The Master Chief has, for as long as I can remember, been synonymous with gaming on Xbox. Microsoft has gone to great lengths to ensure their platform mascot remained at the company after the departure of creators and developers Bungie, and it eventually resulted in the formation of 343 Industries. They, in turn, put out Halo 4 – a truly remarkable game that squeezed every drop of performance the Xbox 360 had to give, delivering a powerful and intimate story with extremely enjoyable additions to the Halo gunplay.
Halo 5 is their first shot at a Halo sequel, and it’s a little all over place.
In many ways, Halo 5 mirrors what Halo 2 was for Bungie. Back then Halo was a huge franchise already, shipping Xbox consoles like no other and promising to deliver another chapter in the engrossing saga of Master Chief. Since then, the idea of narrative-heavy shooters has become something of a staple, and Halo has always strived to deliver an excellent (if convoluted) story with each title. Halo 5 attempts to stay on the same page, but undercooks so many ideas in the grand scheme of things.
This is meant to be the Empire Strikes Back of the Reclamation trilogy, and it’s apparent in the first few hours into the campaign. Story details are so wafer-thin though that I begged the game to actually start a few hours in – even though I had already completed close to half it’s mission count. The first two missions set up what is supposed to be the main arc of the tale – specifically the hunt for Master Chief 117 from the view of new protagonist Agent Locke – but it never carries any real emotional weight or consequence. Locke’s Osiris team blindly hunt a hero, and never really question why with real vindication.
This is reciprocated by a blatantly confusing stance that the Chief himself takes in his three missions (that’s out of the total 15), keeping information that would otherwise easily resolve the hunt to himself rather than getting everyone on his side. It’s difficult to explain why Halo 5’s tale is so bland and boring without giving it away (tempting given how insignificant it all felt), but it’s an unfocused, uninteresting tale that swaps years of character building for a plot that really finishes before it even gets going. But hey, sequel!
Memorable only for the amount of disappointment it set in after it’s meagre six-hour long campaign, which brought to mind memories of Chief’s infamous “Finish the Fight” ender in Halo 2.
The campaign – and through extension the game itself – features otherwise exceptional gunplay. As is tradition with the franchise, you rarely end a mission with the tools you start them with, and the way Halo 5 forces you to switch your arsenal on the fly is both engaging and functionally sound. The weapons themselves are all now imbued with Smart Link, which is a form of aiming down the sights only halted by direct enemy fire. It gives Halo 5 a more modern feel, but without encroaching on the tried and test gameplay that has kept the series charging forward.
Even better is the way movement and Spartan abilities have been streamlined. Each character you can take control of in either Osiris or Blue squads features the exact same abilities, meaning everyone can do little boost dashes in any direction, mantle up on ledges with the jump button and eventually hit some air and slam into the ground with an almighty fist. Halo has never felt this smooth, and the added sense of mobility allows 343 to get really inventive with level layouts and designs.
Most of the fun when playing alone is wielded from the many set-pieces Halo 5 throws at you, but it’s unfortunately dampened by some less than exciting AI behaviour. Teammates do peculiar things, but always manage to do their best to revive you when you’re down in battle. That’s fine in practice, but the true genius of Halo 5’s campaign shines when you’re playing with up to three other friends.
Dynamic moments such as smacking Covenant in the face while a friend of yours is covering you with turret fire can only happen in co-op, and it’s truly satisfying in execution. Sadly there’s no split-screen, and playing online means connecting to Microsoft’s Azure servers (of which there aren’t any locally). That means there’s the slightest delay in tossing grenades and hitting melee attacks, but thankfully the netcode manages to keep things more than playable. Much like Titanfall before it.
Thankfully the same can be said for the proverbial other patty in this double stuffed meal. Halo has held fast, precise and, well, fun multiplayer to heart for years, and Halo 5 is just another step in the right direction. Taking all of the fluidity from the reworked movement and the verticality tied around with in the campaign, Halo 5’s multiplayer is the best the series has achieved so far. All the while being stable enough for play during early (and limited) play before launch (we’ll be testing it out more during launch week, and may update the review to reflect any disparities).
On offer before launch were only two modes, although 343 has promised that all the standard fan favourites will make a return once the game goes live. This includes game modes such as Slayer and Capture the Flag, as well as new ones such as Breakout (a cramped take on capture the flag with single lives, which I adored during beta). A mix and match of these make up Arena – an 4v4 team based mode that cycles through competitive playlists and maps. It’s fun and easy to jump into, but always a little better when you’re going in with a Fireteam of three friends behind you.
The other is Halo 5’s newest and most intriguing multiplayer addition – Warzone. Taking hints from MOBAs such as DOTA 2 and the like, Warzone drops at least 18 players into a single, massive map littered with objectives. Completing these objectives grants your team points, as does taking out AI controlled grunts and other human players. A match is won when a single team reaches 1000 points, but also if one team manages to take the others’ Power Core out – a central structure that players will have to actively attack and defend.
What keeps Warzone different is the way in which it incorporates Halo 5’s other biggest addition, simply known as Requisition Packs. Playing through multiplayer earns you in-game currency that you can spend on Gold, Silver or Bronze packs. Within are customisation options for your Spartan; weapons, vehicles and ability boost that you can use primarily in Warzone. Simply strolling up to a station in a match will let you equip any cards you have, granted you’ve earned enough energy during the match by earning kills or completing objectives. It’s like a Store in any MOBA you’ve ever played, except that your inventory is procured before the match even begins.
REQ points can be purchased with real-world money if you want to boost your arsenal fast. It’s hard not to say it won’t make a difference in a match (having a near infinite supply of special Sniper Rifles and Rocket Launchers is never a bad thing), but it’s not intrusive enough to be a problem, especially since Warzone isn’t exactly where the bulk of Halo5’s competitive multiplayer rests. What might be irksome is that you’re potentially spending money to play Halo 5’s REQ Slot machine – which can easily spit up more duplicates than you’ll ever care for.
And while it doesn’t bear the exact same shortfalls, Halo 5: Guardians struggles to shake off the shackles of feeling like an exact twin of the middle child from Bungie’s own trilogy. The second part in the Reclaimer saga is sadly a disappointing one, making nearly no progress in the overall narrative arc while simultaneously failing to entertain in what has been billed for months as a clash of Spartan Titans. The multiplayer and vastly improved gameplay keep the entire package intact as an unmissable one for Halo veterans, but it’s hard not to feel slightly disappointed by what could’ve been – as far as the story goes, anyway.
In the wake of the Master Chief Collection’s poor post-release performance, this is a provisional score that will be updated as more of the game goes live.
Last Updated: October 26, 2015