Halo 5: Guardians
is the tale of two Spartans, one a Spartan II (the hallowed Master Chief), the other a Spartan IV (the by-the-book Locke), and the the reason they're at odds. Halo 5
follows a split path, similar to Halo 2
, wherein we alternate between playing as Locke and Team Osiris, hunting down the Chief, and playing as Master Chief and Blue Team, chasing after an elusive clue, albeit while going AWOL. As far as Oni (and Locke) are concerned, the Chief has gone rogue and must be brought in, as he is disobeying orders in his quest.Halo
is a difficult pickle. It means so many things to so many people, that it is exceedingly difficult to strike the right cord, while at the same time keeping things fresh. The beginnings of the #HuntTheTruth marketing campaign stirred rumblings among the Halo
faithful, fearing that the Chief was being thrown under the proverbial bus in lieu of a shiny new protagonist. As the campaign continued, and the radio drama unfolded (with superb voice acting btw) we learned that things were, of course, not as they seemed. Yet it remains that Locke and Team Osiris pursue the Chief and Blue Team through the bulk of the game.
There can be only One.
True to their word, 343i made a 60 frames-per-second target their utmost priority here. The result is that the game plays beautifully. Controls are buttery smooth and responsive, aiming is crisp and satisfying, and combat is chaotic and adrenaline-fueled. The game's larger encounters leave the player relieved but satisfied at the end.
That performance target takes a casualty with it though, as the resolution and image quality suffer frequently. Level-of-detail texture pop-ins are frequent and sometimes quite obvious, and even shadows will sometimes pop into existence out of nowhere. Additionally, enemies will animate at only 30 frames per second when at mid-range and further, which can cause some odd looking visuals if you focus on it. I don't feel that either of these failings detract much from the moment-to-moment experience, however. When bullets are flying, explosions are blasting, and vehicles are whizzing about, you don't have much time to stop and stare at a lower-rez texture and lament the lost eye candy. It would be much more jarring to have big framerate dips when the action gets intense, rather than have some textures and/or shadows lose detail.
The game plays superbly, and these sacrifices are worth that tradeoff. That's not saying that Halo 5
is without eye candy, either. Levels like Swords of Sanghelios, with achingly realistic-looking weathered rock formations and towering, ancient statues are a feast for the eyes. Your ears won't suffer, either, as 343i has honed the sound effects and surround-sound channels perfectly to give the orchestral music so cherished in the Halo series, as well as the sounds of battle, a theater-worthy platform to enhance the overall experience.
Some of the visuals are truly jaw-dropping.
Relatively new to the series, Halo 5
also has serious boss encounters. While somewhat repetitive, they change up the battle space and approach to combat enough that they don't become too stale. We've had 'bosses' in Halo before, with the Prophet in 2, the Scarabs in 2 and 3, and the massively anticlimactic 'boss' at Halo 4
's conclusion. QTE does not, a boss fight, make. Halo 5
's bosses are the most satisfying to take down, but also the most frustrating to fight at times. The first encounter is especially taxing if playing solo Legendary, as the player is left with no power weapons and a very confined battle space, with multiple enemies spawning mid-fight.
One slight issue with the gameplay, though, is that the enemies tend to feel a bit too bullet-spongy (especially the bosses). Whereas Elites used to only take one fully-charged EMP from a Plasma Pistol to pop their shields, some now take a few extra shots after the initial blast to drop their shields and prep them for the headshot. This can be frustrating for veteran players at times, as instincts honed over more than a decade of Halo
playing are subverted by stubbornly resistant foes.
Another twist to the campaign is an extreme focus on cooperative play. Playing through on Legendary, it is especially apparent that 343i tuned the game to be shared with friends, because the AI of your three computer-controlled squadmates is about as intelligent as an aborted dodo fetus at times. Even if you direct them to a specific location via the D-pad command, they will simply run pell-mell to get there, through enemy fire.
To top it off, they'll sit there for a few seconds, sometimes not attacking a single enemy, before carelessly jaunting their way back over to you like a lost puppy looking for an owner. This lack of intuitive movement and action for your squadmates makes playing Legendary by yourself somewhat of a chore, although the struggle is manageable for Halo
vets, which will likely make up the bulk of folks attempting this mode.
Sometimes I wish they had more brains than this skull.
Online co-op is fantastic, which is a first for the Halo series. The dedicated servers mean nearly lag-free coop as opposed to the lockstep programming in previous entries. This is huge and should not be overlooked. This is how online co-op Halo
has always needed to be experienced. There is nothing more satisfying than coordinating an assault with your friends against one of the boss fights, and seeing your plan come together to perfection. Sadly, couch co-op is out, as 343i maintained strict adherence to their performance target of 60fps.
The multiplayer is going to be a mixed bag, because as I stated Halo
means a lot of different things to different people. Some may not like the changes made to the multiplayer space, similar to the outcry that was heard with Reach
's Armor Abilities, but 343i has made a very concerted effort to evolve the multiplayer, while still facing it back toward its competitive roots. Pros may lament the fact that power weapon timers are announced in-game and have waypoints indicating their spawn, allowing players of lesser experience to anticipate their spawn and make a break for it. Gone are the days of memorizing spawn timers and using that as a means to one-up your opponent. Things boil down to who can outplay whom. Even starts, power weapons on the map, and balanced gunplay in Arena stand a solid chance to make it a truly competitive space again, with a high skill curve.
The unlimited sprint, clamber, and thrust packs may seem like they'll make it too fast-paced for a Halo
game, but these changes are in keeping with the times. While at sometimes it does, in fact, feel a little too fast for those that cut their teeth on CE through 3, the fact remains that the core feel is still decidedly Halo
, and the return to a more competitive playspace in Arena means a lot of old fans may find something new to love. I had a chance to try all the game modes, and they all played superbly, apart from Breakout. This will be a preference issue, as it plays reasonably well for what it is. However, not being a fan of single-life spawns and super-confined spaces, it felt the most out of place for the series. For the more casual base, Warzone offers up a new and different experience, a sort of combination of Firefight and Big Team Battle from Halo
's multiplayer space in releases past.
The bro-poses are gone, but this seems a bit on the boring side.
I did notice some instances of rubber-banding this weekend, but it felt like that was apparently due more to people's location and ping to the server with such a low population count during pre-release games. With a larger player population after launch, matches have been better optimized for solid ping rates between all players in the match, leading to no rubber-banding that I've noticed since launch. Having played all the P2P Halo
s over the years, and having suffered TMCC
's matchmaking woes as well, I can confirm that the dedicated servers DO make a huge difference. The bulk of the matches I've played have been very solid performance-wise, which has led to some fantastic, pitched battles of cat and mouse between the teams.Guardians
has a pretty hefty achievement list from the start, with 65 achievements rounding out the 1000 gamerscore. As is par for the course, there are obligatory achievements for finishing each of the 15 missions, as well as a quadruplet for completing the game, one for each difficulty normal and up, and one for a Solo Legendary
playthrough. A good bevy are set aside for a full co-op playthrough of the campaign as well, Heroic
required for the last. Thankfully, 343i saw fit not to include any boost-inducing or match-ruining multiplayer achievements. The handful of achievements to be had in matchmaking can all be attained through casual play, with only one tied to winning, that being a whopping three matches (one on each launch map) in Warzone. There are a few for collectibles as well, including the series staple Skulls
as well as 117 items of Intel
. Overall it's a very manageable list, with no grindy achievements and the only daunting one being said Solo Legendary run.
He will not be deterred.
At the end of the day, I say with confidence (in my opinion, that is) that 343i has at last hit the nail on the head here. It is a return to form for the franchise, something that lives up to the legacy set by the OG and 360 days of the Master Chief. If the old guard gives the new Arena a chance, they'll see that, despite the changes to movement and aiming, it lives up to its competitive roots. The campaign, while campy and forced at times as so many space operas are, is arguably one of the best in the series, with more open play spaces and more ways to approach combat. While a few niggling flaws like the image quality, slightly bullet spongy enemies on Legendary, and brain dead AI teammates when solo hold it back from hitting perfect marks, it sits high on my list of must-haves on the Xbox One, even if nothing tops Ori and the Blind Forest
Glitching out of the map, another Halo staple since CE.
Its rough edges prevent a true 9/10 (4.5 stars), but as 8.5/10 isn't possible here on TA, I don't feel it fair to downgrade it to an 8/10 (4 stars). I've spent around 40 hours with the game thus far, with ample time in all multiplayer modes, and have earned all 65 of the game's achievements.