There are NO spoilers in this review! Enjoy reading without worrying about being spoiled!
Note: This was reviewed with a retail copy that we purchased ourselves early.
It has been a long wait. 3 years without a new Halo experience and even longer since we’ve had a masterful entry into the franchise. 343 have admitted at length that they made mistakes in a lot of areas with the launch of Halo 4 and again with the release of the Master Chief collection have been pushing extremely hard to restore the franchise back to its former glory. From everything we’ve seen so far it’s looking like Halo 5 could be the start of that, right? Let’s find out what 343i have done right and whether this is going to bring Halo back to the forefront of the Xbox’s hall of fame.
We’ll start with a brief (spoiler free) run down of the campaign. After the events of Halo 4 Master Chief has gone absent without leave. No one knows why except Blue team, his old school fireteam of Spartan-2’s. Charged with the task of hunting him down and bringing him back alive before something bad happens, is Spartan Locke accompanied by fireteam Osiris. Throughout the campaign you will take control of Chief and Locke with their respective fireteams battling Covenant and Prometheans in a variety of action-packed missions with some new toys thrown in here and there.
One thing that I found to be refreshingly different about this game as opposed to the other games in the franchise is the team dynamic. Every single mission in this campaign, whether you’re playing as Locke or Chief, you will be flanked by your fireteam who have a couple of tricks up their sleeves to make the game less grindy. Firstly and most importantly you can be revived by your teammates. This is a pretty big deal and the game seems to be built around this mechanic as certain checkpoints would be pretty tough to achieve on Legendary (I only played on Heroic) and being revived could be just the thing you need to help you get to that next checkpoint threshold. They also are extremely useful on some other enemy types in the game (Hunters, among other enemies) where you will need to draw their attention while your team shoot it in the back or vice-versa. I find that having a fireteam turns this game from a 12-hour, more grindy game to an 8 hour adrenaline fuelled experience.
Having a fireteam with you also really helps to build the atmospheric idea 343 were trying to push with this game and that is the action. This game is one of the most action-packed Halos we have ever seen and even though I didn’t think I would, I actually liked that about it. There are quite a few jumps to a pelican that Buck just about misses with Locke managing to grab him and pull him up, as well as the destruction and carnage of killing enemy turrets, Banshee’s, Wraiths and other aircraft while in a Scorpion and that’s not even to mention the amount of running through areas that are literally crashing down under your feet, using your booster packs to throw yourself to safety. It may sound like a Michael Bay action movie, but this game really lends itself to it.
One of my favourite things about the campaign of Halo 5 is the amount of references to the older games and even well-known characters making an appearance to aid you. There were quite a few moments where I would make the goofiest faces because I’d just seen a character that I liked from a previous game who then proceeded to kill about 4 Elites while I stood by and watched. This game is full of moments that make you just want to punch the air with excitement and that’s what Halo’s all about!
When it comes to weaponry, both new and old, there is some important and interesting stuff to note about design choices made by the developers. Obviously there are some newer guns and vehicles that have been added to the game in the Hydra rocket launcher and the Phaeton airship, but along with this some of the existing weapons have been changed. Before you start worrying, the ones that have undergone facelifts are weapons that 343 themselves added into the Halo gameworld such as the Boltshot, Lightrifle and the Binary rifle. The Boltshot is now a 3 round burst weapon, the Lightrifle is now more of a DMR and the Binary rifle is now more of a laserbeam that is incredibly accurate. These changes are exactly what this game needed when it came to Promethean weapons which were, upto now, pretty much just re-skins of other weapons that already existed in the games (the Magnum, Battle rifle and Sniper rifle).
On the subject of weapons, I just wanted to interject my thoughts on which guns I found to be particularly strong when playing through the campaign on Heroic. The BR, DMR and Covenant carbine are all still up there, but don’t seem to be the best of the best in every situation in Halo 5: Guardians. Instead, I feel like every gun handled itself really well in its intended role with the 3 best guns being the Boltshot, AR and even the SMG. I quite often looked forward to the missions where the Prometheans would show up so I could nab myself one of their Boltshots which just seemed to demolish everything.
With weapons out of the way, the most important things in your loadout are your Spartan abilities and trust me, you’re gonna want to get used to some of these pretty quickly. Firstly, you’ve got the shoulder charge which is like a beefy melee attack that you do when you’re at full sprint. Then we’ve got the ground slam where you jump into the air and hold melee which gives you a cursor that you aim and you can slam down, crushing your enemies. Finally, and definitely most importantly is the thruster pack. With the thrusters you can boost in any direction by pressing B (default layout) allowing you to add a little pizazz to your jump or boost out of the way of those Hunters (etc.) just in case one of them gets up in your grill (spoiler: they will!). A lot of this kit makes Halo 5 what it is and without it, it would be an incredibly frustrating experience. How this stuff plays out in multi-player, however, is yet to be seen.
Visually, of course it’s the most impressive. This is the first true next-gen Halo game we’ve seen and it is absolutely incredible. Everything from taking an Elite’s shields off to obliterating Promethean enemies looks extremely satisfying and the colour scheme is just about perfect in every situation. Whether you’re in a cave with flashlights or on a Forerunner planet everything is wonderfully lit and colour is fantastic where appropriate. Along with the fantastical, almost limitless landscapes they’ve built there was seemingly no framerate issues at all. Everything ran as smoothly as it should, maintaining 60 frames per second from the start to the end which isn’t hugely common on this generation of consoles just yet and is something 343 should be commended for.
A lot of praise should go to the audio team behind this game. Seemingly every single sound in this game has redesigned, while making sure it still fills the requirement of being a sci-fi shooter. Whether it be the new Battle rifle sound or the clarity in the grunts voices talking about how many millions of humans they’re gonna kill today everything sounds perfect. This game has taken the next step when it comes to sound design, eclipsing almost every game on this generation and before.
Halo 5: Guardians is one hell of a rollercoaster for Halo fans. From the sombre and sad times to the action packed thrill ride, it surely was an incredible experience all around. As a fan who has played every main Halo, one of my favourite things about this game in particular is the tremendous amount of respect a lot of the characters have for the Master Chief, even though they are trying to track him down and, for all intents and purposes, arrest him. There are some heart-warming, flanked very quickly by some heart-breaking moments but one thing’s for sure, this is possibly the greatest Halo game ever made. It’s a heavy title, one that is very well-deserved by 343 with this game.
Final Verdict – 9.5/10
+Fireteams are a great addition
+The story is magnificent
+Audio and vIsuals are outstanding
+343 shook the pillars and were rewarded
-A few encounters were a little repetitive
-I have to wait for the next game!