Halo 5: Guardians
Platform: Xbox One
Developer: 343 Industries
Halo darkness, my old friend…..
Bungie, like or lump it, have gone on to forge their own Destiny elsewhere. The billion dollar Halo franchise now calls 343 Industries home. This is the very definition of a AAA title. Thousands of man hours and millions upon millions have been poured into this game. They even enlisted the help of the community in forging Halo’s multiplayer components. Balancing, map design and even the new REQ system have been lovingly poured over by the development team, and it shows! Cut scenes are jaw dropping testaments to have far we really have come in video games with almost photo realistic depictions of the characters that make up the game’s cast. Halo 5: Guardians is a triumph in game design but where it reaches for perfection, sometimes it stumbles along the way. I have spent a lot of hours in the company of Blue team & Osiris, now it’s time to look back and see, have 343 created the polished, futuristic, first person shooter, sci-fi epic they intended or is this just another bug hunt? (Continues after pic)
Campaign (SPOILERS ahead! Skip on to the multiplayer review if you haven’t yet finished the story!)
Reminiscent of Halo 3, the campaign is split between two main characters, Spartan Jameson Locke & the titular Master Chief Petty Officer 117.
As Locke, with his team of fresh faced Spartans, Osiris, your mission is simple. Hunt down the Chief. He has gone off mission and is AWOL from the UNSC (sorry but acronyms abound!). During the hunt for John 117 you come up against the familiar Covenant and the slightly less well known Promethean armies. The Covenant haven’t changed much, energy sword wielding Elites and plasma grenade happy Grunts are all standard fayre for Halo, although the massive Hunters definitely seem to have had an upgrade, using their shields to ricochet grenades away almost every time. The Prometheans too have been upgraded, appearing sleeker (and angrier!) than in Halo 4.
Taking control of the Chief with his Blue team squad you too are on a hunt but in this case, it’s for answers. What are the huge Guardian machines, where did they come from and who or what is pulling the strings?
The Spartans have all had an upgrade since the last, cross generation Halo. Armour abilities have gone, replaced with permanent thruster packs, ground pounding and the mantle ability. Understandably, these abilities feel at home to Spartan Locke and his team but considering the Chief remains in his infamous green body suit, the upgrades to his abilities feel a bit strange. (Continues after pic)
Playing through the campaign I couldn’t help but wonder why the Chief had those upgrades and how much more interesting the comparison between the two teams would be if Osiris had them but Blue team did not. Instead, game play from team to team is identical. Neither the Chief nor Locke has any unique abilities leaving the transition between the two a little flat. Speaking of your teams, using the d-pad you can order your team to a specific location or to focus fire on a target. Playing on Legendary difficulty, this feature can come in handy. Enemy behind cover? Send your squad up to flush them out. Shields low? Use your team to buy you a few valuable seconds of recharge time. I used my team a lot throughout the campaign but there were times they let me down. Stepping in front of me as I was about to make a vital headshot or running to advance on the enemy only to run headlong into a Wraith. Companion AI has a way to go it seems.
343 clearly has worked hard on those ‘wow’ moments, providing stunning vistas and incredible back drops to the mayhem. As beautiful as these are there were instances of graphical issues. Areas of ground and fauna at times becoming pixilated. In one instance, Buck (played by Firefly’s Nathan Fillion) became stuck inside an object within the level. But at no time were these game breaking glitches. (Continues after pic)
Playing through a Halo game on Legendary can be a long hard road and never was this more apparent than during the boss encounters. The boss, namely the Warden Eternal does not go down easy. Pulling off a headshot on this guy isn’t gonna cut it. Instead you must focus fire on a small area on his back to bring him down. My first time facing the Warden was a tense and incredibly enjoyable fight. Problem is, it’s not the only one. You face the Warden over and over again in identical (and in one case multiple) incarnations. Granted, he proves a challenging opponent but I would have liked to seen a little more variety in bosses.
As with previous titles, the game takes a fairly linear format with a few exceptions. The levels are huge in scale and contain lots of hidden items like the traditional ‘skulls’ to locate but it is certainly not an ‘open world’ style experience. Levels do open up into large ‘arenas’ giving you multiple options for tackling a given combat scenario. The clamber or mantle ability allows you more verticality, which is a blessing for fans of long ranged weapons. No Halo game would be complete without the vehicles and the star of the show this time round is the Promethean Phaeton. It’s basically a VTOL like aircraft that hovers and, similar to the Banshee, has two firing modes. The vehicle sections are thrilling but sadly you don’t really get that much room to play with them.
I won’t spoil the legendary ending here but I thoroughly enjoyed the story. It served well to engage you in each teams struggle and, with the obvious exception of the Chief, provided a face to the heroes. Locke is without a doubt the main character here with Master Chief taking somewhat of a backseat. It’s a brave move making a hero as beloved as the Chief a bad guy of sorts but the way the story plays out, it worked. If going it alone is too much, the campaign features full ‘drop-in, drop-out’ support for co-op. Friends can take control of one of your team mates at any time and on leaving the AI kicks back in and takes over. This is without a doubt a Halo game. Maybe not the greatest ever but it’s up there. 343 seem to have found their stride with this universe and are now thoughtfully reshaping it to bring Halo to a new generation of players. (Continues after pic)
The ending sets us up for the inevitable Halo 6. Even though there are many differences between 4 and 5, you really get the impression that we’re in the middle of a trilogy with Guardians. Will Halo 6 be the conclusion of the Master Chief and Cortana’s story? Only time will tell!
The word is Warzone! For those who love it, Halo multiplayer still offers the traditional game modes we have come to expect. Arena style combat, enhanced with the new Spartan mobility is a fast paced and frantic struggle for the win. Fan favourite game modes such as SWAT have made a welcome return. In Arena games you get ranked according to skill, or CSR, as it should be. These game modes are targeted more towards the serious Halo player, even making the move to design the Arena modes for professional E-Sports tournaments. The maps feel well designed and built for the new generation of Spartans. The 4v4 game modes like Capture the Flag are what the die-hard fans will love but it’s in the brand new Warzone mode that 343’s talent really shines.
The premise sees two teams of 12 Spartans going head to head on massive maps choked full of AI enemies, bases, winding tunnels and wide open spaces.
The first Halo game to introduce micro-transactions in the form of the REQ system, it is thankfully not ‘pay to win’. Purchasing REQ packs will unlock cards that allow you to call in weapons and vehicles but you have to earn enough points during a game before you can use your cards in a match! Gathering ‘Victory Points’ during a match by killing enemy Spartans, capturing bases and defeating AI opponents, you gradually gain access to better and better cards. You ‘could’ call in a Scorpion tank but when you do, you use up points meaning if you get destroyed, you can’t use any of your unlocked cards until you earn more points. You can use real money to unlock cards for use in game but you can also earn REQ points just by playing the game. (Continues after pic)
I am by no means a pro player but I can hold my own. Playing Warzone I found that within 3 or 4 matches I had enough points to buy the Gold REQ packs. I do not intend to spend any money on packs but I do like that all DL content is free thanks to the presence of REQ micro-transactions. I can understand the kind of person who perhaps only plays now and again wanting to buy some packs if they don’t have enough time to spend playing & earning the REQs. The system has been implemented beautifully and in no way does purchasing REQs beat good old fashioned skill with a Battle Rifle!
The introduction of enemy AI to the mix of multiplayer chaos is a stroke of genius! Close battles being made even more frantic when an AI, worth a game changing amount of Victory Points, shows up.
The AI itself is no cake walk. I’ve been taken down more than a few times, to my eternal shame, by enemy AI marines guarding a base. They are not to be underestimated!
Running on dedicated servers, matchmaking has never been smoother. I remember waiting upwards of 10 minutes in Halo 4 or the Master Chief Collection for a game of Big Team Battle but in Halo 5, the longest wait I’ve had is about 3 minutes. (Continues after pic)
Halo 5: Guardians builds well on what 343 started with Halo 4. The campaign is challenging and engaging, the story, a memorable one. The PvP, for which Halo is synonymous, has never felt better. The upgrades to your Spartans mobility has made the sometimes long slog around maps of previous titles, a desperate scramble of soldiers thrusting, clambering and leaping around the maps.
Dealing with some complicated subjects such as the growth and evolution of artificial intelligence, you would be forgiven for feeling a little mystified by the end if you are new to Halo and not aware of the gargantuan amount of back story, not just from the games but also the novels, short films, TV shows and animated features like Halo: Legends. (Continues after pic)
343 Industries have made it clear, they are Halo and Halo is 343. They haven’t attempted to recreate Bungie’s Halo but built into their own vision. Their much more personal take on the characters leaves you feeling that the Chief, Locke and their companions, are more than just faceless soldiers. There is a rich and complicated lore in Halo and they have admirably honoured it all while at the same time making it their own.
At the time of this review, the map building ‘Forge’ mode was not released as yet but once the community gets their hands on it, I am confident that I’ll be playing community creations in Halo for many months to come.
Halo 5: Guardians isn’t just a must have game and a showcase for what the Xbox One can do, Halo sets the bar for modern console FPS games. And it sets it high!
4.5 out of 5 Nerds