Halo 5: Guardians Review – Damn, Guardians have good dentists!

GUARDIANS – POLICING THE UNIVERSE… And they also have a great dental regime.

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Does Halo 5 still live up to the hype from its launch, and how is it still doing a year on? Spoilers ahead.

Halo 5: Guardians was released on October 27th, 2015 following its kick-ass marketing campaign. The story we were teased over the long months of waiting seemed to consist of Master Chief going rogue after having to deal with the loss of his A.I. companion Cortana. An ex-ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence) assassin is teamed up with a group of fellow Spartan IVs to hunt down the Master Chief after he is blamed for strange attacks happening on outer-rim worlds that hare taking place. Hunt the Truth was an exceptional addition to the series of Halo, being the first Halo radio drama to be created, which told the story of these attacks from the perspective of new and well fleshed-out characters. This combined with live-action adverts that showed the Chief portrayed as either the protagonist or the antagonist, and the ONI agent called Locke hunting him down all combined to create a single story. We were prepared for the Halo 5 campaign, and it looked to have a fresh perspective on the Halo universe. But this was… close… to the story told in the actual game.

 

Storyline

In short, Halo 5: Guardians delivers a story with amazing potential, but seems to be flawed in its pacing and content. In 4 player co-op mode, my friends and I played through the entire campaign on Heroic difficulty in about 4 hours. I appreciate the time it takes to create a campaign for a modern video game, especially with the new demand for graphics and gameplay. In fact, I had no problem with a short campaign for Halo 5 if the gameplay was solid and the story packed with interesting characters with interesting motivations which would make the game replayable, and would lead the way for Halo 6. Personally I feel like I got 50% of that. The gameplay of Halo 5: Guardians is great, and the controversy about it being the first Halo game with ADS (Aiming Down Sights) showed fans’ dedication and prayers that the game would not be messed with too much. I think this addition didn’t affect the game in a negative way, and felt more natural after playing current games that all use this feature. But more of that to come later.

Moments like riding a space elevator down to the planet Meridian and then talking with the locals were very different and new to a Halo game, but I appreciated them. Halo has long been about taking the time to become absorbed by the game world and the unique locations you visit, not non-stop action and killing (although that is the other main part of it too of course). Other moments like Cortana talking to Chief at the end of the game made me gasp. The motion capture for her facial expressions were excellent, and this part really got to me:

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This scene genuinely tugged at my Halo heart. It was surprising, as everything up to that point had been rather bland. Then I suddenly get hit by this wave of emotion for about 20 seconds. I was also amazed that they used a Cryptum again. It was a smart idea, and for some reason I didn’t think they would use anything like it from Halo 4, but they did, and it was awesome. But then that cutscene ends and you end up back in the helmet of Locke, continuing onto another bit of bland dialogue until the next emotional bit. That sort of sums up Halo 5: Guardians actually. Lots of really good and really emotional parts all mingled in amongst some rather bland bits that you have to get through. I personally think it’s worth it for those good parts, but others may disagree.

The cinematic cutscenes of the game are fantastic, and I have to praise the team that created the CGI. They look stunning, and makes me sad that the Halo film planned by director Neill Blomkamp will never go ahead. I especially like the conversation between the Infinity’s A.I. Roland and the rest of the ‘gang’. His 5 lines of dialogue have more emotion behind them than that of Master Chief’s Blue Team, who are simply included for the 4 player co-op, and are given no introduction whatsoever (despite just how damn awesome they look in their chunky Spartan II armour). This leaves new players at a loss as to where these characters have come from if they haven’t read the Halo novels or watched the Halo: Fall of Reach mini-film.

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Here’s a controversial statement for you… I think Cortana as a villain was a good idea. Hey ouch! That pitchfork is pointy! But hang on, let me explain…

I think she is a great villain, however only if they treat it right. The whole point of her as a villain should be to watch the emotional impact on the Master Chief, and see his breakdown at having to fight her. All through Halo 4 and 5 it is referenced that Spartans have issues with this sort of thing. This is sort of touched upon in Halo 5, but only slightly. If Halo 6 utilises his breakdown as the main story arc, then Halo 5 has set this story up perfectly. Making the story about master Chief having to fight Cortana, or a Forerunner version of herself is a fantastic idea.. so why the hell did they decide to go with making the Halo 5 campaign almost entirely about Locke searching for Chief, and only having 3 missions where you play as Chief!? The story of Chief searching for Cortana and having to console his former team was actually much more interesting, and I wanted to see more of it; not spend the majority of my time searching for Chief. But Locke and Fireteam Osiris do get up to some interesting shenanigans on the Elite home-world, and meet up with the Arbiter. This was a very welcome addition and its great to know that Arby and the Chief are back together finally! The missions on Sanghelios were fun and very reminiscent of the original Halo levels. Well done 343! The addition of different vehicles like the Sword Ghosts, Banshees and Wraiths were also very interesting, along with 117 different audio logs to find throughout the campaign (I see what you did there 343) which were well made genuinely interesting.

Cortana’s agenda also interests me. I know the Didact was a very interesting character in the Halo novels but severely lacked on-screen. However Cortana’s goal seems to feel much more like a Halo plot, as it parallels religion. After peering into the Domain, Cortana has goon slightly insane with power and feels her A.I. brethren would take care of the galaxy far better than any organics. Her army of A.I.s is very interesting, and I desperately want to see the interactions between A.I.s that people have taken for granted who are now rising up against their creators.

Despite this, if Halo 6 focuses on Chief primarily and the story arc revolves around him having to choose between Blue Team and Cortana, Halo 5 can be looked back on as a very good set-up plot.

 

The Guardians

The idea of the Guardians is very interesting. A police-like force created by the Forerunners to be awakened if a threat was ever considered large enough to warrant their need. And now, Cortana has awakened them. However, I feel the need to talk about the design of the Guardians themselves. They do look cool, but that’s it. Running down one is certainly fun and different, but when looking at their visual design, do you agree with me that their concept art looked way better? This is based purely on personal opinion, and you may absolutely disagree with me. Doesn’t this image from the trailer look very ‘Halo’?

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This Guardian from the E3 2013 trailer still has floating pieces, but the main section of it is very close together and thus looks very intimidating. The phoenix symbolism of the Guardian ties to Halo’s tendency to relate all of its designs to animals and fantasy creatures such as the ‘Phantom’ and ‘Revenant’. Plus, this design has a very robotic head which looks alien and intimidating. This is the same for the next image.

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This concept art also shows the head of a Guardian rising up to meet Master Chief. The design is robotic and cold looking, with a solid body and floating panels around it. Sensing a pattern? This next image is of the current Guardian design:

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All the spikey bits!!! This design is still Forerunner looking, but just doesn’t have the sleekness and impact of the original design from the E3 2013 version. The whole thing is made of floaty bits surrounded by a large blue orb which looks… weird. What made them change the design so drastically between the first trailers and the final game? The huge amount of floating parts just makes the Guardian’s look less like a huge intimidating machine and more like something about to fall apart. That is my gripe with the design of the forerunners in this game. They are made of so many floaty parts that they don’t look like single entities. It’s like 343 Industries saw a few floating parts on the original designs of the Forerunners and said, “Let’s do that, but make it BIGGER!”

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The same goes for the first time Locke and his team’s first encounter a Guardian. They have to traverse strange floating circles that teleport them around to various other floating circles. If this way a game mechanic used to make the gameplay more interesting, then fair enough. But this is just in a cutscene. Why? Now that we know what the Forerunners are like, and that they are very similar to humans, what use would the Forerunners have to build these teleporters instead of those light bridges they are so fond of? I guess it makes the cutscene more interesting, but it’s always confused me. Despite this, the cutscene is very dramatic and the fight between Chief and Locke is very entertaining. Although it becomes a simple fist fight between two super-soldiers, you can still feel the emotional weight behind the two.

Also, THIS THING HAS TEETH… WHY DOES IT HAVE TEETH!?

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The Warden Eternal(s)

This character is very cool, and I love the way he talks and prefer that he is machine rather than an actual Forerunner. However, he is confusing…

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The Warden Eternal is a Forerunner intelligence that can inhabit multiple bodies, but because this is such an overpowered boss to fight, for some reason he decides to not launch thousands of bodies against Blue Team or Fireteam Osiris, but rather lets them defeat one of his bodies in a room full of them, and just lets them pass. He is an interesting Villain. His lines are threatening and he feels like a much better and more interactive villain than the Didact rather than a QTE (Quick Time Event) battle. But the fact that he has almost endless bodies but still only uses a few of them or a lot of them whenever he feels like is just strange. He also lets Cortana put him on a leash sometimes, but randomly breaks free and tries to kill Chief and the others when he wants, despite Cortana commanding him. Cortana tries to bring Chief to her but lets the Warden Eternal almost kill them on occasion? Strange. But the the warden is programmed to protect his master, so I guess if he thought she was in danger he would bypass his commands. Oh well!

 

Multiplayer and the REQ System

There is much to be said about the introduction of micro-transactions into Halo, so I’ll keep it brief. You think it’s alright at first, and then you realise it sucks. Halo 5: Guardians originally shipped with only two main modes for its multiplayer; Arena and Warzone. Arena contains all of your 4v4 competitive combat, and Warzone lets two teams of 12 fight against each other and computer controlled enemies too. The player can buy REQ Packs with credits gained from fighting in multiplayer or with real world money. These packs randomly give out prizes such as new armour and new fancy weapons to use exclusively in Warzone. This system does work, however the lack of any more game-modes demonstrates how 343 Industries wants the players to exclusively play Warzone and pay real money to buy virtual REQ Packs that only give you a chance of getting what you want.

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Most recently, Halo 5: Guardians has announced its new mode; Warzone Firefight. This looks to be a nice but late addition. I am excited, but immediately noticed a trend. Another Warzone gamemode… for you to buy more REQ Cards! For a single weekend, 343 also added another gamemode for Warzone. This mode allowed players to immediately use their most expensive REQ Cards and bring powerful weapons onto the battlefield. Whilst very fun because of the ridiculous combat with hugely powerful weapons, I noticed that I had used all of my REQ Cards. Why did 343 make this gamemode? So you can use all of your cards and have to buy loads more with real money! Gah!

 

Final Verdict

I think the criticism that Halo 5 is getting is fair, but undeserved in some areas. Yes, I was one of the people who was angry when the campaign ended because I felt ripped off for my £40. I felt like they had promised so much and delivered on only some of their promises. The updates that are coming to Halo 5 show that 343 Industries are still supporting the game, but do seem to be all about making a quick cash grab…

In summary, Halo 5: Guardians is a good game, and the campaign still has echoes of what made the original games so great. There are moments in the game that make you feel good, and there are definitely little gems in each cutscene and mission that feel oh-so-good. Ultimately however, everything that’s in the game seems good. It’s what wasn’t included in the game that flaws it, and makes me angry that it seems 343 is obviously out for maximum profit rather than relying on a good gaming community to keep playing and paying.

 


Halo 5: Guardians© Microsoft Corporation. ‘Halo 5: Guardians Review’ was created under Microsoft’s “Game Content Usage Rules” using assets from Halo 5: Guardians, and it is not endorsed by or affiliated with Microsoft.