One of the first games I played on my Xbox 360 was Halo 3. I remember playing through the campaign many times, and when I finally got my Xbox Live Gold membership, the long nights spent playing custom game types on custom maps that me and some friends had downloaded from random people’s file shares (random people being those we met in multiplayer). In fact, I think I still have a copy of the “fat kid” maps stored away in the depths of my hard-drive (For those not “graced” with playing “fat kid”, there was one person with what I think was 300% shield, plus 200% gravity, and unlimited charge Energy Sword and Gravity Hammer. The goal was to “convert”, by killing, all the surviving players, turning them
Into your ultra fast minions, who had the same weapons, but standard shield and 50% gravity I think. This caused them to be SUPER fast, and incredibly annoying). Some of the games we had were incredibly funny, and left us excited for the next evening’s antics. This was also the beginning of my love for Halo, a rich universe to explore in books and games, and a game that brought many hours of joy for me and my friends. Even now, it is one of my top 3 favourite game franchises, if not my top favourite. I hope to explore the game here, and hopefully conclude by answering a question, is this still one of my top 3?
Halo 3 title screen, oh how I miss you
Halo 5 is set 8 months after the “Spartan Ops” segment of Halo 4 (which is roughly 18 months after the end of the Halo 4 Campaign). The story picks up with Fireteam Osiris, led by Spartan Jameson Locke, a character we first meet in the “Halo: Nightfall” live action series. The second mission follows the Master Chief, and you really begin to feel a sense of the chase that develops from this point onwards, but my one problem, is who is fireteam Osiris? We know Buck from Halo 3: ODST, but we know nothing of how they came together, or of how Chief and Blue Team linked up again. I think this is one problem with the beautifully crafted story in Halo 5: Guardians. As an extension to this, the casual player will only know Chief and Buck, making this a tough story for the diverse and rich characters that follow you through the campaign. Those grievances aside (and things I hope will be fixed by books released in the coming months), the story is beautifully crafted, following the Master Chief, alongside Blue Team, in his search for Cortana. You really get a sense of just how empty he is without Cortana at his side, though I don’t feel it tugging at my heart-strings like the finale to Halo 4. Joining Blue Team in this epic is Fireteam Osiris. I’ve already noted that we know little of their background, but you do begin to feel them gelling as a team, you feel them creating long lasting bonds that hold together the best teams, but you also feel them connecting with Blue Team, as evident towards the close of the game. In fact, the comment Buck makes on their hunt, “…they’ll all hate us. You know that right?”, near the start of the game, just gives you a real sense of the greater universe that this franchise holds, beyond the games and books. With my personal problems, and a lack of background on characters, I still feel that 343 has crafted an invigorating story, drawing you in, forcing you to feel the emotion that these characters display. Their dedication, in both Halo 4 and Halo 5:Guardians, to the extended universe and it’s detail is evident, which I feel will please many fans of the series.
Fireteam Osiris. Spartans Buck, Locke, Tanaka, & Vale (Left-Right)
Gameplay wise, it feels very smooth. Unfortunately, there is no split screen co-op. This is, in itself, terrible, but 343 assures us this change was necessary to keep a steady 60fps throughout the game. Is it a fair trade off though? That’s a tough call to make. I genuinely can’t fault them because the beauty of the graphics being realised in 1080p at 60fps, you feel it. I’m always a little disappointed when you see games dropping frames to keep up with itself, so to not have that concern, in both single and multiplayer, is incredible, but for me Halo has always been a game with friends. Halo 3: ODST led to a few evenings with friends, where 3 or 4 of us would crowd around our TV, and we would spend the evening playing through, or even fighting our way through the hoards in firefight. To not have that option is upsetting, but we do have to bear in mind that this is a time where many developers and producers want to push towards digital, rather than physical. Perhaps this is another testament to that dream, as we can clearly see online co-op is still a possibility.
No split screen? But there’s 4 of us…
I’m coming back to earlier games in the series a lot, and one thing that’s noticeable was the introduction of armour power ups in Halo: Reach, and their evolution in Halo 4. Power ups are still a core part of Halo 5, but in an entirely different way. Powerups seem to be vital systems now, rather than assistants. For example, sprinting, smart scope (zoom), jetpack assisted climbing. These all fall under the “power ups” umbrella, however you’ll find that you have access to all available power ups at all times. They have become core systems, rather than “pickups”. However, 343 has made their use intuitive, and a genuinely helpful resource. zoom is something that can always be considered vital, increasing your accuracy. The jetpack assisted climbing can aid you in reaching higher locations, giving you an edge over the opposition. Sprinting gives you the added speed to reach your next cover point. Used properly, these various abilities can give you an edge over anything you might face.
This is going to be painfull…
Another feature I’d like to focus on is the removal of Forge mode. Many probably will not be affected by this change, and I dare say I never fully realised it’s potential myself, but my problem is the creativity it provided people. Some of my fondest memories, as I mentioned earlier, come from custom game types and their vital integration with custom maps. With the removal of the Forge mode editor, I think that we’ll see a decline in this type of play style, the hilarious, custom game (that never quite took itself seriously). Is this it’s death though? We’ll have to wait for Halo 6 to decide on that I’d think.
Halo multiplayer has always been exciting, and fast paced. This hasn’t changed with arena game types, where you’ll find classic modes like capture the flag and team deathmatch, but also the introduction of warzone. Warzone plays across larger maps with two teams, but also powerful NPC’s spawning in regularly. This also introduces the new Req bundles. There was quite the hesitation around these, paid packs that can give you powerful powerups in warzone game types, but thankfully, you don’t have to pay a penny. From playing a few matches, I can happily say that from playing only a few games of warzone, you will earn enough credits/points/whatever-you-wish-to-call-them to purchase the highest tier req pack, meaning you never find yourself behind any other player. The packs also provide a random set of rewards, in a CS:GO styled approach, with higher tier Req packs providing more powerful upgrades/weapons/vehicles. I don’t really feel like any of these upgrades gives you that much of an advantage though. Warzone itself forces you to work as a team to get the points to win, through capturing objectives or killing the powerful NPC’s. the majority of them will be lost on death (or destruction in the case of vehicles), and the items that are permanently unlocked are items like variants on the Assault Rifle/Battle Rifle/Pistol, meaning the use of powerups has to be planned and co-ordinated with your team to get any real use out of it. I like warzone personally, as you have to give it a little thought, rather than just point and shoot. The multiplayer is entertaining, and with the req packs in warzone, it provides a true replayability factor.
The only route to success in Warzone… is overwhelming odds
However, I have one problem. Since Halo 5’s release, I haven’t played it. I completed the campaign in one day, played a few matches of multiplayer.. And haven’t played it since. Whilst the game is entertaining and the story thrilling, it hasn’t drawn me back since launch day. As much as this concerns me, I’m happy to say I’m (still) a big fan of Halo and the universe it’s placed in, and I am excited as ever about what the future may hold for the franchise. I may be a little dismayed at the replayability (or lack-thereof) but Halo 5 is an exciting instalment to the franchise. One I’m sure I’ll be ecstatic to come back to in the lead up to Halo 6.
Reviewed on Xbox One
Purchasable: Xbox Store, Major Retailers.