Halo 5: Guardians – Review

Platform – Xbox One, PC
Developer – 343 Industries
Publisher – Microsoft Game Studios
MSRP – $59.99 USD

(Editor’s Note: This game was reviewed on the Xbox One and the review copy was provided by Microsoft Game Studios.)

 

Introduction

Halo 5: Guardians is finally upon us on the Xbox One. Master Chief and Spartan Locke are ready to kick some Covenant and Promethean ass. Ever since the launch of the original Xbox and Halo: Combat Evolved, the franchise had done great things when it came to console the FPS genre. Halo was always known for having fantastic gunplay, good pacing, iconic characters, and developed storyline, among other things. The Halo saga has been running for 14 years now, which is a long time for an FPS franchise. Can Microsoft keep making each new game in the flagship franchise better than the last? Halo 5: Guardians has been heavily anticipated by many Master Chief and FPS fans for over the last two years now, ever since the announcement of the game back in E3 2013.  Today is the day when the beloved Halo fans will have answers to their burning questions.

Story

The Halo 5: Guardians story continues right after the events of Halo 4. Fans who are obsessed with the story of Master Chief will not be disappointed here. Halo’s lore was always complex and intriguing thanks to the great characters and their unique stories. Players will come across many plot twists, entertaining blockbuster cinematics, great voice acting, and they will be kept on the edge of their seat from beginning to the end. My favorite aspect of the plot in Halo 5: Guardians was the pacing. Every new campaign mission made it exciting to play from start to finish to see what would happen next.

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In Halo 5: Guardians, you will be visiting different places with many interesting lore elements. For example, one of the mission takes place on a planet called Sangehelios. Sanghelios is the homeworld of the Elite race from the Covenant. Sword of Sanghelios is probably one of my favorite missions that I’ve played due to its beautiful rocky/desert theme and most importantly, because of the simple fact that this is where the Elites are from in the first place. It’s also worth noting that in every mission you can now collect Intel data. There are a total of 117 Intel scattered across the entire game. Intel can usually be found in hidden places, high platforms, dead bodies, or consoles. Once you pick up an Intel, it will start playing an audio log from whoever was still able to record before something bad happened. It’s fun to collect them because they give you lot of interesting background information about what’s going on behind the scenes.

I wish I could talk about the entire story of Halo 5: Guardians here, but I don’t want to spoil it. Some things are blatantly obvious about who or what Master Chief is looking for, but I think everyone can kind of expect that. With that being said, I believe that some fans will be shocked and impressed – or maybe not. The fact is, it’s impossible to make everyone happy in this world when it comes to plot conclusions in big franchises like Halo.

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The end of the game will open up plenty of new questions that won’t be answered until the next game but don’t worry, you will get some answers before the game ends. I also highly recommend you beat this game on the Legendary difficulty for the extra bonus ending after the credits roll. The bonus ending is short but totally worth seeing. I was not disappointed with how the game ended and thought it was a great roller-coaster ride from start to finish, and I believe the direction they’re taking the story is very bold and risky. I think many people will love it, but I also think some will have mixed feelings about it or possibly even hate it. Overall, I commend 343 Industries for making major plot changes because it opens up a lot more room for storytelling in the future and some of the lore can get fascinating later down the road.

Gameplay and Level Design

My biggest concern in the modern days of FPS games is usually the levels and how they’re designed. Back in the old days, it was always about collecting keycards and moving from corridor to corridor, killing baddies Duke Nukem and DOOM style. In today’s age, it’s more about story progression, immersive worlds, and open spaces. Halo 5: Guardians continues to keep the Halo gameplay that you always knew and loved. It stays true to traditional FPS style. Halo continues this tradition of FPS style, however; it does it this time in a much bigger and open environment than ever before.

Halo 5: Guardians Review

The most significant change in Halo 5: Guardians regarding level design is the verticality and exploration aspects. Levels are now much broader and take longer to explore, and there are multiple ways you can go about your objective. One of your mission objectives in Sword of Sanghelios is to enter a temple. You can find breakable walls to find a side path to flank your enemy. You can also try going to the bottom of the level instead of the top or vice versa. Trying out different ways was fun because it allowed me to analyze the battlefield better and made me think more about what would be the best approach to enter the temple. Once you play Sword of Sanghelios, you will understand what I mean by verticality and exploration. It’s probably one of the best things that can happen to this franchise, or any FPS game really, for that matter. A bigger level size that’s not there just for space, but as a sandbox that you can use to your advantage to figure out the best way to approach the mission,  can create more immersion and provide more opportunities for fun gameplay elements. These open-ended levels also make the traversal easy and engaging in the game. Players can climb to the highest point of the level to snipe down enemies or use their thrusters to boost themselves from one platform to another to avoid enemy fire or escape.

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This new level design approach goes quite well with the 4-player co-op that 343 Industries has been pushing in Halo 5: Guardians. Having four players in these big open spaces can be a real blast because now you can communicate with your team to create some exciting firefights and ambushes to tackle your next objective. Two of your friends can go on a Warthog while you use the Scorpion tank to demolish enemies, and your 4th buddy can drive a Mongoose and run grunts over. Situations like these create new opportunities for fun and dynamic gameplay that we haven’t had before in the Halo franchise. Your team can also decide which person uses the sniper rifle, while someone else is entering through the side entry and using a Fuel Rod to kill Hunters or Golden Elites.

Having 4-player co-op through the game becomes a lot easier than other Halo titles, especially on Legendary difficulty due to your teammates being able to revive you infinitely; unless you get killed by a Wraith, fall off the edge of the level, or get disintegrated by the Promethean grenades and weapons. I understand why 343 Industries added this mechanic, and it also makes sense having a full team of elite Spartans to help you get up when you’re down. However, those who wanted to be challenged might not find it as enjoyable or as hardcore as previous Halo games because of that one particular reason, despite the fact that the game gets harder the more people you have. If you want a tougher challenge, just play the game on Solo Legendary, which is what I played when I was playing the game from start to finish. Some parts had me get stuck for an hour or so, but over time I developed strategies against certain fights to overcome them. Also, the AI teammates can always revive you, and that’s a huge help.

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The actual AI of the teammates is quite inconsistent. If you die on a ledge or some platform, they will just stand there and watch you die even though they’re next to you, and this was rather annoying. There were also times where they will just stand behind you and not attack anything unless you issue them commands using the D-pad buttons. And a situation like this can be both good and bad because you can just use them as your revive machines by having them stand in one place, where they don’t get hit. It can also be bad because they’re not distracting the enemy or taking shots for you depending on what kind of a fight you’re in. It’s understandable that the game was built for co-op from the ground up, but that doesn’t mean the AI should be at this level of inconsistency, and it felt like the AI was just an afterthought.

Halo 5: Guardians spans across 15 missions. However, a few of them are not actual missions, but rather just short stops where you’re in a small hub city where all you had to do is talk to an important NPC to continue to the next mission, or you can explore around and look for the Intel to get achievements. I thought this was rather questionable because it broke the pace of the game a little bit. Not so much regarding the story or anything, story’s pacing is excellent, but the mission pace got a tad weird due to this. Overall, it’s not a huge deal, and it’s not going to make or break the game for anyone really, but some people might be upset that the game goes over 13 missions that have full gameplay as opposed to 15. As for the missions themselves, they usually consist of defending an area, assaulting a base, going inside a building and killing sets of enemy waves to proceed to the next room, driving your favorite vehicles to do your dirty bidding and so on. Nothing revolutionary or new here as far as the actual mission objectives go, it’s the open-ended levels that make the missions themselves more fun in the combat, exploration, and 4-player co-op.

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Spartan abilities make it also more engaging. Being able to sprint at full speed and charge into a hunter or a grunt to knock them off a cliff is damn satisfying. Overall, the gameplay is solid and also the gunplay is excellent just like the previous Halo games, but most importantly, Halo 5: Guardians is a huge improvement over Halo 4. If you’re used to how Halo games typically play, then you will not be disappointed here. The open-ended levels are a great treat for everyone, and I hope that 343 Industries keeps going in that direction for future Halo games.

Multiplayer and REQ System

Halo 5: Guardians shines when it comes to the multiplayer aspect of the game. Get ready for hours, days, weeks, months and years of adrenaline pumping shoot-outs in the Arena and Warzone modes. Arena mode consists of your old favorite playlists such as Capture the Flag, Slayer, Strongholds, SWAT and so on. Halo 5: Guardians now also features a new playlist called Breakout. Players in Breakout are going straight into a 4 vs 4 combat as soon as they spawn on a symmetrically mirrored arena map. You have two ways of winning, capturing a flag that’s in the middle and bringing it to the enemy base or by eliminating all of the four enemy team members. The map is super tiny, and the action starts literally about 5-10 seconds after you spawn as you run forward, head-to-head against your opponents. And to win the actual match you need to win 5 rounds, and I like that because competitive teams can create some cool clutch moments when the rounds are tied. It’s a lot of fun when both teams are of equal skill because it creates a lot of competitive tensions. It’s very clear that Microsoft and 343 Industries are pushing this into the eSports scene because Breakout is tailored exactly to that style of play.

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The other entirely new, large-scale mode is called Warzone. There are two types of the 24 player Warzone playlists; Assault Warzone and regular Warzone. In Assault Warzone, you’re defending your power core at your base from the enemy team depending on which side you’re on. In regular Warzone, you have to capture bases and kill random AI leaders that get spawned periodically. Warzone is a very fun mode that adds the large-scale combat feel to the multiplayer we always liked, but now we have the AI involved and the enemy team. It also has the largest amount of players in a multiplayer mode Halo ever had. Overall, Warzone itself is now one of my favorite modes. Mix it with Halo’s excellent gunplay, Spartan abilities, and enemy AI, and you get a fantastic addition to the franchise.

Warzone also implements and uses the new microtransaction system called REQ. When you play any modes in Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer, you earn REQ points that allow you to buy three different levels of REQ packs. REQ packs contain different cards that enable you to equip weapons and spawn vehicles in Warzone, some cards are permanent and will never be taken away. There is a common, uncommon, rare and legendary type of cards, and also one-time use boosters that give you extra EXP for ranking up in a match depending what mode you’re playing. To redeem a card, you must go into a REQ station in your base and select which cards you want to redeem. Also, you cannot redeem every card you have because each card has a specific REQ level requirement that needs to be met while you’re in a Warzone match.

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When you buy the game, you will automatically be given 7,500 RP that can be spent on buying a Silver RP pack that is 5,000 RP with a combination of a Bronze RP for 1,250. Meanwhile, the Gold RP that has a high chance of giving the most top quality items costs 10,000 RP. Thankfully, the rate of earning RP is acceptable. On average, players will be receiving around 2,000 RP in 1 game of Warzone and 1,000 RP in Arena. Considering that majority of players will be jumping on multiplayer after beating the main campaign storyline you will be swimming in a ton of RP points. As you play and keep getting ranked up and earn RP points, you will also unlock customization gear that gives you new cosmetic visuals for your helmet, emblem, and armor.

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Just like with every Halo game you can create custom games to play online with your friends. As always, you can manually set each option and create your variant playlist. Theater mode is also here so you can sit and enjoy your previous matches. I think the biggest disappointment in multiplayer for most people will be the lack local split-screen play. Not being able to play locally with your friends when they come visiting you is going to leave a sour taste in your mouth because, in the past, you were always able to do so, but now you cannot.

In the end, multiplayer is super addicting and is going to provide hours and hours of entertainment. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a casual player or a hardcore competitive FPS nut; the game has room for both. The competitive nature of Halo will keep the fans coming in for months and years to come until the next Halo title.

Visuals, Audio, and Technical

The best part about Halo 5: Guardians is the fact that the main campaign and multiplayer runs at silky smooth 60FPS. However, that 60FPS comes at a very high price, many things are sacrificed to keep the framerate going while still trying to make the game look good.

Halo 5: Guardians is not a bad looking game at all by any means, but it’s also not anything special either. The game is running on a dynamic resolution that results in pixelated edges and sometimes even blurry textures, especially on the ground. Depending on the amount of stuff that’s happening on the screen in the campaign the image quality can drastically change, and it’s very evident. The sense of style is right, it feels and looks like a Halo game, and that’s important. Some of the levels like Swords of Sanghelios look fantastic while others don’t seem as pleasing due to the Forerunner architecture that feels bland and ugly as it did in Halo 4. Another glaring issue that kept bugging me was the fact that animations from a long distance are running at 30 FPS instead. It’s hard to describe what I am talking about exactly, but imagine using your sniper rifle to scope and headshot an enemy while you watch them move as if someone is flipping through a cartoon flip book. Hopefully, this will be patched in the future because it’s very obvious and can break the immersion factor.

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I can understand why sacrifices had to be made to keep the framerate at 60FPS, but at some point, you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it or not. Thankfully, the gameplay in the game saves the day, and the 60FPS makes it that much better. But at the same time, I can’t help but be disappointed that this game could have been so much more visually and technically impressive. I am sure 343 Industries had a hard time in deciding whether to go with drop-dead gorgeous next-gen visuals at 30 FPS and amazing technical performance or achieving the 60FPS mark and creating a buttery smooth experience that has technical sacrifices and flaws. Overall, in the end, the gameplay is always king and fortunately enough, Halo 5: Guardians excels at it.

The actual soundtrack is great, although it’s not on the level of Martin O’Donnell, it’s still pleasing and fits the game’s theme and style. Gun shots, bullets, Covenant and Prometheans all sound excellent. There is now a lot more dialogue during combat between the enemies and its one of those small details that add a lot to the immersion. Your teammates also talk to each other and say what is happening to them as they fight in the process. You will also hear Grunts talking a lot more smack to you during combat than in a previous game that adds a laugh factor. Overall, I don’t have any complaints about the audio and it feels and sounds like a Halo game.

Final Verdict

Halo 5: Guardians is a substantial package and does well for the Halo series. It’s a much bigger improved game in the franchise over Halo 4 when it comes to level design and gameplay mechanics. Four player co-op is great and a ton of fun when you have a full team. However, the single-player won’t be as engaging due to the dumb AI that your squadmates have, and because of the fact that the whole game was built around co-op in the first place.

The level design, as I’ve said previously, is excellent, and I am looking forward to what will be done in the future. Being able to explore levels and find the best paths to approach enemies is great. As for the story itself, I enjoyed it and thought it was interesting, and I am excited to see where it goes next. Although, some fans of the series will be happy, upset, or have mixed feelings about it when it comes to the conclusion, and that’s normal.

The biggest issues I have with this game are the technical sacrifices. I was hoping the game would be cleaner and not look as pixelated to achieve the 60FPS, but unfortunately, everyone will just have to accept this fact and take the game for what it is and enjoy the gameplay. Also, the enemies running at 30FPS at certain times is not pleasing either, and it can create distractions during intense combat situations.

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The multiplayer is what’s going to keep this alive for years to come thanks to the awesome map design and gunplay. Spartan abilities also add a good twist to 1-on-1 fights and can get intense in the heat of battle. Warzone is a complete blast, and there is plenty of room for competitive eSports in the future of Halo 5: Guardians thanks to Arena and Breakout playlists.

Overall, Halo 5: Guardians is a good Halo game that has the best gameplay in the series, and that is a bold thing to say for a franchise that’s been running for 14 straight years now. However, the technical sacrifices and image quality losses are a little too much this time around. It hurts me to say that Halo 5: Guardians is not a game of the year material because I know many people expected it to be. However, it’s a great game on its own that deserves your attention and worth your hard-earned money, whether you’re a fan of Halo or not. The multiplayer is addicting, and the future story can go into many interesting directions that will make the fate of Halo exciting.

Halo 5: Guardians

Halo 5: Guardians
8.5

Overall

8.5 /10

Pros

  • Good level design and exploration
  • Multiplayer is a complete blast and will keep you busy for months and years to come
  • Gameplay and gunplay feels fantastic

Cons

  • A lot of technical sacrifices and image quality loss
  • The squad AI can be rather dumb when playing single-player and really frustrating, especially on Legendary when you're playing solo
  • Not enough of Master Chief when it comes to the story