Halo 5: Guardians takes on us a journey into the next chapter of the “Reclaimer Trilogy”, which sets up Master Chief and his fellow Spartans against the Prometheans, a Forerunner race that is hellbent on dominating the universe. After a race against the clock to defeat the Didact during the events of Halo 4, the Chief finds himself part of a whole new world, one that reunites with his former ‘Blue Team’ and makes him deal with the loss of his companion Cortana. Master Chief defies his orders so as to pursuit a lead, with Locke and team ‘Osiris’ are tasked to bring back the man that they once thought of as their saviour.
The premise of Halo 5: Guardians is one that’s filled with excitement and a dimension of fresh material that the franchise desperately needed after the rough restart with the last installment. The dynamic of Guardians could be compared to Halo 2’s story dynamic, having players switch characters per chapter of the storyline, showing us different aspects of the game’s inner conflict, but every good idea is only as good as its execution, which is where we start to dissect what Guardians has become after its lengthy development.After a brief introduction to Team Osiris, Guardians makes it clear that it’s time for action, throwing players right into the action as the team takes on Covenant and Promethean forces through the snow, where a combination of visceral action and brief dialogue creates an introduction to the game that isn’t overly explosive, but grips the player by showcasing the tone of the story in the likes of James Bond and Avengers: Age of Ultron, which use a key sequence to lure the viewer into its narrative. Halo 5: Guardians excels in this regard, replicating this concept with its own twists.
But whilst Guardians succeeds in providing an excellent introduction, many of its issues are apparent throughout the duration of the campaign. As mentioned earlier, the game switches between protagonists in order to tell two storylines: one being Chief’s search for Cortana and a lost Forerunner installation, the other, Locke’s hunt for John as he also deals with the Covenant Civil War, which also re-introduces us to our long lost companion: the Arbiter. On their own, both storylines have their ups and downs, but when it comes to finding the proper balance and connections, the game tries to run in the wrong direction when it should be walking at a steady pace.
Even though Guardians is marketed as 117’s journey into darkness as he fights out his conflict with Agent Locke, the reality is a bit different, though not simplistic. Many of the advertised themes are more or less pushed to the side as the game tends to put Locke in the spotlight, which is for the majority of the game. Despite being a decently-written character and having an interesting campaign storyline, Locke never reaches the heights of Master Chief’s character arc. Whilst that doesn’t have to be a major fault, the timing within the franchise is incredibly misplaced due to the fact that we’re reaching defining material for John’s character, which is either pushed aside or left to further development in future installments of the franchise, which is of course inevitable as we head towards the conclusion of the ‘Reclaimer’ trilogy.Halo 5: Guardians does well when it comes to pushing new elements into the franchise, whilst also portraying a satisfying villain, but its lack of focus – or more accurately, the inappropriate focus on the lesser interesting elements of the plot – make the game one of the more problematic entries into the franchise, whilst still definitely not the worst.
Guardian isn’t a perfect successor, but despite its priority issues and pacing, it does present a decent bridge within the trilogy, the twists and turns of the story making some meaningful impressions on the franchise. It’s not the story the fans were waiting for, but it’s not the worst case scenario that’s been feared either.
Following the visual style of its predecessor forged by the same studio, Halo 5: Guardians builds upon the foundations that the fourth game set for it when it comes to design and presentation. Whilst the 343-developed Halo 4 had many differences to the rest of the franchise when it came to gameplay, the more apparent changes whilst viewing the game were connected to the visual design. Obviously many of the changes were due to the progression of the engine/software, but a lot of the changes also were connected to the aesthetics, which were modernized for 343’s arguably more scifi-like approach to the franchise, including re-imagined Forerunner architecture that often seemed inspired by the likes of Tron and such, which a lot of players were divided on.
The strong point of the game is the fact that it has truly embraced the visual changes that the fourth installment brought forward into the franchise, but as we move into new ground 343 does an excellent job both adding new aspects to the franchise and updating the old, divided as fans may be on these changes when it comes to some of the more classic weapons and armors of the Halo games such as the RPG for example. A lot of work has gone into the assets of Guardians, and despite that the changes brought into the franchise by the last 2 installments that certain players may not welcome, 343 continues to excel at creating visually attractive and inspired environments and characters that fit the narrative and game world in a great way.As said, levels/worlds have been crafted with great detail and variety, but of course its layouts are what define the world as a whole. Both the campaign and multiplayer welcome the return of more open-ended levels that allow for different approaches and techniques. This is not simply the amount of ground you’ll be able to cover, but also the addition of more verticality to both campaign and multiplayer environments, which also extends to gameplay features, which we’ll cover later on in the review.
Textures and models have been created with great detail, which accompanied by the excellent lighting system create a strong visual presentation. Weapon and character presentations are very similar to 4’s aesthetics, but the visual progress of Guardians lies more in the smaller details, which make the visuals just that little bit more grounded this time around, ranging from clearer/more realistic textures to design changes. My only concern with lighting system in this instance is the fact that some levels may seem to be present with an overblown contrast, though it’s hardly a factor that can be rendered as a serious complaint in most cases.
The HUD design has remained pretty much the same as the last game, forming the visor of each character to immerse the player. Visually the HUD design is well done, but due to the lower field of view it can make the game feel slightly claustrophobic when it comes to how much you’re actually able to view at once. This isn’t as much of a jab against the actual design as it is to the present FOV that seems rather low given the visual appearance they want to simulate.Presented at a dynamic resolution that adapts to the amount of effects and action on screen, the game is presented at a very stable 60 frames per second which creates both excellent campaign and multiplayer experiences. The game does have a smart fix when it comes to minimizing stress on the engine, where enemies farther away are rendered with their animations set at 30 frames per second, with their presence on the screen remaining refreshed at 60 frames per second, creating a gameplay experience that remains consistent enough whilst still finding a balance when it comes to stressing the hardware.
Halo 5: Guardians may not be the visual jump that many returning franchises this generation have gotten away with, but its evolution in design and performance creates a visually appealing title that stands out on its own in a great way. It’s fluid, stylish and immersive, which combined with the more open-ended level design makes this next chapter in the franchise a worthy inclusion.
Built upon the legacy of its predecessors, Halo 5: Guardians has big shoes to fill. The challenged is not only in renewing the formula of one of the biggest franchises in gaming, but also to reinvent the classic multiplayer gameplay that has made Halo one of Microsoft’s flagship franchises ever since the first Xbox in 2001. Something old, something new, something different: that’s what lays the foundation for Guardians, but has 343 succeeded in creating an installment that caters to both new and old fans?
The basis of Guardians can seem both familiar and brand new to returning players. The formula could be deconstructed as a mix of the second and fourth games, creating a more fast-paced variant of the classic gameplay that the franchise is known for. Visceral, but swift, which reflects in movement, melee and gunplay, which each have their own qualities. For example, whilst the more fast-paced movement may seem irregular to older players, the refinements in boosting, verticality and such have created a more intense experience, which is especially highlighted in the Arena map designs.One of the most criticized additions is the addition of zooming and aiming down sights on all weapons, which many have been calling a feature that contradicts the nature of Halo’s traditional gameplay design, but the result is something that caters to both parties. Traditional zoom/ADS slows down players and gives them an advantage when it comes to precision. However, 343 has done things quite differently with their implantation of the system. Player speeds and sprinting remain consistent, even if you’re zooming in, which doesn’t give players an actual advantage. It’s more or less a system of personal preferences and playstyles, in which the only benefit that players are getting is having the ability to choose their own way of handling gunplay, which effectively cancels out the alienation of returning players and retains the balance of gameplay thanks to the fact that precision and speed are always at the same level, not taking player skill into account of course.
But as important as gunplay is to the Halo formula, one of the most surprising parts of Guardians is the effectiveness and enjoyability of melee combat, which especially shines through in the campaign. Ground-pounding enemies and switching up from gameplay is both satisfying and effective, albeit might be more of a challenge on higher difficulties. Especially during the opening chapters of the campaign I found myself traversing from enemy to enemy sparing bullets by exchanging looking down my sights for boosting into my enemies as I pummeled them down on the battlefield, which is very satisfying in practice.
Of course, even with the right gameplay mechanics, the present content has to be strong to support it. Despite the narrative issues of Halo 5’s campaign, the actual gameplay design is a huge step forward for the franchise. Combining Halo 4’s aesthetics with the more open-ended world design of its predecessors, along with extra levels of verticality throughout, Guardians may just be one of the strongest campaign experiences that the series has had in a while. The campaign has many phases, ranging from fast-paced combat to vehicular action, which both serve their purpose within the narrative very well.A big addition to the campaign dynamic is the selection of teammates that accompany both Locke and Chief throughout the story, which creates opportunity in some ways, but causes frustration in others. Players have the ability to point the team towards a certain position or enemy, but in practice you’ll most likely ignore this feature quite a bit. It can be a help in certain situations, but outside of some of the added focus on bigger enemies you’ll often find yourself minding your own business, as long as the AI doesn’t decide to screw you over. A more compelling addition for some is the downed state, which allows for the player to be revived by teammates, which can compensate for making some of the smaller mistakes on the battlefield. The addition of AI team mates isn’t overly impactful or distracting, but replacing them with actual players in co-op is much more of a defining and enjoyable experience.
Enemy encounters can vary quite a bit when talking about difficulty. Guardians creates a nice dynamic where it makes you feel in control at times, but especially on the higher difficulty settings it can create quite a cluster of action that’ll make certain sequences quite the challenge, even for experienced players who will definitely appreciate the approach to the enemy encounter design, which isn’t extremely renewing, but simply just very solid and satisfying.But as important as the campaign is, the multiplayer is arguably the defining aspect of the franchise, an aspect that 343 has taken to heart, resulting in a restructuring that divides its core into two different sections: Arena and Warzone.
Arena, which can be considered the main section of Halo 5’s multiplayer is the classic multiplayer form that we’ve grown accustomed to. Currently consisting of Breakout, Slayer, Free-for-All, SWAT, Capture the Flag and Strongholds, Arena mode showcases classic 4v4 gameplay in hectic arenas that allow for a gameplay experience that in many ways is reminiscent of Halo 2, albeit with the added dynamics regarding player movement and weapon use, which flows excellently with the design of the maps in question.
When asking the question wether Arena feels like classic Halo the answer is a bit more difficult to explain. The basic core and feel is there, but it is an evolution in many ways, meaning that it stands on its own perfectly, though fans of the franchise who don’t enjoy the faster pace of the later titles may be left in the cold a bit since there is a strong emphasis on this factor throughout the game.
Warzone, our second half of the multiplayer experience, is the larger-scaled variant of Guardians’ multiplayer experience. Combining large-scaled maps with 24 players and missions with multiple objects, player team must battle each other whilst also dealing with AI enemies and attacking/defending objectives, which can last from 10 to up to 30 minutes, depending on player skill. It quickly becomes apparent that Warzone is a different beast, and for players who want to step out of the smaller-scaled confinements of Arena and onto the larger battlefield, Warzone is the perfect change of pace, which may even be a little bit more welcoming than Arena when it comes to newcomers to the franchise.The multiplayer portion of the game is also supported by the REQ system, which consists of cards that can be gathered through in-game currency or micro transactions in packs, which can either unlock armor and weapons for players, or alternatively give them support in Warzone. As dangerous as this system may sound, 343 has gone through great lengths to make sure the balance of gameplay is kept in tact. In Arena, REQ cards are limited to cosmetic changes and XP boosts, which have no effect on the balance of gameplay itself, whilst they do play a much larger role in Warzone, where the system works a little differently.
In Warzone, REQ cards are used for calling in Power Weapons, Vehicles and Power Ups. Rather than endlessly calling in cards, players are given energy based on their performance in the match. Each card is given a level, which must be reached before the player is able to call them in, which also initiates a cooldown sequence so players can’t spam the use of the system.
Thanks to the balancing of the REQ system, and the fact that cards are perfectly manageable to acquire without using any real currency, the addition of this system is a welcome one, which is easy to manage and gives players the opportunity to push their skills for rewards, which can often help motivation when left behind during a match.Halo 5: Guardians isn’t the perfect chapter in the franchise when it comes to the story, as it’s one that doesn’t always keep its priorities where it should. But even then, it only stumbles rather than fall. When it comes to gameplay and presentation, Guardians is an excellent continuation that not only builds on the strengths of its predecessors, but isn’t afraid to throw in new and balanced features into the mix that renew the tried and tested formula, providing returning fans and newcomers alike some new things to play with.
Narrative issues aside, Halo 5: Guardians is an excellent installment in the franchise that’ll most likely remain in our memories for quite a while to come.