Keeping a Close Guard on a Historic Franchise
Halo 5: Guardians is a game that proves you can teach an old dog new tricks. Delivering a compelling new direction for first person multiplayer shooters while simultaneously raising expectations of what these games are suppose to feel like. Although the campaign’s story is a disappointingly short, convoluted mess, 343 Industries manages to generate diverse environments and engaging enemy types which send you spiraling down a well conceived black hole.
It’s easy to see that 343 cares about the legacy of the Halo franchise. This being the developer’s second original title comes as a surprise because Halo 5 is arguably mechanically the best in the series. Guardians introduces a courageous new multi-player mode, open level design and new character movements, all to great avail. It also implements a different structure to the campaign, encouraging players to seek out friends to play as eight characters across two separate teams, and chase the Master Chief across the universe.
Sadly, you’ll have to play through more than half of the campaign as Master Chief’s milquetoast pursuer, Agent Jameson Locke. Locke is surrounded by Team Osiris, three Spartan soldiers new to the program, who each consist of more depth and personality than Agent Locke. Out of these characters, I found myself most drawn to Holly Tanaka’s story. She offers slight glimpses into her difficult past through in game banter between the Spartans of Team Osiris, which sent me scouring the web for information once I completed the game. Nathan Fillion’s Edward Buck is charismatic and funny, what’s come to be expected from the actor. While offering up more information about the enemies and mission at hand, Olympia Vale is Team Osiris’s Spock.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Blue Team consist of the Master Chief and three of his oldest friends. A literal rotation of blandly constructed, “follow the leader” archetypes I don’t much care for. Occasionally I noticed some personality from these characters, but for the most part they exist as empty voices guiding the player through the obvious story arks laid out in front of you.
The campaign mostly follows Agent Locke, who is ordered to bring in the Master Chief after he is charged with multiple war crimes including desertion. It’s inconceivable that anyone would believe that the Master Chief has abandoned all of humanity and the UNSC, after spending fourteen years saving the galaxy from complete annihilation. Especially in the year 2558, when all you literally have to do is call the guy and talk to him. Understandably, 343 was trying to portray the Master Chief as some sort of villain, but it never pays off. There is no poorly constructed quick time event, or epic boss battle between Agent Locke and Master Chief. Instead the most we’re shown is a two minute cut scene where Chief and Locke counter block and punch each other, then the Chief leaves through a portal in search of Cortana. Which in-arguably is the more interesting plot point, it was the only objective that kept me playing the campaign to completion.
Halo 5 drags you through an exaggerated chase sequence, trying to covey some type of story, I’m still unsure of. While at times the plot seems compelling, Halo 5 never delivers even after establishing major set pieces. Cut scenes never seem finished, usually fading to black before anything important is established.
The most ambitious part of Halo 5’s campaign are the fairly large environments and open-ended mission layouts. Players can explore multiple routes throughout a level, with a new Spartan ability. After sprinting you’re able to deploy a brutal melee smash, which opens up side routes. Leading you to important weapon and vehicle caches, or an elevated flanking position. If you don’t mind the terrible plot, these missions are worth replaying, just to see them unfold differently a second, or third time around.
Halo 5 is best experienced cooperatively, which helps erase the use of the inconsistent companion AI. At times, it works wonderfully. You can issue commands with the d-pad, causing teammates to barrage a target with firepower. Most of the time I sat waiting to be revived as the AI rushed into enemy gunfire, causing me to restart at the last saved checkpoint. Every time I set a big target for my team, while planning to flank around, I found them following me instead of focusing on the enemy, at times even worse, unable to clamber a ledge, or blindly firing into a wall.
Yet despite the abysmal AI, and the incomprehensible plot, this is an action packed campaign with fluid game play and incredible level design. At its best, Guardians rewards teamwork between four friends, encourages clever use of a new movement system, and unfolds across a gorgeous universe of new worlds. By the end, however, it felt like I was pulled through an unstable plot with poor storytelling.
While it is disappointing to see one of the few first person shooters I rely on for it’s campaign, fall flat on it’s face. That’s not the main reason I’m here. As to be expected Halo 5’s multi-player excels in stages no other game in the series has. The classic Halo play lists, such as SWAT, Capture the Flag, and Slayer, abandon the multi-player progression system introduced with Halo 4. Now, instead of earning new weapon options, Guardians returns to form by scattering power weapons throughout each map, offering universal weapon load-outs, and providing a welcome departure from the tedious unlock system of its predecessor.
Arena feels great, and captures the essence of what makes competitive multiplayer so engaging, but Halo 5’s new Warzone mode departs from tradition completely. Acquiring inspiration from the MOBA genre, combining player vs. player tactics with player vs. enemy AI combat. Providing one of the best new ideas in the FPS genre.
Warzone encompasses huge maps, massive jungles and desolate arctic landscapes. Each team has a multitude of options strewn out before it, from focusing on enemy players, to capturing neutral zones, to defeating AI combatants. AI mini-bosses will spawn several times throughout a match. Forcing you to decide between leaving your base exposed, or taking down the target for some extra points. These bosses may be piloting a Banshee fighter ship, or steering a Wraith tank, and present a more difficult challenge than the usual AI enemies.
Matches are won by a team achieving 1000 points. Each zone capture, each defeated mini-boss, and every kill contributes to that total. Teams need to decide where to attack, and when is the best time to do so. Warzone is exceptional because of the amount of momentum being portrayed, there is a force that shifts from side to side with every match played. Causing players to portray much more adaptability than consistency. The team that communicates and evolves with the battlefield will inevitably gain the upper hand and succeed.
Ranking up, progressing and achieving certain accolades in Halo 5’s multiplayer modes, will grant you requisition points. A new currency for multiple tiers of item packs, each containing vehicles, weapon unlocks, and aesthetic items. It succeeds in changing the way you play, based on the equipment you have available. By acquiring energy throughout a match, you’ll use up cards, granting weapons and vehicles to help your team during the battle. It’s a feature I’m excited to see implemented in other games of the genre, hopefully expanding and becoming a staple in the Halo franchise.
At first glance Halo 5: Guardians looks like what’s to be expected from 343 Industries. After blowing off the dust and cobwebs I discovered a revolutionary multiplayer experience that will help propel this genre forward. While encountering missteps in campaign storytelling may frustrate fans of the series, the core Halo players should enjoy the new direction of the competitive multi-player. I’m looking forward to seeing where 343 leads the Master Chief on his next adventure.
Final Verdict 3.5 / 5
Available on: Xbox One (reviewed) ; Publisher: Microsoft Studios ; Developer: 343 Industries ; Players: 1 – 24 (online); Released: October 27, 2015 ; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $59.99
This review is based on a retail copy of Halo 5: Guardians purchased by Hey Poor Player.