Halo 5: Guardians is the latest in the hit Microsoft franchise, but can it continue the good work of it’s predecessors? The premise is that the super soldier Master Chief AKA John-117 and his squad go AWOL, and seem to be involved with large mecha constructs called Guardians coming to life under several planets and causing mass devastation. Agent Locke, a former government hitman, is tasked with capturing Master Chief and discovering the purpose of the guardians.
Similar to previous Halo games, the characters receive little to no personality or character development. It was more acceptable in previous games, since you had one player controlled character who you were supposed to project onto. But now you have not one, but two squads of characters with no personality. The closest we get is Nathan Fillian as Buck, but he isn’t given anything to work with. But again, like with previous games, the real story lies in the universe itself. Discovering the history behind the Forerunners including the origin of “Reclaimer”, a word used back in the first game, expanding on the Forerunner empire, and even looking at the civil war between the Covenant and the Elites of Sanghilious. It’s genuinely intriguing and a well executed mystery. On top of that we get more of a look into the Spartan program.
If you wish to avoid spoilers, skip this paragraph! Making Cortana the villain this time was brilliant move. She’s been reborn within the Forerunner matrix and even starts attracting other AI to her banner. It also leads to a genuinely tender moment, where she and Master Chief try to talk the other to their side, but sadly this ends in tragedy, helped by some great motion capture and voice acting on Cortana. The ending feels similar to Halo 2, but better executed. The stage is set for a very different Halo game to follow, with humanity and, potentially the covenant too, uniting against the Forerunner Guardians without any major technology. It takes some time to wrap up the story and set things up which Halo 2 neglected to do.
The Halo gameplay has been completely reworked, thanks to the new booster pack system. You can hover in the air while aiming, boost out of danger, shoulder charge and ground pound. Previous games had suit mods that you picked up or selected in a loadout, but now all players are on the same playing field again, while still taking the game in a new direction. It feels more old school in a lot of ways. In the campaign a team, who can also be controlled by a couple of friends, now join you. They can also revive you and each other which makes harder levels a lot less stressful, attack your target and operate turrets if you command them too. The revival system also recharges your shields and gives them a temporary boost, meaning that one AI ally can save an entire squad in a pinch. They rarely need to be babysat that often, so long as you use them effectively and stick together. There is a sense of reliance on the team and makes the campaign feel refreshingly different.
Vehicles return and are scattered throughout the story to add more variety to missions. Most vehicles have gotten a redesign and look awesome, though the only new vehicle is the Phaeton Craft, which is slower but has strafing abilities to distinguish it from the Banshee jets. Weapons all feel different, and add so much variety to encounters. The game is also good at hiding these in the campaign, with exploration being rewarded with new weapons, including legendary weapons like the Answer, an explosive machine gun. Yes, that’s thing!
Power weapons online are now highlighted and you are alerted when they come online, so everyone has a chance to get them and try them out, and helps make different maps play differently based around what weapons they have, like a sniper map encouraging you to avoid long range encounters, or a map with a rocket launcher encouraging you to watch out for enclosed spaces etc. Enemies have a wide variety and great designs. The Covenant use plasma weapons and rely on rechargeable shields, bolstered by the tiny grunts and shielded jackals, who also ditch their shield in favour of sniper rifles if the game is feeling malicious.
The Promethean enemies use armour instead of shields, which you can strip away. But flying enemies called watchers, giving their encounters their own strategy, can repair them. Big boss enemies come in the form of Hunters, who are armoured juggernauts armed with rocket launchers, Knights, who carry different weapons but also come with a sword, and the Warden, a recurring enemy who can create multiples of himself and pretty much all of his attacks are one hit kill on Legendary difficulty. So there is a lot of variety to each encounter depending on the enemy.
The finale however is a huge let down. Pro tip for developers, THROWING ALL THE ENEMIES AT THE PLAYER IS NOT A BOSS BATTLE! It’s a shame since there was a fight against three wardens earlier that would have been a fantastic final battle, but instead it comes down to the lesser enemies you’ve been fighting up until this point. At least it didn’t end with a quick time event fight, so lessons were learnt from Halo 4 at least. The game has some cool sequences, like running along a collapsing platform, or running down the side of a gigantic guardian using mag boots. If this was the final encounter, I would have had no problems.
Multiplayer is fun, but lacking in content. There is variety within online, which features a grab bag of Slayer, Capture The Flag and Stronghold, Free For All, SWAT, a mode where you spawn fast and die fast with no shields similar to COD’s play style, and Breakout, a one life, rounds based game. So there is variety in the arena. However they have no vehicle maps, which was a huge let down. But I find it hard to mark the game down for that, when you consider Warzone, which replaces big team slayer from previous games. The big problem is that most of this game modes are a variety of slayer, which makes all the modes feel like they’re merging together.
Warzone consists of large scale battles, where you need to capture enough strongholds to open up the enemy power core, or earn enough points. To this end enemy bosses will spawn, like a Banshee commander or the imposing Warrior Eternal.
As you fight you earn points, which you can cash in for power weapons and vehicles, giving everyone access to these weapons. These are reliant on the new card system, which we will come to later. The combination of Stronghold, Slayer and AI bosses make this a very varied and unique game type, which plays to the strength of people who aren’t so fond of shooting players to win.
Onto a new system added to this instalment called The Requisition System. Instead of leveling up the game works on cards you get in the packs, which are bought using points earned over time or for different accomplishments like leveling up or getting a certain number of kills with a weapon, or you can buy them using real money, similar to FIFa with Ultimate Team. This could have very easily have gone pay to win, but the weapons are only used in Warzone and even then you have to earn them in game. A stockpile of tanks won’t do much if you can’t get enough points, and I have literally gone through entire games and never got the Mantis Walker I wanted. It also means there is more variety to helmets and weapon skins, like a sniper rifle with a faster rate of fire but less power, or a camo coloured jeep, meaning that there is a lot of variety in player loadouts and matches feel more diverse since not everyone will have the same weapons or vehicles. This could have broken the game easily, but was well handled as far as I’m concerned.
All in all, Halo 5: Guardians is a fun and addictive shooter with an intriguing story and a lot of variety to the campaign, despite a lack in multiplayer variety and a disappointing final battle. On aside, the series map maker mode, Forge mode, is yet to be released, so we’ll see what the community can create to help flesh out the multiplayer when that launches. Also future map packs will be free, so there’ll be a reason to keep playing this after the fact. It is a shame that the game lacks a local co-op, but at least there is co-op, and to be frank there are other Halo games I would rather play co-op than this one. With Christmas coming up, this is highly recommended for teenage gamers.