343 Industries took a lot of risks with Halo 5: Guardians. Tampering with the fundamentals of a series as respected and beloved as Halo could be disastrous, but the Microsoft-created studio went ahead and did it anyway. Considering Halo 4 divided the fan base and caused many to worry that the franchise might be in the wrong hands, you would think the next step would be to give the fans exactly what they want – exactly what they've always known. But that's not what's been done. Instead, 343 has gone ahead and given us what we didn't know we wanted. And we're really glad they did.
The best way to sum up Halo 5 is "combat evolved." Spartans now move like we've always imagined – in an athletic and authoritative way. The addition of Spartan abilities has created many new gameplay possibilities. You can now clamber up ledges, thrust a few feet in any direction, temporarily suspend in air while zooming, perform a charged melee attack, and slam into the ground from an aerial position. And with a few fundamental changes – unlimited sprint, scopes for every gun, left trigger / right trigger shooting mechanics – this is the snappiest and most mobility-focused Halo yet.
But don't worry – Halo 5 still feels like Halo in nearly every way.
These changes permeate the entirety of the game, and they elevate every mode, new and old. Even returning multiplayer game types feel revitalized. It may take some practice to adjust to the button configuration, but it will become second nature before long. Thrusting out of the way of a sword attack or barreling down on an unsuspecting opponent is immensely satisfying, and it's already hard to imagine Halo any other way. But there's a part of the game that struggles a bit despite these new additions: the campaign.
The first few campaign missions are impressive; the new Spartan abilities are put to good use, the technical prowess and superb art direction are on full display, and the orchestral score adds extra oomph to the combat scenarios. Straight out of the gate we're made aware that this is a bigger, fresher, and more expensive version of Halo, and the thought of what could be coming around the next bend adds to the impact.
The problem is, the campaign has shown most of its hand by this point. Majority of what follows repeats the same formula from the first handful of missions and throws the exact same enemies in your face over and over again. In Halo 4, for example, the slow-burn introduction to the Prometheans caused us to move with trepidation and devise new gameplay strategies, and the face-to-face between The Didact and Master Chief put a clear villain front and center so you knew what you were up against going forward. Halo 5 doesn't really have any of that going for it. There are a couple Promethean enemy variations that can only be eliminated with well-placed shots, but it's not really anything we haven't seen before – it's similar to the way Destiny's enemies have weak points.
There's a point in the campaign where Blue Team (Chief's squad of Spartans) winds up in a stunning jungle-like environment on a Forerunner planet. As we pushed forth, we kept hoping we'd come across some sort of indigenous species with hostile intent – something intimidating to keep us on our toes – but it never happened. There is a Promethean boss that makes his appearance here, but other than being exceedingly powerful, his appearance isn't far off from a Knight. Even something as simple as being attacked by a flock of the flying creatures that soar overhead at the beginning of the mission would've went a long way. Sadly, the enemy predictability can make things feel routine far too often.
In a way, it's the manner in which the terrain is laid out that helps to make up for the familiar enemy encounters. Thanks to the clamber and charge abilities, the landscape is riddled with changes in elevation and optional pathways. It's an intricate level design like we've never seen in a Halo game, and it provides vantage points and/or flanking routes in most combat scenarios. For this reason, along with the Spartan abilities, gunplay is more dynamic than ever.
When playing solo, the inclusion of AI Spartan teammates yields mixed results. At times, these soldiers can be utterly useless – not obeying basic commands or regularly approaching firefights in a casual manner. Then, when we least expected it, they would eliminate the remainder of an enemy threat while we were on a short detour for intel. This implementation makes the most sense for online co-op, where your friends can jump in a match and play by your side. Unfortunately, there's no local split-screen, and we'd be lying if we said this omission didn't sting.
Warning: There are some minor plot spoilers in the next two paragraphs.
Bouncing between the perspective of Spartan Locke and Master Chief actually works fine, but, despite what the advertising campaign might have led you to believe, it isn't harnessed to create mass levels of tension, mystery, and drama between the leads; Chief and Blue Team aren't committing unthinkable acts in the public spotlight as shown in the commercials. Instead, Chief defied a simple order to return home and decided he would pursue a transmission that appeared to be from Cortana. Because the UNSC is concerned that Chief might not be capable of thinking straight if proposed with a tough choice, Fireteam Osiris (Locke's team) are then sent to stop Chief from getting to his destination. Chief is hardly painted as a traitor and Locke's ego isn't exactly getting the best of him. Regardless of what the advertising campaign suggests, this narrative angle just isn't as impactful or emotional as it could've – and probably should've –been.
Even though the campaign lasts just seven hours and ends on a massive cliffhanger – similar to Halo 2 – we were satisfied with the final revelation and the ramifications it will have for Halo 6. And despite our issues with the premise, there are many intriguing plot developments and abundantly cool cinematics throughout the course of the game. We'd still take the intimate Cortana/Chief story of Halo 4 any day, but the campaign does end up in a compelling place by its final stretch.
As a whole, the campaign is enjoyable but familiar. It's clear that 343 has altered its approach in response to the criticisms of Halo 4, and that should be commended. The studio is on the right path when it comes to Spartan abilities, level design, and the spectacle that comes with the presentation and plot, but new enemies, surprising locations, and memorable gameplay scenarios need to receive special attention next time around. The narrative could also use more focus and a bit more heart.
Online multiplayer, on the other hand, is thoroughly exceptional. After the botched release of Halo: The Master Chief Collection, it's relieving to see 343 take multiplayer to the next level without any technical or logistical issues getting in the way. The dedicated servers have been reliable, matchmaking has been snappy, and we haven't experienced a hint of lag. Literally, we have zero complaints on the matter.
Since its unveiling at this year's E3, Warzone has been touted as the most ambitious multiplayer mode in the history of Halo, and we'd say that's accurate. This mode puts two teams of 12 in a massive map and has them fighting for territory. But it's not that simple. There are AI enemies, bots, and bosses that enter the landscape, creating a battlefield that feels dynamic. Earning a win comes one of two ways: Your team can either reach 1,000 points by shooting up as many hostiles as possible, or you can capture all bases in the map, expose the power core in the enemy base, and blow it the heck up. It's an amalgamation of game types, and it's chaotic, action-packed, and as fun as advertised.
The REQ System (short for Requisitions) is an important cog in the Warzone machine. These in-game cards are used during a match to summon better weapons, vehicles, and status effects. Your performance on the battlefield dictates how many points you can spend on a card, and this keeps players from using their best cards whenever they want. There are always going to be scenarios where someone else has a much better weapon or vehicle than you, and there are also going to be plenty of scenarios where you're the one with the advantage. So while it may not appear to be balanced at first glance, it actually is. It works. It's fun. And we haven't come across any situations where we felt we couldn't match the incoming chaos with an equal-sized dose of chaos.
REQ Packs also contain permanent customization unlocks that allow you to alter the look of your Spartan – these carry over to Arena since they're cosmetic only. From helmets to armor, weapon skins to assassination stances, there's a ton to unlock. It's a good thing, then, that REQ Packs are awarded frequently for leveling up and hitting new milestones; the currency that you earn for general activity is also a method of accessing these card packs. You can spend actual money stockpiling REQ Packs if you desire, but the REQ System does a great job avoiding any pay-to-win scenarios. Besides, we obtained REQ Packs organically throughout our review sessions and never ran out great cards to aid us in the midst of battle.
Arena makes up the other portion of multiplayer, and it contains a number of new and old game types: SWAT, Slayer, Capture the Flag, Free-For-All are joined by Breakout and Strongholds. This is where you come if you want a more straightforward and grounded competitive experience. Even returning game types have been reinvigorated due to the new mechanics. The only playlist we found problematic was Free-For-All. Because some of the maps are quite small, it's not uncommon to spawn within proximity of an opponent and absorb half a clip before your crosshairs have uncovered their position. Otherwise, Arena offers plenty of variety and the most even playfield in the game.
Some people might be disappointed to find that Halo 5: Guardians doesn't yet offer any Big Team Battles – this mode is said to arrive post-release. Warzone isn't far off from the feel of BTB, but it's not quite the same thing. When it comes to Arena, maps are tight and controlled – hosting a total of eight players – and there's no sign of vehicles. For our money, Warzone is a more-than-worthy substitute for the time being, but we know everyone won't feel the same. Those with the creative itch might also be saddened to learn that Forge won't be available until December.
The important thing is that Halo 5 still feels like a complete game without BTB and Forge. While we might be bothered if there were no plans to include these modes in the future, that's not how it is. With a big-budget multiplayer shooter, free post-release content updates – much like how Nintendo has handled Splatoon – serve to keep the community engaged and active, and there's more than enough to keep busy with until Forge, BTB, and new maps become available.
Graphically and technically, Halo 5 screams "massive budget" from the campaign's opening cinematic and first mission. The game runs at a steady 60 frames-per-second while pushing the limits of the Xbox One hardware – wait until you see the enormous Guardians towering overhead. The art direction is simply incredible, and the contrasting color palettes, lighting, and particle effects ensure a visually-stimulating ride that's practically unrivaled on Xbox One. But it's not all good; texture and foliage draw-in is prominent at times, both in campaign and multiplayer, and it can be distracting. These are minor blemishes in the grand scheme of things, but they're blemishes nonetheless.
A very special mention needs to go to the audio design, which is out of this world. There's so much action going on – guns firing, Spartans yelling, music thumping – that, with a surround-sound setup or quality headphones, the audio utterly consumes you. It's truly phenomenal stuff. The first song in the campaign, "Light Is Green," which plays during the opening cinematic, had the hair on our arms standing upright by the time the title screen had flashed. The only audio-specific complaint we have is that the volume of the intel logs can easily get lost in the mix when there's voice over or nearby action, which is often. But since these logs can be accessed from the menu at any time, where there's no intruding commotion, it's a complaint that's easy to brush off.
With reinvigorated mechanics, Halo 5: Guardians ushers the series into a new era with confidence. The core gameplay has never been better and more involving, and it benefits all areas of the package. While the multiplayer components are the best since Halo 3, the campaign disappoints in a few key areas. It's still enjoyable and exciting on the whole, but it lacks the narrative concentration and the memorable gameplay scenarios to stand neck and neck with the best entries in the series. Halo 5: Guardians still gets a massive recommendation from us for many reasons, though there's certainly room for 343 Industries to improve and evolve the campaign formula next time around.
The gameplay is so spot on it's phenomenal. The only flaw I personally see with this game is the lack of things to do, it's either campaign or multiplayer. I really like the multiplayer, especially Warzone, but multiplayer has never been my cup of tea. The custom games' options are extremely limited, so even when forge is released I'm not sure how much that will really add (no gravity hammer = no grifball! Also no Infection!). I really hope they add something else as DLC to spice things up (firefight please!) I disagree with the point in the review that the game still feels like a complete game, it just feels like it's missing something. Hopefully this will be amended in the future.
Great review as always!
I haven't finished the campaign yet (12 missions in). I have found it to be impressive but not the game that I was hoping for. It feels more like a marker for me so far for the Halo that is to come. For me, Halo has mostly been the 'you against the world' type of game and the fire team approach detracts from that for me. Also, the intimate relationship between the chief and Cortana was/is an essential element and the lack (mostly) of that in this game makes for less of a game for me. You don't really have anyone to relate to. For most of the game you are a dude in a fire team. Honestly, I couldn't give a damn about the character you play as. Having said all of that, it is a really well made game and is quite fun to play, I just feel that it should have been something else.
I'm still relatively new to Halo since this is my first Xbox system. I played half the campaign of Halo CE in the MCC though, so I do at least have a thin foundation.
Question- can I play against bots offline in the MP modes? This is something I really enjoy, and would be ecstatic if I learned this was an included feature.
This is why I like PureXbox. How easy would it have been to just slap a 10 on the game, say 343 is great, Phil Spencer is a God among men and Halo 5 is the greatest game of all-time? Sadly I've seen some reviews that almost follow that exact pattern. But, more on topic, I've actually a lot of fun with the first 5 missions. They are not perfect by any means and I probably shouldn't like what I've played as much as I do because the story hasn't been as focused on the characters and their relationships that I want to know about (Master Chief and his teammates) as it should be. The level design is also not great. I feel like past Halo games have had larger scale and more set pieces. But the cinematics are great, the story that is there has been enjoyable and the shooting in Halo is just so damn fun and imo it definitely has never been better and that alone is enough to wipe away any story or level design disappointments I have. There's 10 missions left though so I'm interested to see how my opinion will change. Haven't touched multiplayer, I'm a strange Halo fan who's mostly about the campaign, but I will mess around with Warzone at some point.
As always @DRL, great detailed review and thanks for the minor spoiler warning.
I'm not sure what to make of this review. It might just be me, but it seemed like many a line just caused me to worry. You see, I'm not a fan of first person shooters, and whilst I do appreciate Halo's world and story, it's genre is ill suited for me. My oldest brother and younger brother do enjoy playing Halo, but they were rather disappointed in Halo 4. An it was certain lines that had me concerned.
"Unfortunately, there's no local split-screen, and we'd be lying if we said this omission didn't sting." This for instance, was the reason I decided not to get the game for my oldest brother for Christmas. Whilst both my brothers do play Halo online every so often, they primarily play together, particularly the co-op campaigns of the previous Halo entries. As a result, the campaign modes become the primary element of the game to them, so lines like;
"But there's a part of the game that struggles a bit despite these new additions: the campaign." Does give me reason to doubt getting this game for either of my brothers at some point.
This review has not exactly reassured me as to whether I should get either of them Halo 5, although it was a very well covered review, and the score of an 8 out of 10 manages to make the game come across impressively, without risking being... over-hyped per say. Strong gameplay but a mixed campaign does provide two key points that conflict my intention to get this as a gift; perhaps later next year it will be cheaper to get as a gift for either of my brothers.
On one last note, if you could so without spoiling things too much, do you mind if I ask what the final boss was like? When I asked my brothers what they disliked about Halo 4 the most, they said it was the final boss battle.
Halo 4 did not have a final boss, it ended in an interactive cutscene. 5 doesn't have one either
Not really, your just fighting more prommies like you've always done up until that point. I wouldn't consider that a boss
@DRL Good review Dave. I'm currently six or seven missions in on Heroic and I'm thoroughly enjoying it. To me it feels like Halo of old with a couple of good additions. I quiet like the team aspect although it does take the focus off Chief a bit and the ground pound is amazing when you can connect. The bleed out also gets my vote but again it takes a little bit of tension off. It does feel a little easy so I'll be interested to see how it feels on Legendary. I'd agree with the score, a solid 8/10 from me.
Halo 1-4 and I believe you can download the remastered Halo 3 ODST Campaign.
3 missions into the campgian so far on Heroic and I like it, probably could do with more experimentation in the story mode but I like it so far. Shame about no spartan ops or single player DLC.
Played my first Warzone match this morning and it is so so good.
Definitely agree it's a shame about no singleplayer DLC. I do think the campaign feels a bit like an extension of Spartan Ops, the way some of the levels are designed. The battles have been intense but I'm not getting the same sense of scale in some of the early levels, which to be honest is a little disappointing. I have a feeling I'm going to end up really liking the campaign but that it probably won't rank ahead of 3, Reach, 1 or ODST for me.
After Master Chief Collection I'll play this one. Yes, I'm new.
Hey @DRL how do you feel about those random noncombat missions thru the game? They can get pesty, especially after repeated playthroughs
Loved the campaign. Underrated.
And warzone= phenomenal.
@JaxonH Nope. Not many games do that anymore, unfortunately.
@Gamer83 Thanks for reading! I struggled to settle on a score for a while, but in the end I came to the realization that, even with the campaign missteps, I wouldn't talk a shooter fan out of buying this game.
@Souldin Your brothers probably disliked the final boss battle in Halo 4 because you don't really participate in it. In Halo 5, however, the boss battle is more conventional, but it kind of overstays its welcome (I think you battle him something like three times in a row). That said, I don't think this is the game for your brothers if they want to play together – not unless they have access to two consoles. They'll likely be frustrated that they cannot play together in the same room.
@crippyd Thanks, man! Nice to hear you're enjoying the game!
@A_BabyRed_Yoshi Glad you brought up those missions. Honestly, they kind of feel like a missed opportunity, but I wasn't bothered by them; I think I appreciated the respite from shooting. But I can definitely see how they'd become annoying on repeated playthroughs.
@Lrapsody I'm happy to see that someone's entirely enthusiastic about the campaign! How would you rank it compared to the others?
I'd agree that any FPS, or especially Halo fan, should play the game. Believe it or not, I actually really like the campaign. My other comments were made before I got to the second half of the missions. I'm almost at the end now and I think it got much better as it went along and barring disaster in the final three two missions this will end up as one of my favorites. Still haven't bothered with multiplayer yet.
@DRL in order from best to 'worst' campaign, it would be Halo 3, Halo 2, Reach, Halo 5, odst, Halo 4, Halo Combat Evolved. It only comes 4th as they were some damn fine campaigns.
Combat was great; best ever I'd say. Story, great. Nice pacing. Squad commands could be more extensive. Characters, pretty darn talkative for Halo. Guns, much more fun than 4.
@A_BabyRed_Yoshi I believe that was what my brother was referring to, the fact that the final boss fight in Halo 4 was a quick time event. He was rather annoyed by the campaign mode throughout, but having that as the final part of it was the cherry on top for his dislike of Halo 4.
Thanks for answering my question, although I think I've got conflicting answers from this.
@DRL A more conventional boss fight will be a pleasing thing for my brother to here.
As for the lack of split-screen co-op, it's funny how that wouldn't be an issue if this had been done on one of the Xbox 360 Halo games. My younger brother got an Xbox 360 on Christmas... 2005 I think, and my oldest brother got an Xbox 360 for his own room in 2009 I think (I think he got his own system around the time of Halo Wars, whenever that was).
With the Xbox One though, I ended up being the only person purchasing that (Sunset Overdrive and a Crystal White Xbox One convinced me). I think they'd still gain some enjoyment out of single player, but it is a shame that they'd be unable to play the game co-op. I should probably wait until the game goes down in price if I consider getting it, though by that time, Halo Wars 2 will probably be out and I know they'll be wanting to play that.
Thanks for answering my question, although I think I've got conflicting answers from this.
Well, the "final" boss that DRL mentioned isn't at the very end of the game, it's about an hour before, so I didn't consider it a final boss but it I guess it really is. Aplogies for the confusion . Beating that boss solo legendary was the hardest thing I've ever done in Halo 0.o
I'm happy to see this game turned out well. I haven't got into a first-person shooter in quite some time as I found Destiny to be rather repetitive and the Star Wars Battlefront beta didn't keep my interest for too long. This is something I'll pick up for winter break when I'm back at home. The exclusion of local multiplayer is a bummer, but I'm excited to play through the campaign. And online, especially the new warzone mode, looks like a blast. I'm just hoping I can convince a few of my friends to get it with me, as Halo has always been a great game to play alongside friends.
Very well written review as always like the reviews and articles you wrote in Nintendo Life. I'm still undecided which secondary console (and bluray player ) I should get between the PS4 and X1. All my friends went with PS4 but very few of their exclusive games interests me, not even Uncharted. I'm a Lara Croft fanboy (on PC) you know so I hope you'll get to review Rise of the Tomb Raider!
@Splatburst Thanks for the compliment! I really appreciate that.
As far as which console you should go with, well... It's hard to say. Personally, I use my Xbox One FAR more than my PS4.
There are four reasons for this:
1.) It's where I do my multiplatform gaming.
2.) I prefer the Xbox Live features much more than PSN. This also factors into why I play multiplatform games on Xbox One despite PS4 versions typically performing better from a visual standpoint.
3.) I think the Xbox One exclusive lineup greatly outshines PS4 right now. Sunset Overdrive, Ori and the Blind Forest, Halo 5, Forza 6, Forza Horizon 2, Gears of War, Master Chief Collection, Rare Replay, and Tomb Raider. Even games like Dead Rising 3, Ryse, ScreamRide, Killer Instinct, and Zoo Tycoon are worth checking out between big releases.
4.) I have a Surface Pro 3, and it's really convenient to stream Xbox One gameplay to it when I'm relaxing in other rooms of my house. It works wonderfully for me, with almost no signs of latency.
In your case, I think it depends how much you plan to play online. If you regularly play online with friends, then you'll probably want to go with a PS4 (unless your friends plan to get Xbox Ones soon). If you don't play online and the Xbox One exclusives interest you more, I'd say go with Xbox. You can always invest in a PS4 later, when the price drops a bit more.
Great review. Having completed the campaign and plunged several hours into the multiplayer, I can honestly say you've given Halo 5 a very fair appraisal.
I do feel like they could have made so much more of the story, as you've alluded, the adverts prior to the release of Halo 5 promised a far more intriguing interaction between the Chief and Locke. As it happened, it all felt a bit "meh" for me, but fortunately great level design and gameplay mechanic kept me engaged to the finale.
Where I think 343 have really excelled, is with the multiplayer component of the game. I'm more of a classic Halo arena player and it's this aspect of the multiplayer that really shines for me. The mobility, verticality on the maps, the smooth, fast pace and Bungie's original gun, grenade, melee mechanic are knitted together to make an unparalleled competitive FPS experience.
Warzone is an awesome and impressive addition, I'm still finding my feet with this mode and it undoubtedly has many hours of fun to offer, particularly if you're in a Fireteam of friends.
All in all, a bit thumbs up from me and I certainly feel like I'm going to get very good value for money from my £40 quid outlay.
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