The ESRB came under fire for giving some of the earlier Halo games Mature ratings, since many players felt that the games didn’t deserve it. Typical Halo combat, for instance, is done in full body armor (you can’t see faces) and against aliens (whose blood is blue and not red). The games have no sexual content and earlier ones have minimal swearing, if any. Later, the franchise started branching out into a bit more violent graphics, but the series remains one of the tamer M for Mature titles out there.
And, evidently, not any longer. Halo 5: Guardians is rated T for Teen for Blood, Mild Language, and Violence. Compared with some of the other more recent titles, it seems like perhaps “Blood” is the key word here. Blood instead of Blood and Gore, that is. Halo 5 has “occasional blood-spatter effects,” contrasted with, say, Halo 4, which has “large blood spatter effects.”
Did that single adjective modifier make all the difference in assigning a rating? It’s hard to say. The ESRB’s decision-making process can be a little opaque. Halo 5: Guardians does have the same assassination technique that Halo 4 did, and some (mildly) sexually suggestive dialogue. The main takeaway is that the ESRB has to do the best they can with what information they’re given, and of course as a culture our standards change over time—the first Halo game came out in 2001, 14 years ago. It’s possible that this particular rating was assigned to be more in line with what the modern film industry puts out. Or maybe the ESRB just decided to finally back down from an M rating that players always felt was overly harsh for the games’ content.
The ESRB’s summary for Halo 5’s comment is as follows:
“This is a first-person shooter in which players assume the role of a super soldier (Locke) searching for a missing character. Players use pistols, machine guns, grenade launchers, and futuristic weapons to kill alien and human enemies in frenetic combat. Battles are highlighted by realistic gunfire, explosions, and occasional blood-splatter effects. Characters can also use “assassinations” to kill characters by snapping their necks, or by stabbing them with bladed weapons. The word “a*s” appears in the dialogue, as well as occasional taunts/insults (e.g., “I have copulated…with your genetic progenitors!”; ‘Your father was a filthy colo and your mother was a hole in the wall!’).”