Halo’s long-running protagonist has gone AWOL and that’s not okay with the UNSC. The campaign of Halo 5 Guardians is reminiscent of Halo 3: ODST’s campaign and has the player switch between characters from mission to mission, in this case Spartan Jameson Locke (from Halo: Nightfall) and the Master Chief. Following a number of seismic events on a number of colonies, UNSC tries to recall Master Chief back to base after a lengthy string of missions he’s undertaken understandably changed after the loss of Cortana at the end of Halo 4. Following a troubling transmission, Master Chief insists on investigating this new lead despite a direct order to return to Infinity. With Chief and Blue Team seemingly gone rogue, Fireteam Osiris (Locke and Co.) is dispatched to bring them home while investigating the seismic events.
While both Chief and Locke take equal space on the cover and in most of the marketing, Halo 5 Guardians is definitely Locke’s show. While I was looking forward to a more balanced campaign, Fireteam Osiris proved more relatable given that at least one member (Buck) was introduced in a previous game (ODST). The rest of Osiris and all of Blue Team were introduced in extraneous content, primarily the multiple shows and books. While players can discern through the course of gameplay the history between these Spartans, those who have previously consumed the extra material will appreciate the story much more. Given the amount of time spent with Fireteam Osiris I hope they continue to be a part of the franchise moving forward, unlike the crew from Reach we had to say goodbye to after one game (still waiting for Jun to turn up somewhere).
Despite a story that could have been fleshed out a little bit more, the gameplay is the series’ best yet. The numerous gunfights are immensely satisfying and I constantly found myself struggling to decide which two weapons I should carry with me. Between enemy weapon drops and weapon caches spread throughout each level there was rarely a shortage of weapons. The only gripe I had with the weapon choice was outside of the first fight your Spartan loadout would be dangerously close to empty if it hadn’t been completely depleted already. I would have liked to keep my battle rifle throughout the level, but I found myself almost exclusively using forerunner weapons out of sheer abundance. Much like Halo 4 you’ll primarily be squaring off against forerunner enemies with some covenant forces every now and then. Virtually all of the enemy types make a return, with the addition of a new enemy type that serves as a vessel for a primary antagonist. Similar to hunters, this new enemy’s vulnerability is on its back, which can prove challenging when depending on your AI squad. While more often than not my squad proved invaluable to tackling more difficult objectives, there were cases when a squad member would run into certain death trying to revive an ally leaving them both downed and vulnerable. Completing these missions with friends via co-op remedies this and is the ideal way to play the campaign, especially given the team-centric story. Regardless of how complicated the story got throughout the campaign, it was consistently exhilarating and fun.
Halo 5 Guardians brought a complex, fun campaign with a very clear story arc for the inevitable sequel and a wide array of solid multiplayer offerings. There are two major game modes that comprise multiplayer: Arena and Warzone. Both modes utilize the new “requisition” (or “REQ”) system which is a card based way to attain armor, weapons, vehicles and more. These packs are attained through game performance, spending credits earned in-game, or real world dollars. Aesthetic options like weapon skins, armor, visors, and assassination animations are used in both Arena and Warzone, however the bulk of cards are used solely in Warzone.
Arena is the multiplayer we already know and love, two teams of four battling it out on numerous maps in familiar game types like Slayer and, my personal favorite, SWAT among others. Combat in Arena is as clean as can be and is the best multiplayer the series has had in ages. The new maps suffer from some spawn point issues in faster modes with no respawn delay which can lead to rapid, successive deaths. Despite some anger after getting stuck in constant crossfire, after a few quick deaths it would correct itself and put me in an unoccupied area of the map.
Warzone is clearly where 343 wants the meat of the multiplayer to take place and it can be adequately described as the love child of Big Team Battle and the Campaign. Massive maps contain two 12-man teams aiming to complete various objectives while fighting both the other player opponents as well as AI opponents. Warzone’s objectives come in waves and each new set of objectives unlock a new “requisition point” slot, for example on set 3 you’ll have 3 points to work with. These point slots, once spent, slowly refill so if your team struggles to complete an objective you don’t have to wait forever to use more points. The majority of cards are one-time use and have a certain cost to activate. While the rare “permanent” cards affect your Spartan’s loadout, the one-time cards change the loadout for that one life. For example if you want a shotgun for a spawn, it’ll cost you three REQ points and if you die you drop your weapon. If you hustle you may be able to recover it, but it’s more than likely an opponent or teammate scooped it up. The customization offered by these cards help mix up gameplay and add a level of risk to what was once a simple loadout.
In all of Halo 5 Guardian’s successes, there is one glaring shortcoming that many fans found unforgivable: no local co-op gameplay. Despite an emphasis on the co-op nature of the campaign, neither the campaign nor the multiplayer can be played in split screen which is a first for the series. The cited reason for this unexpected change was the ability to maintain top-level graphics and lame excuses from various executives about Xbox Live’s superiority to local play especially given the “busy lives” that we all (apparently) lead.
While there has been significant backlash because of the decision regarding local play, you’ll be hard pressed to find any other major grievances from most players, myself included. Halo 5’s gameplay is immensely satisfying and between the solid campaign and expansive multiplayer the wealth of content that 343 has brought players should not be overlooked. Fans of shooters and Halo alike should not miss this pivotal point in the Reclaimer trilogy.
Director of GNN's Gaming Department and King of Impulse Decisions. Keep up on Twitter @tntharalson