As always we’re slapping a big old SPOILER warning on this review, whilst we leave out major plot points, those with a particularly high level of spoiler sensitivity may find some of the following material distressing.
Taking you to the edge of the galaxy, Halo 5 raises questions of loyalty when Earth’s greatest heroes fall from grace.
It’s been three years since the Master Chief last graced our consoles, and a lot has changed in that time. Halo 4 felt like a throwback to the original Combat Evolved, 343 Industries scrapped some of the latter Bungie Halo mechanics, such as dual wielding and bubble shields, opting to revert to the core elements of the series.
Those expecting Halo 5: Guardians to continue on from Halo 4‘s style of play will be surprised to find the most unique and distanced core Halo game to date. Don’t get me wrong, this is not at all a bad thing, what Halo 5 has accomplished is both refreshing and familiar.
Halo 5 takes place as an emerging Promethean threat is taking hold of Earth’s colonies whilst the ongoing battle with Covenant remnants rages on. During this Chaos the UNSC’s greatest defence, The Master Chief, has gone rogue with Blue Team. Spartan Locke and Fireteam Osiris have been tasked with bringing them to justice, pitting Spartan against Spartan.
The player alternates between controlling the Master Chief and Spartan Locke, a storytelling device the franchise has used before in Halo 2. I’ll be the first to admit I hated playing as The Arbiter in 2, the story was focusing on one pivotal figure and we were cruelly separated from him. This isn’t the case with Halo 5, in fact I found playing as Spartan Locke more enjoyable than playing as the Master Chief.
Fireteam Osiris have a real feeling of camaraderie going on. Their dialogue, whilst occasionally cheesy, fleshes out the characters and you understand their roles in the squad. However with Blue Team you’re controlling the big kahuna of the Halo universe, which makes the rest of the squad feel pretty insignificant and by the end of the game the members of Blue Team are still pretty obscure compared to Fireteam Osiris.
A full list of old and new characters give the game a dense and populated feeling. The crew of the Infinity, Dr Halsey and the Arbiter all return and add their piece to this space opera. Once the campaign gets going it can be a little overwhelming as the Halo universe is absurdly detailed and extends far beyond just the games. Halo 5 jumps straight into the action without providing the less initiated a refresher. It would have been nice having a “previously on Halo” kind of thing. Saying that, when you do get a hold on the situation it’s gripping and hard to put down.
The pacing of Halo 5 has you on the edge of your seat, especially when certain chaotic events start to transpire which literally tear planets apart. Despite a mild slow down during the third act, it’s overall a great sci-fi story that enriches the Halo universe. The ending certainly leaves you wanting more with a cliff hanger that sets up the premise for plenty more sequels.
Overall the campaign took me close to eight hours to play through on normal mode. I almost immediately started replaying the game after finishing and it’s been well worth it. During the chaos you may miss some lines or audio tapes, which when revisited shine a new light on the story and character arcs. It’s also a good opportunity to search for the elusive skulls.
Taking you to multiple worlds Halo 5 changes setting more than any other title in the series. For the first time we’re shown the Elite home world Sanghelios, which is being torn apart by a civil war.
Each setting is distinct and brings rise to different combat scenarios. One of the tensest being the pitch black winding corridors of a derelict ships where suicide grunts run at you out of the darkness while hunters thunder overhead.
As always the music in Halo 5 is bold and cinematic with plenty of nostalgic throwbacks to older scores. When the classic Halo riff first plays as Blue Team are hurtling through an asteroid cluster towards a ship full of Elites I got shivers, good shivers.
Scattered through each level are a bunch of Eater eggs that OCD players like me will need to find. These come in the form of audio recordings, special weapons and of course skulls. The audio tapes and general NPC dialogue helps flesh out the universe and can be laugh out loud funny.
Saying that, one particular recording has scarred me. It was hidden on Sanghelios inside an ancient temple. As you hit play the familiar high pitched voice of a grunt starts to speak. He starts talking about his friends and family that were recently killed in combat, vowing to avenge them. The little guy sounds so torn up, it’s probably the most moving thing you’ll hear from a grotesque helium sounding alien. The worst part is when the grunt says a Spartan killed them, and then mentions the battle you were literally just in on the previous level. That was probably me that put him through this turmoil. If not directly it would have been down to an order I gave. His loved ones could have been surrendering or sleeping before having their breathing apparatus shot clean off… all because of me. War is cold.
From the get go Halo 5 changes things up. Squad mechanics drastically alter the way your Spartan moves on the battlefield. New features introduced with squad combat include revives, ordering your allies to target specific enemies and setting way points.
These features allow you to be more strategic, as you can utilise your squad to best suit your style of play. For instance having the AI focus fire on a hunter while you flank is extremely useful.
The revive feature is handy when going through tough sections, especially some of the boss fights where one hit shots are all too common. Occasionally the AI will run in recklessly to revive you, even if that means all three members of your team being beaten down by the same Elite, but to be honest that can be kind of funny to watch.
Kind of a side note, but I guess also a new feature to the game, there are some hilarious physics bending kills in Halo 5. Remember in Skyrim when a giant would kill somebody and they would just fly off into the horizon? That occasionally happens, well not as extreme as in Skyrim, but it’s so damn entertaining. I found it happens a lot in Sanghelios, you’d land a headshot on a grunt and see it bounce off a rock and 20 feet into the air. Maybe Sanghelios just has weird gravity, but whether a bug or intentional, it’s way too enjoyable.
Of course, as with each new Halo game, there are a bunch of new weapons and special abilities. Those who played the multiplayer beta will be familiar with the new zoom aiming feature, hang time when scoped, Spartan charges, boosting and slamming into opponents from the air. Each of these abilities gives you a new repertoire of go to moves when in sticky situations and allow you to effectively change your play style depending on the nature of the fight.
The new weapons don’t revolutionise the way the game is played, in fact most are a refresh of older weapons that are no longer in the game. For instance the hydra launcher feels like a cross between a brute shot and the auto targeting rocket launcher.
Hidden around campaign levels are special weapons, such as the Loathsome Thing (found balancing on the side of a cliff when you first spot the Kraken in level one), which is a beefed up scattershot with larger ammo capacity and faster a firing rate. Given how full of Easter eggs Halo 5 is I’m sure there are a whole bunch of these special weapons hidden around. From what I’ve seen in the detailed weapons list, there should be beefed up snipers, LMGs, shotguns and more waiting to be found.
Admittedly this sections will be quite brief and I’ll have to revisit it for a follow up article. As I played an early access version of Halo 5 there were some issues around matchmaking, but this is totally to be expected when only a handful of people own the game. To date I haven’t been able to play any Warzone, but have managed to play a good few hours of Arena.
Of what I played the Arena is smooth and well polished, the maps are interesting and weapon layouts make for some chaotic fights for dominance. I played a playlist of free for all slayer, team slayer, capture the flag, SWAT and strongholds. Each mode offered the chaotic and brutal multiplayer that Halo is known for, in particular I found SWAT, which is headshots only, to be insanely hardcore. I’m not sure if the early access players were just pros, or that I completely suck, but these guys were pulling off headshots before I could even see them.
A new feature in Halo 5’s multiplayer is REQ bundles, which contain weapons, armour options, emblems, vehicles and XP boosts. REQ bundles can be purchased with the XP you earn from each game, varying between bronze, silver and gold. Of course the more you spend the better the gear you get is. As the main purpose for the majority REQ gear is for use in Warzone I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet, but from what I’ve seen the system is pretty good and the higher end packs certainly do give you some outstanding loot.
What I’ve experienced of the multiplayer seems very fun, but I feel it warrants a deeper look. Stay tuned for a follow up piece when I have a chance to try out more playlists and Warzone upon release!
Considering I’ve not experienced multiplayer on a large scale this is solely based off of the campaign and the limited Arena I’ve played.
Halo 5 is easily one of the best shooters I’ve played in a long time and probably up there as the finest next gen title I have ever played. It looks amazing, has a brilliant campaign and what seems like an addictive multiplayer to boot. I can safely say this is a must have title for Xbox One owners.