Halo 5: Guardians Review

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When Halo 5 was announced, I didn’t even bother following its development. I was so tired of Halo at the time that I just wasn’t that interested. I did not get the game at release but I knew I would get it at some point. I did acquire the limited edition online on Black Friday and didn’t realize I ordered the European version but I guess it doesn’t really matter. Developed by 343 Industries and published by Microsoft Studios, Halo 5: Guardians was released for Xbox One in October, 2015. For this review, I played the through the game on Xbox One X and because there is no split-screen co-op, I teamed up with Jeremy online. I found 343’s last entry, Halo 4, to be the weakest in the series thanks to an uninteresting plot, annoying new enemies, and a campaign that doesn’t come anywhere near the previous titles in terms of excitement.

The story is set in the year 2558 and eight months after the events of Halo 4. This time around, the plot follows two Spartans – the famous Master Chief and Jameson Locke. Both characters lead their own unit of Spartans. Master Chief leads Blue Team and Locke leads Fireteam Osiris. One of the Spartan’s on Osiris is Edward Buck, a character first seen in Halo 3: ODST when he was a Shock Trooper. I guess somewhere along the line he got promoted to Spartan. During a mission to secure a derelict ONI research station, Master Chief receives a cryptic message from Cortana. She directs him to the planet Meridian and when he’s asked to return to the Infinity supercarrier, he disobeys the order and leads his team on a quest to find Cortana. Captain Thomas Lasky grants Fireteam Osiris permission to locate and capture Blue Team. Cortana claims her terminal rampancy was cured by Forerunner technology. She attempts to use the Guardians, which are these large Forerunner constructs built as enforcers of entire worlds, to achieve galactic peace through forcible disarmament. This will cause some serious devastation so Master Chief sets out to stop her and she’s basically the antagonist of the game which I kind of have mixed feelings about. One of the few plot elements of Halo 4 that I enjoyed was that it had a focus on a Forerunner. The Didact does not make a return in Halo 5 nor does any other Forerunner and I think making Cortana the antagonist was just a strange move. All in all, I actually enjoyed the plot a bit more than that of Halo 4. The voice acting is quite good with every performance sounding believable but once again, I think some of the drama feels forced. As expected, Steve Downes returns to voice Chief and Jen Taylor returns to voice Cortana and Dr. Halsey. Keith David returns to voice Arbiter. Nathan Fillion not only lends his voice but also his appearance to Edward Buck. And Ike Amadi lends his voice to Jameson Locke. Also lending their voices is Laura Bailey and Jennifer Hale. I do think some elements of the plot do cater to fans of the series, specifically those that have knowledge of the extended universe which is not really a good thing for new players. But the one thing I can say is that Halo 5 feels more like a Halo game than Halo 4 ever did.

Halo 5 includes four difficulty modes – Easy, Normal, Heroic, and Legendary – and we completed the campaign on Legendary. Throughout the environments are collectibles including mission intel and skulls. The intel are audio logs that provide backstories to different characters and lore. Once a skull is found it is unlocked and if you decide to activate them, most make the game harder. These are really designed for scoring so you’ll want to turn on campaign scoring where you can try for a high score in each mission. The higher difficulty and the more challenging skulls you have activated, the higher the multiplier. I don’t know what kind of masochist would turn on skulls at all because Halo 5 on Legendary is really fucking hard. I’m sure the game is easier with more players, but the two of us really struggled in some areas because the enemies never hold back. The game was clearly designed with co-op in mind because throughout each mission are your team of Spartans and if you’re playing with buddies, you’ll actually get to choose what Spartan you want to play as. Although, somebody always has to be either Locke or Chief.

No matter what Spartan you’re playing as, they all control the same. You can walk, run, sprint, crouch, man and detach turrets, and perform a melee attack that can result in a cinematic kill. Now you can actually grab onto ledges which makes navigation feel nice and fluid. Each Spartan is equipped with the Spartan Charge and ground pound abilities. Both of these abilities allow you break through specific walls or thin materials and they can even be used against enemies. There’s a lot of these breakable walls scattered throughout the environments and breaking through them normally leads you to an area full of weapons and other goodies or just simply allows you to flank the enemy from a different position. Many weapons now allow you to aim down sights which I actually like. Halo 5 kind of feels like a breath of fresh air in many ways thanks to it’s streamlined mechanics but it still feels like Halo at the same time. I know some players don’t care for the iron sights, crosshair bloom, and sprinting and I’m just going to assume it has to do with the multiplayer because I really find these mechanics to be truly welcome additions. Furthermore, if you jump and then aim, your Spartan’s jet pack kicks in allowing you to hover as long as your aiming down your sights. You can also dodge or evade at the press of a button which means you quickly thrust in whatever direction you decide and this mechanic can be a real lifesaver in some sticky situations, especially late in the game. Now because you have multiple Spartans on your team, if you’re playing as Chief or Locke, you can command the AI Spartans. When you fall in combat, a timer counts down and if it reaches zero, you die and must wait to respawn. When you actually die, the respawn timer usually ranges from thirty to sixty seconds but Jeremy and I discovered if you run back far enough, you can force the countdown to lower to five seconds. You can command your AI allies to come and heal you if they can get to you. You can also heal fallen allies but if they all die, you’ll need to wait a while for them to respawn. When everybody dies, you start from the last checkpoint. You can also command them to move to a certain location or focus their fire on specific enemies. The command system is very basic but I did enjoy the squad-based gameplay overall. It was a nice change of pace compared to the lone wolf stuff in previous games. Your ally AI is okay but not great. In fact, on Legendary, they can prove to be quite stupid. I’ve seen them just standing around, not shooting at nearby enemies and they tend to die quite often. However, when they are alive, they can divert attacks away from you and they will kill enemies every now and then.

Most of the arsenal from Halo 4 makes return with some noticeable changes and new additions. Just like before, there’s three sets of weapons, the UNSC set, Covenant set, and Promethean set. I think the Promethean weapons saw more changes than the rest. For example, the Boltshot can no longer be charged and the Suppressor is actually one of the more useful weapons in the game because its projectiles have homing abilities and it just feels more powerful. New weapons include the Plasma Caster which fires plasma bolts, kind of like a Covenant grenade launcher of sorts. I think the Hydra Launcher is my favorite new weapon. It’s basically a rapid-firing missile launcher that can lock onto enemies. There’s a new grenade type called the Z-400 Splinter Grenade and it can actually be used offensively and defensively. Once it detonates, a cloud of little explosives just kind of float in the air and explode when a target comes near. Halo 5 includes variants of existing weapons like the Nornfang which is a variant of the Sniper Rifle, The Answer is a variant of the SAW, the White Scar is a variant of the Plasma Caster, and there’s more scattered around the environments. These variants basically function the same as their standard counterparts but include minor differences like The Answer has increased accuracy and the Nornfang provides the player with a damage boost. Things like that. You can also man and detach Splinter Turrets which are extremely deadly since they basically fire explosives.

Most of the vehicles and aircraft we’ve all seen in previous games make a return in Halo 5. However, there are a few new ones including the Ultra Wraith which is fitted with a new plasma mortar that can blanket large areas with each blast. The Prometheans have an aircraft now called a Phaeton and you do get the opportunity to fly one of these things. It can thrust which is great for dodging attacks and is equipped with very deadly energy weapons. Apparently, there’s a new UNSC aircraft called the Wasp and I have no idea if it’s in the campaign since we didn’t find one. Now just like Halo: Reach and Halo 4, the vehicles aren’t always lifesavers. Whether you’re piloting a Ghost, Tank, Banshee, or even a Wraith, the enemies can destroy your shit in a matter of seconds if you’re not careful, at least when playing on Legendary. As deadly as the Tank can be, if you just try to force your way through areas, it’s going to blow up from the onslaught of attacks. We found it best to just hang back and pick off enemies but even then, the strategy didn’t always guarantee safety. The Mantis also makes a return and it’s just as fun to pilot as it was in Halo 4. Using this mech to stomp through areas and fire machine guns and rockets is always a good time until it blows up or you have to get out. Then you just miss it. Any areas where you get to pilot a Tank or Mantis are actually really fun if you’re careful because if you take your time, you can easily get through areas and it’s just nice feeling overpowered, blasting everything to hell, even if it is a for a brief period.

The Covenant enemies return and are more prevalent here then they were in Halo 4 but, unfortunately, the Prometheans, once again, make up most of the encounters. Yes, they’re still annoying but it could be worse, you could have to fight The Flood which, thankfully, do not make an appearance. As annoying as the Prometheans are, they’re actually a bit more fun to fight here compared to the previous game. Crawlers, Knights, and Watchers return. The Crawlers are basically unchanged. They can easily swarm you and will often advance on your position. Watchers still prove to be annoying, they’ll often provide shields to allies, but they don’t show up as often and they go down a lot easier here. The Knights are much deadlier than they were in Halo 4 and are basically walking tanks now equipped with deadly firepower and, thankfully, they no longer teleport. They’re also equipped with armor that can be destroyed and doing so makes it easier to bring them down. As opposed to Halo 4, the Knights don’t appear as often, although they do appear quite a bit a towards  the end of the game. Most encounters with Prometheans now have you fighting Promethean Soldiers which come in different variants or ranks. These guys can teleport around but they’re actually not as annoying as the Knights in Halo 4. They’re not as fun as the Covenant, the Elites specifically, but they have their moments. They’re very quick and agile, some carry Splinter Turrets, and you need to destroy their shields before you’re able to kill them. Now Jackal Snipers return and will drop you with a well placed shot on Legendary as will Promethean snipers. These areas are frustrating and consist of trial-and-error gameplay. I’m also going to point out the enemy AI. The Covenant enemies are just as smart as they were in previous games and employ the same tactics like suppressing you, flanking you, and all enemies have what seems like pinpoint accuracy when playing on Legendary. Some Elites will use active camouflage, usually to sneak up on you with an Energy Sword which equates to an immediate death. The Promethean Soldiers also show a good degree of intelligence. They mainly shoot you when you’re in sight and do a decent enough job at staying behind cover. But the real challenge comes from having to deal with so many at once. You’re always outnumbered in Halo 5 and the encounters late in the game mostly consist of large scale battles. Now the Covenant enemies already populate areas, come pouring out of multiple locations, or are deployed by dropships. The Prometheans usually show up by just spawning in. Usually a light appears and a bunch come teleporting in from wherever it is they come from. Some encounters just have you fending off waves of Prometheans which can become tiresome. There are several boss fights in the campaign and these are easily the worst parts of the game. Each boss battle has you fighting this large Forerunner AI known as the Warden. I don’t know who at 343 thought fighting him four or five times was a good idea but it’s not and the last fight has you battling three at once. It’s insane and that last fight, specifically is just not fun. It’s tedious, frustrating, and downright fucked up. It’s difficult for all the wrong reasons.

It looks like 343 Industries did learn a few things since Halo 4. The level design in Halo 5 is back on track with unique environments and large areas with plenty of room, allowing you approach encounters in different ways. There are a few missions that just have you walking around interacting with things or NPC’s and these could have easily be showcased as cut scenes since you won’t actually be engaging enemies. I assume these are only missions at all because of collectibles. You’ll traverse through multiple locations including the ONI research station Argent Moon, below the surface of the planet Meridian, and you’ll even take the fight to the Elite home planet of Sanghelios which I thought was really cool. As you may or may not know, the Elites, otherwise known as the Sangheili, are one of my favorite enemy types and character designs in video games, and I enjoy it when the series fleshes out their backstory and culture. Regardless, all of the environments look and feel different and this time around and there seems to be a lot less button pushing, although you will being doing that here and there. The objectives still have you going from point A to B whether it be to activate something, destroy something, or just to simply get somewhere specific. One standout mission has you infiltrating a Kraken which is this massive Covenant excavation walker. You must infiltrate it, destroy the core, then escape, and then you can watch it explode. It’s very reminiscent of the Scarab segments in Halo 3, but you only get to take down one. Another standout mission has you running to the top of a tower while trying to avoid enemy aircraft fire. And it’s a standout mission because on Legendary, this sequence just sucks and is unbelievably frustrating. Now most of the environments are large and give you plenty of room to maneuver and thanks to the collectibles and breakable walls, there’s always a reason to explore. Weapons and ammo are everywhere and can also be acquired from fallen enemies and the out of the way areas usually house the best firepower so exploring is always in your best interest.

I think it’s safe to say Halo 5 looks incredible. It looks leaps and bounds better than any of the Halo games that came before it. Right before we started playing, I did acquire a 4K TV so I did get a chance to play this in 4K and it really does look amazing. Halo 5 received Xbox One X enhancements in November, 2017. My TV does allow for HDR but apparently Halo 5 doesn’t support “real HDR”, whatever that means, but I can say the color work is amazing. The lighting is fantastic, the particle effects look great, and it’s full of vibrant colors. The audio work is also nothing to scoff at. Unlike Halo 4, the music here is actually quite memorable and even includes some remixed tunes of classic songs which did have us feeling a bit nostalgic. Most of the sound effects are pretty good but I will say that some weapons do sound a bit weak. Now when talking about the performance and technical aspects, Halo 5 includes a dynamic resolution which is implemented to help maintain sixty frames per second. And it works. We experienced no real frame rate dips. We did notice one cut scene stutter a bit but that was the only time. Now there was a point where the game kicked us both out to our dashboards and we discovered it had to do with the checkpoint because every time we would load it, it kicked us out of the game. Because of this, we had to restart the entire mission which kind of sucked. I did experience some minor lag here and there but could have something to do with our connections. I would say we had a positive online experience overall. I do want point out that the split screen co-op was removed. I really don’t know why but according to my research, in response to the lack of local co-op, Microsoft executive vice president Phil Spencer said “We see the robustness of what Xbox Live is today and where people are playing across Xbox Live—you at your house, me at our house. We know that’s the vast majority of the co-op play. With Halo 5, the team really wanted to focus on making that experience great, both visually on the screen that you’re looking at, and all the systems in place”. If I’m reading that PR bullshit quote correctly, somebody at Microsoft or 343 thought it was a good idea to remove it. I don’t know if split screen was left out because of technical limitations but it’s just not included.

I don’t know what the fuck some people are talking about but I would say Halo 5’s campaign is a lot more enjoyable than that of Halo 4. We had fun at least. Now we do feel that the Legendary difficulty is more frustrating than enjoyable but I, personally, felt more immersed in the combat than I ever did with the combat in Halo 4. The Legendary difficulty is just insane and many encounters almost feel impossible. Most of the tough encounters are just trial-and-error scenarios because enemies can easily drop you in what feels like one or two shots. I would say that Halo 5 is probably the most difficult game in the series. The Legendary challenge may be alleviated if you have more than two people to play with but I can’t imagine getting through Legendary solo. At least not without breaking my controller. I actually tried and I think I died twenty or more times in just the first mission. As for the plot, I thought it was a bit more engaging than that of Halo 4 but it still failed to hold my interest all the way through. The environments and level design are so much better than what we saw in the previous game and the tone and atmosphere here are definitely on point. It just feels like Halo again. The Prometheans are still annoying but they’re a bit more tolerable here and once again, most encounters with the Covenant will make any Halo veteran feel right at home. And I hear the multiplayer here is really great stuff but we didn’t try it. I do want to point out the Requisition System. Requisitions are unlocked by obtaining Requisition Packs which are earned through gameplay or purchased using real money. Each pack contains cosmetic and even in-game bonuses. You can acquire things like skins, armor permutations, assassination animations, and things like that. It’s not as bad as other loot box systems, I suppose, but I do feel obligated to make people aware of the system as a whole. No, I’m not a fan of loot boxes in general, and, thankfully, it doesn’t affect the campaign.

I would say Halo 5 is a great game and includes some very welcome additions. The new mechanics really breathe new life into the series, at least in my opinion, and the new squad stuff was a great change of pace. I can see the plot only appealing to fans of the Halo universe and the Legendary difficulty is definitely not for everybody but, overall, Halo 5 is a fun and enjoyable experience. I don’t think the plot is as memorable as any of the Bungie titles but it’s obvious that 343 learned their lesson when it comes to gameplay and design. They even took it upon themselves to change things up and I think the changes are for the better. Ultimately, I would say Halo 5 is a return to form and a worthy entry in the franchise.

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