After mixed fan reactions from Halo 4 and the rocky start to the Master Chief Collection, 343 Industries have released the second entry of Halo's "Reclaimer Saga" in hopes of reigniting the franchise into a new age. Do they succeed? Let's find out.
Developed by 343 Industries and published by Microsoft exclusively for the Xbox One, Halo 5: Guardians was looking to be one of the biggest entries in the Halo series due to the sheer volume of marketing and advertisement. With a seemingly heavier emphasis on story, multiplayer, and gameplay as a whole, what could possibly go wrong?
Fans and newcomers alike will feel right at home with the gameplay, but hardcore Halo fans will be more in for a shock. The controls remain ultimately the same with the except of buttons like crouch and grenades being default mapped to other buttons.
Now, by default, you are able to press the B button and thrust out of harms way. You are also able to sprint and melee boost yourself into an enemy. Keep in mind though, your shields and health don't regenerate while you sprint or use your thrusters.
Remember when I said fans were in for a shock? Well, if you haven't heard already, you now are able to aim down the sights of almost every gun. This definitely does change up gameplay a little bit. It works similarly to how aiming down the sights for the magnum and sniper in previous Halo games did. Once you are shot when looking down the sights, you are forced back out into hip fire. It's just as jarring when it happens as it was before in other Halo games.
Aiming down the sights was something that I, and most veteran Halo fans, were most worried about in fear of Halo taking another step closer to Call of Duty, but it actually works well. On smaller Arena maps you probably won't find yourself using the "smart scope", but on larger Warzone maps you will be constantly using them since players could be entire Arena map sizes away.
This is the most refined Halo gameplay we have ever seen. We can only hope that the gameplay stays as near perfect as it is here for future Halo titles. Further "innovation" to the gameplay may only harm the gameplay as a whole.
Normally, I'd talk about the story before the multiplayer of a game, but this time I wanted to talk about the positives before I get into the negatives; since the negatives are pretty serious.
Halo 5's multiplayer is one of, if not the, best multiplayers in the Halo series. While, not all the modes are in yet, Arena and Warzone are still absolutely fantastic on their own. Almost all the game modes feel fast paced and you always feel on edge since you almost always feel exposed. The absence of beloved game modes like Big Team Battle is a shame, but they should be patched in future updates.
Arena feels like a compilation of Halo's pure, uncut classic 4v4 multiplayer at its finest, whereas Warzone is brand new to Halo and is a very welcome addition. In Warzone, you and your team are dropped on a large map with a list of changing objectives for you and your team to complete before the enemy team does. The goal is to garner more points than the enemy and the first team to reach 1000 wins. Taking over bases and defeating bosses can shift points drastically in the heat of battle. Warzone feels a lot like Planetside 2, but on a much smaller scale.
Halo 5's multiplayer isn't perfect though. Now, there are new features such as REQ cards and REQ points. After leveling up or completing challenges, you get points to buy REQ packs that allow you to use certain weapons and vehicles in Warzone. After completing certain objectives and getting kills in Warzone, you rank up your REQ points to use said guns and vehicle cards. What was wrong with having vehicles scattered around the map and having loadouts? REQ cards just make everything needlessly complicated and sometimes makes Warzone a grinding chore to be able to use certain cards.
Only two Halo multiplayers have ever made me genuinely feel as if I were really a Spartan fighting along side friends. The first was Halo: Reach, and now the second is Halo 5. Warzone especially exasperated this feeling. Another welcome comeback is the return of Spartan armor customization. While, not as deep as Reach, the armor customization is still rather deep. You have the ability to change your Spartan's helmet, armor, and visor color with over 100 options each.
Now here is where things begin falling apart, the story. Where Halo 5 has one of the best multiplayers in the series, it also has one of the worst stories in the series. Promotional material and other advertisements would lead you to believe that Halo 5's story is about Spartan Locke having to hunt down Master Chief for one reason or another, but that isn't it at all.
Without getting into spoilers, it's confusing, but the actual story is Spartan Locke and Master Chief going their own ways to stop a certain villain from continuing to do villainy things. It's that simple, but 343i try to make it needlessly confusing to make it feel deep and force players to become emotionally invested. 343i also completely lie to players by advertising Halo 5 as this "fall of a hero" and "hunter becomes the hunted" story, but it isn't at all that.
Halo 5 features 15 story missions (all playable in co-op) with only 3 of those missions where you play as Master Chief. That's like having a Batman game where you only play as Batman for 20% of the game. This would be excusable if Spartan Locke was a likable character, but he's not. Locke is the same gruff and tough character that we've been playing as in every military shooter since 2005. During Halo 4, you could see that Chief was becoming human again. It would have been nice to see 343i add more to that, but they don't. Instead, 343i seem more focused on trying to force Locke down our throats as the "newer and cooler Master Chief".
I tried my hardest to care about the story, but I found that to be incredibly difficult. Especially because you are almost required to read and watch separate media to understand the story in Halo 5. How Locke and Buck become Spartans and what happened to the Didact aren't explained unless you watch Halo: Nightfall and read the comics. Want to know why Master Chief seems to have a long history with his Blue team? Well, too bad. You have to buy the Deluxe Bundle of Halo 5 to watch "The Fall of Reach" to know all the characters because they aren't fleshed out in the slightest in the game. This was probably the biggest shock to me because Halo has always had great stories and the only prerequisites you needed was to have played through the previous installments.
How long were previous Halo stories? About 8 - 10 hours depending on the difficulty, wouldn't you say? Well, Halo 5's story takes, on average, 5 hours to complete on Normal. That is absolutely unacceptable for a campaign length, let alone a Halo campaign. I played through Guardians on Legendary (the hardest difficulty) solo and managed to complete it in 5 hours 37 minutes, and I was taking my time.
If it's any consolation, Chief's missions are much better laid out with more open levels for flanking and organized co-op take downs. Whereas, Locke's missions are much more linear with little alternate paths to take. But the overall campaign feel of Halo 5 gives me the vibe that 343i were more interested in making a Call of Duty game rather than a Halo game.
Ever notice that solo Marvel movies (solo Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America movies) only exist to set up the next Avengers movie? That is exactly what Halo 5 feels like. Halo 5 seems to be the "filler" game in the Reclaimer Saga to set up Halo 6.
I wish I could talk more about the villain and why it ultimately hurts, not only the story of Halo 5, but the stories of almost every Halo game prior to Guardians, but those would be spoilers and that's a discussion for another time.
Can an amazing multiplayer save a incredibly underwhelming and sub par story? Well, the choice is up to you, but I don't believe it can. Before you say anything, yes, Halo has always been more multiplayer focused, but the story has also always been a strong point of the series. It makes you wonder why 343 Industries seemed to be so proud of the story they created when it's really just a story Bungie could have written in an afternoon on a bad day.
The multiplayer is really what saves Halo 5 as an overall package. 343i were lucky enough to refine Halo's gameplay and craft a multiplayer that is definitely worthy of your time, but at the sacrifice of a good and enjoyably story. If you feel comfortable paying full price for an enjoyable multiplayer experience then, by all means, pick up Halo 5, but if you are a veteran Halo fan and wanted more from the latest entry in this genre defining series, then you may want to hold off.