Halo 5 Guardians Review Whose side are you on?

By Adrian Cajili

The wait is finally over. Adrian Cajili reviews the second part of the Reclaimer Saga.

Halo 5: Guardians is the ninth installment in the Halo franchise, continuing the story of Master Chief, and introducing Spartan Jameson Locke, a playable protagonist that gives players another perspective of the events in the campaign. The game takes place a year after Halo 4, where Master Chief has gone AWOL, and cataclysmic events are happening all around the galaxy, destroying colonies. It is up to Spartan Locke and his team to figure out what is causing these events, to hunt down Master Chief and his team, and bring them home.

WARNING: This review might contain spoilers.

Story

The campaign puts you right in the middle of the action, as you are introduced to Spartan Locke's fireteam Osiris in the opening cinematic, sprinting through a Covenant battlefield and using their new Spartan abilities to eliminate enemies. In the second mission — with Master Chief's Blue Team — you are given a similar introduction, where you see the interaction and dynamic of the fireteams and how these beastly supersoldiers perform on the field. The game does a great job in keeping you engaged in the story from the two different perspectives, and doesn't stray too far from past Halo campaigns: introducing alien environments; vehicle, stealth and escape sequences; and a couple of surprises here and there.

The story is a big improvement from Halo 4. Those who read the novels and comics will get more from the campaign — as knowledge of certain characters and events does help in providing a much clearer understanding of the story. However, those unfamiliar with the expanded universe or who are new to the franchise might find the story confusing. Most of the time (probably 80 percent of the campaign), you will be playing as fireteam Osiris, looking for clues and putting pieces together — or 'hunting the truth'. In contrast, the Blue Team are dealing with something much more serious and on a galactic scale. The campaign was very enjoyable and had its epic moments. Outside the "clear all enemies to advance" level design, it included some varying gameplay moments, like flying around in a Forerunner Phaeton, to running down a Guardian's spine.

However, the story felt unsatisfying. When you get a grasp of the situation (the big twist), the campaign ends abruptly and nothing gets resolved. It also fails to live up to the hype and misleading marketing with the #HuntTheTruth campaign. The direction they are taking will also create some flak in the community. I expected this part of the story go to in a different direction, especially on how Halo 4 ended with the emphasis on the loss of Cortana and Master Chief's humanity. I'm hoping it was worth it for Halo 6.

That said, if the job was to keep you interested, invested and excited for the final part of the trilogy — it did the job. I'm looking forward to what 343 Industries have planned for the Reclaimer Saga.

Gameplay

We were given a taste of the gameplay during the Halo 5: Guardians Beta, which featured the new Spartan abilities that gave players more mobility options. While sprinting, you can now charge at your opponent, slide behind cover, and climb up edges that you can't normally jump to. There have been some new aerial mobility options added, such as hovering in the air for a few seconds when you zoom in with your weapon, or smashing enemies with a ground pound. In addition, the thruster pack armour ability is now available for all Spartans, giving players an even playing field in multiplayer and removing the frustration of having overpowered or underpowered abilities that was present in both Halo Reach and Halo 4.

The campaign mode introduces four player co-op play. If you are playing solo, however, you will get three AI teammates. I found my AI companions somewhat helpful, but mostly frustrating to play with. While they are a slight improvement from past Halo games, the 'squad orders' mechanic did not work well for me, especially when all these different commands are tied to one button press. You can order your squad to go to a specific location, pick up a weapon or mount a vehicle. But when you order them to kill your marked target, my AI teammates were just standing around and not doing anything. Most of the time, my teammates were huddled together 20 metres behind me, running ahead in front of me and dying, or unable to revive me because of the environment geometry. Using the AI teammates while in Legendary was definitely a challenge, where you have to battle powerful enemies while trying to keep your squad close-by and alive.

I can see what they were going for: introducing a new fireteam experience and bringing Master Chief's old team back together. And it does succeed in creating that experience - but only if you play with good players fighting alongside you, as opposed to the not-so-helpful AI teammates.

Presentation

Built for the Xbox One, Halo 5: Guardians is definitely the best looking Halo game right now, showing it through the large environments and structures, to the tiny details in the characters and enemies. We are introduced to several new environments like Meridian, an outer colony; Sanghelios, the home planet of the Sangheili/Elites; and Genesis, an artificial Forerunner world. Each of these are distinct and create such differing atmospheres for players to explore.

Genesis in particular was one of the best environments I have ever seen in a Halo game. As soon as I stepped onto the new world, I was amazed at the colourful flora and the breathtaking landscape. During the seventh mission, Linda from Blue Team exclaims, "There's a formalness and precision to it all. It seems... artificial, but still organic." I found it to be the perfect way to describe this world — one of the swirly plants felt very familiar because its design followed the golden ratio.

Halo 4's design direction continues with Halo 5, giving us much more detailed models and varying aesthetics. The Covenant continues with its ergonomic design for its vehicles and arsenal, whereas the Prometheans use both geometric and organic shapes in their designs. At the beginning of Mission 15, you can inspect your enemies at a very close distance and see the amount of detail put into the characters, as well as their behaviours and animations. The game runs at a steady 60fps, only showing some lag during Mission 10 and occasionally dropping the animation frames of characters at certain distances — at times I would see a Jackal run at 15fps. The game has a few visual issues like texture popping and missing map geometry in some locations, but it doesn't ruin the gameplay experience or break immersion. There are a lot of details in game from the individual HUD designs in campaign, the smart-link designs for all the weapons and even the character and object models — there is just so much to look at.

The audio design for the game is magnificent, with the weapon sounds feeling much more punchy and "real" and highlighting the music during the campaign. Kazuma Jinnouchi has done an amazing job with the game's soundtrack, capturing the nostalgia of the classic Halo themes and not straying too far from the iconic Halo sound. The music was my favourite part of the campaign, and was used at the right moments to push a certain atmosphere or emotion.

Multiplayer

The Halo franchise is well-known for its competitive and big team battle multiplayer experiences. However, after Halo 4's multiplayer was a disappointment, 343 Industries went back to the drawing board for Halo 5: Guardians' multiplayer - and it does not disappoint this time.

There are two main multiplayer modes in Halo 5: Arena and Warzone. Arena focuses on the core multiplayer 4v4 gameplay that we know and love from Halo 2 and Halo 3, giving all players equal starts; bringing back Slayer, SWAT and CTF; and introducing new competitive modes like Strongholds and Breakout. Warzone, however, is a completely different BTB experience. It puts 24 players in a huge environment filled with AI teammates and enemies, gives all players access to the entire Halo 5 arsenal, and has a number of territories and marked targets to fight over. This is also where REQs (Requisitions) come into play, a new rewards system that offers both permanent and consumable items in varying rarity for multiplayer.

Comparable to Titanfall and Garden Warfare, you can get tiered REQ "packs" that contain unlockable weapons and cosmetic cards (e.g. armour, emblems and assassination animations) to customise your own spartan. In order to acquire these REQ packs, you can use your REQ points or — something which may prove controversial to some fans — purchase them with real money. The REQ system is very balanced with the new Warzone progression mechanics. It makes players actually work hard to use their powerful REQ cards, but also use a portion of the proceeds towards prize pools for the Halo Championship Series. It is a very addictive, pushing people to play multiplayer in order to collect the many REQ cards out there — especially when there is a small chance where you can find an extremely rare REQ card.

There are only a handful of gametypes and maps in rotation currently. Fans looking for classic gametypes like Assault, Infection, Grifball and King of the Hill; or Big Team Battle — the middle ground between Arena and Warzone — will be disappointed as they are currently not in Halo 5: Guardians. 343 Industries, however, has promised much more content will be released throughout the next couple of months - such as updated playlists, Forge mode this December, and free DLC maps in 2016.

As well — at the time of writing — there isn't much variety. There are very few options for custom games due to the lack of Forge mode at launch. Also a huge bummer for the series, Halo 5 has removed splitscreen. I think it is a real shame, since I feel it was one of the most iconic things about the Halo series. Of course, their reasoning behind the removal was to improve the game's performance and push multiplayer through Xbox Live. However, it hugely affects the traditional (local) multiplayer experience.

Nonetheless, with the addition of Spartan abilities, REQs and 343 Industries's focus on Arena and Warzone, Halo 5's improved multiplayer is insanely fun, and is probably the best thing about the game. With new dedicated servers for both campaign co-op and multiplayer, the gameplay feels smooth and rarely puts you in a laggy session. Finding games in Australia is very quick. However, if you plan on playing with friends overseas, you will most likely run into server latency problems (luckily there is a work around). If you enjoyed the multiplayer portion of Halo 2 and Halo 3, you will definitely be interested in what 343 Industries has done for Halo 5: Guardians.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, Halo 5: Guardians is a magnificent game that greatly improves on Halo 4's shortcomings to bring an overall enjoyable gameplay experience.

The campaign delivers an epic story that prepares you for the scope of Halo 6, which was somewhat understandable but beautifully created with the visuals, sound and score. The multiplayer is the standout of this game, bringing back classic Arena-style gameplay and creating a new BTB experience and progression system that is just fun and rewarding. 343 Industries excels at immersing players in its new experiences and bringing what is probably the best looking and sounding Halo game to date.

Review Breakdown

8.0
  • The Good

    • Solid gameplay and mechanics
    • Amazing score/soundtrack
    • Addictive Multiplayer
  • The Bad

    • Confusing and unsatisfying moments in story
    • Fireteam AI is terrible
    • No splitscreen is a shame
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