Halo 5: Guardians is an improvement for Microsoft’s premiere franchise that takes what has made the series great and adds improvements that lets it compete with top first person shooters like Destiny and Call of Duty. In this Halo 5: Guardians review will mostly cover the campaign and my impressions of new multiplayer mode Warzone.
Based on Halo 5’s marketing campaign, I was expecting the story to be a Halo version of next year’s Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice movie. Two heroes that should be allies, but due to a misunderstanding or ideological differences are forced to fight each other. Anyone that completed the campaign will know that this implied storyline is one cutscene away from being false advertisement. I can’t really mentioned the real plot of Halo 5 without spoiling it, but I can mention that it has several story issues.
The first issue is Blue Team, and how they are introduced and explained. People complain that Disney didn’t include the around thirty years of Star Wars books, comics, and video games as cannon for Episode VII and that Warner didn’t add CW’s Arrow and The Flash as cannon for their DC movie universe, and Halo 5 proves that both companies made the right decision not include them. Anyone that plays Halo 5 that hasn’t read Halo novel Halo: The Fall of Reach will have no clue who Frederic, Kelly, and Linda are and will still know next to nothing about them after completing the campaign.
As someone that has never read the book, I learnt that the four Spartans that make up Blue Team grew up together, completed several missions the game never talks about, and are a family that never speak to each other in anyway a family or group of friends real or fictional would. Most of Blue Team’s conversations involve Master Chef giving an order and the others agreeing to follow. I would have loved to know what Fred, Linda, and Kelly were doing in Halo 1 through 4 when Master Chef had to save the universe without them or random interesting backstories like Master Chef having a long distance relationship with Kelly and cheating on her with Cortona the past four games (not a thing that actually happens, but would have been hilarious).
With the exception of Locke, Fireteam Osiris members have more personality than Blue Team. While you wouldn’t know a lot about Vale, Buck, and Tanaka, you will know some of their backstories and they have actually dialogue that believable teammates would have. Locke is generic military tough guy that follows orders and has no personality. Part of the reason Fireteam Osiris has more development than Blue Team, is the majority of Halo 5 has the players controlling Fireteam Osiris. Literally 12 of 15 missions involve the players controlling Fireteam Osiris.
While Halo 5 doesn’t have much to say, it does look incredible. If there were a beauty contest for video game graphics, Halo 5 would receive my vote for best looking game in 2015. The character models, environments, animations, and cutscenes that can rival Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy games, make Halo 5 one of the few games that truly show the power of current gen video game systems.
Campaigns in the Halo franchise are known for its perfect blend of first person shooting, good enemy AI, and vehicle combat, and Halo 5 lives up to that high standard. The two big changes to the campaign, is three CPU controlled Spartans when playing solo and several boss battles.
I’ve beaten the campaign solo and replayed over two thirds of it on co-op, and I enjoy the addition of my new Spartan teammates during my solo play through, but there is a lot of room for improvement. The other three Spartans are really good at reviving you when you die, and pretty bad at everything else. You can give them orders by pressing up on the d-pad, but the teammate command system needs to be rebuilt for Halo 6. There is no cover me, giving different orders to different Spartans, or telling any of the other Spartans to throw a grenade. You can only order them to attack, move, or revive whatever your gun is currently pointing at. This resulted in giving them the wrong order on several occasions, because you want them to attack the enemy your pointing at, but instead they move in that direction not focusing on the enemy you wanted them to kill. And there will be several times where anyone of your teammates will stand in one spot doing nothing, while you’re in a life-or-death situation.
Boss battles are a common occurrence in Halo 5 and I’m a fan of boss battles in video games, but Halo 5’s boss battles did get a bit old by the end of the game. The issue with Halo 5’s boss battles, are there is technically only one boss you are forced to fight repeatedly. I enjoyed the first few times I fought the Warden, but I was extremely happy when I defeated him the final time and didn’t have to fight him again.
Weapons, vehicles, and enemies are what make Halo 5’s campaign great. Halo 5 is the rare first person shooter where every single gun is good. The campaign forces you to try different weapons by giving you limited ammo and only certain weapons nearby when you run out, so it’s a good thing I never felt like I was at a huge disadvantage due using a gun I wasn’t familiar with.
The Covenant and Halo 4 introduced Prometheans are the enemies that populate Halo 5’s campaign. The Covenant are the same as previous Halo games, so you still have worry about invisible Elites with swords one hit killing you and punching Grunts to death still results in their adorable screams. I wasn’t a fan of Halo 4’s campaign and didn’t like fighting the Prometheans, but they are more challenging and fight differently than the Covenant or Flood. When fighting the Prometheans, you have worry robot dog attacks, enemies teleporting, and the new Knights that are basically mini boss battles.
I enjoyed all the vehicle sections and especially when I was flying the Phaeton. The Phaeton can shoot targeted rockets and switch to a machine gun, you can ascend and descend using the bumper buttons in a similar way you would control a helicopter, and it has a boost that allows it to dash in any direction. All the other vehicles are similar to previous Halo games, but they are easier to destroy. This forces the players to be more careful during vehicle sections and improves vehicle combat every part of the game.
I believe Halo’s 5 campaign is a big improvement over Halo 4’s campaign and it’s in the same league as Halo 1 and 2’s campaign from a gameplay perspective. While its story is only better than Halo 4’s, which I hated, it doesn’t significantly hurt the campaign. Halo 5’s campaign is my favorite Halo campaign to play in co-op, because every player is playing as a different Spartan and the campaign doesn’t become extremely easier when playing with friends. And I recommend you play the campaign on Heroic difficult, because normal is too easy and Legendary is the harder than any of the previous Halo games.
I covered new Spartan abilities and multiple player game modes in this preview I wrote for Halo 5, if you want more details about those features. The only real difference between what I wrote then about my experiences playing the multiplayer beta and what I experienced playing the full game, is Breakout becoming a capture the flag mode. The flag was added to keep teams from camping or to make it something that fans of Counter-Strike or the soon to be released Rainbow Six: Siege would love, but it didn’t make a big difference in any of the games I played, so everything I wrote then still applies. And everything I wrote about Spartan Abilities still applies.
In this preview I wrote about Halo 5’s REQ system and that new gameplay mode Warzone could be the next great multiplayer mode, and Warzone didn’t disappoint me. The first time I played Warzone I had no clue what was going on. I knew I could defend bases my team controlled or attack bases the other team controlled, but I didn’t understand why the Prometheans and annoying campaign boss Warden spawn in the middle of the battle. I had to play it a few times to understood how it worked, and loved this mode.
There are two ways to win. Your team can control every base, with the exception of your team’s initial spawn point or home base, on the map allowing you to attack your opponent’s home base, which would result in an instant victory if your team destroys the power core inside the bass. The second, and more likely, is the team that scores the most wins. Killing members on the other team, capturing and holding bases, and killing AI bosses, is how you score points.
Warzone’s use of AI opponents and REQ cards are what makes it different than Conquest mode in a Battlefield game or any other first person shooter multiplayer mode I’ve played. Warzone’s strengths are likely based off of Halo’s developers 343 evaluating issues other base/area control based game modes in other first person shooters. Normally when the other team controls majority of the bases, it’s near impossible to make a comeback, and that’s when the Warden or stronger versions of Hunters show up. These bosses that randomly show up that both teams can kill and gain a lot of points. There was one game my team was down 100 points and the other team controlled all the other bases and where attacking our home base. Then someone on my team killed whatever boss was running around, significantly cutting the opposing team’s lead and giving my team enough power to use better REQ cards that we used to capture one of the other team’s bases and tie the game.
The example I just gave is the main reason I like REQ cards, because it allows every player the chance to use the best weapons and vehicles in the game. Teams that have players effectively using tanks and helicopters tend to win games in Battlefield and the players that kill enough people to use air strikes in Call of Duty team also usually wins. This usually takes a lot of skill or luck, and it’s easy for players to lose interest when you bring a machine gun to a tank fight or are repeatedly blown up seconds after you spawn. As long as players are smart with their REQ cards, they should have the opportunity to help their team and the can completely suck at the game (I’m mostly talking about myself here). It also opens up the question of when to use your best REQ cards. If you have enough power to use your Banshee REQ card, but your team is losing, do you use the card to try to get your team back in the game or save it for a match in the future when your team has a better chance for victory? Questions like these are why I enjoyed Warzone.
Not every multiplayer game mode in Halo 5 is great. I personally hated Warzone Assault, a game mode where one team is defending a base, the other team is attacking that base, players can use REQ cards similar to Warzone, and there are no CPU controlled opponents. And I found the recently added Big Team Battle to be disappointing, because the maps for that game mode are not nearly as good as the maps in every other game mode (overall I think the maps in Halo 5 are good, and Big Team Battle is an exception).
Some poorly designed multiplayer maps and bad campaign story, isn’t enough to hurt the improved gameplay and fun new multiplayer game modes Warzone and Breakout, and I would recommend everyone with an Xbox One give try it.