Halo 5: Guardians Review (Xbox One)

Halo has been under the spotlight for many gamers since 343 Industries took over the reigns from Bungie in time to make Halo 4. We were impressed with Halo 4, it definitely lost some of the quirkiness we were used to with the series and the new enemies (the prometheans) were less interesting to fight than the Flood or the Covenant, but it had enough going for it to earn its place within what has been a consistently excellent series. After the bug-ridden shambles that was the launch of the Master Chief Collection, we were worried that Halo 5 could have been a flop, thankfully 343 are back on form.

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Halo 5’s campaign mode is now split between two teams, Osiris and Blue Team. One team is led by Master Chief along with some of the older Spartans that you might recognise if you’ve followed the novels or extra bits of animation that have been released over the years. They don’t have a huge amount of character but the game doesn’t have a hard job of convincing you of how incredibly powerful and experienced they are. Their almost blind loyalty to the chief is refreshing and with him in charge of a squad, you get a sense of why he has the rank that he does. The second team is headed up by Locke, a newer Spartan introduced in more recent fiction leading up to this. He’s supported by a fresher team of Spartans, newer models who have moved into becoming Spartans in a much more normal way than the kidnapping, cloning, and genetic manipulation that Chief had to endure. Nathan Fillion is on role again here, reprising his ODST role as Buck, and the rest of the team are generally more chatty and likeable than what we’re used to seeing from the walking tanks turned soldier. The opening cinematic that you might have seen before the game even came out quickly establishes the team as more than capable, with a spectacular piece of CGI showing them taking down a small Covenant army the moment they hit the ground running (quite literally). The cinematics have never been better than they are here and it’s exhilarating to take over the reins once you know what these people are capable of.

The real reason for these two teams of four is to make more sense of four player co-op. Now each player takes control of a separate Spartan who has their own story and place within cut-scenes and the like. It works well, especially with the chatter that flows between them and helps with the immersion, especially when you have a full team of four. The game is definitely designed for a full four players as it throws some quite ridiculous situations at you, and with four players co-ordinating the attacks is an absolute joy. We played through mostly in two player on Heroic and it was more challenging than expected, but thanks to the joy of Halo’s combat system, it felt like a great puzzle to work out, rather than a frustrating slog. Within the narrative Locke’s team is sent to hunt down Chief’s team quite early on, but this plot line doesn’t really amount to much, sadly you never get to play in sections where all eight spartans are together and this feels like a real missed opportunity. The story is entertaining enough but functions more as a way to string together some excellent set pieces while only moving on the overall arc slightly. The most interesting aspects of the plot revolve around what is happening within the Covenant, but sadly this is pushed to one side and never really explored in depth outside of one fantastic mission.

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Gameplay wise the campaign is much what you’d expect, with large areas populated with a range of enemies with different strengths, and you having limited resources to make your way through. You can now aim down the sights, sprint and clamber which adds a lot more movement and ‘flow’ to your fights. The battlefields are designed to let you make the most of it and find new angles to approach forces and there are even hidden paths dotted all over that you can bash through or places to drop down from above with a ground pound. 343 are much more willing to share their toys with you this time around and it’s not long before you get to play with Scorpions, a Mantis or two and plenty of powerful weapons. You need it too as you’re regularly beset on all sides by Wraiths, Ghosts, Hunters and more.

We did feel that there was a missing sense of grandeur about the opening to the missions. All the best Halo missions have had spectacular beginnings, and other than that first drop with the great CGI cut-scenes there were no places where you rolled across a plain or desert with the full might of the UNSC, or interacted much with the capital ships. This felt like it was more scrappy, you were the centerpiece of nearly every mission so you miss some of that ‘shock and awe’ that the early games were so good at.

In terms of multiplayer 343 have really outdone themselves. When you drop into multiplayer now there’s two different kinds of playlist, Arena and Warzone. Arena is what you’d expect from the past games in the series – a rotating mixture of playlists mostly with teams of four and a brand new ranking system for each individual playlist. Now I can be proud of my SWAT rank and hide my shame in more standard Slayer or Breakout, the new 4v4 CounterStrike esque mode where deaths are permanent and you can either kill the enemy team or take the central flag to their base. These are all played on bespoke arenas designed explicitly for competitive play. There’s a few things missing from Arena mode, a spectator mode dampens the possibility of real esports catching on for the game and there’s no big game modes (until next Tuesday when Big Team Battle returns) but that’s where Warzone fits in.

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Warzone is only set on three maps but they are absolutely huge. In Warzone you compete over three objectives, trying to capture and hold them to get points. Hold all three and you open up your opponents’ base and can try to destroy their core and end the game. In practice this rarely works out so you tend to hold as many as you can to get more points then spend the rest of the time hunting down AI controlled enemies to get more points, first team to 1000 wins. There’s also a Warzone Assault mode that plays out in a similar way, but instead of points you have one team defending each objective in a row, with the attacking team having five minutes to take each one over. If they get one the timer resets and you move onto the next until they destroy the core or the timer runs out and the defenders win. These matches are huge 12v12 battles and rather than finding vehicles on the map (like you will in Big Team Battle), you instead spend Requisition Cards to call in vehicles and power weapons and other boosts. These are earned by using req points earned in game (or bought with real currency) in a store where you open blind packs. There are different values of them and the top one costs around £2 or takes about an hour of playing to earn. In these packs you get a chance to get cosmetic items like armour and visors and even assassination animations, or you can get weapons and vehicles. Once you use a card it’s gone (like Titanfall’s burn cards) so there’s an element or risk/reward as you work out if you want to try and turn the tide of a losing battle or if you should hold on to your powerful items for a closer match. We were dubious of the system at first but it’s definitely won us over and opening Req packs is far more exciting than it has any right to be.

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Overall we’re thoroughly impressed with Halo 5. The campaign is a great co-op experience, even if the narrative is somewhat lacking. Multiplayer is of course where the real quality is though and this is a game we can easily see ourselves playing for months, perhaps years to come. 343 have already introduced new modes and items for free and there’s signs that they’ll be supporting this for a very long time to come.

Verdict 9

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