I’m a big Halo fan. However Halo 4 worried me. It was 343’s first outing and it was a different direction. Spartans moved differently, faster, there were customisable loadouts in multiplayer with all gametypes geared around kills, and the story was the start of a new trilogy which was hard pushed as an emotional journey between Chief and Cortana and ended up a bit…. weird. The forerunners were a new enemy and boring, and there wasn’t a huge cliffhanger, more a whimper.
Enter Halo 5. Pushed as hunting the truth, Master Chief has gone rogue and the promotional material has much hyped this goodie turned baddie – “he’s one of us… not if he’s killing civilians”. With the new entry for this generation comes a new hero – Locke.
Locke has to hunt the Chief and the campaign is split between them both. Without spoiling anything I will say that much like Halo 2 was a difficult second outing for Bungie with the multiplayer truly excelling, Halo 5 is the exact same thing for 343. The hype around the story is short-lived, none of the prophesised dilemmas really come into play and it’s very much lots of baddies in big areas, kill everything, move onto another big area. Vehicular moments break up the monotony a bit but you’ve seen this all before. Disappointingly the classic Halo sandbox of approaching a situation in many ways is also reduced to pretty much charging in and killing everything.
The forerunners return and are equally annoying as previously. The fairly uninspiring enemies are all back with some bullet sponge recurring boss elements – eerily similar to Destiny in fact (and this isn’t the only similarity). The mindless progression through wafer thin nonsensical story bares great similarities to Destiny, with a similar emphasis on shared experience shooting. If you can’t rustle up some mates then it’s you and three AI shooting your way through the 14 levels. Innovation in level design takes a back seat to co-op play with enough breadth in areas for you to each have space without shooting each other and discovering hidden passages which are pretty much just breakable walls (an excuse for using the new shoulder charge ability). Similar to the Tower in Destiny, there are some levels which only require talking to various NPCs in order to uncover elements of story and then it’s onto the next. Various intel elements are dotted around to encourage you to search every nook and cranny if you’re so inclined. In the vain of Halo 2’s campaign, the finale is very much a setup for Halo 6 – it’s hard to imagine many getting too excited over it. It’s a shame also that despite the lack of originality the campaign is a shade under 5 hours long on normal difficulty.
It sure does look nice though. Some lighting effects are a bit questionable but the frame rate holds up very well and it’s constantly smooth and fast, with the gun sound effects punchy and the melee hits crunching. When Halo is a tad on the uninteresting side its combat usually pulls it through and this is the case here. Of course, the real fun starts in multiplayer.
Gone are the various loadouts and specifications of Halo 4, Guardians is back to balance. Everyone starts out with the same kit, and the same set of abilities. Power weapon pads are marked on the map for all to see and counted down for activation. If there’s a sniper on the map, there is one, you need to fight to get it. New abilities like the shoulder charge, ground pound and climbing agility are easy to use and add a new element to Halo whilst avoiding fully blown Titanfall style antics. It works brilliantly and the more I play, the more I am convinced that this is truly a next iteration of Halo. Whilst I do miss some of the slower play of Halo of old, this is a worth evolution of the franchise.
Sadly, modes are a bit light. Slayer is back, of course, along with Capture the Flag (sadly limited to the Classic style where the flag has to be at base to score, slowing down the game which is at odds with the game pace). Breakout is a first to 5 round survival match which works fairly well here and Strongholds is a take on Domination where you need to hold two bases to score. If you have three, then you just keep scoring longer, not faster. Oddly that’s it, with all in the mix for the ‘Arena’ playlist – no King of the Hill, Oddball or Assault games which is a bit of a shame. Halo favourites Headhunter or Grifball aren’t here either.
This slightly ‘unfinished’ feel to the content is felt a few times throughout Guardians. Halo staple Big Team Battle is nowhere to be found – promised soon but why not on release? Also Forge mode is also missing, touted as hugely improved it’s also a coming soon. The delay on BTB is really questionable though since there’s no player capacity or connection worry (especially pleasing considering the disaster that remains Halo: Master Chief Collection) and there is Warzone.
Warzone is a 12 on 12 Halo big battle where you fight to control all bases and then destroy the opposing team core. An alternative is to accumulate 1,000 points by killing foes (one per human kill) or AI bosses (ranging from 25 to 150 points). Again, think Destiny bullet sponges with many players working to take them down, the mode works well but doesn’t really feel Halo. Requisitions Points are available to buy packs and cards – you earn points just for playing but of course you can spend real money any time you want. In these packs you get cards for Warzone – reach a certain level in a match (which starts off at zero each time you play) and you can spend your in game level on any of the cards you own of the same value. This is kind of cool but encourages a pay to win mentality and unbalances what is classically a balance game – and a far stretch from Arena.
The best example comes later in a game when you can find a team has tanks, Mantis walkers, banshees, sniper rifles – all sorts of destructive tools. You’re limited to what cards you have – if you, like me, are lucky enough to only get Mongoose cards and brilliantly warthogs without guns then you’ve got a painful 20 minutes on your hands. These are long games and it’s not so much fearing the player with the rockets, it’s fearing every player as they all might have rockets or worse. It remains to be seen whether BTB will also have this support but given the amount people are spending on cards (one poster on NeoGaf has screenshots showing over £1,000 spent on packs!!) I can’t see it going away anytime soon which is a shame, but seems part of all first party MS titles these days.
Nonetheless, multiplayer in Halo 5 is brilliant. It could use a little more fat around the waste to help longevity but support is promised so we will see what it brings. For now for multiplayer it’s a must play. For single player there’s fun to be bad but mostly with buddies and on harder difficulties.
Reviewed on Xbox One