Halo 5: Guardians is a conflicting entry in the legendary Halo series. As a multiplayer experience, 343 Industries succeeds in bringing the Halo video game series into the modern with upgrades like new traversal capabilities, ADS, and excellent map design. But a contrived and oftentimes frustrating campaign will leave veterans of the Halo video game series disappointed and confused.
Halo 5: Guardians starts with Master Chief being reunited with his fellow Spartans of Blue Team. After seeing an ominous vision of Cortana beckoning him to the Elite home world, Master Chief leads his loyal squad on a mission to find and rescue his old AI companion. However, the UNSC, (or ONI, or whoever’s in charge,) is concerned, and command Blue Team to stand down and return to base. Master Chief refuses, and chooses to lead his squad on a rogue mission. The UNSC then sends Fireteam Osiris, led by Spartan Locke, to “hunt down” Blue Team.
Halo players assume the roles of both Master Chief and Spartan Locke at varying points in the single player campaign, but Locke and his squad of Spartans are easily the focal point of the Halo 5: Guardians Xbox One exclusive game. Out of the fifteen campaign missions, Master Chief is featured in all but three. This would be fine if the Halo icon’s absence was replaced with a compelling protagonist. Sadly, Spartan Locke ends up being little more than an obedient boy scout. While many of the characters surrounding Locke have motives, concerns, and opinions, the stoic soldier himself seems content with following orders throughout the Halo 5: Guardians seven-hour single player campaign.
Relating to the rest of Halo 5: Guardian’s cast doesn’t prove much easier unless you’ve read the novels or comics from Halo’s expanded universe. If you’re familiar with Eric Nylund’s The Fall of Reach, you’ll know that Master Chief reuniting with his old friends is a big deal.
Standing on its own, however, the Halo 5 plot point falls flat, and leaves the player wondering who these people are and why we should care.
Some backstory is offered through audio logs and dialogue sequences between the Spartans, but these take place during Halo 5 gameplay and feel disconnected from the action. Further details on the game’s lore can be found in hidden audio logs, but these only add more inconsequential details to an otherwise overly simplistic plot.
While the main Halo 5: Guardians story is underwhelming, the Halo 5 gameplay is anything but. Veterans of older Halo games will be right at home with Halo 5: Guardians PvE combat; signature features like vehicular combat and weapon variety are all present and accounted for. Master Chief’s old alien adversaries, the Covenant, return mostly unchanged; while Halo 4’s new enemy race, the Prometheans, are reintroduced with several alterations and additions throughout the newest Halo game. New agile enemies known as Soldiers teleport around the battlefield in a dance of light, while the bulkier Knights impose a slower, yet more challenging, threat.
When it comes to fighting these enemies, Halo 5: Guardians’ format is mostly familiar. Players will fight their way through teams of flying banshees, bases littered with snipers, or simple hordes of various infantry. What’s new is the co-op focused level design. Combat areas are riddled with alternate routes and hidden passageways to explore. More importantly, these may be used to coordinate tactical approaches with cooperative players. One player can snipe from the mouth of a high-rise cave while others battle on the ground; large groups of enemies can be flanked by two Spartans on either side; the large-scale level design isn’t as open as older Halo video games, but every area still allows for tons of experimentation.
This co-op centric design works great with friends, but at the cost of an enjoyable single-player experience. When playing alone, three AI companions replace fellow human players. Though quick button commands offer you some control over your squad, I found my artificial Spartans unhelpful and frustrating; especially when it came to Halo 5: Guardians newly implemented revive system. Any time I requested assistance, my AI comrades would either flat out ignore me or stupidly rush into the same threat which had taken me down. Halo 5’s recurring boss-fights is equally infuriating, as it is designed to have players flanking the target, which the AI simply cannot do. It’s disappointing for an instalment in the Halo series, which is so highly regarded for its single-player experiences to rely so heavily on cooperative play. And the lack of split screen support or a co-op matchmaking playlist just adds insult to injury.
Halo 5: Guardian’s saving grace is its multiplayer.
343 Industries has done a masterful job upgrading just enough of Halo 5: Guardians mechanics to make it feel fresh while still preserving what makes the Halo video game series so distinctly great. Aim-down-sights makes its long overdue appearance, though you’ll still get knocked out of your scope when hit. A new boost ability allows for swift dashes in any direction to extend your jumps or make a swift return to cover. Clambering up ledges and endless sprinting allow for quick traversal in any map type. These new player abilities add up to the smoothest, most fast-paced first-person shooter combat experience of any Halo and most other first person competitive shooters.
The moment-to-moment Halo 5 gameplay upgrades are what make Guardians a relevant modern shooter, but it’s the multiplayer map design that keeps it all so Halo. Every Arena map is designed around power-weapon locations, with platforms and routes expertly crafted around your base capabilities. Spaces feel controlled, yet still open and flexible. And as always, some old favourites like Midship and Headlong make appearances, but some of these remakes are Forge maps, which look starkly bland when compared to the highly detailed on-disc maps.
Most Halo 5 multiplayer maps can be enjoyed in the standard matchmaking playlists expected of the series; Team Slayer, Team Objective, Big Team Battle and fan-favorite Swat all have dedicated playlists. The new flagship mode Warzone, however, breaks the mold of pure equal competition. In this 12v12 game type, teams must capture areas to accumulate more points upon killing opposing players or spawns of AI Covenant and Prometheans. Though I enjoyed the more versatile format, I felt the use of Requisition Cards (Halo 5: Guardians’ form of microtransactions) robbed the game of its purity. Reqs are obtainable through experience, but you could always drop some cash to get cards for tank spawns or sniper loadouts. However, Req packs are randomised, so it isn’t quite pay-to-win.
On the opposite side of the PvP spectrum is Breakout, a new 4v4 mode of elimination. Online players are dropped into a round of slayer and must kill off the opposing team; no respawns. Shields are reduced, ammo is scarce, and tensions are insanely high. With up to nine rounds to seal a victory, Breakout is just as much about mentality as it is skill; you could lose four straight rounds and feel quite out of the races, then spring back and take the match all the way to Round 9. Classic weapon-focused map design paired with this high-intensity format makes Breakout the most exciting experience in Halo 5: Guardians, and my favourite hardcore competitive mode of any Halo series title.
The lack of any local multiplayer and a compelling story in the new Halo video game is both disappointing and even upsetting. Halo’s video game series was founded on split screen co-op, excellent Sci-Fi narrative, and flexible level design, and for it to suddenly become so flat and restrictive is frustrating for returning Halo fans and newcomers alike. But this is all but made up for with what is easily the most exciting and enjoyable online multiplayer experience since Halo 2. The moment-to-moment action of platforming and traversal feels fresh and fast while the rewarding skill-based gunplay and masterful map design all stay true to Halo’s roots. Fans of the lore will be disappointed, but the quality online multiplayer experience is enough to keep any PvP purists satisfied until the inevitable new Halo 6 video game release.
- Moment to Moment action
- Map Design
- Game Mechanics
- Weak Narration
- Lacking of Story
- AI bugs