Halo 5: Guardians Xbox One Review
I had the option to flank left, stay central, or flank right in a breathtaking sandy environment riddled with ancient statues on the Elite home world of Sanghelios. I sent my co-op buddy to the left to do some reconnaissance and take out any stragglers that moved away from the group of Covenant defending the entrance we had to get through. The two AI teammates and I went to the right, first clearing the bridge leading right up to the entrance defended by a Wraith. As we all struggled to make any leeway, with several Elites stopping our ascent up onto the shattered bridge to take out the Wraith, I spotted what seemed to be a weak point in the levels geometry and immediately Spartan charged right through. Voila, an entirely new cavern and flanking option had just emerged. We took out the enemies and I ordered my two AI teammates to take up positions centrally that would distract the Elites blocking our path. I tip-toed through the cavern and managed to assassinate one and eventually kill the other. It turned out there was another breakable construct underneath the bridge, and we all waltzed inside towards our objective without having to take out the enemies directly above us protecting the entrance we were supposed to go through. This is when Halo 5: Guardians is at its most ridiculous best, and this happened all the time throughout my 12 hour journey on strange alien worlds with fantastical vistas and skyboxes. What you’re supposed to do is always a viable option, but there are hidden tunnels and pathways leading up and over that change the way you interact with your environment, teammates, and enemy forces.
The story of Halo 5 though, might not be as kind to those who have not immersed themselves into the extended universe fiction. The main plot thread concerns the Master Chief going AWOL and the UNSC (particularly the ONI branch within) sending Fireteam Osiris, headed by Spartan Jameson Locke who was introduced in last year’s Nightfall series, to bring back Spartan 117. Without spoiling anything, tales of Forerunner constructs and new characters, introduced and fleshed out in the novels, might not resonate as forcefully with the average player as it will with fans who are in tune with the lore outside the games. 343 Industries have successfully managed to tell a story of an epic space opera that leaves players on a Halo 2-esque cliffhanger in the lead up to the inevitable Halo 6. While I as a fan of the lore thoroughly enjoyed the aspects of the story having to do with the outer fiction, what I didn’t like as much was the failure to capture the #HuntTheTruth advertising campaign’s overall theme. I would have loved to have had more of an emphasis on the warring philosophies between the Master Chief and Spartan Locke that the trailers had led us to believe. There are times when interesting plot points are not further developed, to probably be left to the next game, novel, or comic. While that may be frustrating, as said before the overarching tale being told is fantastic whereas the story between the characters, a huge ensemble may I add, could have been fleshed out more in longer cut-scenes or more dialogue between missions. Although in the sound department, there is a brilliant musical score to accompany the tank battles and aerial combat found in the Guardians campaign with some tracks gaining inspiration from the infamous monk-laden theme of the original Halo trilogy. As well, weapons and Spartan abilities are all crisp and powerful continuing on from Halo 4’s fantastic audio design.
But the gameplay tools developer 343 Industries hands the player while experiencing the plot, is a mastery of Halo combat. With the new focus on verticality in level design and more open spaces, players can fool around with their new Spartan abilities all over the battlefield. Spartan charging Grunts in the back to make them whirl around from the wiz of their methane packs, ground pounding a group of Promethean Crawlers and seeing their digital bodies dissipate into the air, or using the thruster pack at the last moment to evade a plasma grenade from the opposition allow for spectacular on the field moments. The shooting mechanics have been finely tuned to a crisp and the suite of weapons now all have their own purpose and feel powerful whereas the previous Halo 4’s assortment had many weapons feel like afterthoughts or clones of the Covenant and human variants.
The multiplayer of Halo 5 is where it will gain its legs, and the return to classic Arena-style combat is exactly what the series needed. Players are put into tiers based on 10 matches in each respective playlist as I tried to effortlessly grind my way to the top echelon of the Competitive Skill Rating (CSR) ranking system. When the threat of a potential drop in rank is on the line, games of capture the flag turn into organized efforts from players to both attack the opposition base whilst defending their own flag. Games of the all new mode Breakout, where no shields are present and players are locked with an SMG and a pistol, turn into frantic and hyper-focused matches where one slip up from the player could cost their team. This return to ranked multiplayer has done wonders for Halo 5 and so far seems to be a success and a blueprint for future Halo titles to harken back to the Halo 2 days of multiplayer madness. Outside of the ranked modes, 343 Industries have introduced Warzone, where all aspects of the Halo sandbox from Spartans themselves to enemy AI and vehicles are all thrown together on a gigantic map to duel as the first team to hit 1,000 points is crowned victor. Players can primarily earn points by defeating Legendary bosses and capturing bases but if your team is losing 950-300, you can still pull off a last minute victory by capturing all bases and destroying the enemy teams core. Throughout the game, players earn REQ points (short for ‘requisition’) to buy REQ packs that include anything from armor customization to weapon certifications to be used in Warzone. Players can take these earnings and use power weapons or vehicles in Warzone through the REQ store located in captured bases. Each weapon, ability, and vehicle is tiered so that nobody spawns with a tank the first minute in. In full-flight, Warzone is the promise of what the Halo sandbox can achieve and is executed with efficiency in 343’s second Halo title after taking the reigns from Bungie.
Halo 5: Guardians’ story flips the script and has galaxy wide ramifications for the Halo universe going forward with an astounding cast voice-acted to perfection, although slight faults in character building leave me wanting. A superb campaign, particularly in its level design, coupled with the all-new Warzone mode and the return of arena multiplayer makes Halo 5 the best FPS game of this generation and possibly the best Halo title ever.