Halo 5: Guardians has enough gameplay innovations and the technical aspect is so splendid that this is simply one of the best Halo games to date.
Halo 4 was the beginning of a new era for both the franchise and Master Chief. Although the first three games in the series were all about your fight against the Covenant, Halo 4 introduced a new race of enemies known as the Prometheans while also exploring Master Chief’s relationship with his companion AI, Cortana. Halo 5: Guardians continues that story arc and while the single-player portion will be divisive, there are enough gameplay innovations and the technical aspect is so splendid that this is simply one of the best Halo games to date.
Guardians takes place only a few months after the events of Halo 4 and during your playthrough, you’ll alternate between the Blue Team, led by Master Chief and his Spartan II teammates, and Fireteam Osiris, led by Jameson Locke and his new generation of Spartans. Osiris is tasked with finding doctor Halsey who apparently has critical information about the Prometheans. The Blue Team, on the other hand, is following a lost message from Cortana and both team’s missions lead to the both sides eventually meeting and confronting each other.
For years now, Halo has allowed you to play the single-player campaign with others and the novelty this time comes in the form of the possibility of cooperating with up to three other friends during the entirety of the single-player. Should you play on your own though, those three spots will be filled with the more than capable AI, so don’t worry about finding three friends with Xbox Ones and Gold subscriptions to play with you. Playing with other people changes the dynamic of the fights, since when you take enough damage and reach an incapacitated state, you can be revived by a friend and vice versa. Also, when you’re playing with the AI, you can issue basic commands such as “focus your attack on that enemy” or “move over there” and it all happens seamlessly and at the touch of a button. Sadly, this is the first time in the series that the campaign can’t be played via split-screen and on top of that there’s no LAN support of any kind. While this didn’t affect my review, it’s a shame to see that a feature that a minor yet vocal minority is extremely passionate about is gone.
So what should you expect and not expect from the campaign? If you were looking forward to playing solely with Master Chief and getting to know more about the character in the process, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Master Chief feels somewhat secondary and while I appreciated the introduction of a new team of Spartans, I was hoping that this game shed more light on a character that we’ve been playing as for years, but don’t know that well. Although it took me around 8 hours to complete it, the story feels short and the ending (while not as offensive as the one in Halo 2) leaves a lot to be desired and doesn’t solve anything. It’s a shame to play a game for so long and then not get a resolution of any kind because that means waiting a few years to see the true conclusion to this arc. Even if this is something the franchise is notorious for, the developer should have taken the ending more seriously.
But the fact that the campaign features not one, but two protagonists isn’t the only innovation. In fact, the game is teeming with new ingredients that make the Halo formula more modern while retaining the characteristics it’s famous for. The aiming system, which the developer refers to as smart-link, has been revamped in the sense that you can aim down the sights of all firearms. There are also some mobility options thanks to new “Spartan Abilities” that let you use your thrusters to evade, perform a powerful ground-pound, destroy walls that block your path or reach faraway ledges. Although these abilities aren’t game-changing, their addition makes combat snappier and more dynamic which is more than welcome. You’ll also notice that most of the environments are larger than you’d expect from a Halo game and you can access secrets paths or hidden weapons or approach battlefields from different angles, since they branch out. Finally, there are some missions that are straight up settlements where you can interact with some NPCs and nothing else which is strange since Halo has always been more straightforward. There’s nothing wrong with them, but since you can’t do anything other than talk to someone and move on, their inclusion is weird.
And then there’s the multiplayer which represents a departure from Halo 4. The most meaningful innovation comes in the form a new mode called Warzone which is a 24-player MOBA-inspired offering where you need to defend objectives while destroying your opponent’s in massive maps. There’s also the Requisition System or REQs, a multiplayer feature that allows you to obtain Requisition Packs to unlock cosmetic and in-game bonuses. As you’d expect from a modern game, you can earn those packs by playing the game or purchase them via Xbox Live if you have the money.
With Halo 5, developer 343 Industries had a lot to prove, especially after the releases of Halo 4 (whose online community simply vanished after a while) and Halo: The Master Chief Collection (a title that was plagued with technical issues.) But it feels like 343 went back to basics and took everything that made Halo fun and added some features that make the fifth iteration relevant and modern. There are some undeniable problems with Halo 5 and those are primarily related to the lack of split-screen and LAN support, as well as a short campaign that after hours of gameplay offers no closure whatsoever. But despite some missteps, I walked away satisfied from Halo 5 and it left me wanting for more which is more than I can say about most modern shooters.