In 343 Industries latest sequel to the beloved Halo franchise, players are treated to a wealth of new updates. The graphics look better than ever, and the gameplay is designed to be as exciting as possible. But with so many past bumps in the road, Microsoft needs to take a fresh look at the series in order to keep it alive. Halo 5: Guardians takes advantage of all of the advancements that make the Xbox One a new-generation platform, and is a great new update for fans of the series. For everyone else, however, there may not be much of a reason to make this entry your first.
In the Halo franchise, one of the most important aspects of the game is the overall style. In Halo 5, the visual design is basically just a more shiny and detailed take on the previous installment. Where Bungie may have used this in the past as a tool to distract people from the lack of story, 343 utilizes the advanced technology simply to highlight what makes the series great. The facial features in Guardians are some of the best ever made in a video game. Modern day motion-capture has turned the Spartans, Locke and Buck into beautifully rendered characters, directly from the actors who play them.
The design and visual quality extend much further beyond just the characters, as every level feels incredibly unique and carries the feel of the Halo universe. The rough terrain of both icy and lush, green planets make traversing the maps a special challenge in itself. Each planet is unique but is also shaped in a way that keeps them grounded in the same universe. The architecture of the Covenant home planet and their off-world encampments all feels like they were designed by the same alien species, fitting perfectly with each other. In the same vein, the Promethean armies are all designed to be sleek and fluid in the way they move, and their own form of architecture that is very distinguishable from the others species.
The Halo series was one of the first console games to push the envelope in terms of what players could actually see happen on screen, and it did so through the eyes of its mascot – Master Chief. Although he often found himself sharing the spotlight with other characters, such as The Arbiter, he’s never been downgraded to a minor character before. In this title, the bulk of the game is spent playing as Spartan Locke. As a fellow Spartan who has been tasked with finding and capturing the missing Master Chief, he and his squad are forced to go planet to planet looking for him. The story creates a polite curiosity within the player, but ultimately Locke’s story isn’t deep enough to warrant being the main focus of the story. His overall use in the game is boiled down to exposing players to the game’s mechanics, introduce new enemy types, and then ultimately let Master Chief go in and do all of the boss battles. Locke’s story feels very formulaic and a little detached from the Chief’s storyline. The result being that when something important does happen in Locke’s story, there isn’t much of an emotional attachment involved.
The overarching story is very intriguing and does manage to push the story forward, but the sad fact of the matter is that the characters don’t carry enough weight to make it feel interesting. It would be much more ideal to have played through a Master Chief-centered story, but better dialogue for the characters would have also been nice. Players who skipped a game or any of the live-action series do not get enough exposition to really care about Locke or his team. The events themselves that occur within the Halo 5 storyline do feel epic, and carry the weight of the world in them, but unfortunately, these characters feel like passive observers in the world around them instead of active participants.
The blessing of Halo on a new generation console is finding out how much is possible with the additional computing power. Halo 5 has more than its fair share of jaw-dropping moments, where so much is going on around the player that you can’t help but stop and look around. These earth-shattering events change the game from a simple first-person shooter to a platformer as well. Escaping an alien planet may seem fairly easy, but it suddenly becomes a very hard thing to do when walkways are crashing around you because a god-like Promethean is attacking the planet. Game mechanics are usually stunted in these moments, but hoping from ledges with only a single jump can be a little exhilarating. Not all of these events are playable, but those that are are incredibly fun.
The bulk of Guardians’ gameplayis centers around teams of up to four soldiers in a simulating an intense co-op experience. The two point of view characters in the story, Master Chief and Spartan Jameson Locke, share the same abilities in combat. This essentially means that the same moves for Locke and fellow Spartans Buck, Tanaka and Vale, can be used when controlling Master Chief and his squad. The game highlights this feature by giving the player the opportunity to quickly retry a level after dying, thanks to the party’s collective ability to revive each other.
Although they do provide cover fire for player, the squad’s AI is pretty light on the I. They will almost certainly die on you at some point in each mission, and although you can go and revive them, this isn’t always an option when you are swarmed by Promethean soldiers. Players can combat this by placing them in strategic positions to help turn the fight around, but even then it will fall on you to actually do most of the killing.
Halo 5’s combat is fun, but as fun as each kill is, it’s more fun to play with a friend. Co-op makes grand return in Halo 5, but unfortunately, it is only available online. Players can team up with friends and form parties to compete against other people in Warzone and Arena modes. Warzone, the newest addition, delves into the insanity of the relatively new MOBA genre. Set on gigantic maps with a plethora of NPC’s to kill, teams fight for domination of the map, and to be the first to hit 1,000 points. This mode in particular feels a little overwhelming in terms of scale, but rewards you for returning to the maps and figuring out how to take control of the Battlefield. The Arena section houses all of the traditional content that Halo’s multiplayer is known for, from the iconic Slayer mode, to Strongholds, and to the classic Capture The Flag. Overall, online play is smooth, fast and fun. This isn’t too outlandish, because it always has been, but it is nice to note that there is a firm amount of respect on behalf of 343 Industries to maintain the feel of Halo’s gameplay.
The most fun to be had, however, is in the campaign co-op. Even if you can’t sit next to your friend on a couch for a few missions, at the very least you can do it online with up to four players. The co-op adds a new level of fun to be had as your own conversations with friends drown out the in-game dialogue. Having your friends with you always makes each level a lot easier, simply because of the fact that they know to get out of the way of incoming fire, and actually help in a fight.
Halo 5: Guardians is an incredibly fun game to play, but it’s a little disappointing in terms of overall story. It doesn’t focus on the characters fans care about, and ends up suffering from the same issues a lot of middle entries in a trilogy suffer from, specifically having no real end. However, as long as the multiplayer action stays as vicious and exciting as it has always been, you’ll never feel the potholes in the plot. This is a game all fans should definitely play, but newcomers might feel little safer playing the Halo 4 before approaching Guardians.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.