written by Jay Hammon (@Gravity_Flux)
How do you continue on the success of a franchise that constantly sets sales records and keep your audience coming back for more? That is the question Halo 5: Guardians attempts to answer. This isn’t your father’s Halo. Halo 5 is the second major Halo title developed by Microsoft’s 343 Industries after Bungie Studios split from Microsoft and relinquished their IP to Microsoft.
I was iffy on Halo 5 and wasn’t certain I was going to pick the FPS up at launch. Halo 4 (the first major Halo title by 343 Industries) had such a disappointing campaign that it’s the only Halo campaign I quit playing and never finished. I was also bored by the PVP portion of the game. So it’s understandable how I had my reservations regarding Guardians. As fate would have it, after a late night of binge shopping online, I pre-ordered Halo and soon a new journey would begin with thousands of other members of the clan of Master Chief. Right after the hour long installation ends. You may want to order some pizza because this is going to take a while.
I should warn you there will be some spoilers in the next section so if you’re concerned about story spoilers avert your mouse and skip to the next section. There are some great glimmers of light in the campaign mode but for me there were more dark spots. The campaign breaks up your play time into multiple segments featuring one of two teams of Spartans. The primary team is Fireteam Osiris. They’re tasked with tracking down Master Chief and his Blue Team. While this split of your play time isn’t nearly as bad as being forced to play as the Arbiter it’s still not something I enjoyed. I don’t play Halo games with Master Chief in them to play someone other than Master Chief. Personally, I’d rather see a game in the vein of Halo: ODST. Something like Halo: Fireteam Osiris that features this group of badasses on some of their earlier missions. This would allow gamers to enjoy Osiris in their own unique game, 343 Industries an opportunity to flesh them out more and for the main line of Halo games to feature the man we all know and love, Master Chief.
In all; the campaign took me 6 hours 33 minutes and 38 seconds. I would like to tell you I rushed through the campaign but I didn’t. This wouldn’t be so bothersome if I left the campaign feeling like I was delivered a quality story… which I didn’t. Throughout the whole campaign I kept asking myself if the writers were bored or out of ideas. I’m sure my upstairs neighbors got tired of hearing me yell “really, that’s what you decided to do there?” Would you like to fight the same boss over and over again with very little difference between each fight? Good, it’s in the game. Would you like to see your sole companion and best friend for over a decade become the villain thus ruining a major component of what I consider Halo (which is the relationship between John and Cortana)? Good, it’s in the game. How about some Terminator/SkyNet style “oh no, AI is going to take over the world and enslave us all” type drama? You’re in luck! That too is in the game. Speaking of AI shall we talk about the AI of the NPC team members and how they are utterly unreliable unless you are expecting them to do something stupid or useless? I offer these words of advice: play co-op. Otherwise play the campaign as if you’re a lone soldier because your AI teammates do the dumbest things at the worst times. Command them to hold an area or attack an enemy and they may decide they’d rather hangout where they are and ignore your orders. Tell them to come revive you and they’ll wait for enemies to get close to your downed body and then walk over to revive you while those same enemies kill them too. The team that dies together… uh, dies together? The good news here is if we can’t program software AI teammates to actually be helpful and think for themselves we don’t need to worry about computers taking over the world any time soon. Dark spots; so many dark spots.
There are some glimmering sections of light in the campaign though. A lot of the dialogue that occurs while you’re stomping around alien worlds is interesting and provides insight into those characters’ pasts. How one character learned Sangheili and another’s past with Oni are all pieces of puzzles that are just waiting for gamers to hear and piece together. Fireteam Osiris’ banter back and forth fits well into the family-at-arms type chatter we’ve all come to expect from special ops teams. I wish Lucke wasn’t as much of a stoic leader type but Tanaka, Vale and Buck are screaming for more play time. There’s also a lot to say for all the secret pathways and various options to move through a level. Play the campaign co-op and your team can take numerous paths that will allow you to have the high and low ground covered for optimum firing and a tactical advantage against your opponents. All you need do is explore a little. The campaign also offers up some great cinematics and a few “oooooh” moments. But it really wouldn’t be a Halo game if there weren’t some cinematics that made us sit on the edge of the couch, put down our cheesy puffs and just watch the glories unfolding on our TV. If you’re a completionist and need to find all the skulls and various collectibles you can run through the campaign a few times but my replay time will be limited to helping a friend or two via co-op. There just isn’t enough replayability for me in this campaign. Typically my enjoyment of the story is what’s made me do numerous runs through the previous campaigns and that just isn’t the case this time around.
The PVP aspects of the game are very much the Halo multiplayer you’ve come to expect. There’s Arena and Warzone. In Arena you’ll have a few options but it seems the main mode of play here is Breakout. This is a 4v4, single elimination CTF variant in specially designed training zones. While it’s nothing new it is fun. This PVP mode does require some team work and strategy since mistakes can cost you the one life you get per round which in turn can cost your team the round when you go from 4v4 to 4v3 or worse. Beware of the grenade spamming. In this mode you’ll find various weapons scattered around the map like most FPS opt to do which is in stark contrast to the other multiplayer mode Halo 5 currently offers gamers; love them or hate them REQs are here to stay.
In Warzone you’ll join a team of 12 other players going up against another team. Both teams get NPC teammates guarding their bases and lending a helping hand. Don’t get killed by the NPC teammates and you won’t feel the utter shame that comes from knowing an NPC just blasted you. You’ll also be fighting Covenant and Promethean NPC. These will be high value targets that garner massive points for your team. That is assuming the other team doesn’t show up and vulture your kill and claim the points. You’ll earn higher tiers of REQs as your team earns kills and achieves goals. During respawns or at one of your captured bases you can adjust your REQs to use power-ups, call in vehicles or nab power weapons. Hopefully you’ll never get to enjoy the glee that comes from finally getting your rocket launcher, stepping out of your base like a boss… just to get run over by another player driving a Ghost on the verge of exploding. It’s the best, trust me. I found the REQ menu to be a bit on the cumbersome side and some features non-existent. Want to sell off all your Needlers or Mongoose? Please take these next few minutes to sell all 30 of them one by one. As is the case with a lot of multiplayer games it really helps to have a team of friends you’re playing with so you can do this thing I like to call working as a team. The levels are big and if you aren’t careful the other team can get a huge lead very quickly and early on. Thankfully your team can catch up pretty quickly with a few high value kills. Easy, right? While I enjoy Breakout in the Arena I found myself playing more of Warzone but in the end the majority of my gamer friends and I have already hopped back over to Destiny to play the Taken King raid on hard mode. Are we done with Halo PVP? Probably not but it doesn’t have the allure of Halo multiplayer of old. Some free DLC released quickly that includes more content, options, and some slight tweaks could go a long way.
The audio/visual components of Halo 5: Guardians are pretty on point. The landscapes and views are amazing. You can tell a lot of time and polish were spent on this aspect. The sound is also very on point which is something we’ve all come to expect from Halo. The guns sound fantastic and they made some great improvements to the sounds of the returning weapons. I don’t know what a storm rifle is supposed to sound like but this one sounds legit. The usual favorites like the magnum, DMR and battlerifle are still there and sounding sweet. I’m very much one of those players that likes to shoot my weapons just to enjoy the sound. Those wayward fuel rod cannon shots you see flying around the map are probably me. “Hi, I’m over here. Come kill me.” You’re welcome. I did come to realize that the music is not quite right. I don’t mean that to sound like the music is bad because it’s not and I did enjoy the music when I noticed it. The thing that’s a little off for me with the music is that I’m used to constantly being aware of the music in Halo games. The music is as much a part of the story and action as the weapons I’m wielding or enemies I’m facing. I come to expect the music to be an essential part of my Halo experience and while the music is good in Halo 5 I just didn’t feel like it was engrained into the story and my experience the way I’m used to. But even with that being the case for me I can’t help but feel like I’m about to face countless enemies, barely survive and save the universe when I hear the Halo theme music kick in. That song has a direct feed straight to my soul as a gamer.
While writing this review I came to feel that so many of my issues with Halo 5: Guardians come from my expectations for a Halo game. I came to the understanding that I haven’t felt the same about a game in the Halo series since the reigns were passed to 343 Industries and while, in this humble gamer’s opinion, Halo 5 is far superior to Halo 4 I just don’t feel the excitement any more. Maybe we just need to take a break from each other and find that spark again. Maybe we need to see other games and characters. I don’t know the fix but I know something hasn’t been right between us for a while. I still love you Halo and I always will… I’m just not in love with you anymore.
+ Familiar controls, pop-n-play
+ Stunning visuals
+ Massive multiplayer
- Ridiculously long install time
- Lackluster story
- Limited campaign replayability
- Cumbersome REQs UI