Halo has always been a franchise with a strong pedigree. The series is most known for revolutionizing console shooters and helping to popularize online play on consoles, and each of the games, from the first in the series through to Reach, are considered classics by most shooter fans.
The series has not been without its missteps, though. Halo 4 was a bit of a stumble as many longtime fans didn’t like the new direction. The Didact wasn’t a compelling villain and the Cortana subplot was far more interesting than the main story. While the multiplayer was still entertaining, it just didn’t feel like Halo because both loadouts and abilities needed to be unlocked.Halo 5 is 343 Industries’ second chance at making a Halo game. With Halo 5: Guardians finally out for everyone to play, it’s our job as fans to decide if they’ve managed to recapture the magic of Bungie’s Halo games or if they’ve just created another mediocre game by taking the premise from something great.From a story standpoint, there’s a big improvement. Halo 5 follows two teams: the Blue Team (with Master Chief) and Team Osiris (with Spartan Locke). Master Chief is on the trail of a Forerunner signal and has gone AWOL. Because of that, the UNSC decides to send Team Osiris to bring him back. This begins a galaxy-spanning quest that has you travel to the Elite Homeworld, abandoned space stations, and many more areas across the galaxy. The story is entertaining, provoking a sense of intrigue from start to finish, with a solid subplot about the Covenant Civil War. The villain this time around is linked to the Forerunners, and, like the Didact, is also obsessed with The Mantle of Responsibility. Halo 5’s villain is far more interesting than the Didact ever was. My main complaint with the story is that it lacks an impactful moment on par with Halo 4’s Cortana subplot. While there are powerful moments, none are quite as strong as that end scene with Cortana from Halo 4. However, when everything is considered, the story for Halo 5 is a lot stronger.Because this game is on the Xbox One, Halo 5 is much better in terms of overall presentation. The scale of the game is huge; right from the start, there are awe-inspiring moments with gigantic set pieces and colossal battles, beautiful color composition, diverse locations, solid framerate, and superb art. Halo 5 is a beautiful game be it the in-engine graphics or the CG cinematic.The sound is equally as impressive. The music is an engaging mix of classic and new. The newer stuff is reminiscent of what you would find in an action movie; it’s not bad, just different from previous games. The weapons all sound incredibly powerful; even the basic pistol seems like it has a lot of kick. Then there’s all the tiny details like the crunching sound when you melee an enemy to death, how the Warthog tires sound different depending on the type of ground, and how projectiles sound different when used on various enemies. The voice acting can be a bit cheesy but overall the actors did a great job representing the personalities of each character. With the story, visuals, and sound together, Halo 5 has the best presentation of any Xbox One game to date.Halo 5 is more than just a pretty face. This is arguably the best-playing Halo and has one of the better campaigns. The sprint ability and jet boost allow for set piece moments not found in previous Halo games. Shooting is the best it has ever been, and the aim down sight surprisingly doesn’t change much; it’s a nice addition to campaign and multiplayer. Encounters are well designed. The new Promethean enemy type known as “the Soldier” makes it so Prometheans now have a middle ground enemy, which makes encounters with them far less frustrating. Additionally, most fights with the Prometheans have been turned into less of a chore; in Halo 4, you would end up in 10 minute Promethean fights with a ton of Knights and a ton of flying enemies that bring them back to life. Halo 5 has far less of those, and it’s a better game for it. My biggest issue with the single player campaign is there is a boss that you fight multiple times that gets more difficult with each encounter, but the way to beat him never really changes. It goes from a novel fun experience of having a boss in a Halo game to just being annoying.Multiplayer matchmaking has been split into two styles of play. First is Arena which features 4-on-4 gameplay, smaller maps, highly competitive matches, and no loadouts. This is the modern version of the original Halo through Halo Reach multiplayer, and it is just addictive. My first two days with the game I couldn’t stop playing. Over the course of two days of playing multiplayer, I put in over 10 hours of play. The shooting feels just right and nothing can beat the high of winning a tight game.The other style is Warzone, which consists of large maps with 24 players, loadouts, and objectives. This mode reminds me of Battlefield with Halo mechanics. It definitely seems like it was directed to fans who like Halo 4 or Big Team Battle instead of the more competitive Halo scene. It also feels like some of the maps could have been tuned better; some of the maps create the perfect opportunity for 12-on-12 mayhem, but others are just a little too small. For example, I would walk outside on Apex 7 and be dead within seconds because of how small the map feels. Warzone is still a blast; it just needs some balancing tweaks. When it’s at its best, it turns into giant vehicle fights with people all rushing to kill bosses.Just like every Halo since Halo 3, you can customize your character. I unlocked emblems, armor, and assassination animations for my character. I also unlocked weapons and vehicles for Warzone loadouts. I did this by playing Multiplayer, be it Arena or Warzone, and earning Requisition Points. These points are spent on packs and unlocking random rewards. Additionally, I got packs for doing certain things like leveling my SR rank or getting a lot of a certain medal. On the one hand, this is fantastic because it gives me a reason to keep playing and trying to unlock things, but on the other hand, most of the time those rewards are randomized so it’s basically a slot machine. They will also be selling these for real cash eventually, so it could be looked at as a way to get micro-transactions into Halo.In short, Halo 5 is a fantastic second attempt by 343 Industries. The game has near immaculate presentation, a flawed but still very entertaining story, and is one of the best multiplayer shooters I’ve played in quite some time. If you are a fan of Halo, a fan of shooters, or just want to play a quality sci-fi action game, Halo 5: Guardians is a must buy.Final Score: 9.5/10