I’ve been a Halo fan for years now, and whilst I have enjoyed playing most iterations of the game, I truly can’t deny that once Halo 4 rolled around my focus on the series wavered. My history of playing thousands of matchmaking games ended rather abruptly. I found myself asking, but why? How is this so different that I don’t feel the same deep connection. It came to the point that I went through a period of deep reflection on what exactly stopped me from that same enjoyment that I had previously experienced. Whilst I could never really put my finger on a single feature that I disliked, the conclusion that I came to was that while it was Halo, much of the game just did not shine with the degree of polish I had become accustomed to. Certain mechanics felt tacked on, the map design often felt unbalanced, and something about the armour abilities just felt off. Now none of these things in particular meant that Halo 4 was a bad game. If I thought it was terrible I would have never made it to 250 multiplayer matches, or replayed the campaign countless times. To me the title falls somewhere on the scale between good and great, but somehow failed to capture that amazement that prior Halo’s delivered.
I first had a chance to try Halo 5 during the beta, and whilst I was not immediately sold on the mechanics, I quickly grew to like them. Everything felt in place for what was to quickly become the perfect storm. The game was fluid, it was balanced, and most of all it just felt right. The taste from the beta was enjoyable, and left me wanting more. It would be months until I would get my hands on Halo again. As any fan of the series I watched any event that included details about Halo 5. I had jumped on the hype train.
The announcement of Warzone was my game changer. I knew from the moment I read about it that it would be the defining experience that would drive my love for Halo, and as it turns out I was right. I had a few chances to try Warzone prior to release, and I relished every moment I was playing. This was Halo, this was exactly what I wanted, what I needed, but would it hold up on release?
The answer is a resounding yes. Halo 5: Guardians is everything I wanted in a Halo game, and so much more. I was especially blown away in one respect, the campaign.
While the story itself might have been a little lack lustre, never before has Halo been this cinematic. The introduction of Fireteam Osiris was a pure treat, and while it may have been visual eye candy, it served a more important purpose, it set the tone for how the game would feel. While I have always felt like I was a Spartan in Halo, something about Halo 5 simply granted this feeling of being so much more powerful. This is facilitated by the addition of a few things namely shoulder charge, ground pound, and the thruster pack, and while none of these alone majorly effects the dynamic of the game, the inclusion of the them as a whole certainly does. While ground pound and shoulder charge do indeed have their uses, the consummate Halo player will find themselves using the thruster pack the most.
The player mechanics, while different do not hold a candle to the addition of a squad. No matter where you are in the game, you will always have 3 AI team mates to assist. They may not be the most intelligent partner AI to have ever graced the gaming world, but directing them using your D-pad can be a saviour, especially in harder difficulties like Legendary. The addition of an always present squad also changes the dynamic of the game if you are downed. No longer is it an instant death, depending on the difficulty your team has a certain amount of time to revive you and get you right back into the action. I would have never guessed how well this mechanic would have worked in Halo, but the application was perfect.
While mechanics do play a huge role in what made the campaign unique, and engaging, I strongly believe the pacing of the title is what truly makes it superb. While you’re playing Halo 5, it’s a rare occasion that you find yourself in a dull moment, but that rare occasion is intentionally placed, and feels right. This expert intertwining of combat and story lends a significant hand to the campaign. If not for some qualms with the story, it might have become my favourite Halo title to date.
To Brian Reed’s credit (The writer of Halo 5 Guardians), it’s not as if the story is bad. It just feels short and to a degree slightly incomplete. As you play through the game there is a chance that you might find it a bit confusing at points, but not to the degree in which some players were confused about Halo 4. While I found any plot twists were unexpected, they are sure to be divisive. While plot twists are divisive, the ending will most certainly be significantly divisive, it was a little abrupt, not quite a cliff-hanger, but something to that effect. As an overall experience, I think the worst thing that can be said is the story leaves you wanting more details, details which it simply does not offer.
At it’s core the campaign is one that I believe most Halo fans, and gamers in general will enjoy. While it has some weak moments when it comes to storytelling, Halo 5’s extreme amount of innovation feels fresh and provides a breath of fresh air into the series.
Since the launch of Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo has often found itself in leading roles in the first person shooter marketplace; often defining the genre as a whole. With Halo 5, 343 Industries has gracefully found a way to bring Halo back into this leading role. As most people would note, the real battleground these days is in online multiplayer, and Halo has come in not with a whimper, but with an explosion of force.
My multiplayer thoughts are a work in progress as I have only to had a chance to experience pre-release matches. Full thoughts and verdicts will occur after launch.
Multiplayer is lead by two strong playlists, Arena, and Warzone, where no matter what type of Halo player you are, you’ll be able to get your fix. While original game types such a slayer, capture the flag, and swat make returns in the Arena playlist; we also get to see the addition of two new game types, Breakout and Strongholds. Breakout is Halo’s first attempt at developing an elimination style game mode, in breakout you have one life, you have make it count. While I was a bit ambivalent about it at first, breakout is expertly balanced and crafted. Until Halo 5, I thought only Gears of War was able to craft an elimination mode that drew me in, and kept my attention. Strongholds is a twist on King of the Hill, and Territories. To collect points, you must hold two of the three strongholds, it’s simple, fun, competitive, and addicting. Arena is a key aspect of Halo multiplayer, and as a whole well balanced, and fun.
Warzone is where Halo 5 shines. It’s the gamemode that defines the game. 12 V 12, large maps, objective based, and focused on the Req system. It brings a lot to the table. There are two types of Warzone, Warzone, and Warzone assault. I’ll start by discussing the later. Warzone assault is a throw back to the days of Halo Reach, a gametype that many of you may have loved, Invasion. As with invasion, there is one team attacking, and one team defending. There are three points to defend, and the loss of a point pushes your team back, until you have to defend your core. The real difference between invasion and Warzone assault is the addition of the req system. The req system allows you to collect “xp” while you play. This xp is then used to level you up from 1 to 8, with new and interesting reqs available upon each level. The req’s themselves are obtained by opening req packs, purchased either with an in game currency or real world dollars. They can range from a plasma pistol to a scorpion. Req’s change the dynamic of play and make Warzone assault truly unique, and interesting.
While Req’s shine in making Warzone Assault unique and interesting, they entirely make the dynamic of regular warzone. Warzone’s goal is to either reach a score of 1000, or to destroy the enemies core. Collecting points towards the score involves holding bases for a slow trickle, or killing bosses that spawn around the map. (Bosses are AI such as elites, or Prometheans.) Pushing the core is not unlike Warzone assault, though it should be noted that the enemy team can push back and reclaim ground they’ve lost, unlike in Warzone assault. The req’s which you use really define map control, and are instrumental in victory. Req packs flow fairly quickly while playing Warzone. You can easily afford a gold pack after only a few games. Warzone is a very intricate and unique large scale battle and it’s very easily my favourite thing to do in Halo 5.
As an entire package Halo 5: Guardians brings a lot to the plate, and if you own an Xbox One it should be considered a title you have to pick up. It truly defines what a quality multiplayer title is, brining to the table innovation, and genuinely fun gameplay.