My Halo 5: Guardians Experience

When I got the call (alright, it started as an email) to take a trip to 343 Industries to preview the unrevealed Halo 5: Guardians campaign, I was ecstatic. The noises escaping my mouth for the next few days were akin to a child on Christmas Eve. Whenever I receive invites to special events like this, I always try my best to squeeze out any information I can from any source I know. How many people are invited? Who will I see there that I recognize? I probably shouldn’t be revealing my rodent-like tactics but hey, it makes for a good story.

All I knew before I arrived was that I would be playing Halo 5: Guardians. I would get hours of hands-on time with single player, co-op, and multiplayer. I’ve always been a campaign guy. The Halo campaigns have revolutionized video game storytelling, and from day one I have been hooked. Halo is the Star Wars of video games. It has such a massive, compelling universe that is rarely rivaled. To know that in mere days I would be playing the one thing that makes me as excited as Christmas morning used to make me was intoxicating.

We couldn't play as Fireteam Osiris, but I wanted to!
We couldn’t play as Fireteam Osiris, but I wanted to!

Through some sleuthing (and educated guessing) I discovered that my buddy MoreConsole (fellow YouTuber and Destiny personality extraordinaire hailing from the UK) would be joining me on the Halo 5 escapades. To those reading this that are completely unaware of myself or Ready Up Live, I’ll give you a very brief background to a long and storied history. RUL grew to worldwide fame during Halo 4 when the associated YouTube channel covered Halo news. The ReadyUpLive YouTube channel is now one of the top and must reputable Halo channels in the world. So on this lucrative trip we had a small group of two YouTubers (myself from Canada, MoreConsole from the UK), a team of two from the Space TV channel, and more traditional press from around the world. This was the first time anyone had a chance to see the campaign of Halo 5: Guardians. Take it from a guy who covers this stuff for a living: not a word of this has been spilled.

The night before the trip, I hypothesized what we would be seeing the next day. I guessed pretty close, and that’s a good thing. I guessed what I wanted to see. I wanted Halo to take a big step to rival the popular games on the market right now. The first one that comes to mind? Destiny. A first-person-shooter experience built from the ground up for cooperative play. Reviving, teamwork, and individual playstyles balancing each other out is what makes Destiny so fun to enjoy with friends. Halo 4, 343 Industries’ first major entry into the Halo franchise was met with mixed opinions. Critically the game was well received, but the fanbase quickly stopped playing after mere months. The game was safe. It was relatively similar to previous titles while incorporating the mechanics that were introduced in Halo: Reach. The campaign was a corridor-filled, directed experience. Do this, press a button, kill guys, press a button. Rip on Halo 4 as much as you’d like, you’d be hard pressed to find a better AAA FPS title on the market. It still kept up with the best, and the graphics are immensely impressive to this day. Halo 5: Guardians is 343 Industries’ Halo 2. Bungie’s Halo: CE was an amazing game, but Halo 2 took it to entirely new levels. The graphics, the online multiplayer with ranks, the story, the cutscenes, the custom games, I could go on and on. Bungie invented something amazing, saw the reaction, then took it to the next level. 343 were scared to jump too far in fear of sinking, but now they’re ready to take Halo to the next level.

THE REVEAL

After a night of heavy drinking to ease the wait, I stumbled into 343 with ibuprofen and Gatorade in hand. We sat in one of their lobby meeting rooms which I was all too familiar with. Alan (MoreConsole) and I were some of the last to enter the makeshift waiting room. We greeted everyone and swapped tales of the wild night we experienced. A 343 employee asked each of us what difficulty we would like to play on first. I chose Heroic, of course. That’s the way to play Halo! After some fruit and coffee, we were ushered into the playtest room beside us. Monitors lined each wall with a massive table in the middle of the room. At the back of the room was every major 343 employee. It was almost intimidating seeing them all watching, judging, nervous for the world premiere of their hard work. As we sat at the middle table, we were given a presentation on the overhead projector. It was a slow ramp up, so I was giddy to hear the juicy bits. They talked of the beta from around Christmas time and the changes they made based on player feedback. Movement speed will be increased, sprint “nerfed” (reduced, depowered), and most weapons will have tweaks. Then we jumped right in to the story of Halo 5.

The Multiplayer Beta helped shape the full game.
The Multiplayer Beta helped shape the full game.

THE STORY

Mysterious events have been popping up across the galaxy that will change the Halo universe as we know it. What used to be humanity vs. aliens has become much more complicated. There is unrest in the galaxy. Master Chief and blue team have gone AWOL and ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence) has sent a top-notch team of Spartan IVs after them. The team is called Fireteam Osiris. Led by Spartan Locke, Osiris consists of returning favourites Spartan Buck, Spartan Tanaka, and an entirely new character: Spartan Vale. Spartan Jameson Locke (Mike Colter) was first introduced to us in the Ridley Scott live action series Halo: Nightfall. Spartan Buck (Nathan Fillion) was the former leader of ODST team Alpha-Nine. They captured his voice, scanned his face, and even had him do some motion capture work. Spartan Tanaka is relatively new to the universe, appearing recently in the Halo comic series Halo: Escalation. Spartan Vale is a brand new female character that should be revealed in an upcoming Halo novel. Halo fans already had a strong hunch that Buck was on Fireteam Osiris, but hearing it confirmed made me let out a cheer. Buck has always been one of my favourite characters in the Halo universe. The media seemed impressed by the facial animation of these characters. They looked far better than the usual cartoony style we were used to seeing in Halo.

Next we were told about the gameplay. Halo 5 was proclaimed to be the most ambitious Halo game yet. Built from the ground-up for cooperative play, Halo 5 features a seamless jump-in-drop-out system. At all points in the game you will be accompanied by your AI companions on either Blue Team or Osiris. These characters, of course, can be replaced with real players at any point during gameplay. Each character has a unique helmet/HUD, weapon loadout, and voice. If you play as Linda from Blue Team, for instance, you will always start with a Sniper Rifle. Throughout the missions the characters will talk with each other. If your character is speaking it will sound as though it’s inside your head rather than over a radio. This sounds obvious, but it became noticeable replaying the same mission as different characters.

Linda always loads  out with a Sniper Rifle.
Linda always loads out with a Sniper Rifle.

To make Halo 5 a true coop experience, for the first time ever you can be “downed”. When you die, you’ll drop to one knee on the floor and await revival. You have a limited time to be revived before you fully die and have to wait to respawn. To revive, an ally simply needs to stand in proximity of you and hold the use button. He then raises a holopanel, types into it, and blasts you with rays of green light. Magic. If you are killed by a more deadly force like being stuck by a Plasma Grenade you will be instantly killed with no option for revive.

If you’ve ever played the game Republic Commando (which, interestingly enough Tim Longo of 343 had a hand in making) you’ll appreciate this next feature. As squad leader you can direct your teammates to perform certain actions. If you are looking at a weapon and press up on the D-Pad, a teammate will run over and pick it up. Point at an enemy and your team will focus fire on it. You can even direct them to cover. With a team of human players, the party leader (Master Chief or Spartan Locke) can still perform these commands to help direct their teammates to locations, enemies, or hidden weapons.

After getting the run-down, we were shown a brief campaign teaser. It moved so fast it was hard to point anything out. That being said, what my eyes feasted upon was jaw dropping: massive enemies, space battles, and more. I saw Hunters forming from worms (Lekgolo) on the ground, Banshees flying past a space station, and a flying Forerunner vehicle shooting at a massive covenant station (it almost looked like a mining rig). The scale was unlike anything we’ve seen in Halo, specifically the giant vehicle scene. There were vehicles flying around, Covenant shooting plasma through the air, and explosions illuminating the landscape. It was hard not to get excited. We watched it twice. I am very certain that the space banshee scene was a playable experience. Halo 5: Space Battles. Colour me hyped. A new enemy type was briefly shown called the Promethean Soldier. It’s a more human-like enemy that moves fast and looks to be a handful to deal with.

Promethean Soldiers look like a handful.
Promethean Soldiers look like a handful.

MISSION 2: BLUE TEAM

It was time to play. I was in a state of disbelief as we launched the builds together. We got to experience about a third of the second mission in the game titled Blue Team. The mission opens with Blue Team soaring through space with jetpacks heading towards an abandoned ONI facility called Argent Moon. They shoot a window and crash in as startled Covenant forces draw their weapons. Blue Team, one by one, slide to a halt in perfect formation. The suction from space yanks the Covenant out as Chief’s crew utilizes thrusters to maintain position. The door shuts and Blue Team, unflinching, carry on. Gameplay begins. The team constantly banters during gameplay, and a small unanimated image appears on the top left of the HUD to indicate who is speaking. When questioned what takes place in these ONI facilities, Chief responds “We don’t ask.” Charred skeletons of workers litter the floor. I began experimenting with orders. Up on the D-Pad sent my team wherever my crosshair was pointing. We pass a giant ship in a hanger. The team talks about it. It’s a top secret ONI stealth vessel. It’s huge. We head to a door that opens behind an unsuspecting Grunt. He’s muttering away to himself in English. All of the Covenant speak English once again. They respond to each other and give orders. I’ll delve into that later.

I sneak up on him and hold my melee button to perform an assassination. It works, but everyone else will soon spot us. More Grunts and an Elite. I press my D-Pad while aiming at the Elite and Blue Team focuses their fire on him making it easy for me to get up close and personal while he’s distracted. We take him down easily. After cleaning up the grunts we move forward once again and enter an Elevator. Moving down, I have a chance to closely examine my teammates. The doors open to a shotgun on the floor. I use my D-Pad to encourage a teammate to pick it up. My team is now loaded to the teeth.

There’s a slim metal wall blocking our path. After it’s suggested by Master Chief, I do a running charge into it and break it. I am greeted by a hundred foot fall into a large battlefield. Shipping containers and hanging platforms fill the area with plenty of cover. A Hydra in an open case sits in the middle of our path. I press the D-Pad and Fred drops his pistol in favour of the heavy weaponry. Wanting to try something a little different, I take the high road and climb up to my left, fighting through a hanging tube. Jackals appear at the other end and give me a tough time but I quickly take them out with headshots. With some tricky jumping (made possible thanks to Halo 5’s clamber ability) I climb up to the highest point in the area. I pick up a DMR and rain fire down on the enemies below to assist my teammates. Jackals consistently jetpack up to my platform and distract me. As any Spartan would, I give them a good smack as soon as they land and send their bodies toppling down the shipping crates below. The center of the battle zone has a raised section with plenty of Jackals and Elites. I assist my teammates and take most of them out before leaping into the air and flying across the map with a Ground Pound. I land on one enemy and launch another back with no shields. Easy pickings for my DMR. Up ahead are Sword Elites between metal pillars. They give us a little trouble as Suicide Grunts distract us. My teammate goes down, so I run over to revive him.

We finish off the last of the enemies and are encouraged to move forward. As I enter the next room and walk along a bridge, a Hunter falls from the ceiling, crashing into the bridge and breaking it in half. It sends me falling into the darkness below. I thought I messed up, but it was all scripted.

Give your team orders to gain an advantage.
Give your team orders to gain an advantage.

A cutscene begins with Chief waking up and looking around a dimly lit cave. “Chieeeff.” A hauntingly familiar voice beckons him. He searches for the source, finding Cortana’s chip. It disappears, being only a vision. “John…” Chief turns around and walks to the edge of a cliff face. In the distance on a rocky outcrop, the silhouette of Cortana struts into view. “The Domain is open. Meridian is next. You only have three days. John… The Reclamation is about to begin.” A giant creature rises from the depths as Chief falls to the floor bracing himself with his fist. “Chief, what’s wrong?” Cut to black.

That was it. I needed to know more! Frank O’Connor described Cortana’s cave appearance as a memory, a ghost if you would that is haunting Chief. This is how he is coping with her death. I took my headphones off with a smile on my face. I was ready for round two.

HALO 5 COOP

Next we had the opportunity to replay the mission as a cooperative team. They wanted to showcase how much more fun it was working together. We didn’t have working mics so we weren’t really communicating, but right away the typical gaming behavior was evident. Approaching the unsuspecting Grunt, one of my teammates fired and startled him. This prematurely started a battle giving them the Covies the upper hand. While standing in the elevator we stuck each other and teabagged the corpses. I could hear laughing behind me as developers watched our playful behavior. Since difficulty scales based on amount of players, we had a much tougher time than I did solo. When we first startled that Grunt, we all ran in expecting to be the hero. A Suicide Grunt pulled out plasma grenades and blew us all up at once. We looked at each other confused as to what happened. Of course, when your whole team is downed you revert to the last checkpoint.

The host of a game must always be either Master Chief or Locke. He can still give orders to direct the team, but nobody else has this ability. When joining a cooperative game you may select any other character to play as. Ultimately character choice has no effect on gameplay except for your initial loadout weapons.

Play as a team if you want to win.
Play as a team if you want to win.

After another round-table discussion we had the chance to play some more. I hopped on to a solo game and explored. I was trying to break the game and see what I could find. In the hanger area I jumped off the bridge and attempted to shimmy along a small ledge. When I reached a small platform I noticed something out of place. A black object. It looked almost like an alien skull. Assuming that’s what I was I tried to pick it up. Nothing. It was solid but I had no idea what it did. I glanced behind me. The Halo 5 campaign designers were watching intently, smiling to themselves. In a later discussion I would be told that they were certain I was about to unlock the secrets of the mystery object, but alas I did not. I shot the “skull” and a ring of sparks flew out from it. Further attacks did nothing. “I will say there’s another step to it” a voice behind me guided. I tried shooting things, pressing things, jumping on things, yet I couldn’t solve it. I decided to give up and continue exploring the level, which I regret to this day. I found the first ever Halo 5 Easter Egg and couldn’t unlock its mysteries. Halo 5’s designers were given a lot more wiggle room for Easter Eggs, secrets, and collectibles. If everything goes well there should be plenty to find if you look hard enough.

I went through the mission trying out things I hadn’t before. There was a small vent early on that allowed you to sneak past some Covenant and take them by surprise. We should expect many alternate routes throughout the Halo 5 campaign. I tried the Plasma Pistol which is a lot “fatter” than before and the Storm Rifle: a previously despised weapon which was actually quite effective now. Exploring the large battle area I found a slew of hidden caches, extra weapons and ammo. I also jumped around finding all of the alternate ways to traverse the battlefield.

HALO 5 MULTIPLAYER

Halo 5’s multiplayer is fast and fun. We had the opportunity to play on the revamped Empire map from the Halo 5 Beta and an entirely new underwater base map titled “Fathom”. Fathom opens showing “space whales” swimming around a semi-destroyed facility. During gameplay there are a million things to see outside of the windows. Fish, space whales (really just whales with tentacles) and bright yellow eels liven the atmosphere. The map is relatively small and with a raised platform in the middle holding a Sniper Rifle. On the ground floor there is a small area with a deadly water patch and a Shotgun. You have to be careful grabbing it because if you jump too far you’ll end up in the drink. The Storm Rifle was hard to master against other players. It overheats faster than any Halo weapon we’ve used before, but if you tap the trigger and keep consistent you can quickly decimate opponents.

“Flag Juggling” returns in Capture the Flag matches. By pressing the switch weapon button you drop the flag. Since carrying the flag slows your speed, it’s beneficial to continuously drop and pick up the flag over and over. Ground Pound with the flag makes your Spartan hold it like a spear as he flies into an opponent’s skull. The flag reset relatively quickly (just a second or two), but they said they are still tweaking it.

"Flag Juggling" returns in Halo 5's Multiplayer.
“Flag Juggling” returns in Halo 5’s Multiplayer.

The revamped Empire introduced walls on the small stairs in front of Blue Base and Red Base. This makes the bases less open and filters the enemies through it. I liked the change far more than I anticipated. You feel much less vulnerable and the flow of the map was less of a frenzy. I didn’t go easy. I decimated the other team coming out with 32 kills and 1 death. With every Triple Kill I heard the multiplayer team laughing in the corner of the room. I fully expect someone to write about how difficult the multiplayer was.

THE MUSIC AND SOUND OF HALO 5

After our gameplay experience we had the opportunity to sit in Sotaro Tojima’s studio and get a taste of the audio of Halo 5. We heard both major themes: Chief’s theme and Locke’s theme. Chief’s theme was a more somber version of the chanting monks we are used to, while Locke’s theme was triumphant and military. Locke’s theme could be heard in the menu of the Halo 5 Beta.

We were shown a video of how the audio was recorded. It was actually quite humorous. Dropping kitchen utensils from a height for get a nice metal bouncing sound made me realize how funny dropping things was in general. Halo 5’s audio design makes Halo 4’s look like a joke. Enemy characters will interact with each other even if you aren’t looking or listening. An Elite will command a Grunt to move forward and the Grunt will reply with reluctance. It was fascinating to see and I truly hope they show everyone the technology soon.

"Sanghelios Stonebound" is one of many locations we will explore.
“Sanghelios Stonebound” is one of many locations we will explore.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I thoroughly enjoyed what I experienced at 343 and I can’t wait for everyone else to get a taste. We have big things to see at E3, included a teased new game mode that incorporates all aspects of the Halo 5 sandbox. Could it be a BIGGER team mode? More players? A giant Invasion-like gametype? Time will tell, and the clock is ticking to E3.

Bam, said the lady.

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