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Halo 5: Guardians reminds me of Halo 2 in a multitude of ways. The expectations for 343 Industries’ latest sequel are high, okay not as high as Halo 2 was in 2004, despite the botched launch of The Master Chief Collection last year. The marketing machine was misleading back then and the same is indeed the case in 2015 with both Master Chief and Spartan Locke sharing the cover. You were thinking, oh a Spartan rival as good as the Chief and I wonder what happens once the big confrontation happens, but nope. With that said, while the campaign is unfortunately disappointing story-wise, everything else is Halo at it’s finest from the gameplay and the multiplayer at it’s best since Halo 2.
The beginning of the new trilogy for Master Chief didn’t go as well as he wanted in Halo 4. He was able to stop the Didact from his evil plans, but it came at a cost with Cortana’s rampancy. Here we are with Halo 5: Guardians where the Chief seems to find hope that Cortana is still alive somewhere, but is she the same AI that Spartan 117 remembers well? While Chief and his Blue Team will do whatever it takes to bring Cortana back ignoring orders from the UNSC, this is where Spartan Locke and his Osiris fireteam come in along with the whole “Hunt the Truth” theme 343 Industries was marketing.
The main reason Halo 5’s story feels disappointing is the misleading marketing being that it’s all about Team Locke vs. Team Chief. Turns out that it’s just the first third of the game and the main plot kicks in once the big twist happens. This all reminds me of The Avengers films when the intro of the game has Fireteam Osiris doing badass things against the Covenant with similar shots to Age of Ultron’s beginning to the “big confrontation” between the two teams reminiscent of Iron Man, Captain America and Thor fighting each other, but take a guess which of the two had the better scene.
Another disappointing aspect of the campaign is actually of the lack of playable Master Chief missions. Out of the fifteen, Locke’s Fireteam Osiris had the majority of them, but Chief’s were the most significant ones story-wise because he’s still obviously the one everyone cares about when playing the Halo games. Playing through Locke’s missions felt like diversions until the game’s climax. I appreciate the fact that 343 wanted to establish more of the Spartans’ personalities in this current trilogy, especially Fireteam Osiris with seeing their faces and them being chatty, but it seems that all the effort went on them and not Chief’s Blue Team. Chief’s teammates seem like they’re just there because hey we need three more Spratans, but we never really know their background in the game unless you read the books. Lastly, Halo 5’s cliffhanger ending brought me flashbacks of Halo 2 and that’s frustrating once again. With how the story pans out in this one, Halo 6 better end this current trilogy on a high note.
Despite the campaign’s flaws, it’s gameplay is still Halo at it’s finest with crisp shooting, big scale battles and the obligatory vehicle sections fans will recognize. Having three other Spartans around does make a difference both alone and in online co-op where they’ll help out from time to time if you’re playing alone. Four player co-op does make the campaign playing experience better and that’s self-explanatory. Squad orders can be given out to target a specific enemy or go into a certain position, but most of the time they’ll be busy trying to take out another foe. Teammates can be revived if they’re down in battle to get back into it like the Gears games. There’s also collectable skulls and intel to be found in the campaign’s levels to increase the campaign’s replay value besides the harder difficulties and co-op. The few hours of Halo 5: Guardians’s campaign (longer if playing on harder difficulties) is enjoyable just by gameplay alone shooting down Covenant and Prometheans, but the story and structure turned out to be bummers.
Halo 5 now controls like any other modern shooter out now, but still feels like the Halo you know and love. The big addition is the Smart Link, their version of aiming down sights. The twist is that it’s still treated like a scope for a gun, so if you get hit while ADS, you’re out of it, so you still need to rely on hip fire skills especially in close encounters both in campaign and multiplayer. The other major addition is being able to clamber up to higher spots, which was much needed for this series. Spartan abilities from Halo 4 are back in a way and more part of the conventional controls. Spartans can dash around with the B button that has a cooldown period and also hover for a limited time. They can also tackle foes with the spartan charge as well as ground pound from above. The latter abilities lead to more satisfying kills along with the return of assassinations from the last game.
343 Industries went back to the drawing board after dealing with fans’ reactions to Halo 4’s changes. The result for Halo 5: Guardians is arguably the best multiplayer for the franchise since 2 based on fun alone. Arena is classic Halo from your Slayer and Capture the flag gametypes, but also new ones such as Breakout and Strongholds. Breakout is a round-based deathmatch mode with no shields and Magnum/SMG starts in a Tron-like arena setting. Strongholds in the Team Arena playlist is your territories-esque gametype where teams need to control two of the three points to score. Besides SWAT and free-for-all, there’s isn’t much other wacky gametypes such as Oddball, King of the Hill, Juggernaut and Infection as seen in previous Halo games. I guess we’ll wait to see if 343 adds them back in a future update like they are with the Big Team Battle playlist with specific maps.
The other multiplayer mode in Halo 5 is called Warzone. Warzone takes place on bigger maps with a maximum of 24 players. If I would compare this mode to any other shooter, it is Titanfall with bots also in the battle and bigger AI enemies to kill for big points. While it feels like Titanfall in scale, it is actually a combination of modes from other shooters with teams needing to control points. Once a team controls all three points, the opposing’s team core is open to be attacked. While most games tend to end with a team scoring 1000 points first taking around 20 minutes, getting the instant win by destroying the opponents’ core is more satisfying when everything is going your way. Of course Halo needs to throw it’s own spin to this big scale mode and that’s where the requisitions system comes into play.
The requisitions (REQ) system is simply a card-based system in the world of Halo. For Warzone, this is where you spend cards to access power weapons, power ups and vehicles. Card packs can be opened by spending REQ points or real money, yes this game has microtransactions where you can also unlock more cosmetic items for your multiplayer Spartan. Certain cards require to be a specific level during Warzone matches, but they can change up the momentum for your team’s favor such as a vehicle needing to push the pace towards a control point or a legendary AI enemy. The meta for card usage interesting in terms of whether to use the big ones right away of save them for the end of a match in hopes of a comeback. If you’re playing multiplayer regularly, you won’t need to spend real money to get cards since you’ll be accumulating REQ points constantly. Warzone may seem daunting at first with so much going on to consume, but it’s a fun break from ranking up in Arena matches once you get the hang of it and understanding what to do.
Halo 5 looks superb in both it’s campaign and multiplayer modes. It feels good to have a new Halo game, not counting the remasters, running at 60 frames per second smoothly and consistently. The varied locales are what you expect from the series along with the audio efforts. The voice acting is fine from Spartan Locke’s team despite the lack of personality from Chief’s Blue Team as mentioned earlier. I also got an Ultron vibe (yes another nod to The Avengers films) with one of the game’s main villains as well.
Even though I was underwhelmed how the campaign panned out in terms of it’s story, Halo 5: Guardians is still a blast to play alone, with three other players cooperatively and competitively against others online. The gameplay changes are noteworthy additions to the series while still feeling like Halo at the same time. The multiplayer I felt was where most of the efforts went in especially with Warzone being deeper than what many thought it would be. Fortunately the servers have been working well throughout this launch week unlike the months it took to make The Master Chief Collection’s online work functionally. Sharing many similarities to Halo 2 has it’s pros and cons, but it’s fitting Halo 5 is the middle chapter of this current trilogy. I hope Halo 6 story-wise ends this arc on a note fans are happy with because I was as frustrated with this cliffhanger ending as much as back in 2004. With that said, Halo 5: Guardians is still one of the best shooters to get on the Xbox One because of it’s crisp gameplay and fun multiplayer.