After getting a glimpse of what Halo could look like on the Xbox One last year with The Master Chief Collection’s remastered version of Halo 2, 343 Industries has given us the first true next-gen Halo game with the fifth installment of Microsoft’s biggest franchise. In some ways Halo 5: Guardians is the same Halo we’ve known and loved since the franchise first appeared on the original Xbox way back in 2001, but in other ways it’s a drastically different game, both for better and worse.
Have you played one of the previous Halo games? If so, you should feel right at home with Halo 5: Guardians. You travel through vast alien worlds using weapons both human and alien-made to take out the Covenant and Promethean armies.
That said, the controls have been slightly tweaked in this iteration of Halo. The left trigger, long used to lob grenades, is now used to zoom in the scope on your weapon. This is the traditional control scheme used by most first-person shooters like Call of Duty, but it takes some getting used to if you’ve played a lot of Halo in the past. Thankfully, this can also be changed in the options menu.
The B button is now used to boost your character in a direction, and if you build up speed, you can either duck and slide or ram into enemies with a new charge attack. These are actually pretty welcome changes that feel like proper evolutions of the tried and true Halo gameplay, and they add quite a bit of depth to the multiplayer modes.
You can either play through the campaign cooperatively or use commands to tell your squad where to go or which enemies to focus on. This has some limited use in battle, but doesn’t really add that much strategy or do all that much to change the fundamental Halo gameplay.
Halo 5 tells two stories. The first is Master Chief’s search for Cortana after her apparent death at the end of Halo 4. The second tale focuses on Spartan Jameson Locke as he chases after the Chief for going AWOL in his search for Cortana.
This is actually one of the weaker campaigns in the Halo series. The more personal nature of the narrative means the game lacks that epic sense of scale that was present in the original Halo trilogy, and it often feels like you’re shuffled to different locations simply as an excuse for the developers to use new assets. Still, there is one particularly awesome fight between Locke and the Chief near the start of the campaign that’s one of the best scenes in the entire Halo franchise. And while the story of the search for Cortana eventually takes a turn into evil robots wanting to wipe out all life in the galaxy that kind of feels like Mass Effect fan-fiction, the story it sets up for Halo 6 is intriguing.
The Covenant (especially the Hunters) see some upgrades to their AI that makes fighting them more interesting, but the Prometheans just aren’t terribly interesting enemies to fight, and combat overall just feels easier than the previous Halo games, maybe because the enemies are so familiar now. In fact, other than one new boss, the Warden Eternal, who shows up periodically for a few interesting battles, there aren’t any new enemies, which makes the game feel like a bit of a re-tread.
The biggest addition to multiplayer is Warzone, a mode which mixes team-based combat with waves of Covenant and Promethean enemies. It’s a fine mode, but there isn’t anything terribly exciting about it. Some players will no doubt find this to be the best way to enjoy Halo 5, but most will probably player it a few times and go back to Slayer or Capture the Flag.
Ultimately, Halo 5 is a fun game, but after 15 years at the top of the FPS mountain, it just feels more like a game that’s trying to copy the series own past success rather than an innovator in the genre.
Halo 5 is an absolutely gorgeous game, and easily one of the best looking on the Xbox One. Levels are crisp and detailed. The futuristic alien worlds often look like they belong in a big-budget sci-fi movie. The character models are also top-notch. The Covenant has never looked better, and the humans (especially Jameson Locke) almost look life-like. For whatever reason though, and maybe this is just because of their robotic design, the Prometheans don’t look that much better than they did in Halo 4.
But the graphics keep their high-quality and are locked at 60 fps when a firefight heats up with particle effects and a large number of enemies on the screen. And that smoothness makes a huge difference when playing an online shooter like Halo.
As you might expect from a big-budget game like Halo, the voice acting is Hollywood-caliber and top-notch throughout. This might not be the best story Halo has ever told, but it’s acted well, and there is a solid amount of convincing chatter from both Covenant and Spartans in the midst of battle.
If there’s one downside to the sound, it’s the music. It’s not bad. It’s a traditional epic movie-style score that fits the action and the feel of the game, but it’s also not terribly memorable like the music in the first three Halo games. The original score of Martin O’Donnell is sorely missed. Maybe 343 can convince him to come back for Halo 6 after his recent falling out with Bungie.
Most gamers who pick up Halo 5 will barely touch the campaign mode, or play through it once and forget about it. Like the past games in the series, Halo’s real strength is multiplayer. Halo 5 corrects a lot of the mistakes in Halo 4. It still has unlocks and boosts, but feels less like Call of Duty in Halo skin now and more like its classic self, and with more than 20 maps at launch and every major mode like Slayer and Capture the Flag readily available, there’s something for everybody. Plus, 343 has already committed to releasing additional maps for free, so if you like what Halo 5 has to offer, you’ll be playing for a very, very long time.
Reviewed by Chris Freiberg