Be warned: may be spoilerish.
I’ve waited a couple of days after the game was actually launched to finish up my review. It’s now Wednesday and all I can say is: Halo is back, and if 343 can keep this up, then we’ll be reminded over and over why the Halo franchise is the powerhouse that it is. The game starts of with such force, and manages to keep it up until the very last moment when you’re left with a sense of awe and urgency. And if you’re someone who is a fan of the Master Chief/Cortana saga, brace yourselves.
Which brings me to a question asked during my first stream of the game last week. Someone had asked me whether or not Halo will exhaust it’s creative output, devolving into the video game version of Michael Bay’s Transformers.
Absolutely not; if anything Halo 5 has managed to further the narrative and leave an array of storytelling possibilities open. One thing you have to understand about Halo is that it spans novels, comics, short films, television series, etc. The lore Bungie managed to create is in line with Tolkien-esque depth, allowing a plethora of material to eventually explore. I’ve seen many websites note that they found the campaign and story to be lacking, but I disagree. While the campaign was fairly short, even while playing on solo Heroic, it was satisfying. Although (and this is due to personal biases) I was kind of sad that we didn’t get enough playtime with Chief t. But, as to the actual story itself, it ends on a sort of cliffhanger so maybe that’s why it felt unsatisfactory to some. We’re left with so many questions! So many possibilities. However, I find it leaves us in a state of anticipation for the next installment in the Reclaimer saga, which for me is a mark of good storytelling.
So just a quick summary of what the story involves: You spend the majority of the time playing as Spartan Locke and his Team Osiris. Their mission is to chase down Master Chief and his Blue Team, who have been accused of war crimes and gone AWOL. Chief and his original Spartan buddies, after receiving a message from Cortana (who was assumed dead at the end of Halo 4 when she sacrifices herself to save John) follow her signal to try and reach her. While I’m melancholic for the days where Master Chief is the lonely hero with Cortana as his sole companion, fleshing out some new characters is exciting. Also, Team Osiris is from the Spartan-IV program, so they joined the program willingly, whereas Blue Team is made up of the controversial Spartan-II program. This in itself is sure to make for some interesting dialogues in upcoming games.
The battle sequences are wickedly chaotic; you’re constantly fighting hordes of Prometheans and Covenant, which at a glance can seem claustrophobic. This is where the beauty of 343’s level design comes in. The maps are probably the most expansive from any Halo game, and there are many ways in which you can approach a battle, including smashing through walls to access hidden tunnels, allowing you to gain the upper hand on your enemies. Unsurprisingly, the aesthetics of the levels are wonderful, and during certain parts, haunting, if you manage to take a breath from battle long enough to notice. And though sacrificing split-screen was a bit of a blow at first, the resolution and frame rate are perfect, which makes the entire game design pop. 343 used an amazing scaling technique which dynamically adjusts the resolution of the game depending on the complexity of the scene, allowing it to keep running at a steady 60 FPS at all times. It is a true ‘tour de force’ on their part.
The gameplay is really tight. Your Spartan has been upgraded with a bunch of new abilities, including the ground stomp, which truly makes you feel like a future super soldier. You’re also part of a team, to whom you can give orders, which is sweet when you need your partners to distract certain enemies, or hail fire down on a specific mark. You also die a lot less; the added advantage of having a team is that if you go down, you can get revived. But be warned: It made me play sloppy at first, under the assumption that I can’t die. But in the harder difficulties, your teammates will take a beating and if everyone goes down, you have to restart at the last checkpoint. But here’s a fair warning: it’s worth remembering that your squad are AI, so unless you’re playing with friends they can be pretty derpy at times. At one point, one of my teammates (I think it was Buck /shakes fist) was right next to me while I was down and didn’t revive me. It was probably shit luck since for the most part, it worked pretty well.
I also think 343 injected the enemies with steroids, particularly the Prometheans. They are faster, smarter and make you want to rip your hair out.
The game also contains a bunch of different guns, both from Halo 4 and older games except for one difference: they *mostly* all have the ability to aim down sights. Like the exclusion of couch coop, this has (and probably still is) been a point of controversy. It comes in handy at long distance; but for the most part I didn’t use it very much. Plus, the guns are so smooth to use, it just feels good and is a real treat.
Now, for the multiplayer.
Holy hell, the multiplayer.
Okay, so after the shitshow that was MCC, I was praying that the multiplayer wouldn’t be botched. Halo multiplayer is love, Halo multiplayer is life. The servers have been live since yesterday, and so far it’s been smooth as butter. No wait times, and you match up quickly. I’ve only had one bad experience (while playing Warzone) where I got booted from the game and had to listen to my friends keep playing while I sat there staring at my dashboard. But other than that hiccup, it’s damn fantastic, and I think it is quickly becoming my favorite multiplayer experience in the series. The weapons are balanced and it’s competitive as hell. Even with the changes to the guns and the new Spartan abilities, it feels as much “Halo” as it ever has. And it’s quick; the pace can be alarming at first, but after a few dozen games you should settle into it quite nicely. The controls become intuitive and the next thing you know, you’ll be teabagging your way to victory.
The multiplayer has brought in a new game type called Warzone. It’s a massive, objective based game that pits two teams of 12 Spartans against each other. As a team, you either have to defend your base, or capture your opponents. The first to 1000 points wins. There are two Warzone types, one with enemy AIs and the other without. The advantage of having AI drops is that you gain points regardless of whether your bases are being captured. It could be the deciding factor between winning or losing. This game mode relies heavily on the new REQ system, where you gain packs of cards that you can open and collect, and these allow you to call in power weapons and vehicles if you’ve gained enough in-match points. It’s similar to Titanfall’s system for those who’ve played it. While this feature also added micro transactions, I doubt you’ll have to dip into your own funds (as tempting as it is) to get what you want. The more you play, the more points you collect and the more packs you can open. And if you have an overabundance of shit cards, you get to sell them to get even more points. Card opening and collecting is addictive as hell, especially if you have a penchant for collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone.
If you’re more into small-scale competitive multiplayer, Halo 5’s Arena is fantastic. It has a few different playlists, including Team Arena that has the regulars objective games such as CTF, Strongholds and the new Breakout that fits two teams of 4 in a small, confined map to bring the single flag back to homebase. If straight up killing is your thing, there’s the classic Slayer playlist, Free for All and Swat. They hit the nose on the level designs for multiplayer as there are many ways to flank your enemies and take advantage of the battle, which is good. There’s also a new ranking system. Head over here for a comprehensive breakdown.
So, for my final thoughts: Halo 5 is perfection; it’s a paragon of first person shooters. I guess I can be called out as biased since Halo is my favorite video game franchise of all time, but I don’t care. Every inch of it is fantastic, and 343 deserves a massive kudos on what they’ve created. They’ve successfully inherited the Mantle Of Responsibility in safeguarding the wonderful Halo universe and I can’t wait for what future installments will bring.
See you on the battlefield, Spartans!