The greatest hunt in gaming begins with the new breed of Spartan IV's tackling a hill side in one of the most adrenaline filled openings ever within a video game. Their task is to retrieve Dr. Halsey as she has important intel vital to the Infinity and humanity. This first episode really kicked things off and it continued to be a thrill ride until about half way through where the story honestly got really strange. I'm allowed to share particular details when writing this review, though am not allowed to dig too deep into story aspects. This is the largest, most bold offering ever from a Halo title featuring massive scale battles across the multiple campaign missions while also adding a good half hour to the story. I finished my run through speeding by things while watching cutscenes and finished at just over four hours with a traditional Halo campaign taking a bit less. The scale itself across these levels was constantly breathtaking when you would look out at massive vistas to then look at the actual combat floors which were huge with just tons of enemies battling at it. It was quite impressive that they were able to keep the game running so smooth despite the large quantity of characters battling it out at once. The story of course continues from where the last game left off with some time in-between and the war wages on between the three main factions. Eventually this number gets cut off by how the story diverges and becomes slightly generic in enemy numbers. It really does start to feel like a mess of orange and gray characters which is annoying now with it only becoming worse if they continue the trend into the next title.
The bulk of the story is following Fireteam Osiris with Locke; Tanaka, Vale and Buck trying to hunt the Master Chief which has gone AWOL while following up on a strange communication sent to him. They were neat characters, but if you haven't checked out any of the extended lore you won't have any idea of their back story as everyone was constantly fighting for screen time despite chatting among themselves the entire time. The squad is essentially just looking around for clues at every location and this created some of the worst waste of time levels I've ever played. There were some five minute levels which should have just been a cutscene yet instead they make you go chat with a couple marines for five minutes or chat with other key figures before flying off. It was beyond stupid and a waste of resources, really have no clue what they were thinking there. Also the whole hunt aspect really wasn't built up once you start playing when things start to switch and a great opportunity to make it feel more like a hunt was missed. You scan a couple of things while walking through the linear paths of levels and the tension just disappears halfway through which was awful. Furthermore I really didn't enjoy this team too much aside from Vale because she's super quick as the Blue Team was doing much more fascinating things.
The longer missions in the game are centered around Blue Team which is comprised of The Master Chief; Fred, Linda and Kelly which are at this point to be some of the very last Spartan II's. These are a much tougher breed of spartans whereas the latest batch is in a pale comparison, which is presented clearly many times across the campaign. Sadly despite having a better storyline and team dynamic since they grew up together are only given a small three missions of playtime against the overall fifteen missions. Chief has decided to go AWOL after receiving a mysterious communication and the team follows since honestly what is the rest of humanity going to do to stop this group of almost religious figures. They really do come across as some sort of god-like figures when hearing how others talk about them. This campaign stretches across mostly Forerunner spaces which are beautiful environments and then gets cut oddly short. This team really doesn't get any development together despite having a rich history to chat about and then they just get thrown away quickly which was weak.
While the story was decent and gave off a great comparison to Halo 2 in terms of story development it really fell short for a fan of the series in the direction the later portion of the game went. They somewhat destroyed a key player within the universe and made them a point moving forward, that aspect of the story seemed like an easy way to move along instead of writing something unique. I loved the scale of the levels you fought in with some great environments and enemy scenarios with much smarter enemies. The hunters actually worked in pairs instead of being plopped down together which was great and the knights were also much more deadly than in Halo 4. Skulls also finally return though are just tiny for some reason in this one and there are a massive amount of hidden data pads with interesting info recordings to find. Both of these are collectibles and hidden across the worlds with some being far more easy to find than others. Cooperative play is also much better this time with dedicated servers and drop-in/drop-out coop throughout the campaign. The game will finally not end when one player disconnects and the players will also get to select their own character to play as since each has their own style. By the end I'm intrigued where the series will move forward, but am still shocked at the odd direction they decided to take. I also found that many parts were token great Halo levels like a driving portion though there really weren’t any missions that screamed iconic with an example being the Halo 3 ending drive or Halo CE where you first land on Halo to discover the massive world.
The multiplayer portion of Halo has always been an incredibly strong aspect of the game with a community that heavily supports it for an extended duration. The aim is to once again capture the competitive spirit which vanished in the last couple titles and I feel that Arena takes great strides towards capturing this. Arena is a tough built section featuring four versus four spartan action with classic gametypes across a set of brand new battle spaces. All of these areas bring a focus to verticality and the brutally quicker movement that is brought in this game. It was actually weird of multiplayer changed across the many hours I played before launch as everyone just uses the overly powerful pistol instead of really picking anything other guns up and the feeling as gone far too much towards a twitch shooter experience. I'll go over that more in the gameplay section below, but Halo has always been a more tactical game whereas here I'm just constantly looking at every direction not to be shot. I also felt they took the fight aspect out of the multiplayer as you just usually die if someone spots you instead of getting a chance to fight back which was sad.
The Arena mode has a number of multiplayer maps available within it already with more to come via the free DLC that is to be offered over the year, but the standard list of maps was fairly weak. We have a couple great unique maps though some of these are re-used with slightly differing scenery which I'm fine with, but the selection of maps was very limited. They mostly feel like tiny spaces with a more narrow design goal which is differing though there to most likely remedy the new movement system. There's one map which I really liked called Plaza which is a futuristic city area by a terminal station with this map being unique looking while also using the verticality system perfectly. Other than that I really don't feel like any of the maps presented within the game scream again, iconic Halo as every game seems to have classic maps which make you remember the title well. Hopefully the future additions add some neat spaces, but for now the arena levels are just alright.
As is the tradition in Halo we also get a handful of new modes which was great and there's some neat variations across these objective playlists. First off the standard competitive modes of Slayer and Capture the Flag with Swat also getting a more prominent holding this time around which is a favorite mode of many. Sadly it seems, even with checking custom games that Oddball; King of the Hill, Assault, Territories and Infection are completely removed at this point. It's not to say they won't show up later though it'll be hard to run decent custom games without these modes since Grifball relies and Assault traditionally, Infection being well zombies which are great and as an objective player the game will feel empty without Oddball of King of the Hill in matchmaking. Strongholds is the first of the new modes where there are three positions and you need to be holding two of these positions to score points. It's sort of a hybrid between King of the Hill and Territories making a great new objective gametype which I thoroughly enjoyed playing. Seems to be a frantic and tactical mode with players constantly having to move in order to hold enough positions to score. The second mode is Breakout which appears to get a major push from the studio bringing in a fairly large amount of maps to it. This is the most unlike Halo mode I've ever seen and not something I enjoy though can see many players from other titles enjoying it. The mode drops your shields and makes every weapon incredibly deadly within a small paintball arena like space. They also threw a flag in there to encourage movement by a last camper and everyone only gets a single life per round. It's odd with a neat stadium like feel though I also want to mention you need to run into the map every single round which gets annoying quickly.
This is the other aspect of multiplayer which has been largely pushed and is a completely all new beast for the online experience. This mode takes the largest roster ever of up to twenty four players battling it out in two teams to capture various command posts that are strewn across the environment. This mode is basically a blown out version of Big Team Battle which has a bunch of things going on in order to distract players and spread them out. The main goal is to either gain the goal of 1000 points or destroy the enemy base by capturing all positions and then destroying their core. It's a double whammy sort of effect which teams need to watch for at all times. This mode was actually a fair bit of fun though not something I can see competitive players really loving as it's truly a casual playlist. It's a mode where I would bring some Halo players that want a more fun experience as there are so many things going on and as a more skilled player I can use this to my advantage while they also have fun just taking out AI or side objectives. Everyone really does get lost while playing so it's easy to pick off many enemies across the large open spaces within the three launch Warzone spaces.
What makes this more fun despite the slaughtering is the focus on capturing the objectives and that killing other real players is the least score worthy way of winning. There are also many enemy AI boss like creatures that appear when first capturing positions or after when they spawn in at off locations. Managing to kil these incredibly tough enemies will score your team many points and push the game in your direction which is key. I say that in performance based requisition points are granted constantly which allows you to use better tiers of these cards. The whole req system will be explained better below, but for now you have cards with say a scorpion (human tank) which can be used after gaining a certain level and will be spent on that vehicle. This covers many bonuses items like vehicles, weapons and spartan bonuses such as the overshield. Things can get greatly one-sided after awhile when one team starts to get vehicles so a focus needs to be placed on performance as well as other things. I actually did have fun playing this mode for the most part, the level themselves are well designed for the large scale battles and it's still a focused Halo mode unlike Battlefield where I get lost in the chaos.
Aside from the main Warzone style of game there's also Warzone Assault which makes it an attack and defend gametype. This has one team defending a base and then the attackers trying to clear them out to capture the position. From what I've seen this mode really favors the defenders in almost every regard and things get one-sided very quickly. If the attackers do get a position they'll continue along bases until they need to destroy the enemy core. It was a neat variation on the massive mode though it needs some balancing as there are too many bodies funneled into a small space causing massive red X's to appear constantly across the screen.
Req Packs/Spartan Customization
This is the new Halo trading card system put in place since every video game needs trading cards these days. That does not mean I'm putting this as a negative, just a comment on gaming with cards in general. They actually incorporate this card system perfectly across the many game modes and I was satisfied with this in place. You get a handful of cards for completing things within the multiplayer space like commendations, matches and spartan levels which give you req points to spend. There are three tiers of these cards present with Gold being the best buy since the other packs are pointless and points don't take long to gain while playing. Each of these packs throws out a certain number of cards which vary in random give outs. You can get everything from the useless stock Mongoose to Legendary armor. The total list of items includeds; various Spartan armor portions, vehicles, weapon cards, gun skins, emblems, mods, power-ups and game bonuses. There are just hundreds of things to collect with the cards and I'll be surprised if anyone actually collects all the base items. You can also sell cards if you end up with fifty useless mongeese to buy some more packs keep the gambling going. It's exciting to open the packs and I feel they're really onto something with this system of cards layered in the backbone of multiplayer.
This is a much more fierce version of Halo featuring a long list of extra Spartan abilities. Instead of making things like sprinting or using a jet burst they've turned them all into standard abilities to even out the play. Everyone can sprint; climb on objects, use a jet burst to the side or even ground pound among some other abilities. This keeps it entirely evened out for competitive play and it's so nice to have a side moving ability since Elites and Knights have always been able to hop around whereas we were stiffer. I also found the intensely fast gameplay to be great along with more fluid movement though I wonder if the game really can get any quicker. Halo multiplayer has always been more strategic though now it feels too much like a twitch shooter. It really doesn't feel like Halo anymore at times, maybe its evolution or a degradation towards a more generic shooting space. It's hard to call it right now, but it was odd to never be calm while playing and it keeps you far too much on edge. Death also comes quicker and I feel like they took the fight aspect out of multiplayer. There's no chance to get back at someone as the first shot is followed within an instant by more. The controls feel great though with everyone moving perfectly fine and I really didn't have any issues in that regard. I should also mention campaign now features a getting downed system instead of dying which was alright and mostly hilarious since a body would flop to the ground while yelling for a revive. The environments are beautiful while also full of life in almost every space. The amount of enemies was crazy during most times and the wonder of the missions through scale was wondrous. It's a beautiful game and they did a great job to make sure that it shines with 60fps.
This was one of the most intense reviews I've written since there's a lot to this game. While I personally may not love some of the changes to a franchise that I hold closest to the heart compared to others I'm sure many will enjoy the new direction this franchise is taking. I hope that the story gets more focused towards the next entry of the series as this one left on an odd note where I'm still not sure if I even enjoyed the narrative. There were a bunch of weak points to the campaign it probably wasn't the strongest of the series, but still had some neat environments to explore and attempted to do something different. The build of content here will be multiplayer which is much larger and the more bold than ever before with a neat req system backbone. While I find it slightly empty at the start in some regards it's once again an addictive space that players will sink hours into. I wish there was more modes to be found with it and maps with less dedication to Breakout though I'm just an aging Halo player at this point. I also wanted to note that the game feels lonelier while missing key features from other Halo games like Forge and Big Team Battle. While those may be coming at a later time, we're reviewing the launch package and not promises of what's to come. This is of course an opinion of a very long Halo player so I'm sure everyone will think this is the ultimate Halo package though I found the hype to be a tad over my expectations of what a Halo game is. This is also the first time I've given a Halo title a lower score than a nine. I hope it evolves over the time of the free DLC it's to receive and the addition of many missed aspects.
Halo 5: Guardians Review for Xbox One
Review Code Provided by Microsoft