Platform: Xbox One
Halo 5 came out on Tuesday from developer 343 Industries. If you don’t know, 343 took over development of the Halo series from Bungie in 2009, and they’ve crafted every release in the series since. In addition to developing main entries in the series (Halo 4 and Halo 5), they’ve created several Halo spinoff games and even a live-action TV-style series called “Halo: Nightfall” that was originally released through Xbox One.
If you’re such a big Halo fan that you already knew all of that, then I am happy to tell you that Halo 5: Guardians is for you.
Personally, I have always liked the Halo series, but mostly for the PvP. I’ve never really gotten into the story of Halo. As such, the campaign of Halo 5 was mildly confusing for me at first. There are a lot of new characters present that were originally introduced in spinoff games and in “Halo: Nightfall.” You even play half the game from the perspective of the main character from Nightfall.
If you’re not a Halo megafan, though, don’t worry: once it gets rolling, the story is actually quite cohesive and engaging, even for casual fans of the series. I think even a total newcomer could eventually understand what’s going on, because unlike previous entries in the series, the central issue of the plot is really easy to understand:
Unfortunately, I can’t elaborate even a little bit without revealing some pretty major spoilers. But it should be enough to say that I like this game’s plot more than any other entry in the series. 343 Industries really came through with great writing.
The campaign’s gameplay is pretty good, too. I really liked the general level design. Particularly, I loved that most levels have little hidden passageways that often contain useful weapons and collectibles. These passages also give you different ways to move through the level and to deal with whatever enemies you’re facing at the time. One hidden passageway allowed me to bypass a Covenant Wraith tank. It led to a great vantage point for taking out the tank, and it contained weapons that were extremely useful for doing so. These secret passageways really made me feel like I was making fun decisions about how best to engage the enemy, which is a hallmark of good game design.
The one complaint I have about the campaign is that it seems designed to be played in co-op mode. When playing solo, your three teammates are computer-controlled, but they’re sometimes a little bit too dumb to get the job done. Many of the Promethean enemies you fight are far easier to take down if you coordinate your attack, and this coordination was just a little too complex for the computer to figure out.
Additionally, when you lose all of your health, you don’t die. Instead, you’re downed—unable to act for about 15 seconds. If none of your teammates come and heal you within that time, it’s game over. Often, your computer-controlled allies will take the most exposed possible route to get to you, and then they’ll stand in the open while they try to revive you. Mostly, this doesn’t work out for them.
If you intend to play the campaign cooperatively with even one other person, though, I don’t think you’ll have anything to complain about. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; most Halo games are more fun to play with friends.
Player versus Player (PvP)/Competitive Multiplayer
Competitive multiplayer in Halo 5 also caters to long-term fans of the series. Most of the guns feel really similar to their predecessors from previous games, despite having been changed significantly as the series itself has changed and evolved over the years.
Arena, Halo 5’s four-player PvP mode, seems designed to appeal to veterans of Halo PvP. There is an emphasis on fighting over new weapons as they appear (or “spawn”) on the battlefield. There’s even a countdown timer for spawns of the most powerful guns. There really isn’t much to say about Arena except that it’s definitely recognizable as Halo PvP. If that sounds appealing to you, good. If not, maybe you’ll like Halo 5’s other PvP mode: Warzone.
Warzone is…interesting. It’s a 12 versus 12 battle with some serious twists. If you’re a Warcraft fan, you might find it similar to the Alterac Valley battleground from World of Warcraft. Teams start on opposite sides of the map. When the game begins, they move toward the center of the map, capturing and defending bases they find on the way. You can earn victory points by killing members of the opposite team, by capturing their bases, or by killing enemy NPCs (non-playable characters) that spawn throughout the map as the game progresses. You can win instantly by capturing the enemy’s home base. Fighting over the NPCs is kind of cool, but the real twist is the REQ system.
See, unlike big team battle modes from previous games, Warzone has no vehicles or weapons that spawn on the map. This is where the REQ (short for requisition) system comes into play. When you play a match of Halo PvP (either Warzone or Arena), you will receive some REQ points. These points can be used to purchase REQ packs, which are described as “virtual playing cards.” Among other things, these REQ packs contain gun and vehicle cards that can be used in Warzone.
For example, if you want to use a Carbine, you’ll first have to acquire it in a REQ pack. Then, upon entering a game of Warzone, you’ll have to get kills or complete objectives in order to increase your “Energy Level.” Each REQ card has a different Energy Level cost depending on how powerful it is. Since a Carbine isn’t all that powerful, you only need to spend two Energy Levels to spawn it. On the other hand, a Rocket Launcher requires you to spend five Energy Levels.
The contents of REQ packs are totally random, so it’s likely that you’ll have to play a lot of Halo 5 multiplayer to get access to all of the cool guns, vehicles, and cosmetic items that you’ll want to use. Or…you can just buy a bunch of REQ packs with real money. That’s right: Halo 5 has microtransactions. I have mixed feelings about this, but I’m hopeful that 343 will take a page out of Bungie’s book and use the extra revenue to release free map packs and other downloadable content for the players. Or the microtransactions could just be a nefarious way to cash in on the Halo franchise before it finally dies off. Only time will tell.
Nick Offerman explains the system in this humorous video:
Halo 5: Guardians is the first game in the main Halo series to be rated T for Teen instead of M for Mature. Although Halo games are typical first-person shooters with lots of action, the combat is mostly against aliens and faces are rarely shown. The T rating for Halo 5 may reflect slightly less violent content than previous titles (less gore, for instance). It may also reflect our evolving cultural standards (the first Halo game was released in 2001). Whatever their reasons, the ESRB rated Halo 5 T for Teen for Blood, Mild Language, and Violence.
Overall I’d say this game shows that 343 Industries is doing a great job of carrying the Halo torch that was passed to them. In Halo 5: Guardians, they definitely cater to hardcore Halo fans, and I think that was a good decision. Fans of shooters in general should enjoy Halo 5 too, especially if they have friends to play with.