Halo 5: Guardians – Review
OverviewPlatform: Xbox One
Halo 5: Guardians breaks momentous new ground for the franchise whilst staying true to its archaic roots.
Halo 5: Guardians is more than willing to take a few risks, throwing toys out of its rusted pram in favour of bold new mechanics and design.
343 Industries has made some monumental changes to the iconic Halo formula, pushing it forward into an exciting, modern direction. Not all of these changes are for the best, but Halo 5: Guardians is so frequently stellar that I found it easy to surrender myself to Master Chief’s ambitious new adventure.
This could be the first time 343 Industries has successfully lived up to and surpassed what many expect from a Halo title. Increased mobility and the option to clamber up and over ledges allow Halo 5: Guardians to feel faster and more dynamic than any game before it. However this still feels like classic Halo, modernised and polished in a way that feels completely natural. No longer do you feel like a walking tank, instead you possess the attributes of a fast, strong and intensely capable super soldier. This time however, you aren’t the only soldier around.
Halo 5’s single player campaign has you playing as two individual squads of Spartans: Team Osiris and Blue Team. Osiris consists of newcomers to the Spartan Programme, and they act as you would expect. Brash, determined and somewhat ignorant of the task at hand, and what its consequences might be. The newly formed team are tasked with hunting Master Chief and Blue Team, who appear to have gone rogue after receiving a strange transmission. This is the only introduction we are given before our two playable teams are thrust into a convoluted, planet hopping adventure.
Being the middle child in the Reclaimer Saga puts a lot of pressure on Halo 5: Guardians, especially in the storytelling department. Master Chief and friends must live up to the scale and drama of previous installments, whilst simultaneously expanding the ambitious in-game universe. It handles this badly, bottlenecking the narrative with far too much lore that simply isn’t found in the games, and is sure to confuse most players. Character motivations feel unjustified and undeveloped as the narrative pacing fails to keep up with the bombastic set pieces that litter the campaign.
The narrative is somewhat compelling and straightforward to follow, amounting to little more than an extended chase sequence that slowly builds into something bigger. I began to feel invested in the backstory of Team Osiris, and the unusual origins of each member. Buck is a particular highlight, whose witty and sarcastic banter lightens up many a cutscene. I genuinely hope these characters are fleshed out far more in Halo 6, as there is a lot of potential here that simply isn’t capitalised upon. Master Chief is still awesome, and it’s satisfying that a more prominent personality is being given to our faceless super soldier. His plight elicits sympathy, and the emotions I felt for him were palpable throughout his hunt for Cortana.
Playing the campaign is still a lot of fun, but I failed to feel invested in what I was fighting for. Many of the Team Osiris missions feel like filler, padding out the transparent campaign until we stumble upon the next plot revelation. Master Chief’s personal tale is far more interesting to pursue, but Halo 5 has a habit of pulling the carpet from under you seconds after you begin to care for its characters. The closing chapters of the campaign set the scene brilliantly for Halo 6, but the abrupt, gutpunch cliffhanger feels laughably underwhelming.
Despite the campaign’s many issues, it tries some new and interesting things. Specific missions contain no fighting at all, instead you are allowed to freely roam about a friendly environment. Here you can chat to NPCS, pick up collectibles and progress the story. These missions are incredibly brief and a little disappointing, but show that 343 Industries are willing to take a new and exciting approach to Halo’s single player. Guardians also features some of the largest fighting arenas we’ve ever seen in a Halo campaign, providing multiple avenues of approaching any given situation. There aren’t many vehicle sections though, and they feel far more scripted this time around.
The clear highlight of Halo 5: Guardians is the fantastic multiplayer, which is best the franchise has ever seen. Classic modes such as Slayer, Capture the Flag and SWAT make their welcome return, and play much like you remember. Halo 5’s new movement and aiming mechanics are beautifully implemented into multiplayer, lending each match a faster and more immediate pace. Sprinting is now an unlimited commodity, and a single tap of the right bumper results in a harsh melee attack that wipes out enemies in a single strike.
Halo 4’s progression system is also back this time around, with a few subtle yet clever additions. Weapons are no longer earned as you level up, you are instead given universal loadouts for each game mode. This alleviates the unbalanced frustration of Halo 4, as players are always on an even playing field, leaving little room for foul play. 343 has clearly learned from its mistakes here, which is wonderful to see. It have removed the convoluted rubbish that didn’t work whilst replacing it with brave new additions that absolutely shine. Speaking of brave new additions, have I mentioned Warzone?
Warzone is the biggest thing to happen to Halo’s multiplayer in over a decade; providing a fantastic new approach to team-based play and strategic, fast paced shooting. Set across large scale maps, teams are tasked with building up points by capturing bases, defeating enemies and completing objectives. Except there’s a twist. Every match is frequently populated with AI controlled opponents that you can choose to fight or simply ignore Taking them on will result in a healthy bonus for your team that could be vital to success, but in doing so you may risk losing a crucial capture point.
Certain enemies can be worth 100 points or more, so wiping them out can earn you a monumental advantage. At times this can feel weirdly unbalanced, leading to victories and losses that feel blatantly unfair. However, nothing beats the surge of adrenaline that fills you when a teammate surges into an enemy base and completely obliterates them with a rocket-wielding mech. In Warzone, vehicles such as Scorpion Tanks, Ghosts and Warthogs are readily available; so long as you have the right REQ card that is.
REQ cards can be deployed at any point during a match of Warzone, giving you the right to use a specific vehicle, weapon or special ability. The strategic and timely use of a vehicle-based card can completely change the tide of battle. A Scorpion or Wraith can easily wipe out an enemy base or formidable AI opponent, both of which are worth a decent number of points. It is disappointing that high level REQ cards are often hard to come across, despite how wonderfully rewarding they are to use.
Requisition (REQ) Cards are gained using points, which are earned as you play matches online. Cards are available through a variety of purchasable packs. They can represent weapons, vehicles, XP boosts and even cosmetic equipment for your online avatar. Each of these has its own rarity, and with that its own unique value. This is where Halo 5’s controversial microtransactions come into play.
I never felt that Halo 5’s microtransactions intruded upon my enjoyment of Warzone, as I didn’t possess the need to fork out real money in my desperation for another Scorpion Card. The idea that equipment is potentially locked behind a paywall will definitely irk some players, and this is completely understandable. Warzone often encourages the use of high level cards, and without these victory can easily slip away in a skirmish of unbalanced tedium.
Despite these flaws, the multiplayer of Halo 5: Guardians is still fantastic, providing a fast, fluid and fun experience that hardcore fans should adore. The appeal of ranking up and constantly customising my spartan kept me playing, surmounting my reservations with the flawed and slightly sleazy REQ system. 343 Industries has already started providing us with additional game modes, maps and content, so the potential for longevity here is genuinely exciting.
343 Industries has finally proven itself to be a worthy successor to the minds at Bungie, bolstering Master Chief into a saga that is more ambitious and exciting than anything before it. Halo 5: Guardians breaks momentous new ground for the franchise whilst staying true to its archaic roots. Fortunately, such a dedicated homage doesn’t stop Guardians from pioneering a host of new mechanics and changes that modernise Halo in a way that is exhilarating for fans and newcomers alike. Master Chief is back, and Spartan Locke can go hide in a cupboard somewhere.