Halo was the first game I played on the original Xbox back in 2001. At the time I was working a contract for Microsoft where my role was simply to demo the launch titles. Most of my time was spent on Halo and I played through the game several times. I’ve been a big fan of the series ever since.
When the Xbox One launched in 2013 it was disappointing not to have a new adventure with the Master Chief. Last year 343 Industries launched The Master Chief Collection featuring new remastered editions of most of the Halo series but sadly it was a broken mess. After months and months of patches it’s finally in a better state but myself and Halo fans have all been looking forward to Halo 5: Guardians and hoping that it wouldn’t suffer the same problems. Thankfully it doesn’t.
The campaign is set around eight months after the events of Halo 4 and this time it doesn’t just focus on the Master Chief. Instead it’s mostly played from the perspective of Fireteam Osiris which is a team of Spartan-IV soldiers. Osiris is made up of Vale, Tanaka, Buck (Nathan Fillion) and led by Jameson Locke.
Osiris are sent to track down the Master Chief and his Blue Team after he goes rogue. Blue Team features his fellow Spartan-II soldiers Kelly (Michelle Lukes), Fred and Linda. Halo fans who have gone beyond the games and read the books will be familiar with these Spartans and excited to see them together in the game finally. Disappointingly though there’s very little information about these characters for players who have just played the game.
Both teams have four members for a reason as Halo 5 is designed to be played as a four-player co-op game. Sadly there’s no offline co-op so to get the most from the game you need to head online. Playing with your friends is the best way to experience the game but if you prefer you can also go solo and let the Xbox One handle your teammates.
Playing solo works well enough but it kind of spoils the experience. You’re very limited in how you can interact with your AI team members. They are capable enough at combat but it’s not possible to put together the kind of attacks you can with friends. You can only order the AI Spartans to a location or to attack a target. A nice touch is the banter between your AI team mates. It makes playing solo feel a lot less lonely as they chat during play.
New for Halo 5 is the ability to be revived by a member of your team. If you go down in combat there is a short timer where a team member can come and revive you. Once revived you are straight back into combat. This new feature actually makes the game easier and reduces the amount you will die. Again it works best with real players as the AI players will happily try and revive you when you are down in the middle of a group of enemies.
The campaign takes place across 15 missions and will take most players a good 7-8 hours on standard difficulty. To get the full experience, like with any Halo game, it’s best to ramp up the difficulty and go for Heroic or Legendary. I was disappointed that the majority of the campaign was spent with Osiris and only 20% of the missions are with the Master Chief and Blue Team. In between missions the story is told via some mighty impressive cutscenes.
The combat in Halo has always been a series highlight and Halo 5 delivers with some of the best yet. The new co-op works well and the enemy AI is as good as ever. What really makes it stand out this time is the variety of approaches on offer. The levels are designed with multiple routes allowing you to craft a strategy as you go. This isn’t a linear scripted game so each time you play each encounter will be bit different.
Movement has been given an upgrade and it adds a lot to the gameplay. You can now tap B and a direction to boost that way which is great for clearing longer gaps and dodging. Sprinting then tapping RB lets you do a powerful shoulder charge will causes big damage to enemies and can break down some walls. Also a new clamber move lets you jump and climb up onto ledges, removing the need to jump then crouch.
When played solo you are spoilt for choice when it comes to weapons. You’re almost wading through guns at times and it’s hard to decide what to pick up and use. Like any Halo player I have my favourites and spent the majority of my time with the trusty Assault Rife, Battle Rifle and Pistol. However there are so many other guns to try it’s hard to use them all. Covenant and Promethean weapons return along with some new additions.
There are also a huge amount of collectibles to find as you play. There’s a large number of unique weapons to find and Halo’s famous skulls return and are as tricky as ever to track down. Finally there are 117 (a nod to Master Chief’s Spartan number) pieces of Intel scattered across the mission. Finding all of these is going to take a very long time and gives you a great reason to come back to the campaign after you finish it.
The campaign is decent but the main reason to pickup Halo 5 is the multiplayer. Since Halo 2 the series has been one of the best multiplayer experiences around and Halo 5 doesn’t disappoint. There are a variety of different playlists to choose from and 343 Industries are mixing them up weekly keeping things fresh.
The first playlist is Arena which features 4v4 modes such as Team Slayer, SWAT, Capture the Flag, Free-for-all and Custom as well as new modes like Strongholds and Breakout. Breakout is the biggest change to what we’ve seen before from Halo giving a multi-round match where each player has a single life per round. Players are launched into the arena and the team that eliminates the enemy team or captures a flag from the middle of the map wins that round. The team that takes 5 rounds wins the match and the single life really adds tension to the games.
Since launch 343 Industries have let the community vote on the weekend playlists and so far we’ve been treated to one with Snipers and Shotguns and another with teams of two. The constant variety really keeps things interesting and it’s only going to get better. The next free update is bringing back Big Team Battle and next month we’re also expecting the launch of Forge, the newest version of their map-building tool.
The multiplayer setup is slick and features the fireteam party system allowing you to play with friends and move between games together. Matches let you review them with all manner of stats and commendations are rewarded for a crazy number of actions. You are also rewarded with Requisition (REQ) points which can be spent on different levels of REQ cards. These give cards for all kinds of things including weapons, vehicles, assassination moves and armour pieces. A few matches is enough to buy a new REQ pack and there is also the option to buy them with real money if you are impatient.
The final mode of the multiplayer is called Warzone and it’s the biggest and most ambitious mode to date. Here two teams of 12 players face off against each other on giant maps. Each map features a variety of objectives and there is a constant battle. In addition to the players, Warzone also features AI soldiers, Covenant and Prometheans. There are also vehicles to use and bosses to take down. Warzone battles are chaotic, thrilling and so addictive.
Warzone games take a good 20 minutes and are absolutely thrilling. Team-work is essential if you want to win. The REQ cards that you have collected can be spent in Warzone games at special REQ stations. Each card has a certain value and as the game progresses you are allowed to use more expensive cards. It’s tempting to use your best cards but if you want to win it’s best to save them until just the right time.
For example it’s pointless calling up a Warthog and driving around in it yourself with no one to man the gun. Similarly it’s pointless to waste a rocket launcher on AI soldiers, they are best saved from when the opposing team are coming at you in vehicles.
Halo 5: Guardians has been a long time coming but it’s been well worth the wait. With a fantastic campaign and incredible multiplayer that just keeps on giving. This is the game the Xbox One has been waiting for and I imagine I’ll still be playing it right up until the inevitable Halo 6 arrives.
Halo 5: Guardians was reviewed using a retail copy purchased by Entertainment Focus.
Publisher: Microsoft Studios Developer: 343 Industries Age Rating: 16 Release Date: October 27, 2015 Reviewed On: Xbox One