Halo 5: Guardians (Xbox One) — Review

I mentioned in my previous article for Halo: The Master Chief Collection that I’m a big fan of the Halo series.  I’m now through four books (The Fall of Reach, The Flood, First Strike, Ghosts of Onyx) and I’m really enjoying the lore laid down by Microsoft, Bungie, and 343.  Halo 3 was the tipping point in me buying an Xbox 360 and I’d be lying if I said Halo 5: Guardians didn’t play a similar role for my Xbox One.

So, after the divisive Halo 4 and the rocky launch of Halo: MCC, how is Halo 5: Guardians?  It’s pretty good!

Two Spartan fireteams, one solid game.

Two Spartan fireteams, one solid game.

  • TL;DR: The latest entry in Microsoft’s flagship franchise is a great step forward
  • Platform: Xbox One
  • Hours Played: 22
  • What I Played: Finished campaign on normal, got to level 18 in multiplayer playing both Arena and Warzone
  • Should You Play It?: Yes.  In a few months, I bet it will be even better.

Halo 5: Guardians is 343’s second new addition to the Halo franchise.  In the single player campaign, you play as two separate squad leaders: Master Chief with Blue Team and Spartan Locke with Fireteam Osiris.  The majority of the missions are played with Fireteam Osiris as you try to find Chief and company after they go rogue.  I won’t spoil anything, but the story picks up pretty soon after Halo 4’s Spartan Ops campaign.

Most of the campaign is spent with Fireteam Osiris, but a few missions put you in the Chief’s shoes.  It’s really cool to be able to play with Blue Team.  343 did a great job with the details, like how Linda carries around a sniper rifle and, this could just be my imagination, but Kelly did seem faster than the rest of the squad.

Overall, the reasoning behind why Fireteam Osiris is tracking down Blue Team is pretty weak.  The eventual confrontation between the two teams is also a bit of a letdown.  *** slight story spoiler, skip past the image if you don’t want to see it ***  Locke and Chief get into a fistfight and Locke ends up punching a crack in Chief’s visor.  Honestly, it felt like a forced OH MY GOD moment.  It felt especially unreal after playing multiple campaigns as the nearly-godlike Spartan-117.

Blue Team!  Woo!!!

Blue Team – the squad of legend

Now, let’s focus on Fireteam Osiris, a squad of four Spartan-IVs comprised of Jameson Locke, Olympia Vale, Holly Tanaka, and Nathan Fillion Cayde-6 Edward Buck.  As the squad’s leader Locke, you can order teammates to take a position, focus on a target, or revive you.  This is a pretty big change from the usual lone wolf gameplay of prior Halo campaigns.

Overall, I like the squad idea but the execution needs some polishing.  There were multiple times that I would be downed and called for a revive, only to see a single teammate ignore enemies and beeline right toward me only to be cut down by the same sword-wielding elite who killed me.  The third and fourth squad members would follow suit soon after.  The AI also seems to only truly open fire when you give them a target.  On their own, they seem to either be slow or not fighting at all.

Missions environments change between dismal, grey moon bases, precision-machined Forerunner structures, and colorful, vibrant settings like the elite homeworld of Sanghellios.  As a whole, I enjoyed the story and like where 343 is going with the inevitable Halo 6 (in 2018, you heard it hear first).  There are plenty of audio logs to find if you take your time to look around.  One of my favorite things to do during the campaign was to sneak up on grunts and listen to them.  They love to badmouth the UNSC when nobody is around.  A particularly interesting audio log mentions that human females must reach maturity by losing an appendage, referencing Dr. Halsey’s lost arm from Halo 4.

Fireteam Osiris - a new group of Spartans that I don't think we've seen the last of

Fireteam Osiris – a new group of Spartans that I don’t think we’ve seen the last of

There are a lot of small control/HUD improvements in Halo 5: Guardians that make your character feel more like the mega-powered Spartan they are.  Armor abilities are gone, but you always have a thruster pack equipped for quick boosts/jukes.  You can now run forever, which makes sense for a Spartan but reminds me too much of Call of Duty.  You can also climb and clamber on almost everything, sprint into a charging melee attack, and perform an aerial hulk smash.  A big addition is smart-link, the ability to aim with each and every weapon.  While aiming in mid-air, you will hover for a few seconds.  This is, of course, a blessing and a curse in a firefight.  One nitpick — the shield recharge sound has a weirdly high-pitched whine to it.  I’m still not quite used to it.

Multiplayer matches fall into two modes: Arena and Warzone.  Arena is the standard Halo multiplayer experience with separate playlists for slayer, SWAT, breakout, and rotating weekend playlists.  This past weekend was shotty snipers.  Maps seem a bit small, even by Halo standards.  Most importantly, you always spawn with an assault rifle and a pistol.  Loadouts from the Halo 4 days are gone.  Thankfully, old standbys like Big Team Battle will be patched in in the next week or so.

Your first ten matches in an Arena playlist act as your placement matches, a concept shared/borrowed/stolen from popular MOBAs like League of Legends.  After those two matches, you will be given a ranking of bronze, silver, gold, platinum, or diamond.  Each ranking has six levels in it and progressing past the top one moves you into the next ranking level.  The only way to increase your rank is by winning and you cannot go below level one of the highest tier you reach.  Two tiers exist above diamond, onyx and champion, which are reserved for the best of the best.  Champion is filled with the top 200 players of a season.  Seasons, starting in December, will run for a month and high-ranking players will receive aesthetic awards like emblems to immortalize their deeds.

Halo 5's new Warzone mode is chaotic and fantastic.

Halo 5’s new Warzone mode is chaotic and fantastic.

Warzone is Halo 5’s shiny, new toy.  Teams of 12 face off against both enemy AI and each other in a race to 1000 points.  After flying in on Pelicans and securing a home base filled with enemy AI, three neutral bases are available to capture.  You can respawn at any base your team owns and bases will spawn friendly marines to help defend it.  A single point is earned for each kill but huge points are earned for killing enemy AI like covenant hunters and promethean knights.  It’s all about last hitting those enemies, so you can run into a case where your team is about to win but the other team steals the big 150 point enemy at the end to win (source: it happened to me).  A friend pointed out that it shares a lot of similarities with my favorite World of Warcraft PvP mode, Alterac Valley.

Warzone Assault is a modified version of Warzone where one team must capture two bases and destroy the enemy core while another team defends.  The attacking team has six minutes to complete each piece with the timer resetting after each round.  I was surprised to learn that it doesn’t work like Left 4 Dead where the defending team gets to play offense after defending and has to pass where the offense got to.  But, I understand that committing to a possibly-40-minute-long game would be a tough sell.

The new Warzone modes are the only places to use all of the REQ packs you earn and buy while playing.  REQs are card packs which give you access to guns, vehicles, and cosmetics like helmets and body armor.  You’ll earn points to spend on REQs after each match, or you can buy them with real money.  I find it pretty easy to buy a second-tier silver pack every couple of matches. Cosmetic unlocks like emblems and helmets stay forever, but weapons/vehicles are one-shot use cards.  As a Warzone game progresses, you’ll have access to higher REQ levels.  This means you can call in Ghosts and shotguns pretty quickly but after about 10-15 minutes, you can bring in heavy hitters like Scorpion tanks and incineration cannons.  The nice part about REQs is that you get to choose which power weapons to call in and when, letting you turn the tide of battle.

Going left to right, packs can be bought for $25, $3/100,00 points, $2/5,000 points, and 1,250 points.

Going left to right, packs can be bought for $25, $3/10,000 points, $2/5,000 points, and 1,250 points.

REQ packs leave an awful lot to do for anyone trying to unlock everything in the game.  There are 175 helmets, another 175 sets of armor, 53 visor colors, along a slew of emblems, weapon skins, and assassination animations.  The silver and gold REQ packs guarantee you some of these permanent unlocks per pack, so you’re always unlocking something you don’t have.  The sales from these packs are supposed to fund free map and gamemode DLC in the future.  I’d like to throw my hat in the rings for oddball and firefight.

Halo: MCC was plagued with matchmaking issues and horrible lag to start it’s life.  343 must have figured something out because Halo 5: Guardians has been absolutely flawless in the matchmaking department.  Even on launch day, matches were found almost instantly with no lag and no disconnects.  Dedicated servers sure are nice!

Visually, Halo 5: Guardians is gorgeous.  The constant 60FPS is smooth as silk.  Even the menus are nice to look at, clean, and easy to navigate.  The haunting, orchestral music is just as excellent as ever.  I’ve found myself looking at my phone just listening to my headset on more than one occasion.

That big guy in the back?  That's a Guardian.

That big guy in the back? That’s a Guardian.

343 has taken a great step forward with Halo 5: Guardians.  The new squad mechanics are welcome but could definitely use some polish.  Those same finishing touches would have been nice on some of the multiplayer maps and in retooling the way-too-powerful pistol.  Honestly, it feels like the game was slightly rushed for the holiday season.  343 has already said they are going to patch in some changes like upping the swat respawn timer and shuffling map/gamemode combinations.  Halo 5: Guardians is definitely worth playing now, both the campaign and the multiplayer.  But, I bet it will be even better after a few patches.

4 thoughts on “Halo 5: Guardians (Xbox One) — Review

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