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Halo 5: Guardians Review


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On 11/09/2015 at 09:00 AM by Casey Curran

You now know why I say "Goodbye," you say "Halo"
RECOMMENDATION:

It is hard to say, even for Halo fans. Those who enjoy the campaigns may not appreciate the mechanical changes and lack of satisfying conclusion. 6 could potentially have a campaign worth playing through 5's for, but waiting is the better option. Multiplayer is only for people who can get past one of the worst cases of micro transactions I have seen in a $60 game.

Once upon a time, Halo used to mean something. Halo was the game which revolutionized the first person shooter genre on consoles, offered mechanics that developers still copy to this day, and was the unparalleled king of multiplayer games outside of PC. There were first person shooters and then there was Halo.

I am not sure when exactly this changed. It could have been 2007 when Call of Duty was the new king of first person shooters, 2009 when Halo 3: ODST charged $60 for a short expansion and horde mode, or 2012 when new developer 343 Industries took over Halo, launching a new trilogy after old developer Bungie left to pursue Destiny. Yet even though Halo was not the same brand, it was the same game to me. Halo games felt special, addicting, and fun as ever. Even Halo 4, despite a few bumps, showed great promise that 343 Industries understood the core appeal of the series. Promise which Halo 5: Guardians has squandered.

Many sequels continue where the previous game left off, particularly if the game is trying to tell a trilogy. Halo 5, instead, puts you in control of a new Spartan named Locke. Before we get any time to get to know Locke, he rushes straight into a battlefield with his squad against an army of Covenant forces. During this time, only the character Edward Buck is given a proper introduction, which is fitting since he is the only playable character also getting anything resembling a personality.

The new characters joining you are Guardians’ most drastic change to the Halo formula in that the game is now a squad based shooter. To 343’s credit, they do seem aware of how a shift from a solo shooter to a squad based shooter requires changes to the formula rather than just implement a new system without any other tweaks. Yet I am unconvinced whether the developer is aware of how many changes this shift really did require for the game to make a proper and satisfying transition.

For instance, rather than dying when your health is depleted, losing your health causes your character to squat on a knee until he either receives assistance or the timer goes out and he dies. If your player dies during the single player, then you restart at the last check point, but things carry on upon dying in co-op or a teammate dies with their respawn occurring at the next checkpoint.

And trust me, you will want to play co-op as the friendly AI for this title is atrocious. In a series which has always created the gold standard for smart enemy AI, it baffles me how they could get this element so wrong. If only one squad member is nearby, for instance, he or she will ignore any sense of danger to revive you, even if there is a certain chance of dying in the process. When done with a lone Grunt the friendly AI could easily dispose of before reviving me, waiting to get revived could feel so pointless that losing my health would almost always result in me respawning to the last checkpoint from the pause menu. At that point, I might as well die.

Tweaks to the new formula are much less common. Pressing up on the D-Pad does allow you to issue commands including getting in a vehicle or targeting an enemy. The problem is that this one button accounts for all three squad mates, so if you want the Spartan outside a vehicle to enter one and instead another Spartan in a different vehicle gets out and jumps in there instead, tough luck. The game decides which Spartan will listen to you and which two will ignore you. This never changed no matter how many times I tried. I guess Far Cry 3’s Vaas was right, the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and expecting a different result.

Enemy encounters and placement are clearly designed for co-op as well. The game loves to throw dangerously strong enemies with exploitable weak points in their back (basically more varieties of Hunters). In cooperative mode, it is very easy to each pick a side and shoot accordingly. Playing solo, enemies tend to focus on the player character primarily while the AI feels much more comfortable shooting from the front than behind.

The plethora of these enemies also displays another of Halo 5’s issues: The lack of enemy variety. What once was one of the franchises’ major highlights now becomes a flaw as the game feels content to rotate half a dozen different kinds of enemies regularly, then call it a day. The alien Covenant forces boil down to the same pattern of Elites, Grunts, and Jackals with the occasional Hunter in the mix rather than changing up how many and often each appear in an encounter, which made past Halos stay so fresh.

This issue may have been bypassed if the robotic Prometheans were as different from the Covenant as the original trilogy’s zombie-like Flood, but this is not the case. The dog like Crawlers and floating Watchers providing support are vastly different from the Grunts and Elites, sure, but these are just  fodder enemies. They take few bullets to eliminate and are only a threat in large numbers or in the presence of a real enemy. Enemies which are exactly like Elites and Hunters with the sole exception of their large, glowing weak points when vulnerable. The similarities between the two just made the game feel repetitive and monotonous.

This is not to say the campaign has no positives. The giant, chaotic battlefields are still here, though less numerous and still provide some of the most fun available in a first person shooter campaign. The game also does a great job of constantly making you rotate through weapons as you run out of ammo. There will always be something available, but it requires going out of one’s comfort zone to use a different weapon and improvising with what one has. And 4 player co-op support is always a welcome feature.

If you do play co-op, you’re stuck with only online play only due to the bump up to sixty frames per second, which developer 343 was not able to make work during split screen. While I appreciate creating a smoother gameplay experience, sacrificing split screen will not be worth the cost for everyone, especially those who still want to play with any friends who do not own an Xbox One. As a PC gamer who has chosen between high frame rates and higher quality graphics, I am left wondering why there could not be a bump down to 30 FPS reserved just for split screen. The continued inclusion of local multiplayer has always been one of Halo’s strongest selling points in an era where this is less common each year, and to see it abandoned makes the game feel a lot more hollow and empty.

The squad based shooting does not even make sense from a story standpoint. Only Spartan Buck’s quips offer anything resembling a personality out of the eight Spartans, as any other banter is only plot related without any kind of humanity allowed to come through. Master Chief is joined by three people he has supposedly been fighting with since they were children, yet the game does nothing to flesh out their relationship. It even goes against what little character Master Chief previously displayed as he has always been a quiet loner. Hearing him speak this often to give orders to his squad feels wrong.

Granted, Halo has never had a deep, impressionable, or even good story. Yet even relative to the series’ standards, 5’s story is a disappointment. The game assumes the player has read Halo novels, refusing to properly introduce characters and lore crucial to the plot. The original trilogy at least had a villainous army whose motivation was clear: Wipe out humanity. That was enough. Now, I have no clue why any of the Covenant armies are fighting me or are aligned with the Prometheans.

I was even confused as to why the Prometheans were back as Halo 4 had me believing that they were robot puppets controlled by the now deceased villain of the title. Only by looking up information on the Prometheans did I realize how little Halo 4 and 5 explain about the new race of enemies 343 introduced to the series. That’s how bad Halo 5’s story is, it retroactively makes the last game worse.

To add insult to injury, 5’s story does not even feel like a real story. The first two missions of the game feel completely unnecessary, the next eight feel like an overly long intro sequence, and the final five finally start to really set up the plot, only for the game to conclude with a massive cliffhanger even worse than Halo 2’s infamous ending. At least Halo 2 told a story with characters showing emotions and personality. Guardians’ story feels more like there weren’t enough ideas to spread across two games, so they saved all the good ideas for the inevitable Halo 6 in the laziest way possible.

Oh, and the big betrayal Master Chief commits that all the ad campaigns have been hyping up? It’s just him taking on a mission that Locke’s squad was supposed to do instead, feeling like a case of false advertising. Which is nothing compared to the much more blatant false advertising of the game’s length, as 343 claimed it would be double the size of Halo 4’s. While there are almost twice as many missions, they take roughly half an hour to complete with two being even shorter and consisting of nothing but walking around an encampment. The campaign took me roughly six and a half hours, even shorter than Halo 4’s eight hour campaign.

However, Halo is not all about its campaign. Multiplayer is and always has been a part of its DNA. I have given my thoughts on the lack of local play already, and was almost willing to let it pass when I saw 343’s multiplayer offerings. The maps are very well thought out and balanced with a good number of diverse modes.

New mode Warzone was especially fun, allowing two teams of twelve players to try and take control of three bases, which upon completion allows for the destruction of the opposing team’s mother base. During this time, AI controlled enemies will appear as well, offering extra points upon their defeat. The mode also withholds what weapons and vehicles you can use until enough time passes, giving a huge chaotic blast which escalates at a great pace. This initially rated up there with some of my all-time favorite multiplayer games. That is, until I discovered Halo 5’s dirty little secret.

The game starts you out with just an assault rifle and pistol, with every other weapon either being acquired through a permanent loadout card or a one-time use card for one single spawn mid-match. You acquire these cards, along with cosmetic armor, single use vehicles, and single use boosts such as improved damage or speed by buying packs. The way you get these packs is either by spending points received after each match or paying real world money.

That second part is what especially disgusts me. I already am not a fan of the unlock system being that my luck usually falls somewhere between Charlie Brown’s and Peter Parker’s, yet it is something I could deal with given how great everything else about the multiplayer is. The option to pay your way to the best weapons and enough boosts to always have you at the advantage, however, is something I could not tolerate. Once discovered, it made me wonder if every death was justified or if I didn’t spend as much money as the guy blowing everything up in the tank. It sucked every last bit of fun out of the multiplayer.

 I must stress that this is absolutely the only issue I had with the multiplayer. Yet even though being a small design decision, it meant every positive quality came crumbling down, as it undermined any fun I had after fully understanding how it worked. If this is not an issue for you, I can recommend the multiplayer. Otherwise, it will only disappoint.

I have always been a Halo guy ever since I first popped Halo 2 into my then brand new Xbox. I love these games, despite any faults present and could replay them forever. It was a series which other series aspired to be. It had few equals. Now, it feels like that creative spark which once made Halo shine is lost. Maybe it will be found some day, maybe it is gone forever. But without it, gaming feels a lot emptier. 

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In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


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Comments

DedicatedDark

11/09/2015 at 10:51 AM

I don't own Xbox 360 or One, played 1 and 2 on PC, only watched 3 on youtube. But for me Halo is one of my most respected shooters and I don't say that lightly. Its the only shooter besides the original F.E.A.R I play from time and time-again. Was hoping one day I should play 3, 4, 5 and wherever it reaches. Now after reading your article it makes me very sad. I suppose now I will play 3 and stop there. I do wish these publishers let franchises end, the only exception being stand-alone titles. A longer a single story runs the more convoluted and more broken it becomes. Metal Gear was a franchise which was supposed end on a high note and at the end it became something else I regret to ever play. Now its Halo, what's next.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

11/09/2015 at 01:24 PM

I stopped enjoying Halo during Halo 3, but I stopped playing during ODST. I should have stopped earlier, cause it left a bad taste in my mouth.  I've watched my brother play parts of 4, but for me, it just seemed in 3 and ODST that I had already done this gamplay a thousand times over.  I mean, how many times can you take on the same elite and grunts and shield guys over and over?

I really enjoyed 1 and 2, especially cause I could play co-op with my brother, and all the other games had that too, to make lackluster experiences better.  It saddens me this one doesn't have split-screen co-op.  

Oh well.  

Casey Curran Staff Writer

11/09/2015 at 04:02 PM

That's true of almost every long running franchise though. How many times can you jump over a pit in Mario? How many times can you find the Morph Ball in Metroid or select attack in Final Fantasy? There's underappreciated talent that goes into making more of the same feel fresh, something I felt Halo did a good job with in the preceding titles.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

11/09/2015 at 08:58 PM

yeah but there's always variation with Mario's pits.  There was little if any variation in the brute/grunt/shield guy formula for sequel upon sequel.  I do appreciate they tried to spice things up with 4, but I haven't played that one. 

Casey Curran Staff Writer

11/09/2015 at 11:57 PM

There absolutely is variation on the enemies, it's one of Bungie's Halo's best parts. 2 and 3 replaced Elites with Brutes, they integrate vehicles in a seemless way no other FPS really does, the Flood makes an appearance in all of the trilogy. It's not even close to the same three over and over. I was playing 3 the other day and was impressed at how varied the battlefields and enemy placement is in this game. If you got bored with it, there's nothing wrong with that, but what you're saying is simply not true.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

11/10/2015 at 05:27 AM

yeah I was reminiscing and I did recall some things I liked about the later ones.  I just think that the milking of the franchise that you're upset about now started a long time ago.

Casey Curran Staff Writer

11/10/2015 at 11:13 AM

I don't care so much if a franchise is milked so long as it stays good. See Mario, Pokemon, Zelda, etc.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

11/10/2015 at 11:32 AM

I think where we disagree is you think it stayed good, but for me it didn't.  

Casey Curran Staff Writer

11/10/2015 at 11:37 AM

The way you describe it seems more like you personally just got bored. I think if 3 or Reach was your first experience you'd still enjoy it

mothman

11/09/2015 at 02:34 PM

I really like that you reviewed this without the rose coloured glasses of nostalgia. Well done. I was thinking though that if this was on IGN you'd be getting death threats.

Maybe Halo without Bungie is like Crash without Naughty Dog.

Blake Turner Staff Writer

11/09/2015 at 04:36 PM

So, by the score, it's better than 1, 2 and 3, on the same level as ODST, and not as good as Reach, which is the only good one...

Casey Curran Staff Writer

11/09/2015 at 07:04 PM

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

11/09/2015 at 05:39 PM

You told it like it is. Well done Casey

Halochief90

11/10/2015 at 02:52 PM

I can't say I agree with this review, but it's your review and I would rather have an honest review than one that sugar coats its flaws. I definitely agree about the microtransactions and I really doubt I will be playing much more multiplayer, especially when Reach is available on Xbox One.

I still enjoyed the heck out of the game, even if it is probably the least replayable in the series. Storywise it was painfully obvious early on the "Hunt the Chief" thing was marketing BS. "Hunt Cortana" would have been more accurate. Still, my generous, uncritical score would be a 4/5.

fowofur

11/26/2015 at 11:22 AM
This comment has been removed.
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