Halo 5: Guardians continues after the events of both Halo 4 and its companion mode, Spartan Ops. This review will assume that you have completed both of these campaigns and will be very light on spoilers with regard to Halo 5’s first two missions.
At the end of Halo 4, Master Chief, with the help of Cortana, stopped the plan set in motion by the Forerunner Promethean, The Didact. Cortana, sacrifices herself to assist the Master Chief in taking him down.
Spartan Ops, saw Dr. Catherine Halsey, the creator of Cortana and the Spartan program, captured by the Covenant. There were also other events that occurred during this story, but Halo 5 does not really mention them at all.
Your first mission in Halo 5: Guardians is to rescue Dr. Halsey, and if you had not completed Spartan Ops, then you were not privy to any back story with regard to the events that put her in capture. It also fails to fully explain the loss of her left arm which occurred at the very end of that story, although an in-game conversation does sort of give a basic explanation. I have to say, the lack of certain parts of the back story is apparent throughout this game despite its heavy focus on the lore that the series has been building since day one.
The game will see you swap between two teams: Blue team and Team Osiris. Blue team consists of Master Chief, Linda, Kelly and Fred. The three names you are probably scratching your head about are characters from the novels pertaining to the origins of the Master Chief and the Spartan program. Aside from knowing their devotion to Chief and blindly following his motivations, this is about all you are given in context to just who these other three Spartans are. I think that only once or twice during the course of the campaign do they talk about their history together.
Team Osiris, of which you’ll be party to for well more than half the game, is a different story. This team consists of Spartan Locke, Buck, Vale and Tanaka. You’ll hear so much about this group of four that it’s staggering to think why Blue Team didn’t get as well fleshed out as these four Spartans. Each character has at least a few good stories about who they are, and the character Buck, probably gets the most attention. It also helps that Buck is the most well known of this team, being a character from Halo 2, 3 and most prominently, Halo: ODST. Spartan Locke was the main protagonist in the Halo mini-series “Halo: Nightfall”. I found it odd that the actor used in the show did not voice his own character here, despite his face being used.
Once Halsey is back aboard the Infinity, the UNSC warship featured in Halo 4 and Spartan Ops, you’ll then join the Master Chief and his group of Spartans on their first mission. During this chapter, Chief is ambushed by a Hunter and for a few moments, finds himself underground and alone. Hearing his name whispered by a familiar voice, he seeks out the source only to see a silhouette of Cortana giving him instructions on where to go. A few seconds later though, Chief is found by his companions on the platform below where he fell. While it may have been merely a hallucination, Master Chief decides to act on it.
Master Chief, alerting the UNSC of his next move, is met with disapproval and told to stand down. Wanting no part of that, he cuts the line with the UNSC and goes AWOL on a mission to discover if Cortana is really alive. It is at this point that Team Osiris is sent after Master Chief and his Blue Team to bring them in. While the story then takes a few twists and turns, it does play itself fairly safe and mostly predictable through most of the roughly ten hour campaign. Once the credits rolled and I took in what had just occurred before them, I am a pleasantly surprised at the direction of where the journey will take us next.
The pacing of the adventure is beautifully done and the spacing of the on-foot to vehicle-centric levels is appropriate. The only section of the game that felt a bit out of place was the hub world you visit later on in the game. If you go off the beaten path and explore some of the environments you will be treated to various enemies talking and singing. In a chapter later on in the game I found a choir of grunts all singing along, and in another chapter you will find a talkative grunt and an elite sitting on cliff watching the sunset.
When you play in Co-op there is a character select screen to pick your hero, though it is mandatory to have someone at least pick one of the two main protagonists. The AI does an okay job of filling out the team if you play with anything less than four players, and will even jump blindly into the fray should you go down in the fight. If you play solo you will have the ability to give orders to your AI teammates. I didn’t feel that between the two teams that any one character played any different from the others.
Halo just isn’t Halo without some multiplayer action and it definitely does not disappoint. There are two overall modes of Spartan on Spartan warfare: Arena, and Warzone.
Arena is your basic 4 on 4 that sees Red team take on Blue. This can be played in the following modes:
- Team Arena: Play on the very best modes and maps as a team.
- Slayer: Work as team, vanquish your opponents.
- Breakout: A single life elimination mode.
- Free for All: It’s you versus everyone else.
- Swat: No shields, no motion tracker. Aim for the head.
- Warzone: 24 players on massive maps with AI adversaries.
- Warzone Assault: 24 players battle it out to destroy the Power Core or defend it in this asymmetrical mode variant.
There is also the ability to create your own custom modes allowing you to change a variety of parameters such as what map you want, the mode you are playing and weapon restrictions. You can further customize elements like shield settings, anti-gravity, movement types, health and tweaking the various special moves like ground pound and shoulder tackle. There is a wealth of different settings to make your mode unique.
Forge mode didn’t launch with the release of Halo 5: Guardians but will be available later this year. This mode will allow you to fully customize and create battlegrounds for you to wage war on. Future map packs will be freely available for the foreseeable future.
Warzone allows the use of REQ packs, which are requisition packs of cards that you use to outfit your spartan before and during battle. After each completion of a Warzone map, you get points based on your performance. These points are used to purchase either Bronze, Silver or Gold packs. If you feel the need to speed ahead of your competition, you can purchase packs with real money.
A system like micro transactions can make or break a game. Pay to win has always been at the forefront of the hate behind systems like this and here it seems to be handled quite well. Let’s say you get a Scorpion Tank card, first you need the card that allows you to even be able to use it. Then, since it is a power level 6 card, you’ll need to earn power in the game to summon it. This stops people from instantly spawning an army of tanks and winning the game in just a few minutes. This process is the same for all vehicles and weapons, and it works well. REQ packs also contain a variety of armor pieces used to customize your look. You can earn some promotional packs from various things like viewing content on Halo Waypoint, or making a guild inspired Spartan Company via the Halo website.
I really enjoyed everything Halo 5: Guardians brought with it. The campaign is action packed, has good pacing and for the most part, very fleshed out characters and motives in place for where the story goes. I wish the game covered more of the back story behind some of the events without assuming you are fully up to speed game wise as well as having a good knowledge of the books. The multiplayer is as good if not better as it has ever been, and the new Warzone mode is epic on every scale.
I should also point out that for the first time in the series, splitscreen is not a Co-op option. Halo 5: Guardians does offer 4 player through the campaign, but only via Xbox Live. This was done to ensure that the game keeps a steady frame-rate and high resolution at all times.
Halo 5 is simply a work of art and runs and looks incredible. 343 has created a great new entry to further along the series with enough new ideas to make it fresh and enough of the series past to make it feel familiar.