Halo 5: Guardians (Xbox One) - ReviewDan Carreras , posted on 26 October 2015 / 16,654 Views
Halo 5 takes the Halo series into new and uncharted territory. 343 Industries has clearly taken a lot of criticism the last few entries in the series received to heart, and in doing so has managed to craft one of the best shooters of the generation so far. Whilst the characters, settings, and lore are all quintessentially Halo, the game feels wildly different to past entries. It's a risky move - one that risks provoking the wrath of many established series fans - but on the whole it really pays off.
The gameplay, which has historically only received small tweaks and refinements with each sequel for the most part, is noticeably different in Halo 5. Gone is the overly 'floaty' feeling of movement from previous Halos, where a massive jump would cause your character to glide smoothly through the air before landing without any noticeable impact, and gone is the plastic feel of the weapons. Halo’s gotten serious, and this new found sense of self-awareness has altered the gameplay dynamic.
Every bullet is felt, every punch savoured, and every death makes an impact. This is combat you can really relish in. Everything feels more life-like - not just in a presentational sense but also a gameplay one, thanks to all of your actions being accompanied with an appropriate sense of weight. Punching an enemy whilst sprinting will also perform a new Spartan ability, with the camera zooming out for a second to really show off the impact of your punch.
On the subject of potentially controversial new features, smart zoom has been added. This means that, when using the default controller set up, you can quickly 'scope' in with any and all weapons by using the left trigger, as you can in most shooters. Why is it going to be controversial? Well besides the fact that this is a first for the series outside of weapons with built-in scopes, it signals an obvious convergence between Halo and other blockbuster first person shooters like Call of Duty, which will not be to everybody's liking. Add to all of these gameplay changes the new Spartan aim feature, which allows you to hang for a while in mid-air whilst aiming, and you have one of the most distinctive Halo games in a long time.
Most of these gameplay changes, as well as the locked 60 frame per second, feel right at home when playing against over players in multiplayer as well; indeed it feels like they were thought up with multiplayer specifically in mind. Something like the Spartan slam ability is relatively useless in the campaign but comes in very handy in multiplayer, for example, so as welcome as most of these changes are when it comes to the campaign they make for even stronger multiplayer additions.
There are also, of course, new threats to encounter in the campaign. The Promethean race has been overhauled. New foot soldiers can teleport across the battlefield and these foes take centre stage. They're tough to kill as well, with standard headshots being out of the question until you’ve done enough damage to anger them into presenting their heads. The Promethean knights have also been reworked; they're a lot stronger and more fearsome now, and share similarities with the Covenant hunters which have weak spots on their backs that have to be focussed. The end result is that each faction in the Halo universe has its own distinctive 'easy', 'medium', and 'hard' troop types.
For all the good there are some glaring negatives. For one, the campaign is exceedingly short. I completed it within 5 hours on Normal. I then went back and played through it again on legendary, which increased my playtime to 20 hours, but the dearth of original campaign content is a bit disconcerting and is hopefully not the start of a trend for the series. Pre-release publicity claims that the game contains 15 missions, but it's really more like 12 playable levels and 3 hub 'missions', where you walk around an open environment listening to NPCs and finding hidden collectibles.
These town hub segments leave something to be desired as well. In theory, I quite like the idea - it has the potential to make the Halo series feel more grounded in its own reality, and helps to further flesh out the Halo universe. Unfortunately its implementation in Halo 5 feels a bit off. NPC stand awkwardly around, exhibiting a very small selection of animations, waiting for you to walk over to them and trigger a pre-set conversation. It’s a bit jarring, but as I said before it does have potential, so hopefully 343 Industries puts more effort into these segments if it decides to include them in the next Halo.
It’s also a shame that, despite all of the advertising for the game focussing on the division between Spartan Locke and Master Chief in almost equal measure, Halo 5 actually only allows you to play as Master Chief in 3 of the 15 missions. It doesn't make much difference from a gameplay perspective - Master Chief and Locke control identically - but Master Chief has always been the star of the show and a major part of the Halo universe, so his relative absence is certainly felt.
As short as the campaign proper is, there's plenty of replayability, as Halo fans have come to expect. There are 117 collectibles to be found, which will keep completionists coming back to the campaign levels time and again. These collectibles add to the universe's lore in genuinely interesting ways, for example by explaining the consequences of a glassed planet, or divulging the elites' feelings towards their brothers in the Covenant. The level design is simply sublime as well, with a new-found degree of verticality allowing for different approaches to skirmishes. This makes replaying the campaign levels more engaging than ever before in the series.
Halo 5 is definitely one of the most polished games on the Xbox One. The large vistas, polished character models, and fantastic anti-aliasing ensures that the world of Halo has never looked better. The 60 fps lock also ensures that the game looks and plays smoothly at all times. Once you've played Halo at 60 fps you'll find it very hard to go back to older Halo titles. Unfortunately it has result in one major omission - local co-op. The feature's death has been well publicised, and given the series' superb history of local cooperative support the anger it provoked is understandable, even if it has paved the way for gameplay that is smoother and more enjoyable than ever before.
Halo is one of the few video game series that is almost as memorable for its score as its art style and gameplay. The music has continued to evolve for Halo 5, and in many ways the changes to the soundtrack mirror the changes to the gameplay that I discussed earlier. The score has been injected with a more serious tone while still retaining an epic feel that is beautifully fitting for a series that stretches across the vastness of space. It’s awe-inspiring, and really brings out the best in the series.
Multiplayer is split into two main modes: Arena and Warzone. Arena is made up of multiple playlists which cycle through maps and different game types, some classic and some new. I still have, and always will love, the SWAT playlist; a series of matches where a single head-shot is enough to insta-kill your foe, and I was relieved to hear of its return. But as well as staple match types and playlists like SWAT, some new ones have been introduced, such as Breakout (a mode with no respawns, but with the objective to either kill the entire enemy team or to capture the flag and take it to its designated capture point).
Arena is what many think of when they picture Halo multiplayer, but Warzone is where 343 Industries has really stretched its imagination. The game mode entails 24 players joining one huge map and destroying as many Covenant or Prometheans as possible with their teammates, as well as the opposing team. During each round, team levels inflate, allowing players to access REQ stations (more on those in a second) and bigger, more powerful weapons they’ve already unlocked. Whilst this mode is fun and hectic, I've unfortunately only ever managed to get into a few games for the purposes of this pre-launch review due to the huge player count requirement (18 minimum).
As for Requisitions, they're essentially used as a new microtransaction model that ensures that Halo fanbase is not segregated by the release of new DLC. Put simply, it's a card system whereby players can purchase booster packs using in-game currency acquired during matches or through shelling out real money. The cards give no benefits or advantages during standard multiplayer matches, but allow players to access additional boosts, weapons, vehicles, and abilities in Warzone matches. These booster packs are also how you now acquire new pieces of armour. The advantage of 343 Industries shifting to this microtransaction model is that all future DLC maps will be made freely available to all players, whilst the booster packs themselves can be earned through gameplay, making paid DLC for Halo 5: Guardians entirely optional.
Halo 5 could well prove to be the return to form that Halo fans have been waiting for. Not all of the changes will prove popular with the Halo fan base - Halo 5 is a surprisingly stand-out Halo title in this respect, introducing a lot of changes, both subtle and in-your-face. It discards series tropes with confidence and stands tall as a testament to what can happen when a series embraces the new without detracting from the best of the old. Halo 5 is, at this early stage, my favourite Halo title to-date, and I honestly never thought I would say that after being so deflated by Halo 4. If you own an Xbox One, you owe it to yourself to own Halo 5.
This review is based on a retail copy of Halo 5: Guardians for the XOne, provided by the publisher.