There’s absolutely no denying that Halo has one of the biggest fan bases in gaming, which is why we of course had to do this Halo 5: Guardians Review. From the multiple games, books, action figures, Mega Blocks sets, there’s something in the Halo universe that’s meant to appeal of audiences from any walk of life. For me, I’ve tried getting into Halo over the years without much success. I bought the original Halo when it launched on PC years ago to play online with some friends, however at the time I was more into the Arena based shooters such as Unreal Tournament and Quake 2 so I didn’t give it a lot of time or extra thought. I played Halo 2’s multiplayer at an event I went to, but while it was fun, I didn’t own an original Xbox and didn’t feel like it was worth picking one up for.
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Fast forward a number of years later, and I got a free copy of Halo: Reach for being part of the Xbox Live Preview Program for testing new dashboards. I played a little bit of the online multiplayer, but didn’t ever touch the campaign. Coming into this Halo 5: Guardians review, I was completely ignorant of the Halo story, save a few well-known names and enemy types. For others who might share this fate, Xbox UK posted a fantastic recap series on their YouTube channel called Halo in 117 seconds (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL8zOSWc8FnOM-56wlZ7wd67JG0KgGQZL2). These are quick summations of each of the Halo stories so newcomers can catch up. They are extremely well done and cover nuances only found in alternate media such as the Forward Unto Dawn videos, the Find the Truth podcasts, and the Halo: Fall of Reach animated series.
Once I was caught up on the story, I dove into Halo 5’s campaign which has one of the coolest and most visually impressive opening sequences I’ve seen on the Xbox One. You’ve likely seen this as well as one of the trailers for Halo 5 features this entire cutscene while playing “Knights of Cydonia” by Muse in the background. Once you’ve finished the first mission which introduces you to Spartan Locke and his fireteam Osiris, you’ll next play as Master Chief and his Blue Team. While playing as Osiris you learn plenty of cool things about the members and there’s a bit more reason to care about Locke’s team, while there’s very little explanation as to why Blue Team rejoining Master Chief should be a big deal – in fact there’s only one quick blurb of dialogue that informs new players that they have history.
From there, Halo 5’s campaign starts off extremely strong but changes gears at one point, and then sort of abruptly ends. Longtime fans of the series will get a bit of closure and might enjoy the whole ride, for those of us without sentimental attachment to Halo’s universe, you might feel sort of gipped. I was left wondering if they had shipped with an incomplete story that they planned on adding to with a future DLC installment. This isn’t exactly the best way to suck new fans into the story, and it doesn’t help that most of the marketing you’ve seen for Halo 5: Guardians doesn’t even happen in the game. This trailer is incredible, but is not at all even remotely close to what you’ll see in Halo 5. This might eventually take place somewhere in this new Halo trilogy which starts with Halo 5, but it’s not in this game at all. In fact, Locke never once decrees Chief a traitor, though it’s clear that he’s got doubts based on the evidence presented to him by UNSC.
Switching gears, it’s clear Halo 5 wants to you become more attached to Locke and Osiris in order to take the focus off of John-117. This makes sense considering the story wouldn’t ever progress to new places without a new main character, but mainly Locke also represents a changing of the guard. Master Chief’s power armor is big and bulky, while Locke’s is extremely minimal and streamlined. Locke looks more like a hunter from Crysis 3 than he does a typical UNSC marine, while the rest of his team (mostly notably, a guy named Buck who’s been around since Halo 3: ODST) also wear the larger power armor. After finishing Halo 5’s campaign, I finally get why fans are so in love with the series. Even though the story is a bit weak, it was compelling enough to keep my interest even in sections where I would criticize other games for making players slog through firefights just to extend the story.
While I won’t split this review into two sections, I will individually score the campaign and the multiplayer at the end for a combined total score. I feel like this is extremely important as there are plenty of fans who buy each Halo game solely for the story and couldn’t care less about the multiplayer functions. Speaking of multiplayer, before we dive into that, you should know that Halo 5 is the first game in the series that does not feature split-screen co-op gameplay. In order to play Halo 5’s campaign with a friend, they’ll need to join you on their own console via Xbox Live. For some fans this is an absolute deal breaker, so while it doesn’t directly impact me as a reviewer, it’s important enough that I felt readers should be aware.
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Here’s the part of the review most of you have been waiting for: Online Multiplayer. I’m happy to tell you that Halo 5’s multiplayer elements are excellent. There’s a change in gameplay that makes combat feel a little more like Call of Duty, and being able to grab ledges is much better than the floaty rocket jump of Halos past. In fact, aside from some team skill balancing issues and players not being added to the game quickly enough to stop a one-sided steamroll, Halo 5 has some of the best multiplayer available on the Xbox One. Because of 343’s dedication to having the game run at 60 frames per second, Halo 5 looks fantastic and stays extremely fast paced and hectic. If you were scorned by Halo: The Master Chief Collection’s seemingly endless multiplayer problems, you’ll find that it’s clear they dedicated all of the resources to making sure Halo 5 got the preferential treatment. It’s easy to be bitter, but for Halo fans Halo 5: Guardians should be more than enough to put 343 Industries back in their good graces.
Multiplayer is split into two sections: Arena and Warzone. Arena is where you’ll find more classic types of gameplay, including Slayer, Capture the Flag, but also introduces Strongholds and Breakout. In Breakout you’ll play 4v4 and you only have one life per round on a very small map. You have no shield, but won’t die from a one hit headshot either. It’s pretty fun despite sounding like garbage on paper. Strongholds is a lot like Control in Destiny or Conquest in Battlefield, but in order to score points your team has to control two of the three points.
Warzone is a giant battle which features 24 players and your goal is to destroy the enemy team’s core or be the first team to get to 1000 points. I found Warzone to be a load of fun as it was possible to come back from a large point deficit by coordinating a group attack on the enemy’s core. In an era where gamers aren’t talking to each other as much as they are to their Twitch audience, it’s still kind of nice to see gamers collectively moving toward a goal and joining them without having to actually say anything.
Warzone also features Halo’s foray into the world of Microtransactions. While playing Warzone, you’ll be able to use Requisition cards. These cards are purchased in game via points earned by completing multiplayer matches, but you can also spend real money on them for points to buy a higher tier pack. The higher tier the pack, the better the guaranteed rewards are. Included in these packs are cosmetic items such as armor/helmets, weapon skins, and emblems, but you’ll also find weapon licenses, and individual per use weapon and vehicle cards. As you play a Warzone match, your useable requisition level will rank up from one to six, and while it’s easy to give yourself a shotgun at lower ranks to gain and early lead, you never know who’s going to have a card for a Scorpion tank at the higher levels which is ridiculously overpowered in online play.
While some of the cards will definitely give you an advantage, I’m happy to say that Halo’s REQ packs don’t feel like a pay-to-win experience, but more like buying an experience booster or a time-saver pack to unlock items quicker. The useable cards are expendable and they are consumed on use, similar to the perk cards in Titanfall, so while someone might spend $10 before they get to summon a Scorpion, you’re likely going to think twice before you use it. It’s not so bad, but we’re still in the launch week and we’ve yet to see how the plans will unfold months down the road – but for now it’s optional and not all a requirement to be competitive.
Overall, this Halo 5: Guardians review revealed that this is a great game. The multiplayer is excellent, and the campaign’s story is interesting but only slightly above average in terms of the playable experience. Fans who love Halo’s online battle modes are in for a real treat, while story fans get a nice bite to hold them over until the next game. If Halo 5 is the first entry in a new trilogy, it’s the one full of backstory and introduction before anything really happens – but don’t fall for the marketing hype or you’ll be disappointed.
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Campaign Score: 6.5
Multiplayer Score: 9.5
Overall Score: 8