The Master Chief has been around for some time now, he is an icon of the Xbox franchise as a whole, the exclusive that has seen action on every one of Microsoft’s consoles. For many, he is the reason for their investment in a Xbox One, a console settling into its third year.
Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Reviewed on: Xbox One
Release Date: Out Now
Yes, we’ve had to opportunity to play through his old missions with Halo: The Master Chief Collection, but what players really wanted was a new title, the continuation of the legacy on the new format. Now after two years of waiting, Halo 5: Guardians has arrived.
Set eight months after the events of Halo 4’s Spartan Ops, the story picks up with a new team of Spartans, Osiris, led by Jameson Locke, a former ONI agent turned Spartan fire-team commander. Charged with rescuing Dr. Catherine Elizabeth Halsey, the creator of the Spartan program and Cortana, from the Covenant, Locke and his team face a new threat, the Forerunners.
Meanwhile, the Master Chief, grieving over the loss of Cortana, leads his Blue team on a mission to secure a derelict research station occupied by the enemy. During the mission, he receives a cryptic message hinting that Cortana is alive and, with his team supporting, goes AWOL in search of answers. Believing the Chief to be a liability, Osiris is sent to retrieve him before he can be corrupted by Cortana, who we discover has taken control of Forerunner technology across the galaxy.
The story intertwines the two teams missions and their experiences as they attempt to reach their goal, one on a mission to save the galaxy, the other misguided by the fears of what is coming.
To do that, the main story campaign is split between missions where you play as either the Chief or as Locke, sadly not equally though with a lot more focus on Locke’s adventures rather than the Spartan we know and love.
This in itself shouldn’t raise red flags with fans, Halo: Reach proved that the Master Chief isn’t always needed to make a great Halo story, but then again, this isn’t a spin-off, this is the core franchise, it’s like watching an Iron Man movie in which Iron Man isn’t actually in it for the large majority – Oh wait, that happened.
Moving on, and trying desperately not to compare anything to Iron Man III ever again, this story does give 343 the opportunity to introduce new characters with background and depth. Even the most hardcore Halo fan must realise that if the franchise has any hope of continuing then the Master Chief must step aside at some point and make way for a new generation. Sadly, the developers missed their opportunity here and instead the characters are bland at best with only Locke getting any decent character setup and development.
The story itself seems devoid of emotion, something very different from what we’ve come to expect from the Halo franchise. I have always seen one of Halo’s biggest strengths as being its unwillingness to follow every other FPS down the Call Of Duty template with regards to the story campaign, an afterthought made up of setpiece after setpiece. Unfortunately, Halo 5 is the contrary and that is no more evident than in the story’s anti-climactic conclusion. It’s a huge disappointment given the new path which Halo 4 set the saga on, introducing a new, more powerful opponent that would challenge the entire galaxy.
Playing through the story campaign isn’t all bad, though, the franchise that proved first-person shooters could work well on consoles still has a few things to teach the industry.
This is no longer a solo mission, even if you’ve not got a friend on standby to help you out in co-op, you have a full team of Spartans at your disposal. Some Halo purists might argue that it is the solitary experience of Master Chief’s adventure which adds to the excitement and suspense but trust me, this is one of the best advances the franchise has seen since its inception.
Accompanied by three other Spartans has it’s advantages as these guys are not simply AI’s dictated by the rules of the game to follow you aimlessly, you can actually give them orders and targets. This new mechanic brings in a new tactical element to the game never seen before and allows you to act out multiple scenarios from a single level objective.
Your team can be ordered to focus on a particular target, take cover, head to a particular vantage point or take control of turrets and vehicles, there are a lot of options available. This can make the gameplay a lot more exciting while also fixing one of the most annoying aspects of the earlier games – Seriously, how many times have you been playing through earlier Halo games, jumped in a Warthog and waited patiently in the hope that one of the NPCs would jump on the back and man the gun?
In addition to being more tactically advanced, the combat in Halo 5 also includes a few new enhancements. A personal favourite is the ability to pound the ground at force from above sending out a shockwave to disable enemies. You can also hover in mid-jump, similar to a double jump in Destiny though not quite as powerful. The boost ability can also be applied on-ground to give your Spartan a good run-up, useful for a shoulder barge into a bad guy, or a breakable wall for a hidden tactical advantage.
These new abilities definitely make the overall combat experience feel fresh and a lot more rewarding for veterans of the franchise, we’re not restricted to the template set up by the previous games. There are also plenty of weapons available in-game, with both the Promethean and Covenant forces on the attack the choice is endless, including all of the favourites from the previous games and a couple of very useful new additions.
This new tactical gameplay is perfectly accentuated by the brilliantly rendered, and stunningly beautiful environments, there’s plenty to explore here. The visuals are impressive, both in cut-scenes which are bordering on live-action movie quality and on the levels themselves, the power of the Xbox One has been utilised to it’s fullest here and I cannot find fault in how the game looks, it really is flawless.
Away from the story campaign, the multiplayer has seen a much needed revamp, I’m a fan of the existing PVP but having not changed much since Halo 2, this new version is definitely welcomed. It’s safe to say that much of the gaming industry has their eyes firmly fixed on Halo 5’s multiplayer following the open beta attached to the Master Chief Collection and given the launch day failure of MCC’s own multiplayer, there was something to prove here.
Thankfully, 343 have succeeded in creating the most enjoyable multiplayer experience Halo has ever seen, featuring all of the classic modes such as the popular Slayer and Arena and also including a new addition, Warzone mode.
Warzone is fun, it’s definitely a highlight in the game overall, pitting two teams against each other and AI’s as players work to take over control points. The gameplay is incredibly dynamic, especially with the addition of AI’s, including legendary bosses of varied ranks within those enemy forces ranging from a group of Grunts, all the way up to the new big bad from the story, the Warden Eternal.
It seems as though the advances in tactical gameplay aren’t limited to the story mode as adding this third AI team into the mix leaves players with the addition decision, do you focus your energy on the other Spartans or take down the AI bosses for maximum points but risk losing a capture point to the enemy team.
Warzone is a brilliant addition and one that will certainly excite many players. That said, there will be those that are looking for a more traditional Halo multiplayer experience and the good news is that you’re more than covered.
My one issue with the multiplayer is the inclusion of microtransactions, allowing you to buy requisitions, essentially equipment which can be deployed mid-battle. I’m not a fan of pay-to-win schemes of this nature as they can tip the balance significantly in the favour of those with cash to burn.
Overall, while losing a number of the qualities which have made Halo such a successful series, Halo 5 has bounced back with some ingenious new mechanics and a fantastic new and improved multiplayer. The story is the biggest let down in the game which, given the franchise’s past, is a big disappointment.
Luckily, though, 343 pull it back by adding some impressive new features which change the way you’re able to play the game. The new, more tactical gameplay is a welcomed addition which will impress those who are looking for something more than just a brainless, shoot and run FPS. The multiplayer is the biggest success story here, though, as in addition to giving the established modes a well-needed facelift, the inclusion of Warzone and the new challenges that offers will appeal to many.
Halo fans, if you’re story focused then this game won’t appeal, if you’re looking for an overall new and improved combat experience then you’re in luck.