Your Spartan soldier is much more agile in Halo 5, and levels are laid out differently because of it. Photo: 343 Industries There are always four players in Halo 5’s campaign, which also impacts the levels. For example during a firefight one of the team might mantle up to a high vantage point for sniping while a partner charges through an old vent to flank the enemy from the side. Photo: 343 Industries
The Prometheans continue to be less interesting enemies than the Covenant or the Flood, but they’ve been given a tune up. Knights now require more strategy to fight and human-like Soldiers have been introduced. Photo: 343 Industries
The world of Halo 5 is gorgeous, just as expected given the jump to Xbox One. Photo: 343 Industries
The Master Chief returns in Halo 5, but he’s a supporting character. Photo: 343 Industries
Vehicular play is as great as ever, and the REQ system in Warzone means you can grab one in multiplayer whenever you can afford it. Photo: 343 Industries
Attacking an enemy-held base in Warzone, which plays out like Halo meets MOBA. Photo: 343 Industries
Grab a power weapon at a REQ station and wreak some havoc. Photo: 343 Industries
After popularising the console shooter and almost single-handedly moving the genre (and the whole of the casual video game space) online, Halo is a game from which, fairly or not, we expect big things.
With Halo 5: Guardians, the series continues to break new ground with smart new gameplay additions, a campaign that all but demands you play with friends online and new modes inspired by the latest in e-sports and multiplayer battle arenas. It’s an impressive, impeccable game, although the continued evolution is sure to be divisive among those who think Halo peaked in 2007. Gameplay
The biggest change to the game in Halo 5 has to do with how your Spartan gets around. You can now climb up ledges that are just a little too high to jump to. You hit extra hard when sprinting; dodge in any direction, even in mid-air; aim down any weapons’ sights; engage thrusters to keep you level while aiming, even if you step off a ledge; thrust down from a height to crush enemies.
The collection of weapons and vehicles featured in Halo 5 is probably the strongest of the entire series, with a mix of rebalanced classics and all new fare. As ever, any opportunity to jump in a Warthog or tank when you’re playing co-operatively with friends is an absolute joy.
Speaking of which, a change specific to the campaign is that the player is never alone. Taking a little inspiration from Destiny, the entire story mode is designed for four players at once (online only, no splitscreen).
New gameplay mechanics sprout from this change as well, for example you can mark and point out enemies or areas for your teammates’ attention, and if you die there’s a chance your friends could come over and revive you just in time. When playing alone you’ll get three AI-controlled teammates, who are great at reviving you and assisting in vehicles but god awful at any more advanced tactics (routing enemies that need to be hit from behind is a recurring pain).
The levels in both campaign and multiplayer are designed differently as a result of all these changes. Though not as sprawling as they were in the past, the arenas of battle are much more vertical and completely filled with hidden paths and alternate routes.
Sections of the campaign even branch off entirely, offering different routes through levels for each team member.
The new direction does come at a price, as the solitary, surprising, open story mode of the original games is now unequivocally gone, and in its place a more directed, linear experience geared toward squad-based tactical combat rather than awe. Hence those hoping for a solo space-faring adventure of the like seen in the original game, Halo 2 or Halo 3 might be disappointed (luckily the campaigns of those games are readily available on Xbox One via Halo: The Master Chief Collection). The story
Disappointingly, the story told in Halo 5’s campaign is not all it’s been cracked up to be.
The game introduces new protagonist Agent Locke, a government attack dog who the pre-launch marketing showed hunting down (and in one case killing) series mainstay the Master Chief, who had apparently gone rogue.
By halfway through Halo 5’s campaign however, it’s clear the game’s telling an entirely different story.
Without spoiling too much, Chief and Locke are barely adversarial, the actions and motivations of each are clear and simple, and Locke himself is functionally the same blank vessel for the player to inhabit as Chief always has been, following orders and being glib.
Meanwhile the game suffers from the same issue as Halo 4, where the massive scope of the narrative universe compared to the limited scope of the actual story being told leads the player to feel mostly inconsequential, and the biggest, most awe-inspiring or world-changing events are visual spectacles only. Some of that space frontier magic of the original trilogy is just missing, and while some of this is doubtless due to the new focus on team-based play it’s still a bit of a let down.
After the halfway mark the story picks up and hits some interesting notes around the alien race know as the Sangheili (or Elites) and the fate of Master Chief’s erstwhile companion Cortana, but in the end the hunt for the Master Chief feels like a delay tactic for the actual story, which kicks off near the end of the game and will presumably continue in Halo 6. Multiplayer
Where the campaign was enjoyable with a tinge of disappointment — and old man “it’s new so I hate it” feelings — multiplayer is all positive, largely because it contains a brand new, modern direction as well as more traditional modes.
“Warzone” injects a touch of the MOBA into the old favourite Big Team Battle, with 24 players on two teams capturing bases while fighting each other and AI-controlled enemies.
It’s a very different flow than shooter fans may be used to, but importantly it provides opportunities for players of all skill levels to contribute in a positive way, and takes the emphasis off hide-and-headshot. Matches can be won either by completing objectives to earn 1000 points or by forcing your way into the enemy’s base, so the game is rarely one-sided.
The most fun aspect of Warzone is the REQ system. Players earn REQ over time and cash it in for weapons and vehicles. Cashing yours in right away for a rocket launcher might help you take a base or complete an objective, but being frugal will net you a tank by the end of the game to crush your way to victory.
It also means experienced players can no longer run directly to the most powerful weapons and vehicles on the map, and gives everyone a chance to be that Banshee-flying badass.
Arena mode is classic Halo as we all know it, a mix of 4v4 modes like capture the flag and Slayer (deathmatch). It’s a great example of fixing something that ain’t broke, although the new Spartan abilities keep things interesting and fresh. Should I get it?
Halo 5 continues the series trajectory to a T. The gameplay mechanics and shooting continue to improve, while the campaign has made its biggest jump yet towards forcing cooperative play. The story has become more narrow and less relevant as a result, which will be a good or bad trade-off depending on your perspective. For multiplayer shooter fans it’s a no-brainer, this is the best Halo’s ever been.
Halo 5 is out now on Xbox One at an RRP of $99.95. It’s classified M.
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