“The Fall of Reach”
Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform: Xbox One (reviewed)
Released: October 27, 2015
It’s been over two years since the launch of the Xbox One, and many great exclusives later, Halo 5 has finally arrived to stake its claim. Halo’s history on the console has been turbulent to say the least, with The Master Chief Collection’s suffering issues since its debut last November. With Halo 5, developer 343 Industries had a lot riding on their backs as they aligned to take their shot at redemption. The results are big, bold, and dedicated to strive to reach the lofty expectations the series’ name proudly carries with it. Guardians is undoubtably one of the more ambitious entries in the series, with both its campaign and multiplayer offerings demonstrating a great deal of innovation. While much of Guardians’ risks are met with success, notable shortcomings such as the game’s largely disappointing campaign, impede what could have been a fantastic entry. Halo 5 is certainly not without its triumphs, but its significant defects end up making it feel like one of the biggest steps back for the series in quite sometime.At the head of Guardians’ strongest attributes are the new spartan abilities, which lend a great new dynamic to the fundamental feel of gameplay. Players can now dash, sprint, and aim down sights at the press of a button–all of which might seem like tried–and–true elements of other shooters–adding to what is the fastest playing Halo to date. Never before have encounters felt so open-ended, for the movement system, alongside other tweaks such as the ability to hang in air for a brief moment while aiming down sights, effectively changes how combat works all together. Despite all the renovation under the hood, Halo 5: Guardians manages to maintain much of the same spirit of gameplay the series is known for. The innovative open level design, focus on obtaining power weapons, and prerequisite of precision ensure Halo 5 hasn’t lost sight of its roots. Guardians offers the strongest overall gameplay the Halo series has ever seen, with great weapons and level design to back it up. However, Halo 5 isn’t as competent in the space of its cooperative focused campaign as it is the rest. In terms of both storytelling and pacing, Guardians’ campaign is exceedingly disappointing, with the heart of its narrative drifting somewhere within the expanded universe.
Halo 5 introduces a new style of campaign the series hasn’t seen before, following two separate playable teams as they chase one another across the galaxy. Blue Team, is made up of the Chief and three Spartan combatants, all of which go way back as richly detailed in the expanded universe. Sadly, hardly any time is spent further developing their characters or providing context to why they’re so close with the Chief. This feels like a huge missed opportunity, especially when considering just how uninteresting Guardians’ main narrative ends up being, there’s nothing left to fall back upon aside from the remnants of untapped potential that hang in the air. Hunting down the Chief’s team is Fireteam Osiris, a group of soldiers relatively new to the Spartan program, lead by Locke, the uncharismatic star of Guardians. While Locke and Chief have shared the promotion material leading up to launch, Locke’s presence drastically overshadows that of Chief’s, occupying 12 of the 15 campaign missions. Locke’s apparent lack of bona fide personality hurts the driving force behind Guardians, killing the buzz of countless scenes with his shallow and unassertive attitude. The same can be said for the rest of the frivolous cast and narrative, for few scenes carry tangible ramifications or interactions worth caring about. These missteps and heavy-handed storytelling segments lead to what is the worst Halo campaign in the narrative space yet; a disappointing fate for such an initially promising premise. For as much as a letdown Halo 5’s single-player portion is, its multiplayer counterpart picks up the slack. If primarily looking to Guardians for multiplayer, chances are you won’t be disappointed. Classic Halo modes make their return in Arena, with Slayer, Capture the Flag, SWAT, and more, all of which feel great thanks to the expertly fine-tuned gameplay and clever level design. A few welcome changes to multiplayer this time around is Halo 5’s return to universal weapon loadouts and increased focus on reaching power weapons before your enemies. This return to form for Arena multiplayer is a notable retreat from the tedious and unthoughtful unlocking system of its predecessor, making the fate of each match feel solely dependent upon skill. Arena takes time and commitment to become proficient in, for all the intricacies of the gameplay won’t make sense with only a few matches under your belt. Yet, as you slowly become more familiar with the features at your disposal, Arena takes on a whole other dimension. One of the best modes Arena has to offer comes by way of a tough, tactical focused mode known as Breakout. In Breakout, two teams go head-to-head in a one life only elimination mode where planning and precision could mean the difference between victory and defeat. It’s a great change of pace for Halo and had be coming back more than any other Arena mode.
Halo 5: Guardians’ headliner multiplayer mode is Warzone, an epic scaled battle of 24-player madness mixed in with AI opponents ranging in difficultly worth increasing amounts of points, and maps far larger than anything we’ve seen from Halo before. It’s bold and full of exciting action that never loses its element of unpredictability, harnessing every bit of Halo 5’s polished gameplay. Warzone utilizes a Requisition system that allows players to unlock and equip weapons and vehicles throughout the course of a match. Requisition points are earned by simply playing Warzone, with XP carrying over from Arena as well, though Requisition packs can be purchased for up to $24.99 with real world money to speed up the process. This business model comes across as disruptive throughout the experience with prompts appearing to purchase packs when attempting to open earned packs. The microtransactions’ actual impact on gameplay can be debated, but nevertheless the fact they’re there in the first place is upsetting in its own right. In spite of the fact microtransactions are included, Warzone can be an absolute blast. Never before has resource management played such an integral part in Halo, for knowing when to hold or spend a card midmatch could come back to bite you during the late game. It’s a smartly balanced system that cleverly relies upon timing and player skill above all else, as nothing seems to restrain a clever player from turning the tide of a match with a quick-witted play.Conclusion: Guardians is the best that Halo has played in the entirety of its 14 years, but as a whole, 343 is pursuing something bigger than what Halo 5 offers. The series’ multiplayer is at its peak, presenting a slew of fantastic modes and mechanics. Some standout more than others, with modes such as Warzone and Breakout encompassing Guardians’ best experiences, both of which heavily rely upon players to play tactically and conservatively. The new mechanics like the highly useful spartan abilities, effectively change the feel of combat, giving encounters a boost in speed and mobility. These successfully carryover into the campaign and weave nicely within the open level design of Guardians’ structure. However, the fluidity of the gameplay doesn’t help keep the storytelling coherent or enjoyable, giving little reason to care about missions aside from the thrill of defeating waves of enemies. Halo 5: Guardians shows evidence of an excellent shooter within its multiplayer and inventive new mechanics, but its flat narrative and woefully paced campaign hold it back from reaching true greatness.
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