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Halo 5: Guardians Review

Kyle Hanson on

New Halo games don’t come around all that often. As Microsoft’s flagship series, each entry is meant to stand the test of time, and present a definite reason why you have to buy the latest Xbox console. With little variation the series has succeeded in this task, presenting fantastic first-person shooter action, with an interesting story layered on top. With Halo 5: Guardians, Microsoft and 343 Industries look to repeat this success on the Xbox One, giving players all the classic fun of the series, while changing the formula enough to still feel fresh. Thanks to excellent design decisions, both in adding and removing items, they largely succeed, making Halo 5: Guardians a definite must-own game for anyone with an Xbox One.

With any generational leap, the first question on everyone’s mind is, how have the visuals improved. Halo 5: Guardians makes the leap to Xbox One with an emphasis on performance, over raw visual power. The resolution won’t hit 1080p, and textures and effects might not be on the bleeding edge, but the framerate will hold at a steady 60 FPS, making for a very responsive experience. There is one odd problem though, with enemy animations having a weird stuttery look sometimes, especially if they are far away. This seems to be a cheat of sorts, which tones down enemy movement, while keeping the framerate high. However, this rarely gets in the way, with the final result being a great visual experience all around. While it might not hold up as the best graphics in gaming, it will certainly satisfy throughout both the multiplayer and the campaign.

Halo 5 Guardians Video Review

On the campaign front, Halo 5: Guardians opens with a bang, featuring a couple of the best cutscenes and missions of the entire series. It then moves into a bit of a holding pattern for a while, following the adventure of Spartan Locke and his Fireteam Osiris in their search for Master Chief. Then it sort of ends on a whimper, with more of a lead up for the inevitable Halo 6, rather than a standalone story of its own.

Picking up some time after the extremely depressing events of the previous game, Halo 5 sees humanity reclaiming their lost sections of the galaxy. The war with the Covenant is over, with only a few remnants left causing trouble. However, things start looking bad once more when outer colonies begin getting decimated by an unknown force. Guardians, massive Forerunner built machines, are awakening across the galaxy, and the apparently dead Cortana is somehow linked to it.

Master Chief, along with his team of Spartan II’s, defies orders, setting out to find his friend and figure out what is going on. Now an enemy of the UNSC, Spartan Locke and Fireteam Osiris are dispatched to bring Chief home. However, both teams will find that there’s much more going on here than they originally thought.

The Halo series has always been a bit unique in the shooter genre. Featuring a fun campaign that actually has an interesting narrative attached, the single player portion of Halo games is usually worth the price of admission just by itself. Halo 5: Guardians still easily hits this lofty expectation, featuring extremely well designed combat and missions, but the story has a few problems holding it back.

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As already mentioned, it serves mostly as a lead up to future greatness, with the story not quite resolved by the time the credits roll. Worsening this feeling is just how much time players will spend far away from the central narrative. There’s always something to distract Fireteam Osiris from getting to the Chief, with the feeling being that the game is biding its time for a big payoff at the end. That payoff never really materializes though, instead punting the ball down the field to be picked back up later.

The large scale combat of the series is firmly back, most likely thanks to the power of the Xbox One

Still, these issues are only on the narrative side of the equation, which for most will be the much lesser concern in the campaign. Mission structure and gameplay design is far more important, and it is here where 343 shows their prowess when it comes to the Halo series. The large scale combat of the series is firmly back, most likely thanks to the power of the Xbox One, with multiple factions of enemies doing battle against each other in wide, expansive battlefields.

Players can tackle these encounters in any number of ways. They can charge in guns blazing, or sit back and let them take care of themselves, popping shots when the opportunity arises. Or perhaps try to flank the enemy and take them out in one big push, or just focus on the big guys, leaving the weaker ones for the end. And, of course, there’s still a vast array of vehicles you can take into battle, most of which have remained largely untouched, which was a wise move since they needed very little modification to begin with. For a Halo veteran it is all familiar territory, but it’s territory that they almost certainly want to revisit, and will continue to do so via the online cooperative campaign.

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The biggest changes to the formula are the weapon and enemy alterations that 343 has implemented. Extremely few new weapons show up in Halo 5 compared to the previous game, but almost all of them have been retouched in one way or another. The Forerunner weapons that used to be easily avoidable might become many players’ favorites this time around, and a few Covenant standards have been tweaked as well. All of these changes create the most balanced gunplay that the series has seen in a long time, and offers more variety to players than the usual Battle Rifle/Assault Rifle combo.

343 has also introduced the new Smart-Link system, which is essentially a Halo version of other shooters’ aim-down sights. This feature has always been feared by the fanbase, as it didn’t seem to fit within the established Halo universe. However, the developer has seemingly pulled it off, keeping the traditional hip fire mechanic the same, but adding a bit of extra power when using Smart-Link. If you want to just run around, popping head shots from the hip, then you can, but for that extra precision shot you can pull up Smart-Link and get just a bit of a boost. And you still have to be aware of your surroundings, because getting hit will pop you right out.

Any hardcore Halo fan will likely shudder at the mention of the Prometheans, with the Knights having been especially egregious in Halo 4. “Bullet Sponge” was the best way to describe how the Promethean enemies felt when they were introduced. 343 listened, and listened well and have totally retooled the Promethean enemies in Halo 5, making them just as fun to fight as their Covenant counterparts.

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The key was to shift the Knights to be more like a Hunter, adding in a new class to take the Elite’s spot in the enemy structure. Promethean Knights now pop up quite rarely, offering a more challenging fight, but one that takes tactics, as you deal significantly more damage when hitting the right spot on their side or back.

Unfortunately, the enemy changes weren’t perfect, with the Warden Eternal boss popping up to frustrate once again. The Halo series has rarely had bosses, and Warden Eternal shows exactly why. The multiple battles with him are not extremely fun, nor do they require that much strategizing or tactics, bringing back the Bullet Sponge criticism from Halo 4. His appearances are brief, but they definitely interrupt the smooth flow of the campaign missions every time.

Despite the unfortunate boss battles, all of this adds up to one of the best designed Halo campaigns in the entire series. While the story might not hold up to past expectations, it does set up a very interesting conflict that will run throughout the next game or two. How well those games do in tying together the plot will likely decide how Halo 5: Guardians is viewed from the fanbase.

Of course, the campaign isn’t all there is to Halo, with the multiplayer likely being an even more important element for fans. Here Halo 5: Guardians could have easily stumbled, as Halo 4 did in some ways, but 343 once again listened to the fanbase and has created two types of multiplayer with Arena and Warzone. Arena dials back certain elements that didn’t fit with the series, while adding in very small touches that do. The end result is a new take on the Halo multiplayer formula that should perform the miraculous task of pleasing old fans and new.

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The big element that 343 worked on for Halo 5 was movement. Players now have access to a few moves that keep the action flowing, such as dash and clamber, with sprint still offered as a default. As long as it’s charged up you can hit a button to do a quick dash in any direction, allowing you to get somewhere faster, or dash out of the way of a grenade. Managing the recharge will separate the pros from more casual players, giving the former an advantage as they dash out of the way of incoming fire.

Clamber is one of the more interesting additions to Halo 5, totally reshaping the way players will look at the maps. If you were one of those players that crouch jumped all over Lockout, then clamber will be your new best friend. By holding, or double tapping the jump button your Spartan will simply climb up ledges if they run into one, allowing a much more vertical element to manifest in the multiplayer. The maps have been designed with this in mind as well, so you’ll find plenty of perches and other hidden spots right within reach of skilled players.

Movement in Halo 5 has been refined to make you truly feel like a Spartan, letting you run and dash around the map, climb up on ledges, and drop down on unsuspecting enemies with ease. The flow of battle is always retained thanks to these, and some other additions to the mechanics. These movement changes would have been worthless without well-designed maps, and while Halo 5 doesn’t have as wide of a variety as one might wish for, the included maps are good enough to keep players interest until the free DLC hits.

The aforementioned weapon changes also carry over into the multiplayer, bringing the variety and balance that was present in the campaign. Loadouts and random weapon spawns are gone, having been replaced by pre-announced spawn locations and times. 343 took the elements that made classic Halo so great, namely map and weapon control, and fine-tuned them to perfection, even adding in UI and audio elements that pro players used to use so effectively. Along with this they added AI callouts, making it so your teammates will let you know of enemy locations, even when the human controlling them does not.

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For those that need something to unlock to keep their interest, Halo 5: Guardians has you very well covered. REQ packs are the way you’ll get new weapon skins, armor, and other cosmetic items. Simply by playing the game you’ll earn points that can be used to buy additional packs, or just get the ones you earn through commendations or ranks. You can also buy them through microtransactions, but most players will earn plenty just by playing the game. Opening these packs is a lot of fun, as you get to sift through the new items you’ve unlocked. For Arena, these are all cosmetic, not impacting the balance of the game in any way.

These massive 24 player matches offer something very unique compared to Halo of the past

Arena multiplayer in Halo 5: Guardians is easily one of the best in the series, and will likely be considered a favorite among shooter fans in general. But for those that want a totally new experience, 343 threw in their own take on the Halo formula.

Warzone is what 343 envisions the future of Halo to be, and while it doesn’t fully justify this opinion, it does seem to offer a fun and unique take on the franchise. Working almost like a MOBA-esque version of the series’ classic multiplayer, players will have to control capture points, call in weapons and vehicles, and take out AI enemies in order to earn points. If your team owns two of the three capture spots, they’ll slowly earn points, and have more spawn locations. If they own all three, the enemy’s core will be vulnerable, allowing an instant win if your team can rally together long enough for an assault.

These massive 24 player matches offer something very unique compared to Halo of the past, but it’s not necessarily one that most players will thoroughly enjoy. Getting twelve players to actually work together is a tough task, and with the multitude of objectives that your team can focus on at any one time, it becomes almost impossible. Large teams of players, who communicate effectively, will easily demolish their foe.

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It also doesn’t help that there is no real tutorial for how the whole thing works, forcing players to dive right in and learn through attrition in a way. The future of Warzone will largely depend on how the community takes to it, but as it stands now it appears to be an interesting distraction that players will only come back to when they need a break from the excellent Arena multiplayer.

The other issue are the REQ packs that work so well with Arena. These also unlock weapons, vehicles, and power ups within Warzone. Here is where the dreaded pay-to-win effect of microtransactions could become a problem, as those with more REQ packs opened will have many more options in combat. Calling in a tank or Banshee can easily sway the tide of battle, and these can be purchased by buying up extra REQ packs.

The Verdict

Any worry that Halo might be in the wrong hands with 343 Industries has been wiped out by Halo 5: Guardians. The campaign has some story issues, with Halo 6 promising to really deliver the goods, but the design is impeccable, and will certainly warrant multiple playthroughs. Warzone offers a new way to play, but not necessarily one that many will come back to over and over again. Once you crack its intricacies, you might find it fascinating, but it likely won’t be the majority’s favorite. Arena multiplayer though is one of the biggest and best of the entire series, offering a classic experience, with just enough new elements to make it work in the modern shooter era. Taking what works, removing what didn’t, and refining nearly every aspect of the experience; Halo 5: Guardians is an immediate classic that is worthy of the name Halo.

"loved"
loved

Halo 5: Guardians

  • Available On: Xbox One
  • Published By: Microsoft Studios
  • Developed By: 343 Industries
  • Genre: First-person Shooter
  • US Release Date: October 27th, 2015
  • Reviewed On: Xbox One
  • Quote: "Any worry that Halo might be in the wrong hands with 343 Industries has been wiped out by Halo 5: Guardians. Taking what works, removing what didn't, and refining nearly every aspect of the experience, Halo 5 is an immediate classic that is on par with its predecessors."
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