Halo 5: Guardians Review

By Dave Horobin, 1 year ago
Back in 2012 when Halo 4 was released on the Xbox 360, the franchise’s new development studio, 343 Industries, had a lot to prove. With Bungie stepping aside from the series that they had expertly overseen for so long, many were left wondering if Microsoft’s most iconic franchise could live up to its past. Thankfully the game was both a commercial and critical success, and the Master Chief looked to be in safe hands heading into the new generation of consoles.

Fast forward three years and the studio once again finds themselves having to win the trust of gamers. This time due to the issues that shrouded Halo: The Master Chief Collection at release, and continued for far longer than they should have despite numerous patches and updates.

Thankfully they have risen to the challenge, as Halo 5: Guardians delivers on all fronts and brings the series in line with what we now expect from a modern first-person shooter, whilst at the same time staying true to many of the mechanics that made Halo the juggernaut it has become.

Halo 5 logo

Halo 5’s campaign is split between two protagonists and their squads of Spartans: Blue Team, which is made of series mainstay the Master Chief, and three other Spartan-IIs – Linda, Kelly and Frederick; and Fireteam Osiris which is led by former Naval Intelligence officer turned Spartan Jameson Locke and includes former ODST Edward Buck and new characters, Olympia Vale and Holly Tanaka.

In the game’s opening missions you switch between the two different squads, with Osiris sent on a secret mission to rescue the creator of the Spartan program, Dr. Halsey, and Blue Team tasked with securing an abandoned research vessel in danger of being discovered by the Convenant. Whilst on board the research vessel, the Master Chief receives a mysterious message from a very familiar voice, and defies direct orders to investigate it further. Learning of the Blue Team's actions, Osiris are dispatched closely behind, tasked with bringing them back by any means necessary.

Screenshot 1

The resulting campaign is a fast, action-packed game of cat and mouse that is extremely well paced and is a joy to play. Taking place in different locations and environments from around the galaxy, the narrative allows for the action to switch between the two squads as the story progresses (although there’s far more gameplay as Agent Locke than as the Chief), as you fight your way through both the Promethean and Covenant forces who stand in your way at every turn.

The main story premise is very easy to understand, and the reasoning behind what the two squads are doing and why is clearly defined early on, and by midway through the game you'll be able to see where it will inevitably conclude. The story becomes more complicated however when it begins to stray from the basic arc of the two squads and their ongoing game of manhunt by often referring to past events and introducing characters with very little explanation as to who they are or how and why things have happened. With the franchise spanning various media, from games to books and web series, it's as though the writers expect everyone playing the game to know everything already, and whilst many will, those that don't will be slightly lost. Some little pointers here and there would have gone a long way to making the story feel less bloated and confusing.

Character development is also lacking in a number of areas, none more so than on a couple of occasions when parts of Locke’s past are brought up, or questions are asked of him and there is no real answer given and no emotion shown. The same can be said of the Chief’s squad as you spend a relatively short amount of time with them and finish the game knowing practically nothing of their history and why they followed the Chief despite orders not to. Thankfully Fireteam Osiris is a little more fleshed out with moments of dialogue in between fire fights helping to fill in a few blanks here and there, but for a game where you spend so much time with these eight people, it's a shame that the story is often pulled away to focus on the wider universe.

Screenshot 2

When playing solo, your AI teammates generally do a good job of helping you progress through battles. They aren’t as good as having a real friend beside you, but they are certainly competent enough compared to many AI allies found in other games. Generally speaking they will more often than not hold their own in battle, taking out enemies, working their way around the environment and reviving you when you’re downed. In addition you can also use the D-pad to issue rudimentary commands such as go here, shoot this enemy and get in this vehicle. It works more in the way of allowing you to give them a helpful prod in the right direction rather than figuring out strategic advances, but it does the job well enough of helping you progress through areas more quickly and take down enemies that may be out of range.

With each squad consisting of four members throughout, this allows for the whole campaign to be played in drop-in, drop-out co-op, and it’s when playing with a friend or three that the campaign is at its best. Levels are much larger than we're seen in previous Halo games and are extremely well designed, with bigger battles taking place in a large sandboxes that allow you to find different angles of attack, and small side openings which will enable you to discover ways to flank or get above your enemies. The whole campaign feels like this was the way the developers intended you to play, with some larger enemies being much easier to take on by firing from different directions with a friend rather than trying to manoeuvre AI around, and this is especially evident on harder difficulties.

In both campaign and multiplayer Halo 5 runs at a steady 60 frames per second which makes it feel extremely responsive and fluid, and the overall visuals are beautiful throughout with high levels of detail across each location, from the tighter, more metallic looking confines of Argent Moon to the wide open spaces of Sanghelios. There are occasional blips that will distract your eye momentarily, but they tend to occur in the middle of larger battles so will soon be forgotten about as you quickly aim your sites at the next enemy.

Screenshot 3

The 60 FPS has allowed for some much smoother maneuverability than in previous Halo games. General movement and turning feel faster than before, and new additions such as sprinting and the ability to climb ledges allow for a much more agile approach to battle. They also allow for some new melee take-downs; the shoulder-charge lets you to smash into enemies or through objects when sprinting, and the ground-pound (which is extremely satisfying when pulled off) gives you a whole new way to attack unsuspecting enemies below you. Some changes are more subtle than others, but they all add up to make your Spartan feel much more like the well oiled machine that he/she is supposed to be.

Perhaps more significantly for veteran Halo players is the new way in which you can zoom-in and aim down the sights of every weapon in the game. Whilst it might not please some, the addition seems like a step in right direction, and will make the game more accessible for people coming from other franchises. Staying true to the old however, the developers have made it so there is no real advantage to looking down the sight (beyond a slight zoom) to firing from hip, allowing you to play the way that feels most natural to you in a balanced way.

Lastly there is also the addition of this generation’s go-to mechanic, the boost or double jump which allows you to jump over greater distances or quickly dodge enemy fire, which is especially useful when facing some of the campaigns larger enemies. Nothing here is ground breaking, but after playing the campaign it's hard to imagine returning to the lumbering previous iterations that have come before it.

Screenshot 4

Of course no Halo would be complete without its multiplayer, and whilst the campaign is great fun to play, the multiplayer is where Halo 5 really shines. Gone are the loadouts introduced in Halo: Reach and Halo 4, and instead there is a much more classic Halo experience.

In pre-release multiplayer, Arena offered a variety of four-on-four game modes where each player spawns with identical weapons. The difference in Halo 5 is unlike previous iterations where newcomers would be easily dominated due to not knowing where the various power weapons spawn, the game now indicates where they are on the map and includes a countdown timer or when the next one will be available. It helped make the whole thing feel more balanced than before, and combined with the quicker movement and greater toolset available, it made the game much more enjoyable as a newcomer than previously. Sure you’ll get some players with higher skill levels that will kill you, but it feels more natural to die because someone is better than you than because they knew where the sniper was and you didn’t.

The maps look just as good as they did in the campaign and they are all designed with multiple levels and routes to take in order gain an advantage over your enemy, and despite there only being eight players in-game at one time, there is never a drop in the action.

Arena

In Warzone two teams of up to twelve players drop on either side of a map (see Titanfall) and compete against each other to take control of three bases. The match is a race to 1,000 points with points being awarded for holding bases, killing enemy players, and also defeating AI enemies that range from small grunts to huge bosses that will require a team to take down. The resulting match is absolute carnage and is so much fun to play, with large scale battles occurring all over the map, and even if your team is on top and seemingly cruising to victory, it only takes the enemy to take down one of the larger AI bosses to suddenly take the lead from you at the last minute.

Warzone is extremely effective when coupled with the new leveling system that has been introduced in Halo 5. Instead of ranking up for progression as you would in many other games, Halo 5’s ranking system is based on earning credits which can be used to buy Requisition Packs. Once opened, packs will reward you with anything from XP boosts and cosmetic skins through to power weapons and vehicles which will be added to your inventory and can be unlocked from stations dotted around the map, or before spawning back into the battle after each death.

As a match progresses, your Requisition level will increase by making kills and holding bases, and once you hit the corresponding level of a card you wish to purchase, you can trade them in to use that item in game. Small items such as increased armour and smaller weapons can be bought for low amounts, where as larger items such as power weapons and heavier vehicles will require you to accumulate more points in order to unlock them. It adds a whole new dimension to the game, with resource management playing a massive part, as you decide if you want to keep buying weapons that are slightly more powerful then your standard loadout to get a small advantage after each death, or hold on to them for a while longer so you can spawn a power weapon or even a Scorpion or a Wraith.

The only downsides to the multiplayer at the present are the lack of a "Forge" mode at launch, but it is promised in the future, and for those of you who like your Halo old school, there is no LAN support or split-screen options available. There is good news, however, as each match runs on dedicated servers, and with the game now available worldwide, I’ve had no issues connecting to matches in both Arena and Warzone game modes, and haven’t experienced any noticeable lag at all.

Warzone

The game comes with 65 achievements in total. As is the case with most shooters the majority are quite straight forward, with fifteen achievements earned by completing each of the game’s missions, and four available for completing the campaign on each difficulty, with the hardest difficulty being Legendary. The remainder of the campaign achievements are based around playing in co-op, collectibles and the odd mission specific one thrown in for good measure. For those of you that aren’t big on multiplayer, whilst there are a number of them, none will require too much play to earn, and don’t need any great skill other than Warlord which requires you to win a match on each of the three Warzone maps released at launch.

Summary

Halo 5: Guardians is the game that 343 Industries needed to release to regain the confidence of gamers in both themselves and the Halo franchise. The campaign is a fast, action packed battle through a host of beautifully designed locations, that offers brilliant pacing and some stunning set pieces. The story may well be confusing – especially for newcomers – and many characters are sadly lacking in depth, but that doesn’t detract from how fun shooting your way through the game’s fifteen missions is when playing solo and even more so with three friends. The multiplayer stays true to the core elements that have made Halo what is today, whilst at the same time adding new mechanics that bring it in line with what you’d expect to see from a modern first-person shooter. The addition of Warzone alone will keep you coming back for more as every game feels different and unique.

If you own an Xbox One and have any interest in first-person shooters, Halo 5: Guardians is quite simply a must play.
4.5 / 5
Positives
  • Action-packed and brilliantly paced campaign
  • Stunning visuals
  • 4 Player co-op
  • Well balanced multiplayer that's modernised yet still classic Halo
  • Warzone is carnage
Negatives
  • Story is confusing, disjointed and has an inevitable outcome
  • Lack of Forge at Launch
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent twelve hours playing through Halo 5: Guardians campaign alone and in co-op, and a further fifteen hours in multiplayer which was spread evenly between pre-release and release day. A copy of the game was supplied by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Dave Horobin
Written by Dave Horobin
Dave is the TrueAchievements Social Manager and has been a Newshound since 2010. When he's not chasing developers and publishers for early review copies, he can usually be found on the TrueAchievements social pages discussing all things TA related.