After we get to see Blue Team in action for a while, the Chief gets a cryptic message from Cortana, who supposedly died at the end of Halo 4, and he and Blue team go AWOL to track her down. Of course, the UNSC isn’t too happy about this, and they send Fireteam Osiris to bring them back.
This is where things start to get a bit weird. 343 tried to do this whole mystery thing where we’re not really supposed to know what’s going on, and it works, to an extent. There were several moments where I was left scratching my head a bit, and when all was revealed, I felt a little bit disappointed (but that might be due to my own perceptions of the Halo universe as a longtime fan). However, I think the campaign was pretty enjoyable overall, and much better than Halo 4’s for sure.
There were a lot of fun missions visiting Human colonies, Forerunner worlds, and a very welcome romp across the Elite homeworld of Sanghelios. In my opinion, the missions on Sanghelios were some of the best. The location felt very exotic compared to what we’ve seen in the Halo games so far, and it was packed full of action. And of course, the best part was getting to see the Arbiter in action again.
There were only a couple major gripes I had with the campaign. The first was that I felt like Master Chief and Blue Team didn’t get enough screen time. There were only a handful of missions where you got to play as the Chief, and they were very spread out. It would have been nice to play as them for a few more missions. The second was the cliffhanger ending. I felt like the story ended very abruptly and there was no real resolution to anything. Halo 2 also ended with a cliffhanger, but there was at least some closure and an ending line that got people pumped up for Halo 3. Unfortunately, Halo 5’s ending feels a bit lackluster and anticlimactic. Luckily, the campaign was very enjoyable up until the final couple of missions.
For a long time, the Halo series has let players customize their Spartans for multiplayer, and Halo 5 continues that tradition. Unlike recent games, there are less individual customizable parts. Previous titles allowed you to select parts of the armor such as the chest, legs, and shoulders separately, but here you can only pick your helmet and the rest of the body separately. You can also choose the color of your visor. However, the good news is that there are a ton of options.
The way you unlock different pieces of armor is also different. In previous games, unlocking armor pieces has been tied to achievements, by ranking up, and by purchasing them with in-game currency. Halo 5 changes this up a bit. Every match in Arena or Warzone grants you points which you can spend on REQ packs. These packs give you a selection of unlocks, including armor pieces and requisitions for Warzone. Some requisitions are permanent unlocks, but others, such as power weapons and vehicles, are one-time-use items in Warzone which means you have to get more from REQ Packs once you use them up.
Halo 5: Guardians’ revamped Forge mode, Halo’s longstanding custom map editor, looks spectacular and is shaping up to be the best one yet. Unfortunately, Forge mode is not shipping with the game and will supposedly be added in a content update in December. It’s not too long of a wait but if it’s as good as it sounds, then it’s worth it.
Halo 5: Guardians is the first Halo title not to support split-screen play. In a time when most games were moving away from split-screen thanks to online play, Halo had always been one of the few games that continued to support it, allowing players to play together offline and online on the same console. No longer. In an otherwise fantastic game, this is the one major problem with Halo 5. I understand the reasons why they chose to move away from split-screen, but it is a huge loss nonetheless.
Halo 5: Guardians is an amazing game. If you were someone disappointed by Halo 4, this is the game for you. Guardians takes the classic Halo experience you know and love, and breathes new life into it with great new mechanics and tight gameplay. There are a few minor issues with the game, but overall it has the potential to stand as one of the best entries in the franchise.
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DisturbedShadow is an author for Kotaku’s reader-run blog TAY and a fan of video games and heavy metal music. You can can find a full list of his writing here and you can contact him here. You can also follow him on Twitter @DisturbedShad0w.