Earlier this year, I promised myself I would make my way through each Halo game by means of the Master Chief Collection on the Xbox One. I wanted to get caught up on the grand tale of Master Chief so I’d be well versed in the series before Halo 5: Guardians released to the masses this fall. Sadly, a plethora of games have distracted me from this goal over the months, and Halo 5 is now officially out, meaning I did not accomplish my goal. When I fired up Halo 5, I was concerned the narrative would be lost on me, and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy a game I was otherwise extremely excited for. For the most part, I was right; I’m sure I missed a whole lot of references regarding events that occurred prior to Halo 5, and I have no clue what Spartan Locke’s origins are or who he is for that matter. Thankfully, stellar production values and tons of epic moments kept me entertained throughout the bombastic campaign.
Title: Halo 5: Guardians
Developer: 343 Industries
Platforms: Xbox One
What Is It
Halo 5: Guardians is actually the 9th game in the long-running sci-fi series, and it’s arguably the biggest launch for Microsoft this holiday season. I knew nothing of what had transpired in the Halo universe prior to the events of Halo 5, so the best I could gather from the story was this: Master Chief sees a vision of Cortana, his longtime AI companion, forcing him to set off with his squad (Blue Team) in tow in the hopes of finding her, much to the dismay of his superiors. His superiors, on the other hand, believe Cortana is up to no good and is somehow trying to trick Master Chief into buying-in to her plans, so they send Spartan Locke and his team (Osiris) to locate and apprehend Master Chief until they can figure out what’s going on. As a standalone product, the story is still pretty entertaining, even though I clearly would’ve benefitted from playing the previous installments.
343 Industries Knows How To Create One Hell Of A Sci-Fi Presentation
First and foremost, let me say this right now: Halo 5 has one of the best sci-fi presentations I’ve ever experienced in a game of this genre. Everything from the music, to the aesthetics and sound effects is top notch and completely immersive. I played through the game cooperatively with Frankie, and there were multiple moments where he or I just stopped to admire the overall scale of the vistas throughout the campaign. Whether it was running down the side of one of the massive Guardian ships, or watching as a Kraken demolishes a huge chunk of a level, there was never a shortage of eye-popping visuals for one to admire. The audio work on hand here is top of the line, as well. There are a variety of weapons featured in Halo 5, and each of them has their own distinct sound and personality. When you hear a Guardian ship powering up to jettison through a black hole of sorts, you’re left in awe. When you’re engaged in a high octane battle that has turrets, snipers, and other pissed off villains raining down fire all around you, you can’t help but get caught up in the environment and the moment. And let’s not forget the epic soundtrack. I’ve listened to quite a few Halo soundtracks over the past few years, and as great as they are, listening to it outside of the game on a pair of headphones doesn’t compare to when you’re hearing it in-game amidst heated firefights or during dramatic cut scenes. Few games are able to create a sci-fi presentation as engaging as this.
Even though I wasn’t able to tag-team the Master Chief Collection with my cohort Frankie Ailor, we still made good on our plans to play through Halo 5 together, and I’m glad we did. Anytime you add a cooperative element to a shooter’s campaign, it can make for a grand experience. It’s especially fun if you dial up the difficulty for an added challenge, but since Frankie and I are fairly new to the series, we decided to give Halo 5 a go on normal difficulty first. I guess you could say we experienced mixed results. While the enemy AI wasn’t ground breaking by any means, what helped offset this was the sheer stupidity of our two other AI-controlled teammates. This was very apparent in any of the many areas where we found ourselves surrounded by enemies. If either of us were downed waiting for a revive, our AI counterparts would literally just stare at us as we lay there bleeding out. Eventually, the AI would attempt to jump in and revive us, only to watch as a nearby enemy unloaded on them, resulting in their death and forcing us to restart. I feel like it was tougher, not because of what the enemy AI was doing, but because our friendly AI were doing absolutely nothing to help the cause. I still the think the ultimate Halo 5 challenge will be to wrangle up four friends and grind our way through the campaign on Legendary difficulty.
The campaign consists of 15 missions, 3 of which are more or less glorified cut scenes where you simply walk around an area, converse with a few NPCs for story filler, and voilà, achievement earned. I don’t know if these exist simply to give you a break from the frantic action, but I would’ve much rather played through some of the other cut scenes — namely the opening where you glide down a snowy mountainside, engaging enemy troops and dropships alike. The only other letdown, although small and probably just me nit-picking, is in the lack of more cooperative-centric events throughout. I love co-op missions that embrace the idea of two players working through a level together. Imagine a mission where one person might be in a ship clearing out enemies below, while the other player makes his or her way through the battlefield on foot to get an idea of what I’m getting at here. There was one mission that offered up something along these lines during the Halo 5 campaign, but for the most part, game missions subscribed to your basic “fight through this open area and on to your next objective” structure.
With all that said, what matters most is how the game runs and plays, and like the presentation features mentioned above, Halo 5: Guardians’ gameplay is of the same high quality. I don’t know how many times throughout our experience with the campaign Frankie and I just stopped to say, “Wow, that was really fun!” The controls are tight, the weapons feel good, and some of the abilities — like ground stomps and hovering in the air while aiming down the sights — allow you to approach each situation in a different way. The special takedowns you trigger when you’re able to come up behind an unsuspecting enemy are very rewarding and a joy to watch. Knowing when to attack and when to allow your shield to recharge keeps this from being just another mindless shooter, and that’s something that I can appreciate as a fan of the genre.
What I’ve Played So Far
As I alluded to above, I’ve already made my way through the campaign once, and I’m excited to play through it again on Legendary with a full squad of friends as opposed to using the dreadful friendly AI. The mere fact that I want to go through it on a harder setting, considering all of the other games that are releasing right now, speaks volumes about how fun and exciting the campaign is. If anything, I feel more compelled to go back and play the other Halo games first, just because I know it’ll make for an even more enjoyable experience the second time through.
Speaking of enjoyable experiences, I’ve been told on many occasions that Halo’s multiplayer is the best multiplayer experience there is. Now, for someone like myself, that’s a mighty bold statement (SOCOM for life), but because I love a good multiplayer component — especially one that is balanced, features well-designed maps, and has plenty of exciting modes to play – I was curious to try my hand at it again, nearly 10 years after my friend schooled me in Halo 2 all those years ago. I started my Halo 5 multiplayer adventure playing Warzone, and this is by far my favorite mode to play in Halo 5. I feel like it’s a much more accessible mode than anything offered in Arena (seriously, you guys and girls that excel in Arena are fricking amazing!). The maps are huge, with plenty of objectives for noobs like myself to capture and gain XP from. I even dig it when the special AI-controlled super bosses show up. If your team is able to take them down first, it adds to your overall point total, which can come in handy if you’re getting roughed up by the other side. Sure, I died a lot when I went up against some of the more skillful Halo vets out there, but at least in this mode I could have a positive impact on the outcome of the battle, even if my KDR is Ben Boyce-esque (ie: abysmal) at the end of the match. All in all, I think Halo’s multiplayer suite is strong in terms of its offerings and quality maps, but you’ll need to practice quite a bit before you start to dominate in Arena.
I have close to no experience with the Halo franchise, I had plenty of reservations going into Halo 5: Guardians, and I still came out on the other side impressed. Even though I didn’t know WHY many things were happening, it was WHAT was happening that kept me engaged until the credits rolled. 343 Industries has crafted an epic sci-fi extravaganza that will leave you breathless with its presentation and exhausted from its intense combat. The multiplayer has plenty to offer, and those of you who take the time to learn the maps and master the controls of Warzone and Arena will no doubt keep themselves plenty busy in the months and years ahead. If you’re like me, and you’ve never played through any of the previous Halo games before this one, don’t let that deter you from giving Halo 5: Guardians a whirl. While previous franchise knowledge almost certainly enriches the experience, the razor sharp presentation and gameplay make the game fun regardless of your prior Halo history.
- 343 Industries nailed the sci-fi presentation
- Thrilling set pieces and breathtaking vistas
- It looks and runs great at 60fps
- Shooting mechanics feel solid and responsive
- Dreadful friendly AI
- Steep learning curve for MP may be off-putting to series newcomers
- If you're not well versed in the Halo lore, you probably won't appreciate the story as much as you would if you were