Microsoft has a lot riding on Halo 5: Guardians. Not only is this Master Chief’s first proper outing on the Xbox One, but the game also comes not even a year after Halo: The Master Chief Collection, which, while now working properly, was a bit of a disaster upon launch. Thankfully, though, it seems as if developer 343 Industries have learnt from their mistakes.
We’ve been fortunate to have had our hands on Halo 5: Guardians for a few weeks now, and are happy to report that the developer has done a commendable job in bringing Microsoft’s juggernaut franchise onto the Xbox One. In fact, they’ve managed to craft one of the most enjoyable FPS titles on the market, one which no doubt has a very strong chance of winning our much coveted Game of the Year award.
Halo 5: Guardians‘ campaign has you follow two protagonists: Spartan Jameson Locke and, of course, Chief. More time is spent with the former, but there are still a handful of levels that place you firmly in the boots of John-117. The reason for the split is due to the plot of the game, which has Locke chasing down an AWOL Master Chief, as the rogue Spartan is out on a mission of his own, one which can threaten the very existence of the galaxy.
I don’t want to get too spoiler-y here, and going any further than the vague description I just provided would definitely take some of the fun away from the game’s big reveals. That being said, what we get here is certainly engaging. A couple of familiar faces make a return, some more unexpected than others, and the plot deals with some interesting themes like creation, playing God, artificial intelligence, evolution and more. Being a Halo game, these themes are more flirted with than explored in-depth, but still, it’s nice to see 343 Industries trying to create a deep backdrop for the action to play out against.
Unfortunately, you’re going to need to know your Halo lore to really enjoy the plot, as it’s not exactly newcomer friendly. It starts off innocently enough, with Chief and his team going rogue and Locke and Fireteam Osiris assigned to go after them and bring them in. Once it’s revealed what John is up to, though, and just how devastating the threat is that they’re all facing, 343 dives pretty deep into the mythology of the Halo world. Of course, that’s not a bad thing, but if you’re new to the series, or only have a passing interest in it, a lot of the dialogue may go over your head.
The other thing about the story is that while it’s got enough of a hook to keep you playing until the end, I couldn’t help but feel that it lacked an emotional punch, as well as that grandiose epic-ness that accompanied previous entries. Furthermore, the climax is decidedly underwhelming for a Halo game, and while the ending clearly telegraphs a sequel, I don’t find myself eager to see what happens next. The plot isn’t dull by any means, but it just doesn’t hold up to the original trilogy.
But enough about the story, because let’s face it, most people are here for the gameplay. That classic, oh-so-sweet Halo run ‘n’ gun gameplay, which you can bet is back here and better than ever. Whether you’re playing as Master Chief or Locke, you’ll be equipped with a three person squad, which completely changes things. Of course, squads are nothing new in gaming, but up until this point, the Halo series has been mostly a solo affair.
Now, however, you’re part of a team, and taking a page out of several other prominent franchises’ playbooks, you’ll be able to control your squad while on the battlefield. It’s not much, but you will be able to order your squad to a certain position, have them take a particular vehicle or weapon, make sure they focus their fire on a particular enemy, etc. And, most importantly, they’ll be able to revive you (for a short window of time) if you go down. Again, nothing we haven’t seen before, but it’s a first for the series and it obviously changes things up quite drastically, as you’ll have a lot more support out there.
And you’re going to need it, too, as the AI is very strong. Not that Halo has ever struggled with that aspect of gameplay, but I did find in Guardians that the AI was particularly good, on both sides of the field. Not content with just standing around and getting in your way, your squad is actually quite effective in not only following orders, but also doing their own thing during firefights, constantly taking out enemies and clearing the battlefield. As for your opponents, they’re smarter and more resilient than before, relentless in their quest to make sure you don’t complete your objective.
There are truly some massive firefights in this game, large in both scale and sheer number of individuals on the screen, and Halo fans will love every second of these moments.
All that being said, however, there is one drawback to the changes that have been made to the combat, and that’s that it’s very hard to die in Halo 5: Guardians. I mean, if you fancy Legendary difficulty then it surely won’t be a walk in the park. But on Normal, and even at points in Heroic, the game just feels too easy. Sure, you’ll go down a lot, but your team is pretty adept at healing you, so it won’t be often that you actually die and need to restart. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean you can just run in guns blazing, but compared to previous entries, the game isn’t terribly difficult.
Undoubtedly, these significant changes to the gameplay won’t sit well with everyone. Personally, I kind of prefer just rolling solo as the Chief. Squads have their place in certain franchises, and I don’t particularly think that Halo is one of them. It’s not a major detriment, but it’s something I’d prefer not to see in 343 Industries’ next outing, if I’m being completely honest.
One major gameplay change I am on board with, however, is the thruster pack. Gone are the Spartan abilities from Halo 4 and in their place you have the thruster pack, which can be used every couple of seconds to give you a speed boost in any given direction. There are also several uses for it during combat, including the Spartan Charge, where you can thrust into an enemy and knock them down.
Another welcome new move is the ground slam, where you can jump up in the air, charge an attack and then slam down on the ground, knocking down everything around you. Additionally, you can also clamber up ledges in the game now. Couple all that with the ability to sprint, and it gives the combat more of a Titanfall feel, thanks to all the manoeuvrability you have on the battlefield. Movement has been significantly changed in Guardians, and it’s something you’ll notice immediately. Combat is quicker, more satisfying and more fast-paced than ever before.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the game’s most controversial feature: ADS (aim down the sights). Honestly, you’ll either like it or you won’t, and you’ve likely already made up your mind as to how you feel about it. While I don’t think it was necessarily needed, it’s also never a hindrance. Did I use it often? No, not really. But if you’re into it, it’s there, and it’s handled perfectly well.