It’s time to get serious. I’ll make it clear right from the word go, Halo 5: Guardians is the weakest game in the main series. This is for a variety of reasons that I will cover throughout this article. Before this however, I’d like to rewind a little further.
In 2012, Halo 4 was released, and this marked the next stage for the franchise. Bungie had departed and 343 Industries were now in charge, taking the helm of the new trilogy. I really enjoyed the game, and felt it did a good job of moving things forward, expanding on the forerunner lore well. It also introduced a genuinely interesting adversary in The Didact. However, in terms of how the game ended it didn’t obviously feel like the start of a trilogy; instead to me it had the vibe of an encore adventure.
Despite this, as planned, three years later Halo 5: Guardians was released. With a similar structure to Halo 2, the story was told from two different perspectives which intertwine. One followed the Master Chief, and the other Spartan Locke (played by Luke Cage actor, Mike Colter) who is hunting our favourite spartan after he and his squad disobey a direct order, effectively “going rogue”. At the same time, Cortana’s missing after her battle with rampancy, however there are signs she is still active and becoming increasingly unpredictable and untrustworthy.
But I have two issues with where the story goes in Halo 5: Guardians. Firstly, after all the events of the original trilogy, I just cannot get on with the fact that Cortana is effectively the main villain by the end of the game. It doesn’t feel convincing or authentic, given what herself and John-117 (Master Chief) have been through. Also, I’ve always had the Master Chief down as a loner, certainly in the games. Sure, he picks up human allies on his travels, but they are fleeting and his only true companion is Cortana. So without her, he’s now leading the Blue Team again and it just doesn’t feel right to me. Not for the main videogame series anyway.
Secondly, I really didn’t care for Spartan Locke. He’s a decent character, but throughout his missions I was much more interested in finding out more about the Master Chief, and what Cortana was up to. After playing only one mission as each character, you have to slog through several Spartan Locke scenarios until you get back to the Chief. This, in my humble opinion, was a mistake which killed any sort of pace the storytelling had in the game. For me, a strong narrative is absolutely crucial to keep players engaged and this was the weakest of any Halo campaign to date.
Of course with any series, the gameplay has to evolve. Halo 5: Guardians balanced this with the series staples, and overall it proved a success. Little additions such as a red cross appearing in your sights when you take down an enemy is a nice touch. The “Spartan Charge” is also a nice introduction to your skillset, used for breaking through ice barriers and the like. This supports the slightly more exploratory nature of the levels, which feel amongst the largest ever, where several data pads are scattered. However, I had best not mention that the sprint is back from Halo 4, or the internet might get very upset again.
The gameplay does feel fundamentally different however, showing more online play characteristics even in single player mode. For example, if you lose your shield and get taken down, you’ll have a limited time where one of Fireteam Osiris (your squad) can revive you. So you don’t die as easily, which keeps things flowing but also nerfs the difficulty somewhat.
That’s not to say it’s easy on the harder difficulties. You can’t just run headfirst into battle as you will get taken out almost instantly. However, having to evade and pop up to attack turns the action into a real grind. That said, this is mainly because Prometheans result in being a bit of a bore after you’ve spent several missions fighting them – especially the tougher ones. And please don’t even talk to me about the “Warden Eternal”. Whereas when you’re battling the Covenant it feels much more like you’re playing Halo again.
The soundtrack in Halo 5: Guardians is good, but still feels pretty generic. It lacks the punch that a Halo OST usually packs and in parts sounds nothing like Halo, but instead a generic FPS. Again, it is easily the weakest in the series to date. On a more positive vibe, the visuals are pretty darn good, especially cutscenes, similar to what was achieved in Halo 2: Anniversary. So it’s not all bad news.
Interestingly, this time around all the multiplayer is online with no local functionality. Whilst this is sad for dinosaurs such as myself who fondly remember having my mates round to battle it out on “Blood Gulch”, there has been a considerable amount of effort put into the online multiplayer, and it’s lots of fun to play.
With the promise that Halo: Infinite is going back to the series roots, despite now being delayed after a widely mocked gameplay reveal, the stakes for a Halo game have never been higher. It doesn’t just need to be good, it needs to be *ahem* legendary to get this franchise back on course after what Halo 5: Guardians on Xbox One delivered.