It’s been just about three years since Halo 4 released for the Xbox 360 representing the first core Halo game made entirely at 343 Industries – the developer who took the franchise over from Bungie. And while Bungie has moved on to building the Destiny universe, 343 is tasked with bringing Halo to the current console generation and they’re off to a great start. Halo 5: Guardians is now finally available exclusively on the Xbox One and if you have the console, you should get the game.
Simply put, Halo 5 is one of the best competitive multiplayer first-person shooters on the current-gen consoles. It makes up for nearly all of the notable issues the last few series installments had, but it’s not perfect.
Halo 5: Guardians excels in its online feature set, delivering both a variety of classic 4 vs. 4 competitive modes in its Arena suite, and introducing a 24-player option featuring additional A.I. units in Warzone, but it inexplicably fails to support local play. There’s no way to play with a partner split screen or to system link consoles over a LAN like players could on both the original Xbox and the Xbox 360 with every other Halo ever. Gone are the days of tournaments at a friend’s place and classic couch co-op. Fail.
But don’t let that deter you. Multiplayer is what longtime Halo fans will be returning for and 343 delivers in a big way with what is easily the most comprehensive online multiplayer suite and the best competitive play I’ve seen from a first-person shooter in years. And it even extends to the game’s hefty story campaign which boasts four-player drop-in/drop-out co-op.
Halo 5’s Story Campaign Is Co-op Focused
Halo 5’s story is longer than Halo 4’s and is clearly designed with co-op as the focus. Friendly AI when playing solo is laughable at best and the one available order command to make friendly units move or attack doesn’t really function as intended. This is especially problematic in the boss fights which sees players fighting the same big bad repeatedly.
But, like the overall package and systems, it all looks gorgeous and polished, runs silky smooth at 60fps, and has Hollywood blockbuster-worthy cutscenes brought to life with a memorable cast headlined by Mike Colter (Luke Cage) and Nathan Fillion (Castle) who help make Halo 5’s story the first I’ve been able to get invested in. The campaign features two teams of characters, as players bounce back and forth playing as Agent Locke’s (Colter) Fireteam Osiris chasing Master Chief’s Blue Team but doesn’t quite give a fair shake to its leads.
Most of the campaign sees players play as Locke, a man of few words, while Master Chief’s team is barely showcased at all, making his actions oftentimes inexplicable. The conflict and set pieces advertised in the big #HUNTtheTRUTH cinematic trailers actually are not in the game and we can only assume that has something to do with the game’s narrative not really feeling complete, even if it is grand in scale. Halo 5: Guardians is The Empire Strikes Back of the Reclaimer Saga (the second trilogy of core Halo titles all from 343 Industries) so we knew it was’t going to feel entirely conclusive but the memorable moments are sometimes held back by the lackluster and predictable main plot.
Halo 5 Embraces New Mechanics For a New Generation
343 was coming into the current Xbox generation with some major challenges in maintaining the classic arcade-like hip shooter feel while also desperately needing to update Halo’s core mechanics to compete in the modern era of shooters. And they mostly nailed it. Comparisons to Destiny are inevitable given Halo’s pedigree and while not being able to double-jump in Halo 5: Guardians despite there being jet packs attached to every Spartan feels lacking at first, the new aim-in-the-air hovering and clambering mechanics, Slide maneuvers, and Spartan Charge abilities are essential and welcome.
Combined with sprinting as a standard for all Spartans, Halo 5 maintains the feeling of playing a heavily armored Spartan who can slam into anything with force, but perfectly balances that brutish combat with speed and intensity. The new Spartan abilities and weapons have clearly been exhaustively tweaked (thank you, multiplayer beta!) for balance and successfully improve gameplay in the campaign and especially in multiplayer.
That will all help draw in new and returning players but what may help keep them around is the Requisition (REQ) System – a brand new feature introduced in Halo 5: Guardians. It’s a digital card collecting game of sorts that lets players earn in-game credits just from playing multiplayer and exchange them for REQ Packs, each containing items ranging from temporary boosts and one-time-use weapons, to a massive set of armor and emblem customization options and more. It’s a neat spin on multiplayer customization and progression and helps add even more layers to the game’s Warzone mode where players can summon unique vehicles and weapons and use special abilities.
Of course, these REQ packs are also available via real-world money microtransactions. They are entirely optional and outside of cosmetic changes, do not affect the Arena modes at all, but in Warzone, players who pay more get more quicker. That part of it sucks but is also understandable in the modern console game environment. The good news here is that a portion of real money spent on REQ Packs will go to building the Halo World Championship prize pool and will ultimately help the eSports appeal of the title.
The REQ system is wonderfully fun and engaging but even more admirable in what 343 is planning for Halo 5: Guardians is in offering all DLC maps (at least 15 that we know of) for free. The player base is never going to be splintered by post-release expansions. That’s how you do multiplayer right.
Halo 5: Guardians released October 27, 2015 exclusively on Xbox One.