For years, Iíve tried to figure out what everyone loved so much about Halo
ís story. And I failed, despite going all out; I even bought four of the books, from The Fall of Reach
to Ghosts of Onyx
. But it never clicked for me. All I saw was a Ringworld
knockoff that followed a bland, faceless supersoldier around as he blasted away at the minions of a theocratic collective of various alien warrior species. It got the job done, but when you put it alongside the likes of Mass Effect
, it was a total joke. In fact, a good friend and I recently revisited the rest of the series and spent much of it laughing at its half-baked hodgepodge of space opera clichťs and dishwater dull melodrama. So if you're looking to this review to tell you whether or not the story in Halo 5: Guardians
is any good, you've come to the wrong place. It's certainly not Philip K. Dick, but it isn't Plan 9 from Outer Space
The galaxy is still in turmoil. The Covenant is in open civil war with the Arbiter-led Swords of Sanghelios, and with the Prometheans now in play, itís a perfect recipe for interstellar warfare. When Spartan John-117 (also known as the Master Chief) hears a familiar voice, he takes his squad, Blue Team, and drops off the radar. The UNSC worries that their prized asset might have gone rogue, declares him AWOL, and tasks Spartan Jameson Locke and his Fireteam Osiris to bring him in. Most of the campaign follows Locke and his fellow Spartans, which is a nice change of pace from just the Master Chief and Cortana. The members of Fireteam Osiris are actually far more interesting than the seriesí two mainstay heroes. This is largely thanks to the performances of Nathan Fillion and Laura Bailey, whose Spartans Buck and Vale have more personality in their pinkie toes than the Master Chief ever did in the last four numbered Halo games.
So the story doesn't do the campaign any favors, but the level design and pacing most certainly do. Both play to the strengths of what Halo used to be and also to what it is clearly aspiring to be, and the result is an excellent string of diverse enemy encounters in a series of fascinating environments, each with their own tactical exploits.
Halo 5's arsenal is massive and almost universally comprised of weapons that are extremely fun to use. Fan favorites like the Battle Rifle and the Covenant Carbine return, and it's always fun to get your hands on a rocket launcher or a Hydra. But my personal favorite is the new Plasma Caster, a futuristic crossbow that slings plasma cluster bombs at whoever's unlucky enough to be on the receiving end. The weapon diversity, coupled with the diverse cast of enemy soldiers, each of whom has their own series of dynamic death animations, keeps Halo 5's gameplay fresh.
Vehicular combat makes a return, and really, why wouldn't it? While the requisite Warthogs, Ghosts, Scorpions, Banshees, and Wraiths make a return, there is a new one to mess around with: the VTOL-like Phaeton, a very cool-looking Promethean gunship that you'll want to use on your first playthrough and avoid on your second (if you want a certain achievement). And Mongooses have been fitted with special cannons, so you know, the whole four-wheelers with big guns on the front...totally cool.
From Halo 2 on, every core release has had some sort of multiplayer component to it. Halo 5's is its best yet, offering much of the same variety of modes with the enhanced gameplay to make it all feel fresh again. Arena is where all the classics are: from Capture the Flag to Slayer variants, this is where the comfort zone is. Combat is faster and more intense now, but maps are well-designed and allow you to make the most of your expanded options.
While the Arena and Custom Games offer a lot of what we've already seen (in the best possible way, of course), there are two new multiplayer modes: Breakout and Warzone.
Breakout pits two teams of four against each other and gives every player a single life. It's restrictive, to be sure, but it completely changes the pace and the feel of the core gameplay. However, it's Warzone that steals the show. This 24 player mode pits red against blue on an appropriately large map where there's much more to do than simply kill each other. Capture points litter the map, and both teams have bases that need defending. On top of that, A.I. characters are in the field and are very much in play. But what's interesting about this mode is that special objectives spring up from time to time, and completing them nets your team much more score than any other activity. But it requires a ton of communication and teamwork. Lone wolves do not thrive in Warzone.